3 myths can get in the way of losing weight
Johnnie Jenkins, of Waukegan, participates in a step aerobics class Family First Center of Lake County in Waukegan. ( (Dave Shields/Chicago Tribune)
In fact, while 84 percent of people claim they're trying to take better care of their health today than just a few years ago, 59 percent of people reported they don't have the will power to change their habits, according to a recent survey by The Futures Co. Lack of will power is the No. 1 barrier preventing Americans from living healthier lifestyles, ranking higher than money, time, desire and a perceived lack of need, according to the survey.
So what's the secret to propelling yourself from an "aha" moment to reaching a healthy weight? It's all about the day-to-day. Focusing on lifestyle changes, heeding the right how-to advice and finding support from a group of like-minded peers will help you stay on track better than focusing on the impetus (a scary obesity poster in the subway) or the end result (fitting into your skinny jeans again).
Here, we sift through motivation research and enlist the help of Andy Core, an exercise physiologist and motivational speaker, to muddle through three motivation misconceptions—and provide the help you need to stay on track.
Myth 1: The end result is what matters.
Reality: Enjoying the path to success is what helps you reach it.
You know the Chinese proverb "The journey is the reward," but you've probably never thought of it in terms of losing weight. The reward typically associated with a diet and exercise plan is watching your goal weight calibrate on the bathroom scale. But according to Core, thinking ahead to that magical day isn't enough to motivate you to get there. "Starting with the end in mind is the fast track to failure in a health-improvement program," he says. "You want to have goals, but your daily focus should be on gaining gratification from checking the box."
"Checking the box" could mean finishing a workout, drinking eight glasses of water in a given day, or dedicating 10 minutes in the evening to laying out your gym clothes and making a healthy lunch for the next day, says Core. The important thing is that it becomes a positive experience that you want to repeat, he says, adding that setting up healthy lifestyle patterns helps you build the momentum necessary to reach a weight loss goal.
Myth 2: I am my own biggest motivator.
Reality: Social support is essential to reaching a weight loss goal.
You could have all the gumption in the world, but it won't get you far if you're going at weight loss alone—or from inside a circle of friends who make unhealthy decisions, says Core.
Research suggests that having obese friends can make you gain weight too—and that your peers can help you lose weight or maintain weight loss. The trick to using social support to your advantage is surrounding yourself with the right company. "Ask yourself, 'Are my family and friends encouragers, or are they part of the problem?'" Core suggests.
And don't forget about your online support structure. In a study published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics, researchers at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston surveyed 193 members of the SparkPeople online weight loss community and found that 88 percent of respondents used the site for encouragement and motivation, while 59 percent used it as a source of information and 43 percent as an outlet for sharing experiences.
Myth 3: Failure is a sign of weakness.
Reality: Failure results from a lack of preparation or poor behavior patterns.
If you hit a weight loss plateau or derail your diet over a holiday weekend, it's not a reflection on your character and you shouldn't beat yourself up over it, says Core, explaining that core values don't drive motivation.
"Most people at some point in their lives have felt motivated to live healthy," says Core. "Those same people have also felt unmotivated," he adds, explaining that the two sometimes happen just days apart. "In a period of days, your core values, your metabolism, the way you were raised, and your life experiences haven't changed."
What did change: your habits. Perhaps you stopped tracking calories or skipped a series of workouts and feel as though you've completely killed your diet. The best way to power past a slip-up: "Think execution versus outcome," suggests Core. "Re-energize and refocus on checking the box. Don't focus on what good things happen if you do, or bad things happen if you don't." And to make weight loss goals—and mistakes—more manageable from a success/failure standpoint, don't get too far ahead of yourself. "You don't have to change your life; you only have to change your day," says Core.
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