SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
If there's one skill that could further your fight to shed pounds, it's patience. When we polled FITNESS magazine readers online about their obstacles to slimming down, 39 percent confessed they would ditch a new diet or exercise program if they didn't see noticeable shrinkage in two weeks. "People want immediate gratification -- to lose 20 pounds in six weeks," says Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center and chief psychologist for the New York City Triathlon. "But even if you achieve your goal, that happiness leaves as quickly as it comes because you can't sustain the measures you took to get there, measures that probably made you miserable anyway." Naturally, when you get discouraged, you rebel, probably in the form of a triple-scoop sundae. This can set up a cycle of deprivation and overindulgence, which is not unique to humans. When animals on a calorie-restricted diet were finally allowed to eat freely, they gorged for days, a study at the University of Colorado in Denver found.
Everyone wants instant results, but permanent weight loss calls for a long-term commitment and a change in mind-set. "Think of losing weight as an outcome, not a goal in itself," says Sofia Rydin-Gray, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. Make it your challenge to incorporate healthy behaviors into your daily life: Exercise for 60 minutes; eat whole grains for breakfast; avoid fried foods. "By shifting your energy to the process as opposed to the final result, you'll feel a sense of accomplishment every time you make a good decision," Rydin-Gray says.
Maybe you lost 30 pounds to fit into your wedding gown -- and gained it back in a snap. Or you vowed to slim down for bikini season, only to hide behind a sarong come July. Why risk another F? "If you've failed at losing weight before, in your mind the threat of screwing up again still exists," says Lois Barth, a lifestyle coach in New York City. In fact, 40 percent of the women we surveyed admitted they worried about regaining the weight -- and then some. The real danger, however, is that fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By dwelling on the negative feelings associated with a past failure, you subconsciously call up the very behavior that caused it in the first place. Soon enough, you find yourself in the same snare.
On the flip side, thinking positively can go a long way toward producing the results you want. "Tell yourself there's no such thing as failure," Rydin-Gray says. "Some strategies work well, others don't. It's not a strike against your character, simply a sign you need to alter your behavior." In other words, quit berating yourself for succumbing to the bag of chips last night, and instead ask yourself what triggered the snack attack. Zeroing in on what led to the munchies is infinitely more constructive than focusing on your perceived inadequacies. Once you identify the factors surrounding your kerfuffle, you can find alternative ways to handle similar events in the future.
In our online survey, 44 percent of women said they felt nervous about being able to stick with a new diet and exercise program. We get it: You're a creature of habit, albeit bad habits. You'd rather stay true to your routine -- or lack thereof -- than test the waters with a new one. "It's possible to become used to a bad thing to the point of not wanting to let it go," Rosenfeld says. After all, accepting the label "overweight" or "out of shape" can become a kind of security blanket, lowering your expectations of yourself and what your body is capable of achieving.
Changing your body for the better means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a few risks. To help ease that nervous feeling, set a concrete timetable. Tell yourself you'll hold to the new program for three weeks; you can always go back to your old ways later. (We bet that once you start seeing the slimming results, you'll have a change of heart.) Another tip: Keep your eye on the big picture. "In your mind the risks have to be worth the payoff," Barth says. "If you want to trim down, you to have to try a new approach, because the way you've been living hasn't been working." Make yourself a priority; find exercise that inspires you. Love your body as it is right now and you'll respect and appreciate it more.
Sure, we say we want the abs of a Marine and cellulite-free thighs, but deep down the idea of having a perfect body can be unnerving. Why? In part because we attach additional outcomes to weight loss -- a glamorous new career, a date with Mr. Hot and Tempting -- and then stress about whether we can really get everything we want. Truth is, you won't hatch a whole new world just because you're thinner. What's more, "if you've been trying to drop pounds for a while, it may be anticlimactic when you reach the desired number," Rosenfeld cautions. "People are goal-oriented. If you're no longer striving toward something, there's a sense of, Now what?"
Reality check: "There are no magical outcomes from losing weight," Barth says. Being slimmer will not make you richer or smarter. It may, however, reinvigorate your heart and lighten your stride, so you can sprint past the finish line in half the time.
Losing weight is hard, but it can be even harder to deal with the reason you put on pounds in the first place. In fact, 52 percent of women say that focusing on their weight problem distracts them from other negative issues in their lives, whether it's a bad relationship, an unsatisfying job, or overdue bills. Compared with confronting an unhappy marriage, losing 10 pounds can seem downright...pleasant. The difficulty is, once you shed the weight, you're forced to see that your size wasn't the source of your misery after all, and the pounds quickly pile back on.
"If you've been overeating as a way to cope with a job you hate or a partner who isn't compassionate, you'll still be sorting through those feelings when you're thinner," Barth says. What you need is another outlet for your emotions. Exercise may be nature's perfect antidote: It boosts endorphins, lowers stress, and helps you look better naked. And there's a workout ideally suited to remedy any bad day. Coworker stole your idea? Throw some left jabs in kickboxing class. Mother-in-law criticized your parenting? Strike a child's pose in yoga. Lonely? Sign up for a recreational adult sports team. Exercising, like eating, will not fix whatever is broken in your life. But at least it'll keep you on a healthier road while you figure things out.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2010.