Break the Cycle
I want to lose weight.
Well that’s a pretty abstract goal, but one that most everyone has at some point had. We all know that maintaining a healthy weight is good for you, from preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes, managing your blood pressure, and lowering your bad cholesterol. Not to mention a boost in energy, mood, and self-confidence!
The trick is to find the real motivation behind the statement. Engage in the exercise of writing down your list of reasons why you want to lose the weight. Be specific and brutally honest. Instead of saying “I want to be healthier,” write down “I want to lose weight so I don’t have a heart attack like my grandpa.” The act of writing it down makes it more real and makes it more motivating to see it in print. Keep this mission statement handy for when you start to lose steam and need to re-center yourself.
If you’re not a list maker, you can use imagery to get your point across. Maybe your motivation for weight loss is that you want to play with your kids. Post a picture of them playing where you can see it every day, especially on those days when you’re thinking that throwing on some sweatpants and planting yourself firmly on the couch sounds better than hitting the gym.
I’m going to swear off pizza.
We’ve all been there. You think to yourself, “I’ll fill up on salad and diet soda while my family is enjoying a hot slice.” That may work the first few times, but eventually that salad starts looking less and less edible and the smell of that pizza pie is invading your dreams.
The problem with this line of thinking is that the extreme deprivation has set you up for a binge of epic proportions. The moment your resolve is weakened, you’ll eat more pizza than you ever thought was humanly possible.
So instead of swearing off your favorite food, try thinking of it as your dessert or your special treat. You’ll only eat your pizza after you’ve eaten that salad and had two glasses of water; this way you’re already feeling pretty full. Eat a slice or two on a plate (not out of the box!). Take your time eating it; savor each bite.
Practice mindfulness and think about the experience; did you enjoy eating it?
Beyond the joy that comes from still enjoying your favorite foods, you will now know that you have control over it. Swearing off your favorite foods only serves to fetishize them, giving them an undeserved power over you. Knowing that you can eat that cookie if you want to, you are more likely to weigh the pros and cons, and hopefully you will end up deciding that it just is not worth it most of the time. When you don’t feel restricted, you are more likely to wind up making well-reasoned decisions.
I’m going to only eat clean.
Best intentions can easily be scuttled when it comes time to actually act and choose a meal or snack. Experts tell us that we make a couple hundred food decisions every day. “What should I have for breakfast? Ok, I’m having cereal. Is it going to be cereal A or cereal B? How much is one serving? How much milk do I pour in? What milk do I use?” Because of the sheer number of decisions, our environment can greatly impact how much and what we eat.
Using the cereal example above, if the choice is between a sugary cereal or a bran cereal, straighten out your pantry so as to reduce the decision to simply the bran. Put the healthier choices on full display to set yourself up for success. For example, put fresh fruit on the counter or at in the front of the refrigerator for easy access. I’m going to be stronger this time.
Free yourself from the idea of willpower! Let’s be honest; our willpower is like a tank of gas. Eventually you run out of it, and we make our worst decisions when we are weak.
Work on changing your brain to make better decisions. Turn the concept of willpower on its head and get in the habit of planning in advance; preparation is the key to your success. Before you even feel yourself tempted by those cupcakes, remember (and then write down) what you felt like after your last binge. Did the sugar rush make you queasy? Was there something going on in your life besides hunger that made you inordinately desirous of them?
It’s not about some magical concept at this point. It’s about practicing mindfulness and thinking about your desires. The act of deliberate thinking will help govern your decisions.
It’s cheat day and I’m out with friends.
None of us at Fit815 would ever advocate staying in and being a hermit all weekend. The key to staying on track is to plan ahead. If you’re meeting up with friends at a local restaurant, plan your meal ahead of time so that you’re not stuck making a food decision in the moment that you’ll end up regretting. Get online and review the menu ahead of time. Decide on what you’re going to order before you ever walk through the doors. This is ideal in that you won’t be making a decision based upon your current hunger (or hanger!) at the table, nor will you be influenced when your friend orders the double bacon cheeseburger with a side of poutine. Also, plan ahead on how many drinks you’re going to allow yourself to have.
This way you’re not depriving yourself, you’re actively engaged in making choices.
I’m crazy hungry after my workout and hey, I earned it!
Picture this: you come out of a spin class absolutely starving, so you head out for dinner with a few friends. Before you know it, you’ve ordered something you really shouldn’t have because, hey, you just burned 600 calories sweating in the saddle.
So, you just invested an hour of your valuable time in a worthwhile pursuit (spinning rocks!) and you managed to negate it within 60 minutes of leaving the gym by overeating bar food! Weight loss, after all, is about creating a calorie deficit.
Interestingly enough, research shows that you can hack your brain to reduce that post-exercise hunger. Simply reframe your workout as a break from your busy life. Thinking of your workout as a positive indulgence makes you less likely to overeat later.
After this weekend, what’s the point of continuing on my “diet?”
Sometimes you’re going to eat that pizza or cheeseburger. Stop beating yourself up about it. That decision was just one of many that you face in a day. Acknowledge it and move on. Instead of dwelling on the bad weekend decisions, take a few minutes to write down your victories from the past week, no matter how small they might seem. They should certainly outweigh the few bad ones.
At times, despite your best intentions, the scale will not move; your weight might actually increase! Don’t let the scale drive you crazy or make you quit trying. Weight is just a number. Remember those reasons you wrote down or represented with a photo that are driving your lifestyle shift and get yourself back on track. This is what makes living a life well-lived a lifestyle choice as opposed to a diet.