By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

As we age, our bodies tend to lose muscle and store fat more readily. We might gain a pound or two over the holidays and have the scale creep higher still after a hearty dose of backyard barbecues throughout the summer.

Gaining a pound here and there is fine. The problem is when we start accumulating those pounds year after year and then wake up one morning and realize that we’re 10 to 20 pounds overweight.

When we do decide to do something to lose the excess weight, we often turn to drastic measures like unsustainable diets that cause our weight to yo-yo, along with our emotional wellbeing. Or we might attempt to go from couch potato to marathoner in a week, only to find ourselves laid up with shin splints.

Since losing weight often requires tremendous effort, not gaining it in the first place is key and is worth placing high on the priority list. In order to do this, a scale is an invaluable tool. Give yourself a “hard stop” number and weigh yourself every week or month to check in. If the scale shows you’re above your pre-determined healthy weight, it’s time to take stock and ask yourself what changes need to made in your diet, physical activity, sleep and stress management to thwart the insidious weight creep.

If weight creep has already managed to make it’s way to your waistline, it’s crucial to have patience and create a plan to turn it around. Rather than succumb to emotions of frustration or disappointment, do a reality check and consider how long this has actually been happening. Give yourself ample time to turn it around—shoot for a pound a week.

In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that included nearly 121,000 Americans. They evaluated them every four years from 1986 to 2006 and found that, on average, participants gained 3.35 pounds in each four-year span.

The study showed that weight gain was most strongly associated with eating potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats and processed meats, and was inversely associated with eating vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts.

Other lifestyle factors that were measured showed that exercise helped keep weight down, while drinking alcohol, sleeping less than six hours per night and watching television all contributed to weight gain.

The time it takes upfront to make small adjustments to our lifestyle in order to prevent weight creep ultimately pays dividends. But if we find ourselves needing to make more aggressive changes, it’s time to map out a strategy, recruit accountability partners and stay the course. You’ve got this!

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant, TEDx speaker and coach. For a complimentary health consultation, visit corcoranhealth.com and schedule your meeting today.