Why Lasting Weight Loss Has (Almost) Nothing To Do With Diet Or Exercise

As a health coach and someone who's lost 150 pounds (and maintained a healthy weight for years), I see patterns in why so many people lose weight but eventually gain it all back.

We are all looking for happiness, but it is not found on the scale.

Many of these behaviors and beliefs are ones I struggled with during the first couple years of my weight loss journey. (Hint: it’s not for a lack of knowing how to workout or what’s healthy to eat.)

Here are some reasons why people don't sustain their weight loss, and what to do instead for lasting overall health.

1. We have disempowering beliefs about ourselves.

I used to think a lot of awful things about myself. These thoughts were sometimes even reinforced by other people. It wasn’t until I honestly allowed myself to believe more positive, life-affirming qualities about myself that I was able to follow through with my weight loss and many other challenges.

If we see ourselves as someone who never follows through or that we have low willpower or don’t deserve good health, we won’t get it (or at least not for long).

Pro tip: Find references from your past experiences when you were successful at achieving something you set out to accomplish. What words would you use to describe the type of person you were when that happened? Were you driven, determined, brave, courageous, hard working, inspirational? Reinforce these beliefs about yourself on a constant basis.

2. We don't have a truly great reason for why we want to lose weight.

We’re all capable of coming up with reasons why we want to undergo a weight loss journey, but the reasons we come up with are sometimes vague and uninspiring. Our motivation needs to have a strong emotional pull. We must also have many reasons why we see losing weight (and keeping it off) as crucial to our lives, and they need to be re-evaluated as time passes.

What motivated us when we started this journey may not be a motivator three years later.

Pro tip: Keep a running list of all of the reasons (big and small) as to why you want to reach your goal. Don’t over think it or judge your motives too harshly. There is no right or wrong — only motivating. Refer to your list consistently. Keep it on your phone, or turn it into a vision board.

3. We attach negative meanings to food and fitness.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of saying things like, “I should be working out right now,” or “I can’t eat that." If the meaning we give exercise and healthy eating is one of restriction, deprivation, a chore, a pain or even something that’s only short-term, we tend to struggle with making it a priority.

When we can find ways to find pleasure in physical activity and to make healthier food choices, we’re golden.

Pro tip: Pay attention to the words you use when you talk about exercise or healthy food. If you’re jokingly calling your workout area in the basement “the pain cave” or saying you’re on a “diet,” you may be in trouble. Make a mindful effort to change the words you associate with fitness and food.

4. We react out of fear during times or crisis and change.

Many us thrive on having a set routine and expectations. However, when something comes along to disrupt that routine, we’re so inflexible that we react in ways that bring us right back to our old habits and patterns of how we deal with stress.

Reacting to fear often leads to seeking comfort and distraction through eating, drinking, shopping, etc. Instead of accepting it's OK to be afraid, to feel uncomfortable or out of control, we try to push bad feelings away with substances. But change and crisis are opportunities for growth and deeper experience, not something to be avoided.

Pro tip: The next time change comes up (and it will), ask questions of the situation. It’s easy to focus on how a situation can negatively impact your life, but how can it be a positive? Is there a hidden lesson to be learned? How can you act in a way that is still healthful while handling this undesirable circumstance?

5. We fail to get help.

Unfortunately, it’s often seen as a weakness to ask for help (instead of a strength). The first thing I did to get healthier was change who I spent my time with. I sought help from experienced people, and surrounding myself with friends who encouraged me and shared the same values and beliefs I was trying to adopt.

When we're changing a big part of our lives, we need encouragement and guidance from people who've been there before.

Pro tip: Re-evaluate your relationships. Do some people need to be pruned away from your inner circle for a while? Do you think a personal trainer or health coach would be a good cheerleader for you? Would a therapist help you to shift your mindset?

6. We believe weight loss will "fix" us.

Losing 150 pounds didn't make me happier. I was the same person, just in a smaller body. Happiness is what we’re all looking for, but it’s not found on the scale. So many of us are guilty of prolonging feeling happy until we achieve something (like our ideal weight). But we deserve to be happy right now — and it’s already inside us if we choose to recognize it.

Pro tip: When you know you want to be happy, find small ways to increase your mood and satisfaction on a daily basis. Delaying happiness only creates a life of misery. Gratitude goes a long way on building happiness. You may not be where you wish to be on your journey, but what do you like about where you are right now?

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Or do you have your own thoughts on this subject?

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