Most of us understand that “New Year’s resolutions” rarely last into mid-January – much less for the entire year!
What goes wrong?
And more importantly…how can YOU avoid the typical traps?
Here are 7 of the most important reasons dieters give up on goals and on themselves.
“I wasn’t sure that this approach would work in the first place. I tried it out – I couldn’t stick to it, so it didn’t do me any good. As I guessed, this was a waste of time! “
One of the biggest mistakes in all of dieting is to shift from one approach to the next, trying out one approach or another, but never really sticking to one thing.
Most diets hold out the promise that “this will be easy and painless and make you slimmer.” What people don’t want to face is the real problem. It is seldom the diet itself or the dieter. The real problem is the underlying reason why diets are impossible to follow. That is, almost no one has the willpower to follow a diet consistently.
And that is why diets are notorious for producing only temporary success. But when the diet fails, we blame ourselves. Diets have a 95% failure rate. Yet because we achieved temporary success, we blame ourselves rather than the diet that is near impossible to follow.
The problem with the “this will make you slimmer” approach is that the emphasis is on the “this” and not the “you.” Ultimately only you can make you slimmer and healthier. Healthy eating is a lifelong process. The more you commit to behavior change because you believe in the process, the more the process is likely to work for you.
In other words, change needs to happen internally, without relying on external pressures or limitations. The more you feel the diet is being imposed upon you or that you are just casually “trying it out,” the less likely the process is to work.
Health coaches that have the greatest success in helping clients achieve long-term change have learned a great lesson – don’t work with clients who don’t “buy in” to the process.
Personally, I prefer intentions to goals, because intentions come from “inside” the client and are not just externally imposed without any clear internal commitment. Clients who want to achieve any goal, such as weight loss, know that they are ultimately responsible for their own success.
“I had no idea that this process would take so long. I am not sure that it is worth it!”
Dieters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach a goal.
Everything seems to take longer than we think that it should! When a goal takes longer than we think it should, then it’s easy to feel defeated, get discouraged and be tempted to give up the goal.
Busy, impatient people who are used to achieving success quickly can be even more time-sensitive than the general population. Harried dieters often want to “check the box” and assume that once they understand what to do, their problems are solved. If only the real world were that simple.
In setting goals, it is important to be realistic about the time needed to achieve a positive, long-term change in behavior. Habits that have taken 48 years to develop will not go away in a week.
Most people want to be 3 sizes smaller yesterday. But when time frames are realistic and as you face challenges along the way with the support of your coach, then you don’t feel like there is something wrong with you.
Setbacks are a normal part of the change process. Ultimately as your behaviors and habits shift to a new normal, weight and health start to change as well.
“This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. It sounded so simple when we were starting out!”
Not only does everything take longer than we think it will – it requires more hard work! Dieters often confuse two terms that appear to be the same, but are actually quite different – simple and easy.
We want to believe that once we understand a simple concept, it will be easy to follow a plan and achieve the outcome we want. If this were true, everyone who understood that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in good shape. Diet books are almost always at the top of the best seller lists.
Most dieters know what to do. The steps to getting healthy and in shape are quite simple. But our challenge for getting healthier and in shape is not in understanding what to do. It is doing it consistently!
Long-term change requires real effort. For example, it can be challenging for busy people to have the discipline to change long-term habits. Even when we understand the need to change and have a great desire to change, it is still hard to hang in there consistently to do what it takes to change.
In setting goals it is important to realize and accept that real change will take real work. Accepting the diet promise that “this will be easy” and “this will be no problem for you” can backfire in the long-term when you realize that change is not easy and you will face some problems in the journey.
Change invariably has a cost. This cost is why many people never get started or don’t stick to a plan. The cost may be eating less of foods you love or changing portion sizes and working to become more aware of your emotions and stress triggers that cause the urge to eat. In some cases, other people may not be happy if you lose weight.
Understanding the price of success in the beginning of the change process will help prevent disappointment that can occur when challenges arise later in the change process.
“I would really like to work toward my goal, but I really have a lot going on right now… It might be better if I just stopped and did this at a time when things weren’t so crazy.”
Dieters have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably show up once you set the goal.
A good coach can warn you that something may come up to throw you off course. This distraction could be an unexpected problem or an opportunity. If you assume that unexpected distractions and competing goals will occur, then you’ll feel more prepared when it happens. By planning for distractions in advance, dieters can set realistic expectations for change and be less likely to give up on the change process when either special problems or special opportunities emerge.
“Why am I working so hard at this? After all of my effort, no one’s even noticing.”
Dieters tend to become disappointed when the achievement of one goal doesn’t immediately translate into the achievement of other goals. For example, a dieter who loses weight may give up on the weight loss effort when no one takes notice. Or worse, when the attention gained makes you uncomfortable.
There’s usually some desire beyond just losing the weight.
What do you want the weight loss to do for you? Make you more confident, more socially at ease or comfortable in a love relationship?
Sometimes weight loss can help with those things, but not always. And if that is what you are trying to achieve, then you can be going down the wrong road, which will only help you fail faster.
We want what we want for how we think it will make us feel.
If that feeling is not achieved, then it’s easy to get discouraged. To combat this, if you want weight loss to help you feel more confident, then think about what you can do to feel more confident now.
Think of any long-term goal, like weight loss, as an investment in yourself and your own development – something that will give you confidence in yourself over time.
6. Not taking a holistic approach
“I just want to lose weight quickly and not think about anything else.”
Losing weight is far more than “eat less, exercise more.” In fact, I tell my clients that weight loss is about your whole life.
When you set a weight loss goal, all the focus goes on the weight. Unfortunately the number on the scale is not something you can easily control. So it’s better to take a holistic approach and look at every area of your life that may need an upgrade.
Do you need to reduce stress or improve a relationship? Many people need to work on improving life skills, such as assertiveness and managing feelings and stress without reaching for donuts.
Unless you work on these areas alongside the weight goal, the success you achieve may be short lived.
7. Maintenance – not taking a long-term approach.
“I did better when I had a coach, but I have let it slide since then. What am I supposed to do – work on this stuff the rest of my life?”
Once a dieter has put in all of the effort needed to achieve a goal, it can be tough to face the reality of maintaining changed behavior. One of the first reactions of many dieters upon reaching their weight goal is to think, “This is great! Now I can eat again. Let’s celebrate with some pizza tonight!” Of course this mindset leads to future weight gain and the “yo-yo” effect that is unfortunately so common in dieters.
Weight loss is a process – not a state. Even when we get to a certain number on the scale, there are certain challenges. Most dieters say that it’s harder to maintain the weight than to lose it.
Goals like losing weight are more of a marathon, not a sprint. It’s better to embrace the messiness of life and the fact that there is always something to work on and learn and develop in ourselves than just focusing on getting there quickly.
The shift I made:
I used to begin every January with an intense focus and determination to lose weight. This goal meant that I had to try to control many areas of my life. My focus invariably disappeared as the messiness and uncontrollability of life quickly reasserted itself.
When I shifted my focus from losing weight to improving my health and my relationship with food, paradoxically that is when my weight started to change.
Rather than using a weight goal, I focused on upgrading my health, reducing stress and simplifying my routines, so that I could enjoy my life more. I focused on becoming kinder, more compassionate and forgiving while I was slowly learning how to let go of unhealthy habits.
Eating healthy is a lifelong goal. Eating better is something we can work on every day. It doesn’t occur because someone “got better” and stayed in this state of “betterness” forever.
You can either set goals that increase your probability of long-term change, or goals that may feel good in the short-term, but lead to disillusionment and “giving up” in the long-term.
In reality there are no “easy answers.” There is only learning about yourself and being willing to let yourself be in the process of learning and growing. Maybe you aren’t exactly where you want to be yet. But you can always be in the process of learning and improving your health and wellbeing.
Real change requires real commitment, real effort and real time. Distractions and stress are going to occur. The “quick fix” is never a long-term fix and probably not a healthy fix at all. Losing weight and getting in shape will not solve all of life’s problems, but they can be made simpler.
And we need to commit to lifelong learning and development of our most precious asset – ourselves, our health and our wellbeing.
Deep down, we know these truths, and yet we are drawn to the promise of the quick fix!
But we are also drawn to want to be our best selves and to make solid changes we can count on.
Weight loss is an issue where most people have had more failure than success. Successful people are not afraid of challenging goals, even when they have failed in the past.
But what’s needed is a realistic look at what needs to change, and then working steadily toward where you want to be. You don’t have to do it alone. You only have to commit to the path. A coach is a mentor who can help you build and maintain the belief that this goal is possible, in spite of distractions, tempting food, and unexpected challenges or opportunities.
This goal is possible both in spite of you and your natural tendency to go off course and because of you, and your determination to be the best you can be.
Don’t settle for the quick answers or the sprint mindsets. Your health and wellbeing are too important.