Congrats! You lost weight! But then life happens. Sound familiar? How do you avoid falling off the wagon? Our health columnist offers five strategies to help.
You’ve just found the magic solution to losing the extra weight and permanently keeping it off. You figure out what to eat on the plan outlined, buy the groceries needed to adhere to it, and adopt the exercise regime it recommends. You follow the program strictly for two weeks, and guess what? You lose some weight, you feel better, and you like how your clothes fit. Success!
Then ___________ happens. In other words, life occurs. Who could have seen that coming?
I’m sure many of you have experienced this at some point in your weight loss journey – I know I have many times!
There was birthday cake strategically placed at the office, your partner left you, your boss reprimanded you, you went out to lunch with your coworkers, you didn’t prepare ahead of time, or you haven’t eaten in 8 hours. Whatever it is and how valid the reason may be, this is called life. Before you know it, the incongruent goal choice and action has crept up on you without your conscious knowledge and drove your head into a bag a chips or row of cookies. After the consumption, you feel ashamed and despaired. You ask yourself, “Why did I do that? I feel like a failure!” You ditch your rigid “diet” and fall back into old patterns and behaviors and the weight lost soon comes back, and likely more.
Why does this keep happening? How do we break this cycle? How do we handle it with grace and remain congruent with our health goals?
Insert The Diet Doc call!
Before diving into the five strategies, I want to first share three of the common hazards that set up unrealistic expectations, which can lead one more readily to fall off the healthy weight loss wagon. The five tips will help develop an approach that will stop you from engaging in that unhealthy yo-yo cycle, or restrict-binge behavior, you may know all too well.
Hazard #1: New Beginnings
We as human beings love novelty; it is always exciting and fresh at the start. It may sound strange, but sometimes it’s fun to start a new diet or exercise routine. You get to try new recipes and new workout routines and there’s all these gadgets that track all your metrics, but once the initial excitement wears off, we tend to get bored. That’s when motivation drops quickly. Refer to my “5 Nutrition Tips” article to establish that meaningful purpose statement.
Hazard #2: Short and Sweet
We also tend to have short attention spans and want immediate results that requires the least amount of resistance. Rolling with the punches or daily sacrifices don’t have to be physical pain – though the soreness you might feel when starting a workout routine could count – it can also be the annoyance of not ordering your usual coffee beverage or avoiding the fries or preparing healthy meals ahead of time instead of laying out on the couch. Refer back to your “why” and determine how high of a priority your health is.
Hazard #3: Unrealistic Expectations
If it were possible to lose a huge amount of weight in a short amount of time and keep it off for the rest of our lives, none of us would be in this situation in the first place. Sustained, healthy weight loss, and maintenance takes time, consistency, practice, and patience.
Now that those are laid out, here are five tips to avoid common weight loss pitfalls and set yourself up for long-term success:
1. Focus on the Big Picture
Acknowledge the desire for novelty and meet those needs in other areas of your life before the excitement of the diet and/or exercise routine wears off. For example, you could try a new sport or hobby. Additionally, look at other aspects of your life and determine what realistic, sustainable modifications you need to make to achieve your goals. Be proactive with your actions with the intention of making them lifelong behaviors and habits. It just takes starting though, striving to improve one day at a time and never settling.
2. Become a Mental Endurance Individual
We’ve heard the cliché, think of weight loss and maintenance as a marathon rather than a sprint. If you reflect of your struggle with weight, you’ll probably discover that it took years to get to where you are today. Similarly, it may take years to find success in your weight loss journey and to stay there in the long run. Believe in yourself and trust the process. Again, don’t quit on yourself. Keep trying, keep failing, keep learning, and repeat.
3. Be Humble
In order words, accept your weaknesses. For example, if you know that an upcoming family gathering will present itself as a stressful situation with food triggers, work around it by planning ahead. Consider what you will eat ahead of time and figure out a way to de-stress afterwards that doesn’t revolve around food. Even if despite the best intentions and the plan doesn’t go according to the plan, shake it off and analyze how you could improve for next time. What steps will you take? What could I have done differently? What was behind my motive for the choices I made?
Remember that being healthy is a process, not an outcome; it will not always be enjoyable. Expect tough times when you are bored, tired, ill, unmotivated, busy, or stressed. It’s about consistency, not perfection. You stick with it though because of its meaning and importance.
4. Forgive Yourself/Celebrate Your Successes
We tend to flourish and succeed at goals when we are complimented. Instead of labeling yourself as a “failure” when you detour, acknowledge what happened, be mindful of the choices that lead up to it, and change direction towards the outcome you desire. Stay away from extreme labels that make you feel hopeless (“I can’t…” is one of them), or set unachievable standards (“look like a supermodel”).
5. Develop a Strong Support System
Most people find that they are more successful with long-term weight loss, or any life process, when they involve others in the process. It’s absolutely crucial! How could your partner, family, or friends support you in your goals? Could you share healthy meals or exercise together? Could they be a support line? If you’re feeling unmotivated to exercise or to remain honest to your nutrition, could you reach out to them to help you remain focused?
There is research to support there is a higher tendency to slip back into old behavior patterns after an initial weight loss due to how we deal (or don’t deal) with our emotions. A reliable accountability partner can help you pinpoint patterns when faced with upsetting emotions or circumstances. This individual can help you address and resolve issues when they arise instead of stuffing them down with food or denying they exist.