OK, so it's not swimsuit season. Yet.

But spring is creeping up on us. Even if grand New Year's resolutions are already a faded memory, you have time to tackle weight loss or fitness goals. 

Dr. Ellen Carraro, a bariatric surgeon with Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers several suggestions to help you get started or inspire you to stick with good habits. 

dr. carraro
Dr. Ellen Carraro

“The goal shouId be a true lifestyle change to reach a sustainable outcome,” Carraro said. “You want to set new habits and not make just a transient change.”

1.  Set realistic goals

Too much! Too soon! It’s tempting to think of a huge goal, but starting small is a solid strategy.

“One of the biggest obstacles is extremism, whether it’s dietary or exercise. You don’t want to set goals that are unrealistic,” Carraro said. “It is important to keep it simple. Then, map out a bigger plan later.”

2.  Eat slower

Take your time chewing your food. Many people eat too quickly and have overloaded themselves before their stomach signals their brain that “I’ve had enough.”

glass of water

3.  Is it thirst or hunger?

Carraro said she often hears patients say they’re hungry “all the time.” But often they’re just thirsty. Stay hydrated by drinking 2 liters (that’s about 8 cups) of water every day.

4.  Avoid liquid calories

Soft drinks, fancy coffees, sweetened iced tea and alcohol are loaded with calories. Cut back, or eliminate them as much as you can.

healthy plate

5.   Pick healthy options

Eat more fruits and vegetables, and a wide range. They’re loaded with helpful vitamins and minerals, and aid your body in myriad ways. Mix in plenty of whole-grain foods, too. Avoid processed foods. Carraro suggests actively increasing whole foods with minimal processing.

6.  Plan your meals

It produces less waste and often leads to better choices. Again, start slowly. “Meal planning can be daunting, so start with one meal a day and build up from there,” Carraro said. “It can become a habit that is sustainable.”

7.  Don’t be consumed by the scale

Pay attention to your body composition. If you’re losing fat and maintaining (or increasing) muscle mass, the number on the scale doesn’t always reflect that positive change. “Health is a bigger goal,” Carraro said. “The scale can help you work toward a realistic goal, but it’s not the whole story by any means.”

8.  Write it down

Food tracking and journaling can help you see what you consume. If you notice a bad pattern, work to eliminate it. If it’s good, congratulate yourself and reinforce it.

9.  Exercise. A lot.

woman running

There isn’t one magic exercise program that fits everyone. So, which do you choose?

“The best choice is exercise with the least obstacles and what you enjoy the most,” Carraro said. “Whether it’s dancing with your kids or walking your dog for 20 minutes, do things that are realistic.”

Joining a gym across town or vowing to run 100 miles a week if you’re a beginner is likely setting yourself up for failure and injury.

10.  Sleep matters

Strive for 7 to 8 hours every night. “You won’t have the energy you need to make other changes like exercise or meal planning if you’re tired,” Carraro said.

11.  Notice your body cues

Self-awareness is important. Ask yourself if you’re eating because you are hungry or only because you’re tired, bored or stressed, and work to not do that.

12.  Don’t punish yourself

Eliminating foods isn’t practical. It’s OK to have a cupcake on occasion. The key is moderation. Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. Take small, simple steps and let them develop into habits.     

To learn more about weight loss or register for a free weight loss seminars, visit NovantHealth.org/WeightLoss.