Three Lessons To Keep Going
For every time in my life that I've lost weight, I can remember the exact moment when that magic "switch" flipped, motivating me to lose 30, 40, 50 or more pounds. I can also remember, precisely, every eating event that brought each successful losing streak to an end, propelling me back to the starting weight (or higher).
The last time I lost weight was the most memorable. I was paying for the "gold level" plan with an online program. As a "gold" member I had access to a personal trainer. I had been with the program for several months, had lost more than 50 pounds, was exercising regularly and engaging in the online competitions and forums with other members. I was on fire!
Then I started to feel the old resistance kick in; I tried to ignore the voice in my head telling me I had done enough and could stop. That little voice that said go ahead and eat that extra bite. You can start fresh in the morning. Or, you worked really hard today, so you don't need really need to do a workout this evening.
I knew I needed help. I sent an email to my trainer that went something like this:
me: I'm really worried. I've been at this for a long time and I am in really good shape. But I'm starting to lose my motivation, It feels like this has been a fun project, but now the project's over and it's time for the next project. I'm in "that place" again. I've been here before and I know the warning signs. I don't want to lose all the progress I've made. Please help.
trainer's response: It's not a project. It's a lifestyle change. You have to adopt the changes for life.
Gee, thanks. That helps a lot. That really, really helps. What I really need is a trite meme. How? I responded to her, How?
She never replied. She had never struggled with weight; maybe she didn't have an answer.
Within a few months I discontinued my membership. There was no point in watching my bank account get a little lower every month while my weight got higher.
Within a year I had gained back all the weight I had lost.
It's all in the "how"
Fast forward a few years. I decided that if I was ever going to understand how to achieve fitness for life I needed to learn about it, in-depth. I needed the insider's view. I needed to know what the pros know. I earned ACE certifications for both Personal Trainer and Health Coach.
I often find myself thinking back to the question I asked my gold-level trainer. She was correct in one sense, it is a lifestyle change, and you do have to make changes that you can adopt for life. But the how… the how is an intertwined combination of awareness, goal setting, and a personal support system that may include family/friends, counselors, and empathetic trainers or coaches.
As complex as that may sound, I've pared it down to three lessons that I'll share with you. Three answers to how that keep me going in the right direction.
It's not an on-and-off switch
Lesson #1: Motivation is not an on-and-off switch. A spark of inspiration may “switch on” the momentum to get started, but embracing the idea that behavior change is a continuum will keep you going.
In fitness parlance, losing ground on a goal, such as regaining weight after losing it, is called relapse. To understand relapse it helps to know about TTM, the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, which breaks down behavioral change into a sequence of five stages:
- precontemplation (not thinking about making a change at all)
- contemplation (thinking about making a change and beginning to take steps)
- preparation (have already taken steps to implement the change)
- action (have been working on the change for about six months)
- maintenance (have implemented the change for six months or more)
Not meeting a goal for a week doesn't mean starting from scratch. You don't go from maintenance to precontemplation in one week. You just pick up where you are and start moving forward again.
It's not all or nothing
Lesson #2: It's never "all or nothing." When struggling with behavior change there’s a tendency to fall into the "all or nothing" trap. The challenge of tackling everything all at once can actually make you feel good for a short time, until the reality kicks in. Losing weight and getting fit involves many, many changes, but if you try to change everything all at the same time it's inevitable that you'll get discouraged.
To avoid the all-or-nothing trap have S.M.A.R.T. goals for individual changes (no matter how small) and know where you are in the Stages of Change continuum for each individual goal. For example:
- In my goal to give up sodas I am fully in maintenance stage. I haven't had a Diet Pepsi in two years; I don't miss it or even think about it.
- I manage to perform weight-bearing (resistance) exercise twice a week. For resistance exercise I'm in the action stage.
- I’m just beginning to participate in 5K runs again, but I’m not running consistently with any kind of scheduled training, so for running I’m in the preparation stage.
Tomorrow starts right now
Lesson #3: Tomorrow starts right now. So I scarf a couple of donuts on the way to work. As I’m brushing away the tell-tale signs of powdered sugar I start thinking what the hell? I’ve already blown it for today. I’m going to bring home a pizza for dinner. I'll start fresh in morning.
There are a lot of things going on that create this thinking, but there's only one outcome: a vicious guilt-eat cycle. Break the cycle by enjoying the moment and moving on. Those donuts were really good, and I really enjoyed them. For lunch I’ll enjoy the meal I packed and take my regular walk. Love yourself, forgive yourself and move on. No guilt, no remorse, no recriminations.
The one thing these three lessons have in common is that they are all anchored by the ideas of accepting yourself and believing that you are worthy of the changes you want to embrace.