Despite what statistics might show, people can lose weight. Whether it’s through pure motivation, adrenaline, meat-only diets, or any number of other psychological and physiological tactics, many people can power through a few months and drop some of the weight they want.
But then what happens?
For many, the pendulum swings back. Motivation dips, adrenaline subsides, and people stop telling you how wonderful you look. Did you lose weight? Well guess what: Once you go back to your old habits, weight finds you. And then we end up right back where we started.
Our collective problem isn’t that we can’t take weight off. It’s that we can’t keep it off.
The key to maintaining weight loss isn’t contained in a single diet or exercise plan. It’s more related to the emotional, psychological and lifestyle factors that dictate our relationship—and behaviours—with food. Here are three hidden conditions that can sabotage your success.
#1 The Imposter Phenomenon
You know how it feels to move into a new home or get a new car or upgrade to a new computer? You like it and all, but it still doesn’t feel like yours. Your old, beaten-down model—though it had its flaws—was yours. That’s the same way it works when people lose weight.
Many people have spent so long living in their heavy bodies that when they do lose weight, they can’t believe that the skinny person in the mirror is actually them. This critical window—when your mind tries to catch up to your body—is where many people revert to their old ways. That’s because it’s the time when doubt creeps in, along with a feeling of unworthiness. Though it may be hard to believe, for many people, it’s almost as if they were more comfortable being bigger.
THE SOLUTION: While a proper workout and diet may bring about the body transformation you want, the second – and equally important – part of that transition is the emotional and mental work you must do to adjust to your new body. To help, take pictures of yourself throughout the process. They’ll remind you how much you’ve done to earn your new, better body.
Take a few minutes every morning to look at those old pictures, and compare them to what you see in the mirror. This exercise of comparing the old you to the new you will reinforce that this new you is who you were always meant to be, and will help you adjust to your leaner, sleeker shape. You’ll know that you have the body you worked for and deserve. You’re not an imposter.
#2 Learning Maintenance
If you successfully lose weight, there are two things we can say for certain: 1) The way you ate and worked out (or didn’t work out) before caused you to be heavier, and 2) The changes you made to your diet and exercise regimen caused you to drop pounds and get in better shape (and presumably better, overall health).
But there’s also a third thing – one that most fitness trainers and nutrition experts don’t talk about: maintenance. Why is this so often overlooked? Many don’t know how to do maintenance. Maybe it’s because they don’t care what happens after the transformation, or maybe it’s because they don’t want to admit this step also requires effort.
The fact is that many people who lose weight simply go back to their former way of eating and all of their former lifestyle habits, rather than embracing the nutrition and exercise principles they employed to lose weight. Once you reach the point where you’re happy with your weight and body-fat levels, you need to take a good look and why you gained weight, and why you lost it. Then you can figure out the strategy maintaining your ideal weight. This won’t take as much effort as your initial weight loss, but if you ignore this crucial step, you’ll slip back into the patterns that caused you to gain weight in the first place.
THE SOLUTION: To learn your maintenance diet and exercise lifestyle start by doing everything you did to lose weight but add 20% more food, and take away 20% of the exercise.
For example, if you were aiming for 1700 calories per day during your diet, start eating about 1900 calories per day. If you were exercising a total of 10 hours per week (weights and cardio combined) during your weight loss, scale that back to 8 hours. Test this out for a week and monitor your bodyweight, waist measurement and your overall definition in the mirror. If nothing changes, repeat this pattern for another week.
If after two weeks you’ve maintained all of these metrics, then you’ve successfully determined your maintenance exercise and diet levels. If these diet and exercise levels cause you to lose more weight, you can add in 10% more calories and take away 10% more exercise until you stabilize. But if you start adding pounds and gaining inches around your waist, you’ve overshot your totals and need to pull back a bit on the calories or add back some exercise.
You shouldn’t need more than two to four weeks to get a good gauge of your maintenance calorie and exercise levels. Then all you’ll need to do is find new and creative foods and meals to mix and match while you keep the body you worked so hard to get.
#3 Negative Social Pressure
Even though we’re now so wrapped up in our computers, phones, and tablets that we may forget what an actual face looks like in person, we remain very social creatures. Because of that, negative feedback can seriously derail your efforts. Worse, a lot of that negativity can come from the people you’d least expect —namely, your family and friends.
People – let’s call them “haters” – seem to love to take pot shots at those who successfully lose weight. Haters say you’ll gain it all back. Haters say you didn’t do it the wrong way. Haters will tell you that you’re less fun to be around now that you’re not ordering the artichoke dip.
In our minds, we may know that those comments are rooted in the insecurity of the commenter. We know that haters prefer to sling arrows rather than get advice from someone who’s been successful – much less give credit to somebody for their accomplishment. But at an emotional level, those comments make it hard to sustain weight loss. Why? Because they often contribute to the Imposter Phenomenon and can start a vicious cycle.
THE SOLUTION: If your friends are overweight or don’t care about fitness and exercise, it’s highly likely that, on some level, you feel the same way. If you choose to change this view one day, you may be faced with the choice of fitting your new lifestyle in with these friends (who haven’t changed), or limit the time you spend with them. You’re much more likely to be successful at changing your body – and maintaining that change – when you associate yourself with others who also value their bodies and fitness.
Eating is a major part of keeping your body in shape, and it’s at the center of almost every major social event. So it’s important to align common principles. If you’re friends are constantly eating at all-you-can-eat buffets, it’s awfully hard to limit yourself to the salad-bar line only.
At some point, you must make a choice. Some people will understand and respect that you’ve committed to change your body, and that you need their support to maintain your new lifestyle. Others will put up a fuss, make fun of you, and try to jam mozzarella sticks down your mouth. At this point, you’ll find out who your real friends are.