Take a Problem-Solving Approach to Weight Loss

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Healthy Weight Loss: How Smart Women Lose Weight

Sure it's important to have a healthy diet plan to lose weight, but if that isn't enough, then consider this strategic plan used by smart women. Take Jenn for example. The first time Jenn set out to lose those 20 pounds, she gave up sugared sodas. The second time, she ate only protein. She fasted, overdosed on raw carrots and counted fat grams. All of the diet tips and healthy weight loss plans she tried worked, but only for a while. Sheer force of will didn't keep her from chowing down when the impulse struck; nor did it get her into the gym. It was not until Jenn approached her excess weight the same way a new CEO might a faltering business did her 20 extra pounds disappear for good.

Here's the problem-solving approach that Jenn used to successfully supplement her healthy diet plan.
The technique Jenn used is a systematic problem-solving approach developed more than 50 years ago to improve industrial production. Called "quality improvement" or "systems thinking," it means you:

  • look at your problem as part of a larger system
  • find things that contribute to the problem
  • experiment by changing the system in some small way

After you've seen the result of your change, you alter the system again to incorporate the new change, then look for other causes of the problem. Then you experiment with the other solutions until the problem is solved.

If your problem is too much weight, you can use this method to change the behaviors causing it. Farrokh Alemi, Ph.D., associate professor of health-care management at George Mason University School of Nursing in McLean, Va. and his colleagues have tested what they call continuous self-improvement on 400 people seeking personal change, including healthy weight loss and exercising more. Not only has it been successful in changing daily habits, the changes have been long lasting. Here's how it could work for you.

Step 1: Look at the big picture
Shift from seeing your weight problem in personal terms and instead see it as part of a larger system that includes your family needs, social life, work hours and whatever else affects your exercise and eating habits, ncluding any ethnic-food preferences and peer pressures. Once you discover how many outside factors affect your healthy diet plan and exercise, you'll realize that losing weight with willpower alone is almost impossible. "Using willpower for self-improvement is like applying brute force," Alemi says. "Using a systems approach is applying intelligence."

Step 2: Define the problem
Before coming up with solutions, you need to identify the real problem, says Linda Norman, M.S.N., R.N., associate dean at the School of Nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and one of Alemi's research colleagues. Say your favorite jeans are too tight. Instead of telling yourself you need to lose weight, Norman suggests you ask yourself a series of questions, such as "What's associated with the weight gain that's made my jeans tight?" (maybe the underlying problem is boredom at work or the pain of a bad relationship) and "What's contributing to my weight gain?" (maybe you don't make time for exercise, or you eat in response to stress and need to learn other stress-management techniques so you can successfully follow a healthy diet plan). "The more questions you ask," Norman says, "the closer you'll get to the root of the problem."

"It also helps to 'frame' the problem positively," Alemi adds. "For example, you might look at weight gain as an opportunity to get fit." Finally, it's important to define the problem in a way that lets you monitor your progress and measure the outcome by how well you're dealing with the triggers that cause weight gain.

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