Imagine this scenario:
You're in your late forties (or early fifties) and you've just started a new diet. For the last few weeks, you've been trying to follow it religiously.
As part of the diet, you've been eating foods that you don't really like. You've also had to eat different meals compared to the rest of the family. You've kept away from chocolate even though you love it. And you've even managed to go to the gym a few times.
Then you decide to weigh yourself. And shock, horror, you've only lost three pounds.
Only three pounds lost in three weeks.
What do you do?
Most people would curse the diet, curse the last three weeks of suffering and finally curse themselves. To have put yourself through this suffering and have little or nothing to show for it, seems a cruel fate.
And this would certainly feel like grounds for giving up. But imagine if you didn't and kept going for another week. Imagine if you then weighed yourself again and were even more shocked. The weight hadn't budged at all.
At this stage, most people would definitely give up. They would also draw the conclusion that there really was something wrong with the diet or themselves or both.
If this situation seems familiar to you, it's one that I've heard described to me many, many times. But is it really a story of failure?
In fact, here are 7 lessons to be learned from this scenario.
1. Losing 1 pound a week is fine.
Many women in their forties and fifties are haunted by the memories of being able to lose 10 pounds in a week in their twenties. Unfortunately, weight loss after 40 is a lot slower than that. But that's not a problem because...
2. Sustainability is the Aim, not Speed.
Losing 10 pounds in a week and gaining it all back a few days later is a fools errand. If a client of mine loses three pounds, I care less about how fast they lost the weight and more about how sustainable the weight loss is.
If you've lost three pounds and feel confident that the lifestyle changes that you've made mean that it won't ever be coming back, then that's a victory and you just need to keep going.
3. Make it Pleasant.
Part of the reason people want to lose weight quickly is because in our society we want everything now. We don't want to wait. The other part of the reason is that most people put themselves on diets that are so depriving that every moment on them is like torture.
If losing weight feels unpleasant to you, then you need to focus on making small, gradual changes that you barely notice. Then it won't feel so bad, and you won't feel so compelled to "get it over with".
4. Patience makes all the difference.
How soon do you need to lose the weight? People on deadlines panic if the weight doesn't fall as quickly as they wanted. It makes them focus on speed instead of sustainability and panic at any sign of slow progress. I truly believe that deadlines are the enemy of sustainable weight loss.
5. Weigh yourself more often.
I used to believe that weighing yourself regularly was a bad thing. But now I feel it's a good practice to get into. The main aim when you weigh yourself regularly is to develop the understanding that weight fluctuates day to day for lots of different reasons. One reading doesn't accurately reflect progress.
In the example above, the last weight reading (where the weight hadn't moved) could be an aberration. But you wouldn't know because you're only weighing yourself once a week.
6. Weight Loss Plateaus are part of the Process.
I've never seen a client lose weight without going through a plateau (when your weight doesn't budge even though you're doing all the right things). Some plateaus last a week, some last longer. It's just the natural way that the body loses weight. And it's not a reason to give up.
7. The Only Failure.
It's important to get perspective on failure in weight loss. Losing less weight than you expected is not failure. In my experience, the biggest cause of failure is giving up (as tempting as that might be, at times).
Weight loss is not a project to be achieved and then moved on from. It's changing a way of life and reversing years of conditioning. What this requires is commitment.
The Hardest Part of Losing Weight
Most people believe that the hardest part of weight loss is enduring deprivation. But that's not true (in fact, the ideal weight loss programme should have little or no deprivation). Instead, the hardest part is persisting even when it seems like you're not making progress.
A good rule to remember is that the only way you will fail to lose weight in the long-term is if you give up.
For more about a behavioural approach to weight loss click here.