No such thing as a quick fix
Raise your hand if you’ve tried more than a dozen diets in your lifetime.
Now keep your hand raised if you saw some early success, only to see the weight come back once you returned to old habits.
I’d bet a small fortune that most reading this have their hands raised. You are in the majority, if that story sounds familiar.
Frankly, sticking to a weight loss diet can sometimes feel like a never-ending barrage of plateaus, frustration and disappointment.
But the best thing you can do is take ownership of your past failures and learn from them. Here’s a quick synopsis of a conversation I had last week that’ll help illustrate this point.
Me: Well, let’s go through what you ate yesterday.
Potential client: Muffin and double-double coffee, I brought a salad for lunch but wasn’t hungry after eating fruit and a doughnut at a lunch meeting, and pizza and a small pint of ice cream for dinner. Oh, plus a glass of wine. Or was it two?
Me: Well, what do you think is causing you to gain weight?
Potential client: I think my metabolism is broken. I barely eat.
Me: (Blank stare)
I’m being a bit facetious here, but you get my point.
Fat loss is simple, once you accept how hard it is. Sometimes the best thing we can do is point the finger directly at the person staring back at us in the mirror every morning.
Because like a lot of things that are good for us, it’ll be tough to swallow at first, but you’ll be better off for it.
Here’s the truth: Most don’t stick it out long enough or consistently enough to change for good. They think six or 12 weeks or even half a year of effort is enough, and it’s simply not.
You need to have at least one foot in at all times, no matter what is going on in your life.
With that said, make it easier on yourself the next time you attempt a diet by implementing these proven strategies.
Make it a lifestyle, not a quick fix
I’ve been treading water for a month since dieting down for my birthday. But I never get too out of hand during these down times because I’ve built foundational habits into my lifestyle. Those habits are:
● I never take more than a week off from the gym (for 17 years and counting).
● I always make protein a focal point of my diet, with at least 200 grams every day.
● I never drink alcohol, apart from special occasions.
● I always delay breakfast (some call this intermittent fasting so we’ll go with that).
Just those four things allow me to maintain my weight without a setback.
If you’re the type to lose weight only to put it back on, it’s because you haven’t built foundational habits in your life.
So, what are your foundational habits?
Again, the key here is to identify the most important habits and activities that will have a positive effect on your fitness goals.
For example, your list of habits might look fairly simple to start, such as:
● You will take a 30-minute walk every morning.
● You will go to the gym three times a week.
● You will always prepare a homemade lunch and avoid takeout at work.
Now, it’s all well and good to get these down in writing, but if they aren’t front of mind every day and you aren’t accountable for following through, they won’t stick.
Enlist support and accountability
There really is nothing like having someone else keeping you accountable for what you say you want to do.
Case in point, I’m in San Diego this weekend for Craig Ballantyne’s Perfect Life Retreat.
Ballantyne is a mentor of mine, and as one of his mentees, I’m being flown in to sit on a roundtable discussion and take in a few days of learning.
Yes, even coaches need coaches. Whether that’s growing a business, getting in shape or improving another aspect of your life, finding someone who has “been there and done that” can help you get there faster.
Weigh yourself daily
This next suggestion to sustain your diet effort may not go over well with many, but it’s one of my favourite methods to ensure consistent, daily effort.
By weighing yourself first thing in the morning, you’ll get an initial reminder of what you’ve already achieved (or will achieve) while setting your intentions for the day ahead.
One study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed participants who weighed themselves daily for six months lost 13 more pounds, on average, than those who weighed themselves less frequently.
When I wake up in the morning and weigh myself, it provides an additional reminder that unless effort is put in, I won’t achieve my goals.
Not to mention, the simple act of weighing myself every morning provides me with a simple reminder that I’m on a plan right now and need to make good choices. You will have to accept daily fluctuations are a part of the process and not let the number get in your head though.
Plan out your week
You’re an adult with a lot of competing priorities. If something isn’t on your calendar, it’s more than likely going to be done sporadically, if at all.
By putting your workouts and other fitness priorities in the calendar and checking them off as you go, it not only improves adherence, but gives you little victories along the way.
Often you won’t be validated each and every week with measurable progress on the scale or in the mirror, but by focusing on what you can control day-to-day, you’ll build momentum and find enjoyment in the process.
Track your calories
Keeping a daily food journal is similar to weighing yourself daily; a food journal or food-tracking app provides consistent reminders.
Controlling calories is the biggest driver of weight loss, but unless you physically track what you eat in real time, diet amnesia kicks in.
Our brains do a good job of encouraging us to over-eat and forget the slip-ups. In a now-famous study by the New England Journal of Medicine in the ’90s, researchers investigated energy intake in self-proclaimed “diet-resistant” individuals who failed to lose weight despite claiming to eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day.
The mean self-reported intake was 1,028 calories, but the groups’ actual average intake was 2,081 calories per day. The participants under-reported their energy intake by a whopping 47 per cent.
Give yourself periodic rewards
Say one of your goals is to complete 12 workouts in November. When you check off that last one, reward yourself by booking a massage or mani/pedi. Anything that’ll incentivize you to see them through.
I hazard against rewarding yourself with junk food, but a nice night out at a restaurant works, too. Providing yourself with real, concrete incentives for hitting goals (don’t just tie it to weight loss benchmarks) can really provide the level of motivation you need to push through sticking points.
Now, maybe a reward doesn’t do it for you. Some people are motivated through pain. This is known as “the carrot or the stick.” The carrot means you get a significant reward for accomplishing your goal, while the stick means you get a significant punishment for falling short.
The latter could be a financial consequence (where you have to donate money to a political party you don’t support if you fail to meet your targets).
Think about which one better motivates you and put a plan in place focused around your reward or consequences along the way.
The fat-loss formula
In the end, the diet itself is not enough.
What’s most glossed over is the grind of getting in shape. It’s going to have as many tough days as good ones. The inability to press through when the going gets tough is what keeps many stuck in that cycle of losing and gaining back the same 10 pounds.
You must accept struggles, setbacks, discomfort, delayed gratification and failure as part of the process. You can’t have success without struggle.
That would be like having kids and not expecting any rough nights of sleep or days you’d just like to ship them off to boarding school (is that still a thing?). But kids are worth the struggle, and getting healthy and fit is worth it, too.
Expect to wake up and say, “Are you kidding me? This scale must be broken!”
Reframe these obstacles as stepping stones to the promised land that awaits. Even a two-month plateau can be a win if you don’t trend in the wrong direction.
Flexing your resiliency muscle along the way tests how much you want to change. That’s a more important muscle than your biceps if you expect to succeed at this.
You owe it to your future self and your family to keep persisting.
So here’s what I suggest you do if you want to reach a goal before the calendar turns to 2020 and another year is lost.
1) Set a hard 60-day deadline around your primary goal right now. If it’s weight loss, something like “lose eight pounds by Dec. 31.”
2) Enlist some accountability to follow through (publicly share it with friends and family or join a program).
3) Set up a reward or consequence for yourself at specific intervals and at the end.
4) Implement daily strategies such as food tracking, weighing yourself and planning to keep you on track.
Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based weight-loss coach. Want his help finding the best approach for you? Email him with the subject “Interested” at firstname.lastname@example.org.