You’ve tried losing weight again and again, but any results you achieve just don’t stick. Solution: Stop trying to lose weight by changing only what’s external—your diet and physical activity—and instead, get someone who can help you figure out what’s going on in your head that makes you eat so much. Who is this person who can help you get to the root of your overeating? A behavioral counselor.


If losing weight is so hard—which it is—why does almost everyone try to go it alone? People may be biased against working with a counselor for a number of reasons, such as not wanting to “admit” that help is needed or simply not wanting to spend the money. (Tip: Some health insurance companies pay for diet counselors, so ask yours.) But know this: Just as getting assistance can help someone quit smoking or drinking alcohol, counseling could be your answer to permanent weight loss. Unlike another fad diet, taking the following steps can help you reach that goal…

Choose a counselor with the skills to address your unique situation. A psychologist who specializes in eating disorders can help if you use food to ease stress, for instance. If you have a health condition, look for a counselor with additional credentials such as a registered dietitian if you need help reducing cholesterol or a certified diabetes educator if you have diabetes or prediabetes. Also consider logistics—the expert’s schedule needs to work with yours. That might include online or virtual check-ins on your smartphone, tablet or computer to track your progress or to problem-solve with you between sessions.

Decide on an approach that feels comfortable to you. Counseling can be one-on-one or in a group setting. If you don’t like sharing personal details with strangers, choose individual counseling with a nutrition or health coach. On the other hand, a group setting allows for an exchange of tips that have helped others. It’s also possible to have individual sessions and participate in a group.

Work with the counselor on improving your relationship with food. He/she should help you identify what’s getting in the way of achieving your weight loss goals, such as the triggers that set off mindless eating or obstacles to increasing your physical activity. More than just keeping a food journal, bring it with you to your sessions so that your counselor can assess your patterns and show you how to use the journal most effectively.

Have the counselor develop a plan tailored to your lifestyle. For success, you need an eating and exercise plan, not a “diet” you go on and off of every time the scale moves. And that eating and exercise plan needs to be adapted to your likes and dislikes, health needs and schedule so it can be a permanent way of life. Your weight-loss counselor should be able to show you how to incorporate your favorite foods so that you don’t give up because you feel deprived. If you eat out a lot, get a list of safe menu items. If you’re too busy to cook every night, ask how to best stock your kitchen for quick, tasty and low-calorie meals that you will want to eat. Your counselor can also help you find forms of physical activity that are enjoyable and good for you so you’re motivated to engage in them on a consistent basis.

Ask whether your goals are realistic. Nothing sets you up for failure more than overreaching. Get help setting attainable weekly and monthly weight-loss goals. If you’ve barely gotten off the couch until now, don’t ask how to train for a half-marathon in a month, but rather get tips to increase your activity in increments that you can reasonably stick with.

Keep going to sessions. Meaningful behavioral changes don’t happen overnight. Counseling generally needs to continue for at least a year. If you hit a weight-loss plateau, your counselor can give you tips to get back on track and keep you from going back to your old eating or exercise habits out of frustration. And when you hit your goal, a 15- to 30-minute follow-up phone call with your counselor once a week (perhaps scaling down over time to once a month) may be the best maintenance plan in the world to keep that weight off.

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