So, hows the new diet? 3 weeks into the New Year and there are plenty of resolutions and motivated people around. But just like every year, many will try a new diet and most will probably fail to maintain the weight they have lost. There are lots of reasons for this, but one aspect is to do with the suitability and motive behind the goals being set. Below I've written out some key questions for you to assess the suitability of your motivations for your latest or next weight loss attempt. If you are to achieve sustainable weight loss from lasting lifestyle changes, you'll likely have convincing answers to the following questions.
Why are you doing it?
If you think losing weight will make you feel better about yourself. It might. But it might not. I have worked with countless individuals who have probably been their most unhappy at their lowest adult weight. Both body image and self-esteem are complex things and rarely influenced for long by just a number on a scale. Will your reason endure and continue to keep you motivated?
How much weight are you actually going/hoping to lose?
Numerous studies now indicate that there is quite a large disparity between an individual’s expectations, and actual weight loss. If you think of a variety of levels of weight loss – ideal (self-explanatory), happy (not ideal but satisfying), acceptable (not satisfying but reasonable), and disappointing (better than nothing but not acceptable), you are quite likely to achieve less weight loss than you expect. Perhaps somewhere between ‘acceptable’ and ‘disappointing’. If this is wildly out of line with your expectations, what are the chances you will be motivated to maintain the lifestyle changes you have likely worked hard to install?
Hint: Have some alternative goals to losing weight. What (objective milestones) might a healthier and more active lifestyle allow you to achieve? E.g. Being able to walk to work? Play games with the kids for 20 mins a day? Failing that, waist size, waist to height ratio and waist to hip ratio are quite strongly associated with mortality due to type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. You could track these – weight loss is rarely linear.
How much will it cost?
Importantly, consider that weight loss, like most things, has a cost. This is likely to be a behavioural more than a financial cost. Weight loss is often sold as a win-win, but some enjoyable and desirable behaviours will likely have to go. Write a list of what your weight loss will give you against what it might cost you. Take your time on this. A consideration of the realities can be enlightening.
What is the nature of your intention to diet?
Is it rooted in self-hatred, loathing and disgust or is it a positive intent. Negative motivation can be powerful, but I’m not sure anyone wants, needs or deserves to live with negative self-talk to keep them in line for the rest of their life. "Chocolate? Get down and give me 50 you miserable little worm!" Most are more likely to adhere to behaviours fuelled by an internal dialogue that speaks of self-care and personal investment in your health/well-being vs being your personal boot-camp drill-sergeant!
Is now a good time, or even the right time to diet?
Just because you are motivated, doesn’t mean you are ready or now is a good time to commit to a change in lifestyle. A climber, (well a sensible one anyway) don’t just charge up a mountain without reading the weather forecast. They normally wait for at least some vaguely favourable weather. Sustainable lifestyle changes often come with the accumulation of lots of tiny changes and skills that you learn. Simultaneous wholesale changes to multiple domains of your life will leave a lot to chance and hugely increase the number of spinning plates. You don’t likely just want weight loss, you want maintenance of that loss. Most diets fail for the simple reason, they are unsustainable. Taking on new dietary and lifestyle changes while training for a marathon, looking after the kids, volunteering at your local club, doing extra at work and getting a new personal trainer all at the same time might be unwise. Check your schedule and don’t get summit fever! If other things come up, be kind to yourself, take your foot off the pedal and reassess the timeliness of your efforts! It could save a lot of heartache and exasperation.
Remember we want these changes to work not just now, but forever. Ask yourself, can I actually give this what it needs? Is there actually anything different about now?
So whether you are on a diet or not, planning one or not, hopefully this might be useful for you or someone you might know to help understand the nature of the undertaking. Sitting down and thinking about these questions can be surprisingly motivating for some. I also think with convincing answers, you’ve got a better understanding of what it might take to make your next diet, your last!