Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
It is not uncommon to be excited and motivated at the start of a lifestyle change. The difficulty comes in sustaining that motivation.
Profound weight loss requires developing new habits and changing your relationship with food. This can be difficult given the food culture in which we live. Most of us have been taught to use food for comfort or to show love.
We get several THOUSAND messages a day to eat. These messages can be subliminal, as in product placement in TV shows, print advertising, or even in our language (we call people “sweetie pie” or describe others as a “smart cookie”.) We also learn to reward (or punish) with food. Have you ever been told, “If you are good, we will stop and get ice-cream”? Maybe you’ve heard, “If you don’t finish your dinner, you can’t have dessert.” These messages condition us to see food as other than fuel for our bodies. No wonder diets are so hard to stick to!
At Three Health, we have taken a “lifestyle” approach rather than a “dieting” approach. A diet eventually ends when a person has reached their goal weight, or more often when a person loses motivation to continue. This leads to harmful “yo-yo” dieting.
So, we know what leads to losing weight only to gain it back; let’s take a look at some strategies for steady and sustainable weight loss.
One key to successful weight loss is to set realistic goals. Lifestyle changes do not happen overnight, so setting attainable goals leads to real success. Progress markers such as noticing your clothes are looser or that you can take the stairs more easily indicate success more so than a number on the scale. Set small, achievable, measurable goals and celebrate when you reach them.
We see successful change when people recognize and challenge all-or-nothing thinking. A common self-defeating thought is, “I blew it by eating that cookie! I may as well have whatever I want now and start over on Monday.” Learning to put things in perspective can prevent a binge. Having a cookie does not mean you are lost in the woods, you are only one step off the path and it is easy to get back on!
The buddy system is another way to maintain motivation. At Three Health, we offer a monthly support group along with weekly therapy groups. Making major lifestyle changes can be more difficult when we try to go it alone. Getting feedback from others can help us gain personal insights and healthy strategies to get through life’s tougher moments.
Small, non-food rewards such as a new book, a manicure, or a round of golf can be a new way of acknowledging successes and gives one the incentive to continue to practice healthy habits.
It is important to recognize that a healthy lifestyle—which involves nutrition, exercise, assertiveness, and boundaries—is a life-long goal and not a one-time deal. Remember, you are worth the time and energy it takes to make healthy changes and Three Health is here to help!
By Marlene Sexton, LMFT