psyching and obesity

Part 2 in a four-part series on obesity and weight loss

You may be only thinking about trying to lose weight. Or perhaps you’ve evolved to that next step and feel ready to commit to do what it takes to drop some pounds. Either way, it’s tempting to seek out a quick fix.

And all around you are suggestions that losing weight or getting in shape can happen with relative ease. Who doesn’t know somebody that went on a low-carb diet and lost a bunch of weight? Who wouldn’t take a magic pill if it could melt the pounds away? And who hasn’t been lured, even briefly, by the incredible claims for fat-burning products? But the hard fact is that fad diets aren’t the way to go and no one miracle exercise will melt the fat off.

Sure, on a fad diet you may lose weight—at first. But unless you’ve made real long-term lifestyle changes, you’re just going to gain the weight back—at best. And if your genetic make-up predisposes you to be fat (as I discussed in the first installment of this series), then every time you try one of these rash weight-loss approaches you’ll just end up even heavier.

To really lose weight and keep it off, what you need to understand is not only will you need to eat better and be more active, you’ll need to do it forever. You’ll need to quash your urge for dramatic, instantaneous results. Instead, you’ll need to be patient. You’ll need to be able to recognize the small achievements you make on this long road. You’ll need to create a motivational reserve so that when you feel like nothing is working or you’re simply tired of making the effort, you’ll be able to bolster yourself back up to stick with your leaner lifestyle.

The magic pill to reap the results you want is consistency.

The way to be consistent with the eating and exercise choices is to wrap your mind around a whole new perspective. Here are five hard facts that you must know. Use them for a reality check. Read them and then read them again. Let them soak into your subconscious. They’ll help you psych yourself up to stick to a leaner life.

1) You may have to struggle (for a while).

Some people don’t have to live the same battle of the bulge as you do. They are either genetically lucky or have adopted healthy habits that make living lean easy. If they overeat, they exercise enough that they suffer no weight gain. If they get by with minimal amounts of exercise, it’s because they’ve accrued a life of activity that allows them to cut back yet maintain their fitness.

You may not have this luxury. At least not right now. You may have to do more, work harder and be more patient than other people. Life is not always fair. But it’s better to know where you stand so that you realize what you need to do, rather than fool yourself into thinking that you’ll see results from minimal or short-lived efforts. .

Your first instinct may be to take an all-or-nothing approach. You’ll block out temptation by being strict about exercising and following a very specific food plan. But I can promise you, you won’t have long-term success that way. Instead, you should take it slower and smarter. You will need to make subtle changes in your life rather than drastic, temporary ones. This may feel more frustrating, as you teeter on the edge of discomfort long past the point where you feel motivated to make a change. But you’ll need to keep making better food choices and prodding yourself to move more when you don’t feel like it. This is where the mental hurdles start.

The good news is that once you’ve converted to a lean life, it does become easy. But in the beginning, especially after your first few weeks or months of feeling motivated, it will feel like a struggle, and you will have to push through that rough spot to succeed..

2) You are in this for the long haul.

No dropouts allowed. This may be the hardest concept to grasp. I get letters asking over and over why a person who has been following a diet or exercise program still hasn’t seen any changes in two or four or eight weeks. Some people write that they saw good results when they followed a certain plant, only to gain all the weight back again later.

This is where your mental fortitude comes in. You will need to psych yourself up to keep going when you don’t feel like you are getting any results. Revisit the anecdotes you’ve heard about people who have lost weight. You will notice that those who kept it off stuck with the program. Those who followed a trendy diet and lost oodles of fat, gained it all back when they eventually returned to their normal habits, habits that led to their weight gain in the first place. Notice that people who have successfully kept weight off generally are so busy there’s no time to fall back into old ways. Sure, they may join in on pizza binges, happy hours or cut back on workouts every now and again. But if they are experiencing long-term success with their weight loss, it’s because they are still sticking to healthy habits most of the time.

3) You must improve the way you eat, not change it dramatically.

It’s natural to want to follow a set of diet rules that take decision-making out of the equation. It’s easier to resist the temptation to overeat if you know flat-out that you can’t eat certain foods. That’s why many popular diets work for a while. You say “no” to bread or pasta or alcohol or what have you, and you lose weight. But not all diets fuel you in healthy ways. Many diets aren’t desirable in the long term because even if you lose weight, you could be missing out on important nutrients. (And any diet that tells you not to eat fruit is just plain wrong.)

But even if an extreme diet plan is healthy, if it is too different from the way you eat now and the way that others around you eat, it’s going to be tough to follow for more than a few weeks or months. That’s why you need to improve on what you eat now, rather than totally change your diet.

As you get more comfortable with healthy eating and squeezing more activity into your life, you can start to make more dramatic changes. But trying to do too much at once is a recipe for failure because the changes won’t be realistic enough to stick with. Giving up all meat may not be possible if you love steaks and roast chicken. Axing all bread and pasta would be next to impossible to sustain if your family eats lots of Italian food. A fancy health club far from your home or office might look appealing on first blush, but you won’t go to it if it’s too inconvenient. There is no one diet or fitness plan that is perfect for everyone. You’ll need to identify your own eating and exercise patterns and then improve them with minor tweaks.

4) You must move more.

More people diet than exercise. For some reason it’s seems easier to deny yourself food than to get your butt off the couch. Many people ask me if they can get away with dieting but not exercising. The answer? No way.

True, you will see faster results from a diet. But you will also see faster weight re-gain if you diet without exercising. And if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you will place a limit on how beneficial your diet will be. You can be thin but unfit. For true health and for long-term leanness, you need to eat well and exercise more.

The good news is that you can buffer yourself against over-eating slip-ups if you are highly active. If you are very overweight, chances are you are very unfit, too. So exercising may not only be unenjoyable, it may feel extremely difficult. Respect the pain. Exercising doesn’t have to hurt. In the beginning, just simply dial it down and do something that is easier. You will become fit very quickly if you are consistent. And then you can bump it up a notch. You will still have to wage the mental struggle that predisposes you to want to quit. But the tough stuff physically will pass once you get into a regular program.