Mind over matter – you’ve heard that expression before, and it’s so true for successful and permanent weight loss. Here are some things to consider for your weight loss journey:
If you want to make a lifestyle change, don’t think about the lifestyle change.
Don’t wake up one morning and say “I am doing to make a lifestyle change.” It’s really a step-by-step process.
If you tell yourself you’re going to make a lifestyle change, you are subconsciously telling yourself that your current life is dissatisfying and you’ve been a failure. Making a change – and any kind of change – is scary. It has been said that people like the idea of change – as long as they can stay the same. For sure, change is something people detest.
Furthermore, when we undergo a major change, our imaginations go into overdrive, thinking of worst-case scenarios about the change. For weight loss, people might think: “I’ll never be able to drink alcohol again!” or “I’ll have to go to the gym five days a week” or “I’ll bulk up if I lift weights”. We see it all as a big chore. Even worse, we tell ourselves that the change is only temporary, so that we will just have to “suffer” through the changes until our goals are met. Instead, consider your changes as new habits to embrace, not chores to endure.
A lifestyle change is really a series of steps, instead of one giant leap.
Pretend you’re the Bionic Man or Woman, making one giant leap in super-slow motion (sound effects are optional). If you think of your change as an evolutionary process (instead of a revolutionary one), you’ll be more successful in making the lifestyle change.
If you want to make a giant weight loss leap, take it step by step.
Many people think weight loss is an “all or nothing” approach, but recent studies show something different. They reveal that a step-by-step approach to weight loss may be just as effective over the long term.
Take a step-by-step approach to weight loss, and you’ll have a better result.
100% effort x 3 weeks = 300% results
80% effort x 5 weeks = 400% results
25% effort x 25 weeks = 625% results
So, if you do something for 25 weeks (that’s half a year) and you continue with that approach, you just made a lifestyle change – and you probably won’t even notice!
Leo Babauta elucidates the benefits of starting small – and then gradually building on this – in The Power of Less: The Six Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life. Babauta explains that this step-by-step approach makes things easier to handle, and helps you make lasting changes that yield successful results. Most importantly, it helps sustain your interest in the task at hand:
By starting out doing less than you can actually handle, you build up energy and enthusiasm, kind of like water building up behind a dam. That built-up energy and enthusiasm ensures that you don’t run out of steam early on, but can keep going for much longer.
And we all know what it’s like to run out of energy and enthusiasm on our weight loss efforts.
Don’t push your willpower too much.
Willpower, according to research studies, is an infinite force. The more we tax our willpower, the quicker our reserves of willpower will be depleted and eventually run out .
And here’s the rub. Do you know what your brain craves to refuel its willpower reserves? Studies show that the brain wants glucose as its fuel for replenishing willpower . So, if you deplete your willpower too quickly, you’ll start craving sugar, which will blow your diet for sure!
With more than 200 food-related decisions to make every day, that’s a lot of glucose you’re going to need if you decide to revolutionise your eating – not to mention your exercise and activity levels.
But all is not lost! Studies also show that willpower is similar to a muscle, and it can be exercised and strengthened over time . Like when you overwork a muscle, if you push your willpower too much (like you do when you’re doing an “all or nothing” weight loss approach), your willpower will be like a pulled muscle, and you won’t be able to use it until it heals. If you follow a step-by-step weight loss approach, however, your willpower will get stronger and stronger, making weight loss easier and easier over time.
Don’t ‘to-do’ it, do it!
We’re all so busy these days that we usually have multiple to-do lists on the go – and now we have hundreds of free apps to help us create even more. For many of us, losing weight and getting healthy has become yet another task to be added to our ever-expanding lists. But are to-do lists such a good idea? A recent article in Harvard Business Review argues that they’re not – and here’s why:
- Conflicting priorities. When we make to-do lists, we’re faced with trying to prioritise all kinds of different tasks, and this probably means that we won’t end up attending to them in the order that we want to.
- Too many projects. Keeping a list of projects that vary in size and importance means that we end up choosing the quicker and easier tasks, and leaving the bigger ones until later – and sometimes, later doesn’t come!
- Too much choice. Compiling a list can be counter-productive if there’s too much on it – we don’t know where to begin, so we may end up not starting anything, or feeling too overwhelmed.
When it comes to weight loss, it’s all too easy to add it to your list and then just keep it there! So what can you do instead? Make your resolve a reality and schedule activities such as preparing healthy meals and getting some exercise into your calendar. That way, they’ve got a firm date attached to them, and they’ve become part of your weekly routine – not something you can just keep putting off.
Losing weight? Sssh – it’s a secret!
Two of my golden weight loss rules go against some of the most popular weight loss strategies around – setting goals and announcing your weight loss intentions to the world. Interestingly, a recent study supports what I’ve always known – that keeping your desire to get fit a secret is the best way to turn it into reality!
In a recent article on CNN.com, Jacque Wilson talks to Anita Mills, who weighed a seriously unhealthy 172 kilos when she decided to do something about her size. Alongside the usual advice about eating small, regular meals and avoiding sugary drinks, Mills’s doctor also suggested that she tell no one that she intended to lose weight. The results? Mills lost an incredible 110 kilos. More importantly, she’s kept it off.
So why is secrecy the secret to successful weight loss? There are several reasons. First, setting goals and announcing them to everyone you know is actually a way of limiting yourself. Who knows what you’re capable of achieving, or how long it’ll take you to get there? Second, your nearest and dearest could be resistant to the idea of change, even if that change is going to benefit your health. Third, as psychology Dr Peter Gollwitzer argues, announcing your intentions to others and then getting recognition for those intentions – for example, hearing people congratulate you for taking charge of your health, or telling you how good you look after you’ve lost those first few kilos – can trick you into thinking that you’ve achieved your goal already. What happens then? You stop trying. In your mind, you’ve already achieved what you set out to do.
So, once you’ve decided to lose weight, zip up your mouth – and, very soon, the next jeans size down!
Get your mind properly ready for weight loss, and you’ll be on your way to weight loss success. In my next blog post, I will talk about how to eat healthy foods that won’t leave you hungry or feeling deprived.
- T Neale, ‘Obesity: stepped approach to weight loss works’, Medpage Today, 2011
- L Babauta, The Power of Less: The Six Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life, UK: Hay House, 2009.
- RF Baumeister, J Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Penguin, USA, 2011.
- Baumeister and Tierney, p. 50 – 51.
- B Wansink, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Bantam, USA, 2010, p. 27.
- Baumeister and Tierney.
Sally Symonds is director of the online weight loss system, Love Your Weight Loss, author, speaker and one of the few people who has lost over 50% of her original body weight and kept it off.