— By Sara Lindberg
People jump into health and fitness plans for a lot of reasons—maybe a new diet promising amazing benefits has been floating around social media, perhaps it’s part of your new job’s health incentive program or you’ve been roped into a monthly challenge with your best friend. Whatever the reason, if you’re anything like the millions of Americans who go full-force into a healthy eating and exercise program, though, there’s a good chance you’ll lose motivation and regain any lost weight when the initial excitement wears off.
The real question then becomes, why do we keep looking for the “best” diet plan—you know, the one that will finally be the answer to every weight-loss roadblock—without first addressing the real reason why you want to lose weight?
What Is Your “Why” for Wanting to Lose Weight?
Most diet programs focus only on the “what” of weight loss. Participants have a list of foods they can and cannot eat and losing weight is the only pre-determined outcome. Goals are set based on the answer to one question: “How much weight do you want to lose?”
And consequently, your success is measured by the scale, not by how you feel. Unfortunately, when your focus is only on what you want to lose, the results are often short-lived. After all, physical appearance can only bring you so far—real happiness lies in a healthy lifestyle and positive body image.
Shifting your focus from what you want to lose to what you want to gain, or your “why,” is no easy feat, though. Ditching the fixed diet mindset can be difficult— especially if your value comes from external sources like your doctor, spouse, friends or societal expectations.
So, what should you do instead?
According to NASM-certified trainer Dani Singer, director of Fit2Go Personal Training, the key is to forget about all of the external sources telling you (be it directly or indirectly) to lose weight and figure out why you, as an individual, want to get in shape. Defining your “why” before you decide which weight-loss program to commit to is often the single-most important step you can take if you want to achieve lasting change.
But here’s the catch: Your “why” can’t just be, “I want to lose weight.” You need to dig deeper and find out why you actually care enough to proactively work toward self-improvement.
“Your why is everything,” says Singer. “If you don’t understand exactly how your weight-loss goals are going to affect the important areas of your life, you’re going to drop off as soon as you hit the first road bump.”
From a psychological perspective, the “why” behind human behavior is as important, if not more, than the “what.” That’s because when you target a deeper motivation for why you want to lose weight, you’re able to target the behavior (the what) that will help you reach your goals.
“Chronic dieting and a weight loss focus are two of the barriers to shedding weight and keeping it off, as well as [being] major promoters of weight-cycling and the despair felt by many people who struggle with food and the scale,” says intuitive eating counselor Paige O’Mahoney, M.D.
She explains that weight loss is an external goal and doesn’t work as well as internal goals such as living a healthy lifestyle and a commitment to consistent self-care, body appreciation and self-kindness.
Moreover, she says, weight-loss as a goal puts the emphasis on the end of a process, whereas focusing on habits such as tuning into hunger and satiety signals, practicing kind and motivating self-talk, and nutritious eating, focus on the process itself.
Defining Your “Why”
If you are struggling to define your “why” one thing to consider is whether or not you have a personal or emotional investment in what you are trying to accomplish. If the answer is “no,” then you need to go back to the drawing board and start over. Try asking yourself these three questions:
- Why is losing weight important to me?
- Why does that reason matter?
- Why do I feel strongly about that reason?
Once you have determined your “why,” the motivation to change should be obvious. Singer recommends envisioning your life and detailing exactly what is going to be different as a result of achieving your goals. People who are intrinsically motivated are far more successful than those who are only motivated by extrinsic rewards.
What if your only driving force is that you really just want to lose weight, though? How do you adjust your mindset? While it’s easy to say, “I want to lose weight because I want to be healthy, so I’ll never drink another diet soda or eat another cookie again,” it’s rarely realistic. Realistic goals lead to a realistic life, so do your best to set manageable goals that will eventually result in sustainable change.
“It’s important to set realistic goals, that you can achieve easily in the first few weeks so you have success—even if it’s small—which can help motivate you to keep moving forward,” explains nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D. When you’re ready and willing to reset your “why,” consider the end first. What will be easier when you lose weight? How will your health improve? How will your overall wellness benefit? Will your happiness improve?
Shifting your focus from what you want to lose (i.e., 20 pounds) to what you want to gain—more energy, improved physical and mental health, more quality time with family, etc.—will help you stay on track when you inevitably encounter setbacks.