As the “fitness girl” in many of my social circles, I get asked for advice every now and then. The number one question is usually, “How can I lose weight?” When people ask this they’re looking for advice about specific diet and exercise protocols, but in my opinion, eating healthy and working out is the easy part. What’s really going to make or break you are your thought processes and beliefs.
You might have read the above and thought, What new age crap are you talking about? Dieting and exercising IS the hard part! Eating protein and vegetables might take some getting used to, but it’s not hard. In fact, it’s pretty straightforward. The same thing is true for working out once you understand the basics. What makes diet and exercise hard is not necessarily the action of doing them (although yes, sometimes it is a struggle), but the feelings we have about them and also about ourselves.
Here are some examples of things I hear regularly from people about fitness and nutrition:
- I really want to start exercising but I’m too busy.
- If I mess up one day everything is ruined, so why keep trying?
- I hate working out.
- I could never give up sugar.
- Healthy food is bland and boring.
- To lose weight I *have* to eat perfectly.
These are all beliefs. You may even share some of them. But these thoughts are not conducive to success because they all impose some kind of limitation on you or they give you a way to shirk responsibility for your actions. The good news is that beliefs are not fixed; they can be changed.
And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having these kinds of thoughts. I still fall into the trap sometimes. It’s normal and even expected for these kind of mental obstacles to pop up whenever we are trying to incorporate change into our lives. What determines whether a person is successful or not is how they deal with these challenges.
What does NOT work:
Extremes. Seeing things in black and white. For the average person who just wants to get in shape, there is no need for extreme, strict dieting. Every workout does not have to be brutal. And if you mess up one day, it does not mean you are a failure (and it does not give you permission to overeat and be sedentary for the rest of the week). When I am losing weight I still eat ice cream and chocolate and drink alcohol. Of course the caveat is that it’s mostly small amounts and it’s certainly not every day. Jill Coleman (who I look up to a lot) talks a lot about preemptive cheats, and I totally agree. Basically, you have a little of this and little of that to keep you sane. So instead of saying that you can only eat egg whites and greens or else you’re a failure, you give yourself room for tiny indulgences. For example, you might have one slice of pizza for dinner along with a salad. Satisfying that craving then prevents you from binging later on. I realize that it can be a slippery slope for people, because sometimes that tiny indulgence turns into a big one. And hey, it happens. But in my experience, flexibility decreases anxiety. There’s not as much pressure to be perfect with your diet. Same thing goes for exercise. Sometimes we can’t manage to fit it in, and that’s okay as long as you’re back on it the next day. The more rigid and fixed you are with your expectations the greater your chances of disappointment and falling off hard. You don’t have to be perfect. You’re going to mess up, and when it happens, try not to stress it, which brings me to my next point…
Negativity. Whether it’s beating yourself up for overeating, pining over what you can’t eat, or dreading your upcoming workout, dwelling on negative thoughts does not get you closer to your goals. It drains you and zaps your motivation. For example, running isn’t hard for someone who loves running. But what a terrible experience it is for someone who is hating every step they take. (I’ve been there.) If you think something sucks, you aren’t going to stick with it. That’s not to say that anyone expects for you to be positive every second of the day. Sometimes your inner naysayer is going to creep in, and that’s okay. Complain and get your frustrations off your chest. But for success, acknowledge the negative feelings and then move on.
Excuses. Excuses breed inconsistency, which leads to stagnation. Excuses allow you to believe that you’re not responsible for your life. But you are. And once you take ownership of that you are giving yourself power. I get it, you’re super busy. We all are. Work, kids, stress, family, money. I know. If you find yourself using outside circumstances to excuse inconsistency around your goal, then you either need a better plan of attack or to drop the goal. Maybe once you started putting in the work towards your goal you realized that it was too hard. It could be that it wasn’t the right goal for you, and there’s nothing wrong with letting go of that. But if it’s something that you truly want in your heart, you have to find a way to make it work. Excuses are things we hide behind. Stop hiding and step up to the plate.
What DOES work:
Patience. Sometimes folks have unrealistic expectations about the time it takes to reach their goal. You’re not going to see results in a week or two. It takes months, sometimes years of consistent work. Do you have the patience to see it through and the fortitude to continue on when things get rough? Are you in the game every day? That’s what it takes. Showing up even when you don’t feel like it, and getting right back on track when you mess up.
Positive attitude. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Working out sucks sometimes. But if fitness is something you want to pursue for the rest of your life, it’d serve you to find something you like about it. I’m not recommending that you try to force yourself to do something you hate, but it is very possible for you to find a form of exercise that you enjoy or can at least tolerate. The liking will come with time. If you find yourself in a negative spiral, take a deep look at what’s making you feel that way. This sucks. What about it sucks? I’m not good at it. You can re-frame that to: This is challenging, but I will get better at it with time. It’s making me stronger. It may seem corny or like you’re BS-ing yourself, but if you make the effort to redirect your thoughts, over time this kind of mentality will sink in.
Finding the payoff. This is also called finding your Why. Why are you working out or trying to lose weight? Let’s say the answer is to be healthy. Okay, that’s a good start but it’s not deep enough. Why do you want to be healthy? It could be because you want to be active to keep up with your kids, or because you saw the health woes of a loved one and vowed that you would never go through that. Now we’re getting somewhere. You have to dig deep to figure out why this is important for you, and that’s your payoff. It’s what keeps you going when you feel like giving up.
Committing. Ah yes, the C word. It can be scary, but if you are serious about your goal you have to commit to it. That means your goal has become a top priority and you are going to do everything in your power to make it happen. Think of it like your job. Do you show up late to work? Would you tell your boss you missed work because you were tired? Probably not. You must treat your goal with the same gravity.
What I find interesting is that these attributes can applied to any area of your life. The goal doesn’t just have to be weight loss.
The bottom line is that physical actions like diet and exercise are really just the tip of the iceberg. It’s your mentality that makes the biggest difference in the end, as it is the root of what drives your actions. If you’ve been dawdling around a goal, ask yourself which traits from the DO and DON’T sections you possess to see what works for you and what might be holding you back.