If you’re trying to lose weight but struggling, then you’re in the majority. There’s never been a time where information is so freely available to us – for free and on demand. The fact is that you probably have a good idea about how to lose weight, how to improve your health and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
The problem is that actually doing what you know you should be doing is sometimes more challenging, unless you have some fundamental skills in place.
Knowing that you probably know what to do, today I want to help you explore why you:
- Just can’t seem to lose weight in the first place
- You lose weight easily only to regain it and more each time
- You’ve tried one diet after the next and nothing seems to stick
- You’re struggling to maintain an ideal body weight
Yes You Do Want This Enough
Some may say that you’re struggling to lose weight because you don’t want it enough. Perhaps you’ve had a ‘drill sergeant’ personal trainer in the past who really pushed you to the limits, berating and blaming you for your lack of progress.
You might have heard others say things like ‘you love food more than you love being lean and healthy’.
The truth is that you do want this enough. Weight loss is important to you. It can be life changing, and being unhappy with your current self is uncomfortable.
How do I know you want this enough? Because 20% of us are dieting at any one time, and on average we try multiple times every year. This show’s that losing weight is important. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t bother trying.
You Likely Have A Skills Deficit
You know what to do to lose weight, and losing weight is truly important to you. So why then can’t you seem to lose weight?
Here’s the reality. You have a skills deficit. You have an abundance of ‘wanting’ to lose weight and there is no shortage in terms of trying. The shortfall comes in the shape of a skills deficit.
So what’s a skills deficit?
Great question – let me explain.
Ready. Willing. Able.
For a weight loss to occur you need to make a change. You need to create a negative calorie balance, which means you need to eat fewer calories (energy) than you expend. Fat loss will happen once you create this negative calorie balance.
The trouble is, we’re really good at making changes. We start new diet plans several times per year. And we begin to lose weight each time, before the weight piles back on again.
For long term success you need to be ready, willing and able to do whatever it is that you are doing if you want to stick with it.
When you start a new diet, you are ready. You’ve gone through a thought process and yu’ve come to a point where you feel ready to make a change. You’re even excited by the promise of a leaner, healthier and happier you. So you make a change and begin a new diet.
You’ve done your research and you’re confident this new diet book is ‘the one’. After all you’ve seen all the social proof that other’s have achieved success by doing it. And even though this particular diet means eliminating your favourite food, or only eating at certain times, or it prescribes you to a particular exercise regime, you’re willing to give it a try. After all it has woked for your friend.
But you are not your friend. You are you.
If you’ve ever started on a weight loss plan or diet plan only to come unstuck after a period of time, the likely cause is a your skills. Not your ‘want’ to lose weight. Not your readiness or willingness to try. But your skills.
You ability to stick to a plan is what dictates whether you can master long term adherence. Most people fail to lose weight, or at least keep it off, because diet plans involve a combination of the following:
- Too much change too soon
- Too uncomfortable to do forever
- Require too much effort to do forever
Is Your Goal Clear?
Clarifying your goal is an important and often forgotten aspect of the weight loss journey. I understand why so many people have a vague notion of losing weight rather than a clear well defined goal, but let’s consider the benefits of setting clear goals and expectations. Ask:
- What does getting in shape mean to you?
- What do you want to be?
- What do you want to do?
- What do you want to feel? Confident? Not ashamed?
- What is the feeling you are really seeking?
- How will you know when you have reached your goal? What will be happening?
Losing 10 lbs or completing a 10km run is a path to a feeling. You need to identify this feeling and the deeper reasons behind the goal.
Who do you feel you are, and what are your priorities and values? If you’re struggling to reach your goal look for conflict between your values and your goal.
Let’s say you want to lose weight and you set a goal of hitting the gym 4 times per week. At the same time you believe that you’re a good worker, and you 14 hour days at the office reflect this. You’re stressed and tired by the end of a long day and would rather unwind after work with your favourite alcoholic drink than adding a trip to the gym to your day.
There is clearly a conflict with your belief and your goal.
So, how could your goal augment your work? How could you set a weight loss goal that is more in line with your beliefs?
- Attend the office gym or perform a 10 minute home workout early before work?
- Could set a timer to get up and walk every hour at work?
- Could you take build activity into your life that takes no time. Things like taking the stairs instead of the lift, having walking meetings, and even a stand up desk.
- What about the effect of being in shape – would this help you focus at work and perform better?
In this case, re-framing the behaviour goal so that it aligns with your beliefs will reduce the resistance to doing it. Furthermore by making the goal even easier to do will make it more likely to happen. And finally, by understanding how the outcome will help you behave in line with your true beliefs you will see the benefits of doing the behaviour and you’ll want to do it.
Another example that comes up a lot is parenting and grand parenting. And being a family oriented person can sometimes present conflict with health and fitness goals.
Using the same goal as above, a busy mum or dad might feel conflict between putting themselves first and focusing on health and fitness that.
Taking themselves away from the family to look after number one may at a surface level feel a little selfish. In this situation changing your perspective to see that without looking after your own wellbeing, you can not be expected to perform optimally as a parent.
Knowing that you are being a positive role model and that your values of prioritising health and well being will have a positive knock on effect on the family can only serve to motivate you in your health and fitness journey. Knowing you are being your best self will allow you to better manage the challenges, as well as enhance the enjoyment that comes from parenting.
On a side note:
If I asked 10 people what they really value in life, the top two answers would likely be ‘health’ and ‘family’. On asking where these same people spend their time, their answers would include things like work / paperwork and menial tasks that would have been placed much further down the priority list. The trick is to identify the priority values (health and family for a lot of people), and then make time for these – non negotiable time.
What are your values and how would a health and fitness goal align with them?
Why You Don’t Do Things That Lead To Goals
Whether you’re a coaching client of mine or another coach, or you’re trying to reach a goal alone or with the support of a peer, the fact is that being ‘coachable’ is a skill.
When we are asked to do something we end up doing the exact opposite a lot of the time.
You decide to ‘eat more vegetables’ but end up having that pizza and ice cream instead.
Or you decide to run 3 times per week, but end up ‘starting tomorrow’… only tomorrow never comes.
So why do we do the opposite, whether it is an instruction to self or an agreed goal with a trusted friend or coach?
The pizza feels good compared to a bowl of vegetables, and your truthiness says that pizza is evil, and since you’re having it you might as well forget the vegetables and double up on ice cream. Your truth is black and white.
The sofa and your favourite TV show is a lot more comfortable compared to running 10km. And since you haven’t run in 3 years running 10km today will be most uncomfortable so you might as well not bother. So instead you watch TV whilst eating popcorn. Your truth is again black and white.
In reality we often look at the end goal and feel so overwhelmed by it that we don’t bother because there’s no way we can do it ‘today’. It seems so daunting and the alternative currnet behaviour is so much more comfortable that we’re drawn to it.
If you’ve experienced this, here’s what to do:
Reverse engineer your goal into things you can ‘do’. Not arbitrary goals, but real life actionable goals that you can do. Remember an outcome is out of your control, but your actions are very much in your control. By focusing on ‘doing’ you will be much more likely to achieve the outcome than if you focus on the outcome.
Since what often stops us is that daunting feeling of overwhelm, I highly recommend spending some time to reverse engineer your outcome goal (lose 10lbs, run 10km, get off medication) into processes you can focus on.
- What is the outcome I want to achieve?
- What can I do this month?
- What can I do this week?
- What can I do today?
- I want to lose 10lbs
- By the end of this month I want to be eating vegetables with at least one meal every day
- By the end of the week I want to have eaten vegetables with two meals
- Today I can buy some frozen peas on my way home from work and have them with my pizza
For this person you can see that the immediate goal is much more manageable for her than the much more challenging goal in a month’s time. The likelihood of buying a packet of frozen peas on the way home is high and doesn’t present much resistance.
How To Reverse Engineer Your Goal
- Think of an outcome – don’t over think – what do you want to achieve?
- Choose what you are prepared to do this month – include vegetables at lunch and evening meals
- Choose what you are prepared to do this week – eat vegetables twice before Sunday
- Choose what are you prepared to do today – buy some vegetables that are easy to cook
Essentially the idea is that you go from big to small, then start picking it off one small step at a time.
Eliminate things that aren’t moving you towards your goal. Think about what you are doing – or audit your day – and ask yourself ‘is this getting me closer to my goal?’.
A common behaviour for those seeking to lose weight is to weigh yourself several times per day. If the scale doesn’t do what you want it to do it can ruin your day and set you on a course of self destruction. Have a conversation with yourself. Have a conversation with yourself:
‘Is this getting me close to my goal?’.
‘Actuallly no, it’s driving me nuts – every time I weigh in I’m a different weight and all I want to do is give up when the scale goes up’’.
‘Okay, well how about we put the scale to one side for a week and see what happens’.
When you notice the negative effect this continual obsession with weighing yourself is having you can then decide to eliminate this activity. Spend your energy on developing supportive habits instead.
Instead of XYZ try ABC instead.
Fear Of Failure
Rarely are we 100% secure in ourselves and our ability to achieve a goal. I often speak with clients who have a goal in mind, and when I ask them how committed to achieving that goal they tell me 6/10, or use non committal words such as hopefully and I’ll try.
When I ask why, clients often describe the fear of failure and self doubt. Perhaps having failed in the past, or daunded by the long journey ahead and the fear of making mistakes.
But the truth is that the journey will never be a straight line from A to B. It will always have twists and turns in it, and you will always make mistakes along the way. If you are practicing food skills you will make mistakes – this is part of learning.
And that’s okay.
Don’t judge yourself, wipe the slate clean and move on. Learn from the experience.
Rather than beat yourself up for having those cookies, feeling guilt and restricting your food intake because you feel bad, tell yourself ‘no big deal’ and move on. Look back and ask ‘why did this happen?’ and learn from your experience.
Were you tired? How could you get 8 hours sleep next time?
Were you stressed? Go for a walk or call a friend instead?
Were you hungry? Could you eat a bigger lunch that would get you through the afternoon lull?
Cookies aren’t evil, the rule you have created to not eat cookies is made up and you are not a bad person if you decide to eat some. Are they in line with a weight loss goal? Eating them every day won’t help, but having a 90% rule would be healthier than banning them only to finally cave in and eat a whole bag.
Think of avoiding cookies as a skill. You keep them out of sight in the house, or don’t even have them in the house at all. And just like playing guitar is a skill, when the guitarist isn’t playing guitar, that does not make the guitarist a bad person. So when you want to share some cookies with a friend who popped by for a cuppa,it is absolutely okay to eat the cookies when you eat whole foods most of the time.
Focus on doing more of the right stuff.
If you eat a bag of cookies every day, rather than beating yourself up about it focus instead on doing more of what you do right and improving.
Rather than focus on the failings, focus on the wins. If you’ve tried over and over to lose weight, congratulate yourself on your continued effort – most people would have given up by now!
Make It Relevant To You
When personal trainers describe things they often use common terminology that you might not immediately recognise as relevant to you and the ‘feeling’ you are seeking. Here are a couple of examples that once ‘translated’ will help you get feel motivated by them:
‘Improve body composition’ might not mean anything to you and your goal until you understand that body composition describes the composition of your body in terms of fat mass and fat free mass, and that improving your body composition is in fact your goal and will lead you down the path to the feeling you seek.
High intensity interval training or HIIT might drum up images of discomfort, sweat and challenge. You might dread HIIT sessions and resent the fact that you’re being asked to do them. So what would make them more palatable? What if you associated HIIT with fat loss and accelerated results – the feeling you crave. Putting it into context would certainly be motivating wouldn’t it?
‘Eat slowly’ might seem completely arbitrary and a little ridiculous, until you understand that eating slowly will result in the hunger message having time to be sent from stomach to brain, allowing you to feel satisfied before completing your meal and stopping a little sooner – leading you one step closer to the goal of a flat stomach and losing 10lbs.
You’re Being Misunderstood
Do you ever feel misunderstood?
Sharing your goals with someone is one thing. What they understand might be quite different.
Gaining support towards your goal is important, and I spend a lot of time helping clients to build and leverage their personal support network. Whether this is in the form of social support at home, creating a supportive environment at work, or working with a fitness professional, it doesn’t matter.
But what if you’re misunderstood.
When you told your spouse you felt self conscious about your weight and wanted to do something about it, what did they interpret this to mean?
Did they put up resistance in supporting you because they interpreted this to mean that you wanted to only eat salad and exercise twice a day replacing date night with trips to the gym?
When what you actually meant was that you wanted to do a weekend walk together and just be generally more active, perhaps adding a few more vegetables on your plate and a smaller portion of pudding.
When you told your friend that you wanted to slim down, how did she interpret this?
Did she sign you up for their ‘bucket list’ adventure race with them? To you this would have been a hellish journey and what you actually meant was that you’d appreciate it if they stopped bringing around home made cupcakes (her other hobby) when they call by, because you’re not a runner like she is. And actually you really enjoy swimming and would like to start again – perhaps once per week – after not doing it for 25 years.
What happened when you told your coach you wanted lose weight for a wedding in 3 months? Did they understand you correctly and confirm their understanding?
Did any of these people understand your ‘why’, and furthermore did they take into account what you are willing, ready and able to do?
Two people might want to get in shape for a wedding. What they mean by this might be completely different things and require completely different approaches. By ensuring your supporters understand you, they will be better able to support you.
I hope this has helped you to identify some of the road blocks that are preventing your from achieving the results that you really want to achieve. Here are your next steps and further resources that I hope will help you: