Got an email from EverydayHealth.com. They would like our response to 10 frequently asked motivation questions ( see their article ). Since we are all about the psychological side of weight loss for women, we answered their questions with women’s weight loss in mind.
This post is quite long, and you may want to read it in sections only, one question at a time.
And, we hope this helps.
1. We all make New Year's resolutions, and often these resolutions involve weight loss or fitness goals. But many of us quickly lose traction and don't achieve our goals. What are the psychological and emotional reasons behind these failures?
Simply making a New Year’s resolution is not sufficient to accomplish it. We all know that. Most New Year's resolutions don't hold up over time. One research study found that only about 20% of resolvers were sticking to their resolutions two years later.
Among the most popular New Year's resolutions is the decision to lose excess weight. For most people, that means starting a diet.
But what if starting a diet for the New Year is not a real honest-to-goodness resolution? What if it is merely wishful thinking in disguise? What if starting a diet, or trying to make any other very personal change, is jumping the gun and snapping into action before you are anywhere near ready?
This is probably why 80% of people don't follow through on their resolutions. They jump the gun. Their wish is not within their command.
So, how can you be one of the successful 20%?
The best way to convert a wish into a successful resolution is to do what it takes to make your wish more possible. There is work for you to do behind the scenes to convert your wish into reality.
How does this sound for a more realistic New Year's resolution: My resolution is to find in myself just what it takes to make my wish come true.
2. What is the biggest mistake people make when making a resolution? Are you setting yourself up for failure when you make a New Year's resolution to lose weight or get fit?
Are you thinking of making a New Years resolution? It feels right, doesn’t it—to make a promise to yourself to change something in your life, and to do it on the first day of a brand new year. It seems natural.
So, what are we saying when we make such a promise to ourselves? What does it mean? Well, for one thing, it means we want to make a new start, wipe out some old behavior and substitute a new, better one. It feels fresh, it feels hopeful, it fills you with anticipation, and makes you feel like there are good things to come.
We can indeed make such changes, new starts; we can adopt new ways of being and acting; we can break old habits, and we can develop better ones. We can change our lives for the better.
But—it’s not magic, and it doesn’t simply happen on the day after the New Year, just by willing it. It takes work, dedication, understanding, practice, and time. And that’s where so many people go wrong—they don’t give their new idea for themselves the time, energy, thoughtfulness, and importance it deserves.
I’m going to go on a diet and lose 25 pounds, starting on January 2nd. Boy, does that sound good. The thing is—how will you suddenly be able to do it? Is it willpower that can get you to stick to this resolution? If so where will your willpower come from? Do you usually run out of it? Do you have any idea why you can’t stick to a diet—any idea at all? Do you know how and why you gained weight in the first place? Do you know much about your relationship to food?
Instead of pushing yourself blindly into that New Years resolution, take some time to think about these kinds of questions. Considering things like these will help you stick to your resolution. It won’t just happen. You need to make it happen, and it can be done—whether you do it on January 2nd, or February 4th, or May 22nd. The power to do it lies within you, not with the first day of the year.
3. How do you set reasonable, healthy expectations when you resolve to lose weight or shape up at this time of year or any other time of year?
Do you think that the strength of your intention to lose unwanted weight is enough to do it? Do you think you can combine your strong intention with an equally strong belief you can do what it takes?
Lots of women who are trying to lose unwanted weight "intend to" and also "believe they can". Alas! This combination has not proved effective.
If you are this highly motivated to achieve successful weight loss, then you can get there by adding yet one more ingredient to your recipe for weight loss. You can make a mental list of "critical moments", moments when it would be most opportune for you to work some weight-loss magic.
Take these moments and make the magic happen by asking, "When this occurs, what shall I do?" "When that occurs, what shall I do?" This kind of mental preparation makes you ready to identify the critical moments when they're upon you. And, you are also ready with the exact right activity to carry you successfully through the moment.
This is weight-loss magic like there never was. The magic comes from being prepared. Being prepared comes from having plans that match situations which are likely to arise.
4. What kind of support should you seek to help you achieve your goals?
Ask yourself, are your supporters really supportive? If so, your intrinsic motivation to lose weight will get a big boost.
Psychology research has shown that when other people in your life acknowledge and approve of your thoughts and feelings, you find it easier and more comfortable to:
For easier and surer successful weight loss and weight-loss maintenance, surround yourself with the most supportive people you can find.
5. What are three things you can do to improve your chances of success before you make a healthy lifestyle change?
When it comes to losing excess weight:
Set clear and specific small goals for how to lose weight and keep it off. Setting explicit goals, despite the fact they are small, helps you focus your actions to what's relevant and away from actions that distract from all your goals, big and small.
Good goal setting helps with self-regulation, motivation, specific use of your energy, persistence, and choice of strategies with which to achieve the goals themselves.
If the ways you set small goals for yourself help you to achieve these goals, then you will feel encouraged to set even more goals. Your expectation of success will increase, and lots of negative feelings about what you were unable to do will not materialize.
Successful weight loss doesn't ever come without a price. In this case, the price is good goal setting: small specific goals and lots of them.
When you set a weight-loss goal for yourself, your intention is to reach that goal. But just establishing the weight-loss goal you wish to achieve is not enough.
One thing you need in addition to your goal is a plan to reach that goal. You need a plan to specify the when, where, and how of your goal path even before you begin the process of going for that goal.
It goes like this. You consider in advance the different situations you will find yourself in as you pursue your goal of losing excess weight. You can think things like: if such and such happens, then I will do such and such. When you plan out this kind of an if/then format, you will know beforehand how to behave in these situations. So, instead of having to stop and think and come to a decision on the spot about what to do, your pre-planned actions will occur more naturally and more rapidly.
Planning ahead like this will mean fewer mistakes and much less effort on your part. Because you are prepared, you are more likely to behave just the way the situation demands. The net result will be a more efficient and enjoyable trip to your weight-loss goal.
Are you always filled with a big optimistic outlook when you start dieting? Before long though, does your optimism stop working and you fizzle out and leave all your good intentions behind? You may be surprised to hear that you can have too much optimistic thinking.
You may fill up on optimism because you think this will help you do better. Or, you may be over-the-top, optimistically speaking, because you believe that by adopting such an optimistic outlook you’re goal to succeed will come true, as in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, you could be terrifically optimistic just because you are afraid to not be, optimistic that is.
Here’s the most important question—is your optimism realistic?
Your optimistic thinking can only be realistic if you consider your past experiences with dieting. Are your experiences filled with many dieting failures? Are you afraid to think about that? Do you feel that these memories of failure will only drag you down, reinforce the bad, teach you nothing good, and interfere with what you’re trying to accomplish now? Putting these past dieting experiences completely out of your mind in favor of a purely optimistic outlook will not work.
A weight-loss plan, even one you make with optimistic thinking, should be as realistic as possible in order to be effective. Here’s how you can keep your optimistic outlook and make it more realistic too.
Remember: Being optimistic is a very good thing, just as long as it is informed by what you’ve been through in the past.
6. Why is it so hard to keep the weight off after a diet, and what can you do to maintain weight loss?
You have been moving along making weight-loss progress, and here you are. You’ve lost the added weight you set out to lose. But the “progress” doesn’t end abruptly here. It goes on, and for good reason.
Being finished with actively losing a lot of weight, finishing with a diet per se, may give you the feeling of being a bit lost, with a sense that you have entered unfamiliar territory.
You may not have a lot of experience being in this position. You have lost the weight, you are where you want to be—so what now? A maintenance food plan can be a good aid when it comes to what to eat. But how do you maintain your “good” behavior?
Your job right now is to learn. The rest of the way is a totally different journey than “losing excess weight”. It is the journey that takes you from being a person with a weight problem, to being a person without this problem. The food is the least of it. Everything else about you is most of it.
Life is staring you in the face. You need to cope with this and that, little things, big things, easy things, and hard things. What you still need to perfect is how to cope with your life without resorting to the thing that used to be your fallback position: out of control eating.
You have been curtailing your tendency to eat your way out of difficult situations, out of difficult feelings. You had to do this, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to lose excess weight.
In a way, the challenge of losing excess weight is much smaller than the challenge of making and sustaining a permanent change in the way you live. A diet is a diet, it’s time limited, you go on it, and then it’s over. But your new thinner self wants to go on and on, and that is by far the most challenging thing.
This is not to say that losing excess weight isn’t a great big accomplishment—it is, of course.
But it’s not the end of the line. It’s the beginning of something brand new.
7. Can you rearrange your life in any way to make it easier to avoid diet temptations?
When you don’t know how to cope well with temptations, being tempted could very well make you stop dieting to the point where you stop trying to diet.
So what does it take to cope well? It would be helpful, first of all, for you to understand why you were so tempted. In other words, what made you susceptible to being tempted.
There are lots of factors that lead to being tempted: the kind of food, the time of day, level of hunger, the occasion (e.g., a party], emotional state (e.g., angry, anxious, down, bored), the need to feel better, comforted, loved, energized, etc., etc. There are endless possibilities when it comes to being tempted.
Identifying the cause is the first order of business when it comes to coping better with the urgent feeling of “it’s so tempting”. If the cause of being tempted is situational (e.g., a party), there are two quick options that probably come to mind. One is to take total control—don’t even attend the party. Another is to go to the party, but prepare yourself not to be tempted by the allure of the party food or the influence of the social situation. An airtight plan will help here.
When feeling tempted is caused by your need for emotional regulation (e.g., quelling anxiety or lifting a depressed mood), you could again take total control and get rid of all the non-diet food at home. Then your anxieties and mood swings would not have an impact on your consumption of fattening food. Or, you could deal more directly with the anxiety and mood changes themselves so you won’t have to eat over them. If you can do this, you might not have the usual problem with food.
A temptation that you cope with well won’t make you stop dieting when it loses its power to tempt you.
8. What advice do you have for people who just don’t like to exercise or who avoid it for other reasons?
In regard to unwanted weight, it’s important to realize that there is no research that shows that exercise helps a person lose excess weight. The research on exercise and weight shows that exercise helps you maintain your weight once you’ve lost it. But, and this is a big but, a person who is trying to lose weight is often helped to feel more motivated if she exercises as well. She becomes prouder of herself, experiences her body differently, sees that she can keep to a difficult regimen; all this feeds back into her skill-set and determination to lose excess weight. And, it is in this sense, the claim that exercise helps you lose excess weight, has a lot of merit.
Not exercising like not losing weight is not simply a case of diminished willpower. Getting ourselves to do something, anything, especially when it means making a personal change, is never the straightforward “I could do it if I wanted to” matter that it is advertised to be. There’s much more to it. The stages of change research by Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, although taken very seriously in the psychological community, has not reached the general public in a significant way. Slogans that say in effect “just get yourself to do it” are still the accepted model.
But the change research clearly shows that there are stages, that changing yourself is a process. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiCemente list six such stages of change. The advice for people who want to exercise but can’t do what the slogans exhort them to do is to see what stage of change they are in. Interestingly, taking action, which means actually going ahead and exercising on some regular basis, is the fourth stage, according to the Prochaska research. Persuading yourself to think more seriously about exercising and preparing yourself emotionally and practically to exercise are the second and third stages. Getting yourself from the second to third stage of change may be all you can hope for, for now.
9. When you’re making a resolution to improve your health, who should you recruit to be on your wellness team?
Well, of course, there are all the usual suspects. For physical health there’s the physician, nurse, nutritionist, dietician, and personal trainer. For mental health there’s the psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, and marriage and family counselor.
There are the unusual suspects as well, although they play a less visible role in a person being healthy. They come under the heading of social support. Research shows that supportive relationships protect us from many mental as well as physical health problems. Social support is the emotional connection you have with significant persons in your life. This means the backing for your feelings and interest in your emotional well being that you get from friends and family members. There is research also that indicates that being supportive of others has a beneficial effect on your health as well.
If need help losing weight, another recruit for your wellness team should be someone who you can lose weight with. This someone can be your husband, wife, partner, friend or family member. They key thing in choosing a weight-loss buddy, the research shows, is to choose someone who will actually lose weight right along with you.
10. It’s easy to make excuses when you’re juggling work and family responsibilities. How can you make time for your resolutions in a hectic schedule?
Strategies can be a good antidote for making excuses. In fact, you should have an arsenal of good strategies up your sleeve when you want to stick to your resolutions.
Take losing excess weight, for example. Learning how to eat less and eat differently is very hard to do. It’s no wonder your mind is ready with good sounding excuses.
You know the drill, for sure. So this is where a ready bag of strategies comes in very handy.
For example, here's one possible strategy
You can play this chorus of words in your head, the first letters obviously spelling out STOP. As soon as you have one of those irrational excuse moments, which could so easily lead to overeating............you’d S-T-O-P.