Weight loss is hands down the most common goal in the health and fitness industry, and if I was to venture a guess, I would say it is the least achieved goal as well. Sounds weird, right? If so many people have a goal of losing weight, why is it that so many people aren’t actually achieving it? I think the answer to this question is layered, and there are many pieces to this puzzle, but I do think that one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle is the actual goal itself.
Weight Loss is Not the Goal
As a culture, we are obsessed with weight loss; it’s discussed in commercials, magazines, movies, news, and groups of friends everywhere. Whether it’s just to lose those “last 10 pounds” or a more extreme goal to lose hundreds of pounds, people are constantly creating weight loss goals for themselves. When I work with people individually one of the first things we talk about is their goals, and although different people have different goals, I would argue that more than 90% of people include the goal of weight loss.
When we talk about goal setting, we are often taught to ensure that they are realistic, measurable, and time-bound. Using that thought process, a weight loss goal seems like a great goal, right? “My goal is to lose X pounds by X date.” To me, the issue with this logic is that weight loss goals completely ignore the how. In fact, the conventional school of thought would have you think the how is easy. Implement this meal plan. Do this bootcamp. Drink this juice cleanse. Eat these chia seeds. But the harsh reality is that weight loss is not a goal, it is merely a positive side effect of good health.
Think of it like this; if you subscribe to the idea that weight loss is a goal, then you also have to subscribe to the idea that weight gain is a goal. Most people did not work towards a goal of gaining the 10, 20, or 40 pounds they are trying to lose, it probably just happened over time. Different people gain weight for different reasons (specific medical conditions aside), be it life events, stress, eating the wrong foods, or lack of exercise. Albeit in all cases, it is rare that people gained weight because they had a goal to gain it, so they likely won’t lose weight just because they have a goal to lose it.
Weight loss, much like weight gain, is a sum of the lifestyle habits you create for yourself. True weight loss, true sustainable long-term weight loss, does not occur quickly, the same weight gain does not occur quickly. It occurs over time, at a steady rate. True weight loss is an accumulation of positive lifestyle habits and changes, the same way weight gain is impacted by an accumulation of negative habits. Although many of us think weight loss occurs the way it does on The Biggest Loser, that is not the case. If you truly want to lose weight, you need to look at the big picture. What am I doing on a day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month basis to help me reach my goal? It is the small day-to-day choices like opting for a salad instead of fries, cutting sugar out of your coffee, and packing your lunch that add up to big changes to help you lose weight. Anyone can go on a 3-day juice cleanse or 2-week crash diet, but these efforts are short-sighted and don’t focus on long-term health. If you really want to lose weight, your goal should be to seek health and create a healthy lifestyle, not solely focus on a number on a scale. The reason this works is that when you focus on making choices that promote health, you WILL lose weight. I have seen this with myself, and time and time again with clients, which is why I know it works.
Weight loss is a positive side effect of eating well and living a healthy lifestyle,
so if you focus on those things the weight loss will come.
Figure Out Your Why
If you truly want to lose weight, you need to understand why you are doing this. Aside from your weight, what other goals can you set for yourself? What is your energy like? What is your mood like? Are you happy? Are you inspired? Do you want to have the stamina to play with your kids? Do you have energy after work or do you need to lie on the couch? Do you feel comfortable in your own skin when you walk down the street? Do you make yourself a priority? You need to understand that although these goals may seem like fluff, they are the real goals. Weight loss is a positive side effect of eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, so if you focus on those things the weight loss will come.
Weight Loss Goals don’t Need to be Isolated
People often look at their health goals as individual goals. I want to lose weight. I want better skin. I want more energy. I want better digestion. What many people fail to recognize is that although your body is made up of many systems, it is ONE system. People will ask me if they can improve their energy and lose weight at the same time, or lose weight and improve their skin at the same time. I’m always a little perplexed by these questions because the answer seems so obvious to me: of course. The reality is when the body works optimally, all of the systems work optimally.
Weight Loss is Not Time-Bound
When you set a goal to lose weight by a specific date, you are setting yourself up for failure. Why? Because living a healthy lifestyle is not time-bound. People will look at the process like “I just need to do this and eat this way until I reach my goal weight, and then I can go back to what I was doing” – wrong. Although the objective is to reach a goal weight, once you reach it the job is not done. The real work is in the maintenance phase, which is why focusing on the habits you need to achieve this goal is far more important than the goal itself. Once you reach your weight loss goal, you will need to keep doing the same thing, or similar things, to what helped get you there. Anyone can go from zero to hero and follow a strict diet to lose weight in a short amount of time, so many people have already done this, but then what happens? We let go a little, go back to our old habits, and the weight comes back on. If you had to drink water and eat vegetables to get to your weight loss goal, you can’t go back to your soda and chips once you achieve it, you’re going to have to keep drinking water and eating vegetables to stay there.
The Goal is the Process
If you truly want to lose weight and maintain weight loss, what you need to understand is that the goal is the process. The actual goal of weight loss is not the number on the scale, it is the process of getting there. The real goal is to create habits that you enjoy and that you can maintain. Hate kale? Cool, don’t eat it. Think smoothies are dumb? Great, have eggs instead. If you can focus on changing your habits and creating ones that work for you and your lifestyle, then your goal of weight loss will come much easier, and the process will be far more enjoyable.
If you want to lose weight you have to be open to the idea of change,
get out of your own way and be willing to fail.
And, I hate to break it to you but this process will probably be hard. If you don’t understand food or nutrition, well you are going to have to learn. If you don’t know how to cook, you are going to have to try. Anyone can follow a 4-week plan blindly, lose weight and not learn a damn thing, but what do you think will happen afterward? If changing your habits was easy then weight loss would be easy, and millions of people wouldn’t have this same goal every single year. If you want to lose weight you have to be open to the idea of change, get out of your own way, and be willing to fail. Sustainable weight loss is not a linear path, there will be up and downs in your progress and on the scale. You can’t hide in a bubble or lock yourself up for a year just because you want to lose weight, life goes on. The office snacks, the weekend, the takeout, the parties, and your favorite treats are not going anywhere, so you are going to need to learn how to work with them. If you “hate vegetables”, “don’t eat leftovers” or “can’t cook” you’re going to need to suck it up and figure it out. I’m not saying that will be easy (if it was I wouldn’t be writing this post) but you’ve got to get out of your own way and give yourself room to expand, learn and grow. When I work with people individually once we get the foundational nutrition information out of the way, the ongoing conversation is often no longer about food but a deeper discussion about themselves as a person. How did you get here? What is holding you back? Where else does this come up in your life? Shit really starts to get real when you want to lose weight, in fact, sometimes it gets ugly, but if you put in the work it gets better. The better it gets, the easier it gets, and the easier it gets, the better it gets.
So my point in all of this is to say that if your goal is to lose weight, that’s fine, but you need to dig deeper and come up with other goals too. You need to build habits, focus on the process, and your how and why for doing it. I know it would be ideal to lose 10 pounds overnight, but that’s just not the way it works. You need to make yourself a priority and focus on making your health a priority because that is the true secret to weight loss.