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If have trouble sticking to a workout plan, a regular date to meet a friend at the gym can provide the extra motivation you need.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

'I am going to start working out next week."

"Come Monday, no more junk food."

"I'm getting a gym membership and going every day after work."

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Ever uttered one of these statements? They're examples of what I call "fitness wishes." Absent a concrete plan for how to actually achieve these objectives, you might as well just try wishing and hoping that you'll become healthy.

Don't get me wrong – I have expressed many fitness wishes in my life. Who hasn't? Such a wish is a great first step and may help you lose a few pounds in the short term, but losing a significant amount of weight, and then keeping it off, requires a long-term approach.

Here are my tips for successfully turning fitness wishes into action:

1. Make realistic and specific goals and establish a detailed plan of action – no more wishing.

Make sure your goals reflect how much time and energy you actually have (not how much you want to have), your finances and your equipment. Take the time to brainstorm what steps are needed to actually accomplish each goal.

If you know you can't make it to a gym, build a home gym. Need help being accountable? Find a gym buddy. Never have the time or energy to make it to the gym after work? Go before work.

Make your plan specific. For example, "I am going to meet my friend at the gym three times a week after work. When I have evening work events I will take a walk at lunch."

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2. Learn from yourself and others.

Each week, reflect on what you did well and areas that need improvement. Figure out how you can reproduce your positive health choices, anticipate future roadblocks and find solutions in advance.

Next, learn from people who have successfully adopted a healthier lifestyle. A 2005 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says there are four characteristics shared by people who successfully lose 10 per cent or more of their body weight and maintain that loss for at least one year:

They exercise daily (that obviously makes me, an exercise enthusiast, very happy).

They are diligent about monitoring their diet, calorie intake and weight.

They eat breakfast.

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They don't cheat on weekends or holidays.

3. Aim to 'trend positive.'

Aspire to have more healthy habits this month than you did last month. You didn't establish your current health habits overnight, so give yourself time to learn to enjoy exercise and develop a taste for healthier foods. Basically, don't give up after only a few weeks!

4. Have a health dream.

Too often exercise and eating well feel like a chore. So make at least one goal that is akin to a dream, something that excites you. Maybe your dream is to strength train so you can lift your grandkids. Maybe you want to ski until you are 90. My dream is to run injury-free for life, so I make myself lift weights, eat well, stretch and get enough sleep.

5. Aim to 'stay in your own lane.'

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Your health process is exactly that – your health process. Don't get caught up in the trendy diets your friends are trying. When you go out to eat with friends or family, don't let their choices dictate your choices. Be your own health boss, stay in your own lane and, when possible, surround yourself with people who will support the new and healthier you.

6. Use my '30 and 10' rules.

When you want to abandon your goals and eat an unhealthy treat, or serve yourself a second helping you don't need, wait 30 minutes. Do something else. Usually after 30 minutes you won't want the treat because you will be absorbed in another activity.

After 30 minutes, if you decide you are actually hungry – rather than tired or depressed – eat a healthy snack.

When you want to skip your workouts, use my 10-minute rule. Make yourself do something for at least 10 minutes. Usually once you start moving you will continue, but if you stop after 10 minutes, at least you have done something.

7. Don't be enticed by quick-fix, extreme weight-loss regimens.

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Rapid weight loss can cause health complications including weakening of the heart muscle, irregular heartbeat and dangerous reductions in potassium and electrolytes. Plus, existing literature on the subject casts doubt on whether non-prescription weight-loss pills and diet products actually result in long-term weight loss.

The key is "long-term." To lose weight and keep it off, you have to change your daily health habits.

The great news is that once you have successfully maintained your weight loss for two or more years, you have a 50-per-cent greater chance of keeping weight off.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Kathleen Trotter has been a fitness writer, personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for more than 12 years. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.

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