Whether you’re trying to maintain your new weight after weight loss surgery or make your latest weight loss accomplishment last, the key is to make the process as simple as possible. It’s easy to fall back into old habits and quickly see all of your progress disappear if you’re aren’t careful. Fortunately, you can lose weight and keep it off by learning how to “hack” the connection between your diet, exercise regimen, and outlook on life. The best strategies can be broken down into three parts: a system, a habit, and a hack.

One System: Create a Food Goal Ladder

It’s easier to motivate yourself to accomplish goals that are tangible and within reach. If you haven’t exercised regularly in years, it will be all too easy to dismiss your marathon dreams as unrealistic after a few rough weeks. That’s why you should break it down into smaller pieces instead.

Instead of fixating on a distant weight loss goal, focus on clear, simple, direct actions that you can take right now. Each action will lead to the next, so it’s only appropriate to organize them on a “ladder” of goals. Draw this ladder on a large whiteboard, poster board, or even a piece of notebook paper. Just make sure it’s nearby at all times.

Each rung gets its own simple goal, such as skipping the candy bowl at work or eating fresh fruit for breakfast all week. As you achieve each goal, you move up the ladder to the next goal. Don’t worry about being too ambitious. It’s actually more helpful to stick to smaller goals at first, and no accomplishment is too minor to make a difference. Every time you keep your commitment to make a healthier choice, you tell your body and mind that your weight loss is here to stay.

One Habit: Start a Food Journal

The more you think about your choices, the less likely you are to indulge in impulsive and irresponsible behaviors. Keep a food journal to make sure you stay aware of your dietary choices. Like any daily habit, journaling may not come naturally to you at first. Don’t give up, though. Keep at it, even if you forget a meal or two. It’s important to stay as mindful as possible about the food that goes into your body.

Small snacks can add up if you’re not aware of how much you’re eating in one day. If you tend to snack while reading, socializing, or watching TV, you may not be fully aware of the quantity or type of food you’re consuming throughout the day. Demand self-awareness by holding yourself accountable to journaling. Your food journal might be a blank diary, an app on your smartphone, or a document on your computer.

It doesn’t matter how you keep track of your portion sizes and food choices; it’s simply important that you do keep track of these trends. As you document all the food you eat, you will gradually increase your own awareness, but you’ll also give yourself a recorded history to consult later. You may notice patterns of unhealthy eating, giving you a chance to correct them before they turn into habits. Or you may refer back to your journal on a rough day, and motivate yourself with attractive pictures of fresh fruit from previous meals.

One Hack: Post a “Before” Photo On the Fridge

No matter how much you exercise, your dietary choices will always play the biggest role in your weight loss efforts, and your weight gain setbacks. If you use food as a coping mechanism or kill time in the kitchen, you are choosing short-term rewards over long-term benefits. A prominent “before” photo is a great way to bridge that mental disconnect and make the consequences of your decisions more immediate.

Find a photograph of yourself at your heaviest weight. If you recently underwent weight loss surgery, you want to say goodbye to your pre-op body for good – not invite it back into your life with late-night binges. Post the photo right on the fridge, and add another to the snack pantry or anywhere else you store food. Look at the photo for inspiration when you measure out your portion sizes and select your meals.

The goal of the “before” picture isn’t to shame or embarrass you. Your appearance isn’t the most important reason to keep the weight off, and if your main focus is superficial, it will be even harder to make choices that prioritize your long-term health over short-term satisfaction. However, this picture is an immediate physical reminder of just how far you’ve come. It’s a reason to be proud of your current weight and careful about the choices you make in the kitchen.

Keeping Weight Off The Smart Way: Systems, Habits, and Hacks

Weight loss is a complex biological process that is different for every patient. While gastric bypass surgery may give you a second chance to maintain a healthier weight, there is no “quick fix” for the habits that cause obesity. However, these simple strategies will make it a lot easier to change your choices for good. Incorporate them into your life until they become second nature, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to keep the weight off.