December rolls around and you begin to see the New Year on the horizon. You start to reflect… another year gone by and you’re still struggling to lose weight. You ask yourself “How did this happen?” and “Why can’t I accomplish this one goal?”. Then, after beating yourself up for a while you say “This year is going to be different! I’m going to take control of my life and lose this weight once and for all!”
Next you set up your plan. You dust off all the old spreadsheets and workout videos or you get online and lookup Weight Watchers and you begin to put together a “can’t lose” plan that you will be following all year long. You start to think about your goal and then you divide that goal by 52 and you say “If I can just lose X pounds every week, then I can reach my goal by the end of the year”. The excitement builds as you start to envision yourself at your new goal weight.
At the same time that you are putting together your master plan, you are simultaneously gorging yourself on every treat that you know will be “forbidden” once you get started. The thought process… once you get started these items won’t be available so you might as well enjoy it before you start. Quite possibly if you doing this weight loss journey with a friend, the two of you will arrange to have a “last meal” together where you will take a lost opportunity to shovel your favorite unhealthy foods into your system. Through this process you actually add another 10 pounds to your starting weight.
Then the New Year Hits!
January comes and week #1 is underway. The excitement is still there and you follow every element of your plan perfectly. You step on the scale and are rewarded with a very large number. You begin to think “I can do this, look at how well I did in just the first week!” At this point you might even start thinking that you’ll hit your goal sooner. After all, if you can just lose X (your first week’s loss) every week, then you’ll reach your goal in half the time! Of course the thought that you gained 10 pounds before you even started never enters your mind.
Week #2 comes and you are ready. You do nearly as well as you did in the first week, but occasionally you have a few small slips. You hit the scales and are shocked to see a number much smaller than the first week. What happened? Your brush it off and remind yourself that a loss is a loss no matter how small, but deep down you are disappointed. You begin to question in your mind whether or not all the hard work you are doing is worth such a small result.
The remaining 2 weeks of the month are spent struggling. You might still be posting small losses, but during this time you probably took a “day off”. What once seemed like an easy time now feels like an impossible journey. By the time February rolls around your plan is on life support and you can’t image how you will make it through the month, never mind the next year.
Now the details might be slightly different and maybe it wasn’t the new year, but I’ll bet you a large majority of people who struggle with weight have a story to tell that is eerily similar to what I just wrote. I call it the weight loss trap; you assume that a new mindset will be enough to get you results, but as the mindset begins to fade, the results fade until you feel like giving up.
Whether you are currently going through something similar to what I just described or you are holding steady, here are few things you can do to help stay on track in February:
Ask What’s Different?
Ask yourself “What’s different this time from my previous failed attempts”. If the only answer you can give is “I have more willpower” or “I am more committed than ever”, then you are most likely full of it! You psyched yourself up, told yourself what you needed to hear to get started, and then you will leave yourself lying in a ditch once it starts to get really hard.
My point here is that you can’t expect a different result if you are doing the same old thing. If you are struggling, think about how you might do things differently. Maybe instead of weighing yourself every week, you could try every 2 weeks. Or how about changing the time of day you plan on working out or maybe even change your workout. Maybe you could search the blogosphere for something that you don’t believe works… and then try it for a week. Even a few small changes can end up completely changing your path.
Re-assess Last Month but don’t obsess
When you re-assess, you can sometimes pick up on patterns that emerge that you might be able to address. For example, maybe you notice that for whatever reason, your worst day is always on Monday. Why not shift your weigh-in to Tuesday (I know I always do well on the day before I weigh-in). Sometimes just being aware of the patterns or trends can help you to overcome them. For instance, I know that weekends are the toughest on me and because I am now aware of it, I believe I have actually done better because I can quickly recognize when the “excuses” start to show up.
Take a long look at January and don’t be afraid to change it up to breathe new life into your effort. On the flip side, don’t obsess over last month’s performance whether it’s good or bad. Don’t get caught up with all the things you should have done, instead focus on what you can do better next month. The past is the past and nothing more. Learn from it what you can and then move on
Seek the “Right” Support
What do I mean about the “right” support? What I mean is you need the support of people who are not afraid to tell you like it is. You want people that are willing to give you honest feedback, not just tell you what you want to hear. You want people that will challenge your assumptions and offer suggestions for improvements. You also want people who will call you out (politely) when you are making excuses. The blogosphere is full of people that will encourage you to get back up when you fall, but very few will actually offer their opinion as to why you fell and what they think you should do in order to be able to get back up. You might not like to hear it a times, but consider yourself lucky if you have supporters that don’t sugar-coat the truth.
Have a Long Term Focus
Sometimes we focus so much on our recent results that we lose sight of the bigger picture. If you lost 8, 2, +1, 1 pounds in your first 4 weeks, it’s easier to remember that you haven’t lost any weight in the last 2 weeks than it is to notice you lost 10 pounds in the month! There’s actually a term for this; it’s called recency bias; Make sure you look at the whole picture and don’t just include weight. Did you feel better? Get out more?
We are a society that constantly seeks instant gratification. It’s what got you into this mess in the first place and it’s making your path towards healthy living that much more difficult. We don’t want to see 100 pounds lost in 2 years, we want to see 5 pounds lost this week! There are people out there that weigh themselves every single day. Some (not all) of these people do it because they need that instant gratification from the work they did the day before. Too many days with no results and they begin to feel that it’s not worth the effort.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s good to establish you progress periodically, but if you have a long term focus, the only reason for getting on the scale is to verify your plan is working and make adjustments if necessary. If you are weighing yourself because you feel it will make you feel better and help with your resolve, then you are seeking instant gratification. Remember why you are doing what you are doing, remember how long it took to get here, and most importantly, remember that it will not change overnight.
Whether you are struggling or sailing along just fine, February can be a tough month for losing weight. There’s data that shows that most resolutions never even make it to February so if you’ve made it this far congratulations. The road is long and changes will be required. Be prepared to adapt and overcome and hopefully next January you won’t be starting up your next weight loss trap.
So what do you think? Are you struggling as February approaches or are you more prepared than ever to take it head on? Are you making some adjustments or are you happy with your plan as it is? Tell me what you think and don’t be afraid to be honest (I’m a big boy). Stay Strong!