We are a society obsessed with dieting and weight loss, which naturally generates thoughts around every facet of what we eat, whether this is our intake of fat, protein, cars or a whole range of other nutrients. Conventional wisdom around how we approach weight loss means that we become almost compulsively obsessed with food whether we are eating or not. Our preoccupation is only compounded by the media which bombards us with images and information, whether this is about the growing epidemic of obesity or the optimal, unrealistic and often unhealthy images of body shapes and sizes that we’re all meant to aspire to. The outcome of such an assault on our conscience is one where we are almost too much in the conscious mode and our endeavours to succeed to lose weight or eat less very much depend upon willpower. In truth, diets are shown to fail more often than not. So, is there an alternative?
Yes, there is far more to do and we have to create some distance from the conventional formula and think more holistically. Most of this is obvious in that we have to consider physical activity and manage lifestyle changes alongside the mechanical decrease of food quantity in our lives. So, it is far more important for us to develop and master behavioural strategies so we can stick to new and healthier ways of eating and increasing physical activity in our daily life. Though this sounds straightforward, lifestyle changes are often very hard to negotiate. If it was easy to do this, then we would not have such a problem with obesity, unhealthy eating patterns and low physical activity. Indeed, health care costs for physical inactivity have been estimated to be over a billion pounds and this number is only increasing.
We may need to think about how we think about food, how we act around it and how we can manage changes. As with any change in our life, we will need to unlearn an unhealthy habit or pattern, and replace it with a healthier one which with time and repetition will become entrenched.
If we want to make a change with our lifestyle in this way, we have to set gaols for ourselves that are specific, realistic (not too ambitious), and in manageable chunks so we are able to observe changes at small time intervals and be encouraged to continue. So, we may choose one step such as removing desserts from our dinner and replacing with fruit, or we may choose to cut out biscuits and replace with a healthy snack such as a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. These are small and manageable steps that can Incentivise us for more. Of course, we can add a more quantitative layer to our goal and think about losing a particular number of pounds or reaching a certain level with a particular time frame in mind. Given that weight measurements vary and therefore can lead to disappointment, I’d advocate focusing on behavioural change that can be controlled rather than less tangible goals that would be addressed with the behavioural change.
As well as goal setting, it is important to monitor how we are doing. We sort of become our own personal coaches so rather than berating ourselves for failing to succeed, we instead try to improve our performance which may mean noticing what is challenging us or getting in the way. There may be some obvious obstacles or life style changes which could be tampered with. For example, you may be needing to avoid eating whilst preparing food, or avoid buying take away coffees and replacing those instead with water. Simple changes may lead to significant shifts. You can also apply this to exercise in order to work out how best to Incentivise yourself to make this become habitual, so this may mean identifying the best time to go out for that run or whether this is something that would be easier with a friend or by yourself. I’d advocate keeping a log diary so you can loosely monitor progress and identify barriers. As with any change, we can facilitate this by involving others, whether this is talking to family or friends, so they become part of your support network, and encourage you along the way, or you may even in some circumstances get a professional (health check) to formalise this and provide more structure. We sometimes respond better when such formalities are introduced.
We all without realising it use affirmations to help motivate ourselves and in the case of a challenge such as weight loss, we can develop a positive attitude and continually restate the belief that we can succeed. We may even find a friend to manage the challenge together so you can motivate one another, or you can think of a real person who you admire who can act as a role model
Incentives will greatly help support changes in behaviour so in order to drive oneself to go for that run or remove chocolate from one’s diet. Changes in lifestyle take sustained efforts over time and whether we achieve our goals depends on how we make them, our mindset and what we put in place to maintain motivation.
Our motivation can also draw upon the negative consequences of not changing as well as the positive ones. We need to see getting fit and reducing our weight as a priority and our life. For some, our health may be the biggest driver so we are less at risk of developing certain diseases which are known to be heavily associated with poor diet. We may even know of a family member or friend who has been sick from such a lifestyle and this may be a useful reminder. For others, our body image and shape may be important so that we can feel more confident with our appearance and even wear certain outfits. We all need to identify what may pull us forwards. Successful individuals keep their motivation in the forefront of their minds all the time. To succeed, we need self-discipline and self-control. We will grow stronger if we face down temptations or easy outlets and this will build strength for future decision moments. We can learn from our less successful efforts instead of beating ourselves up. Perhaps, we can finally think about our future fantasies as in what we may look forward to in life if we meet this challenge and become we wish for. I am a huge advocate for visualisation and think some positive imagery in relation to how we will be in the future including seeing ourselves eating healthily, being physically active and looking how we would like to be. And finally, I always believe writing down our plan of action rather like we would with a contract. Then it is written down and we can modify it as and when, and of course use it as a reference point.