Dawn is no stranger to dieting. Over the years, she followed many different weight-loss plans. Each plan worked for a while. But eventually she would go back to her old eating habits, and her weight would go back up. She says that with dieting "There is a mind-set that this is a diet. And when I get to my goal weight, then I don't have to do the diet anymore."
She found that with each diet it got a little harder to lose the weight. So when Dawn's employer decided to offer a yearlong healthy-weight program that focused on making lasting changes instead of temporary dieting, Dawn was eager to try it.
"I think I was at a spot where I was mentally prepared and wanting to do stuff," says Dawn. "I've tried many different diets. I've had success in the past. But I needed something that was going to work and stay with me."
Dawn lost 35 pounds over a year on the healthy-weight program. But more important—she learned a new set of eating habits that she can live with.
Setting goals that work for her
An important part of Dawn's program was setting realistic goals that she could turn into long-term habits. She identified small changes she could make, such as eating an apple instead of a doughnut for a morning snack. Then she would try that strategy for 1 week. If it was something that Dawn was easily able to do, she would add it to her list of healthy eating habits. If it didn't work well for her, she would try another type of healthy eating change the next week.
Making one change at a time helped Dawn sort through all the nutrition advice she had heard and pick out only the things that worked well for her. And it allowed Dawn to try a variety of healthy eating strategies without feeling like a failure if something didn't work with her lifestyle.
"I didn't try to completely redo my whole diet. I focused on things that seemed reasonable at the time," Dawn says. "There were other things that I tried for that week that didn't work so well. So I put those aside." Dawn would think to herself, "That might be a good idea for other people, but it doesn't work for me."
Changing her thinking about food
Changing how she thought about food also helped Dawn go from dieting to healthy eating. Dawn doesn't avoid desserts and other foods that might be considered off-limits on a diet. Instead she has learned to take smaller portions and to savor each bite. "I've modified the types of food or the quantities, but I don't think there is anything that I absolutely don't eat," she says.
"If I choose on purpose to have something that might be a little bit richer, like a little almond torte with whipped cream frosting, then I might really focus on making sure that the rest of the meal is much lower in calories to balance it. And my portion [of dessert] is going to be much smaller."
Dawn also learned to pay attention to her hunger and fullness signals. Instead of eating until she feels stuffed, she eats just enough to feel satisfied. "Slowing down a little bit—that helped too."
Having someone she could turn to for support helped Dawn a lot. As part of her healthy-weight program, Dawn was assigned a health coach. This person helped Dawn anticipate things that might prevent her from staying with her healthy eating habits. And when she became discouraged, she would turn to her health coach for motivation.
For people who don't have a health coach, Dawn recommends finding a friend, family member, or coworker who has the same goals. "Get yourself a partner, somebody who will help you stay accountable—maybe someone you can have a healthy lunch with."
What she has learned
For Dawn, the keys to becoming a healthy eater involved finding nutrition habits that worked with her lifestyle and having the support of a health coach. As a result, Dawn no longer thinks about dieting. She is confident that the healthy habits she has learned are things she can do for a lifetime.
Dawn has also learned to focus on healthy behaviors, such as eating well and being physically active, and not to focus so much on the number on the scale. She now realizes that the behaviors are what make her healthy, not how much she weighs.
"This time I have more of a sense that this is not just a diet. It's a health habit. I just feel like it's a part of my life now, and it's not something that I'm going to stop when the diet gets over."
Dawn's story reflects her experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Dawn, to protect her privacy.