How can someone who is successful in the rest of their life, struggle so much when it comes to getting their weight under control?
This is a common source of frustration for many of the clients I see (my clients are primarily women over 40). They tell me that throughout their lives, they've been able to set a goal and achieve it. But why doesn't weight loss work the same way as say, a professional goal?
I believe it's because there are key differences between losing weight and most other goals. And just so we're clear, when I'm talking about weight loss, I'm not talking about losing a few pounds for a few weeks, gaining it back and then having to find another diet. I'm talking about long-term weight loss where you never have to go on another diet again.
With most goals, working harder, focusing more and trying to speed up the pace tends to bring greater rewards.
But long-term weight loss doesn't work that way. A good analogy is to think of a set of earphones (like you would use with your mp3 player) in a tangled knot.
When trying to untangle the knot, the harder you pull at the knot, or the faster you try and untangle them, the more difficult it gets. The more you pull at the wires, the more the knot tightens. You make things harder for yourself by trying to get there faster.
With losing weight, we tend to think that if cutting back a little, can help you lose a little bit of weight, then surely cutting back a lot will really speed things up?
However the more you deprive yourself, the more unpleasant it becomes. Not only does it make it less likely that you will want to continue a diet for very long, but the very act of deprivation seems to add fuel to your cravings.
You might restrain and restrict during the day in the name of being "good" and sticking to a diet. But all day the pressure builds, until some time in the evening, you can't handle it anymore and cave in to your cravings.
Another thing which people believe will help in their weight loss attempt is having a deadline. The logic is that if you give yourself just four weeks to lose 30 pounds before your trip away, then the urgency will spur you into action. But does it?
Every day that ticks by, with the target in mind, you start worrying that you haven't made enough progress. This makes you either resort to the drastic tactics we just talked about or give up in exasperation.
With losing weight, we need to be clear about what we're actually trying to achieve. Most people think that the key to long-term weight loss is reaching a particular weight. It most certainly isn't.
Reaching the target, if you can make it, will provide fleeting satisfaction, but once you've reached the goal, then what?
There's no point losing weight in a few weeks if you're going to gain it all back again, a few weeks later.
The aim therefore of weight loss, is not to find a way to starve yourself just long enough to get there, but to change your underlying lifestyle so that you can maintain your new weight for the long-term.
So what's the answer?
Let's think back to the tangled earphone wires. Instead of rushing and yanking the wires, you need to take the opposite approach. Slow down. Be thoughtful. Gradually unravel the cords.
And with weight loss, instead of starving yourself to the goal, take a long-term behavioural approach. Take your time, and keep the real goal in mind. You want to be the kind of person who manages their weight naturally.
The 5 things you want to do are:
1. Abandon deadlines and just aim for slow, steady progress.
2. Make small changes to your eating and activity that you know you can live with for the rest of your life.
3. Be flexible. If something doesn't work, refine it. Learn from your mistakes.
4. Be patient. It will take longer than you thought, but it will be worth it.
5. Keep going no matter what.
The paradox of long-term weight loss is that going faster and pushing harder don't work. As difficult as it may be for the success-oriented high achiever, the answer is to do the opposite. Slow down and take it easy.
For more on a behavioural approach to losing weight, go here.