It’s that time again. That time of year when we set lofty goals for change. Setting out with high hopes and grateful hearts, we pledge that this year will be different. This year, we will save more money, get organized, learn something new, and, of course, finally lose that weight. Dreaming about what we want is a good start, but achieving weight loss goals is much more difficult. When the excitement about creating a new physique starts to fade, and we realize that losing weight involves work, we often become plagued by “weight loss woes.” Having a plan to manage these roadblocks can make all the difference in achieving weight loss goals. Here are examples of common weight loss woes, as well as ideas for how to move through them and make progress:
“The goal just seems too big.” The most effective goals are “SMART” goals: “Specific (simple, sensible, significant), Measurable (meaningful, motivating), Achievable (agreed, attainable), Realistic (reasonable, relevant, resourced, results-based), and Time-Bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost-limited, timely, time-sensitive),” (Duncan Haughey). For example, instead of, “I want a summer body,” a much more effective goal would be, “I want to lose 50 pounds in 9 months.” It’s Specific, Measurable, and Time-Bound. Whether the goal is Achievable and Realistic depends on the individual and can be discussed with a health practitioner or doctor.
“I have no idea where to start.” Beginning your weight loss journey can be overwhelming. A burning desire to lose 50 pounds or gain more muscle mass can lead to bewilderment. After all, there are countless ways to go about achieving those goals, such as different diets and workout plans, and the best approaches often depend on factors such as age, gender, and body type. Having options is great, but choosing a strategy can be complicated and overwhelming. How do you know what is best for you? First, start with a plan that is self-compassionate, respectful to your body, and in line with your lifestyle and schedule. Then, use your resources. Your doctor can provide medical advice about what workouts are safe for you. A personal trainer can teach you how to exercise. Friends can offer encouragement and support. A counselor can help you build coping skills to replace emotional eating. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help at the beginning of your weight loss path, but also along the way.
“I love food.” This may sound radical, but for most people trying to lose weight, no foods should be off-limits. Oftentimes, barring certain foods can make you more likely to overindulge or even binge later. Most individuals on the weight loss journey still can occasionally enjoy the foods they love but in smaller portions. Any decrease in unhealthy food intake, even if it’s small, will help with weight loss. For example, if one mini-burger will help lessen your cravings and combat the urge to give in and have a super-sized, double patty burger with fries and a shake later, then eat the mini-burger. Discover what works for your body, and be kind to yourself as you find your balance.
“I hate working out.” In the words of an inspirational fitness certification class master trainer, “Find your soulmate workout,” a.k.a., the workout that you miss if you go too long without it. If you haven’t yet found a type of exercise you enjoy, keep trying different workouts, e.g., dancing, yoga, running, etc. If you hate a certain type of workout, don’t force yourself to do it. In the beginning of your journey, it’s important to have an exercise plan that you look forward to partaking in, or at least a workout that you don’t dread. This will aid you in sticking with it. A good workout is one you do.
“My progress is so slow.” The Time-Bound aspect of weight loss goals can be a source of major woe for those on this journey, and the process often can feel slow-going. Determine a time frame with a compassionate and knowledgeable approach. For example, the standard recommendation for weight loss is to lose approximately 2 pounds per week. The science of weight loss is straightforward: calories in vs. calories out. To lose one pound, you must either burn 3500 calories or consume 3500 fewer calories. Therefore, a 50-pound weight loss should be broken down into chunks of about 4 to 8 pounds per month, and losing 50 pounds should take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. Remind yourself that the process can occur only one step at a time.
“I’ve failed before, so I’ll probably fail again.” You might have tried to lose weight numerous times before and not attained your goal, but try to reframe your thinking about your previous experiences. What did you learn from those attempts? How can you apply that knowledge towards this step in your journey? Use that information you gained in the past in creating your goal this time.
ANY negative self-talk about yourself or your body. Be compassionate with yourself. “Self-compassion has been defined as a mindful awareness of oneself, which involves treating oneself kindly and understanding oneself during difficult and challenging times by realizing that such experiences are common amongst all humans,” (Neff, 2003a). Begin your journey with an understanding and a promise to yourself to work on you in a way that is respectful. Self-compassion itself may even help you lose the weight. In some weight loss studies, it has been found that, “participants lost more weight when they participated in a mindful self-compassionate program compared to a control group,” (Mantzios and Wilson, 2015). At the outset of the process, begin with an understanding of your limitations and appreciation of what you can do for your health. As you do this, if you begin to identity negative self-talk, replace it with kind, compassionate words. For example, “My legs are so huge,” can be replaced with, “My legs are strong.” Change, “I’m so slow; I used to run a 7-minute mile,” to, “I know I can improve my mile time.” Acknowledge that you are grateful to start this journey toward better health. Take time to understand that you are worthy and enough just as you are. Your size does not determine your self-worth. You define who you are, NOT your scale, body mass index, or body fat ratio.
As you start your journey, remember to compassionately go about your goals. Talk to yourself as you would a good friend as you make and execute your plan. Start your journey with you in mind. Create goals that are attainable and SMART. If you hit a roadblock, seek help. See a doctor, nutritionist, personal trainer, or counselor who can help you achieve your goals. Most of all, work towards these goals in a self-compassionate way, and remember that you are worth it.
Merrissa Hughes, M.Ed., LPC-I, is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at The Conative Group, supervised by Andres Tapia, Ph.D., LPC-S. In addition to providing therapy in Houston, Texas, Merrissa is an ACE and AFAA-certified Group Fitness Instructor and teaches courses in numerous fitness formats. Gaining self-compassion through her personal weight loss accomplishment (over 50 pounds) has led her to help others navigate their own journeys. Merrissa is also a former educator, a wife and mother of two beautiful children, and a lover of all things sweet.