Everything You’ve Been Told About Your Weight Loss New Year’s Resolution is Wrong (Here’s What To Do About It…)
Every January the same cycle repeats for so many people. They vow to lose weight, get super motivated, signup for a gym membership with the goal of losing weight. That’s the good part of the cycle. The bad part of the cycle is what comes next.
What starts out with motivation and excitement ends with failure, nearly every time. This cycle even happens so often that weight loss New Year’s Resolutions have turned into more of the punchline to a joke, rather than an actual viable plan. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. I’ve got some surprising good news for you though – your lack of progress isn’t even your fault.
You’ve been sold a bill of goods with weight loss New Year’s Resolutions. Everything you’ve been told by the fitness and weight loss industries has set you up for failure, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that you’ve failed. There is an answer to losing weight in January, but you’ll need to think differently about weight loss than you have in the past.
That’s right, according to the science of behavioral psychology, it’s not what you DO first that matters, it’s how you think. Let’s dive into how to think differently about your weight loss New Year’s Resolution to ensure this is the last time weight loss needs to be your resolution.
Science-Based Weight Loss Expectations
According to the Mayo Clinic, shooting for losing 1-2 pounds per week is a realistic weight loss expectation. Furthermore the Centers for Disease Control acknowledges that losing 5-10% of your body weight can result in significant health benefits. These statistics are far from what most people think of when they set their weight loss goals (especially around this time of year).
So often we’re bombarded with ads for “losing 40 pounds in 40 days!” If you don’t believe me, look at your social media feeds. When was the last time you saw an ad that said “lose 6 pounds sustainably in 8 weeks?!” The answer is probably never. In fact, you probably laughed at the statement of losing 6 pounds in 8 weeks as an ad someone would click on.
The first problem with most weight loss resolutions is that they’re based on unrealistic expectations. These expectations are driven by people trying to sell programs or products to make a quick buck. These programs don’t drive long-term results. More often than not, they leave people hungry, discouraged, and frustrated. Even worse, when people do lose weight on these programs they gain it all back and then some.
It’s time to shift your expectations around the rate of weight loss. This is so critical because so many people feel like a failure when they’re not. This makes sense of course, because when you’re led to believe losing “40 pounds in 40 days” is achievable, 6 pounds in 8 weeks seems like a failure. When you feel that failure, emotionally, you quit.
It’s time to reframe. Losing 1.5 pounds per week for one year means you’ve lost over 75 pounds! Taking the time to slowly lose weight might seem slow to start, but it allows you to gain momentum over time, rather than losing steam.
Weight Loss Lesson #1: Set realistic expectations
Focus on the PROCESS of Losing Weight – Not the Outcome
You’ve probably been told to set a SMART goal for losing weight. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Bound. It’s a common way to set a
“good” goal. Let’s use a weight loss example:
Lose 15 pounds by March 1, 2023.
Looks like a great goal, right? Seems specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound, so what’s the problem? The problem is this works against the way our brains are wired.
As humans, we’re wired for instant gratification. This is for a lot of important evolutionary reasons we don’t need to get into. Needless to say in caveman times instant gratification kept us alive. Now it’s killing us, or at the very least killing our weight loss goals.
If you spent any time around ice cream during a diet, you know this is true. Despite the longer-term gratification of weight loss, you give in to the short-term gratification of ice cream. You feel instantly better for the moments you’re eating the ice cream, then it happens. You feel terrible about not sticking to your diet goals.
Why does this happen? Why do we give into temptation so often? It’s because the goal you set was wrong.
Not that it was wrong to set a goal of losing weight (the amount, the timeline, or anything else). What was wrong is that the pint of ice cream is right in front of you RIGHT NOW. That so-called SMART goal you set isn’t until March 1st, and instant gratification won out. Weight loss in three months, ice cream now. The brain’s pleasure center picks ice cream now always.
Picking ice cream now (or any other type of instant gratification) releases dopamine. This is the “make you happy” brain chemical. It will always favor ice cream over a longer term weight loss goal. You can insert any other behavior that is instantly gratifying for ice cream. I think you get my point.
How do we flip the script and use our brain’s chemistry to help us and not hurt us? The answer lies in how to set your goals.
Instead of setting a SMART outcome goal (like we did above). Set a SMART process goal. A process goal is something you do, rather than something you achieve. Here’s an example:
I will walk at 3.0mph on the treadmill for 30 min on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
That certainly fits the SMART criteria, but you get that dopamine hit every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when you complete your walking. You’ve hacked your brain’s chemistry to help, and not hurt, you.
Weight Loss Lesson #2: Focus on the process, not the outcome.
Weight Loss Mindset
As I stated in the beginning of this article, losing weight is about thinking the right way first, before doing. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a “doing” tip below with regard to exercise, but we have to round out this discussion on the behavior psychology of weight loss first.
Simply put, the right mindset can make or break your weight loss attempt. What we talked about above is a great start to shifting your mindset around expectations and goal-setting, but there’s so much more. Here is a quick list of mindset tips and tools you can use to add to your mental toolbox:
- Weekly planning and debrief: plan for things you’re going to do ahead of time each week, then debrief at the end of the week to see how you did and what you need to do differently.
- Create an accountability network: find people who will support you in achieving your weight loss goal and ask them to help hold you accountable. The more people in this network, the better.
- Find your WHY: knowing why you want to lose weight can make all the difference in the world, especially when it is deep and meaningful. It’s easy to quit your program when you’re doing it for your “beach bod.” It’s much harder to quit when you’re doing it to be healthy enough to play with your kids. You can draw strength from your WHY when things get tough.
- Affirmations: taking the time to clarify what positive qualities and attributes you have that you use in other aspects of your life can allow these to transfer over to your weight loss goals. You’ve successfully navigated many aspects of your life outside of weight loss, it’s time to apply those strengths to weight loss.
- Self-Talk: being aware of some of the negative things you say to yourself and how to reframe it in a positive way. This is especially important if you’ve tried to lose weight before, and failed.
- Dealing with setbacks: learning how to work with and around setbacks that happen along the way (because they will at some point). A little bit of proactive planning can go a long way to bouncing back faster.
That list sounds like a lot, particularly when it’s written out in such short form. Fortunately, the behavioral experts at Applied Fitness Solutions have spent decades honing their approach to mindset for all kinds of people, with all kinds of goals.
In response to the mindset struggle people had around losing weight (and other goals) these experts came up with the 12-week Wellbeing Challenge. This challenge focuses on all the necessary aspects of mindset needed to achieve a challenging goal, like weight loss..
If you click on this link here to sign-up for a free version of the complete program.
Weight Loss Workouts
I couldn’t end this article without talking a little bit about what to do in the gym. I certainly want to make sure we set the record straight workout wise, to set you up for success. Here, again, you’ve probably been told some things that aren’t so true.
You’ve probably heard that getting on the treadmill, or spending hours doing aerobic exercise is the best way to lose weight. While it might seem you’re “sweating off” the pounds when you’re doing this, you might be short-circuiting your weight loss.
Not that doing this kind of exercise is bad. It’s certainly good for your heart and it will help you burn calories, but there’s more to exercise for weight loss than just that.
First, it’s important to establish that you don’t lose weight during exercise, you lose it after. Assuming the weight you’re looking to lose is fat (not muscle), that weight is lost at rest. This is true only if you’re burning more calories than what you consume in a day (otherwise known as a calorie deficit).
You might be thinking, why even do exercise, if we don’t lose weight while we’re doing it? The answer is two-fold:
- Exercise can help increase the amount of calories you burn during and after exercise. This makes it easier to be in that deficit I mentioned earlier.
- Exercise helps to maintain muscle tissue when you’re trying to lose weight. This is important to keep your metabolism high.
If you read #1 above carefully, you’ll notice that I said during AND after exercise. That’s right, when certain forms of exercise are performed we can elevate post-exercise calorie burning 12-24 hours after a workout. The best part of this increased calorie burning post-exercise is it comes from fat. This is unlike the calories that burned during exercise, that largely come from carbohydrates and proteins.
If aerobic exercise isn’t the ticket for ideal weight loss exercise, what is? Circuit training.
Circuit training is a combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise. Think of doing bodyweight squats for 15 reps, then doing bicep curls for 15 reps, then hopping down on the floor and doing 15 crunches. Take a short break for some water and then repeat that 4-5 times. You’re working your muscles, you’re breathing heavy, and your heart is pumping; you’ve combined aerobic and resistance exercise.
This combination not only increases calorie burning during exercise, but also increases your calorie burning after exercise due to something called EPOC (also known as “the afterburn”). Setting the technicalities aside, EPOC can keep your metabolism humming for hours after exercise and help your weight loss goals become a reality.
Lastly, since circuit training stresses your muscular system, you’ll be sure to maintain your muscle mass to maintain a high metabolism after weight loss (and as a bonus, you’ll look more toned)
Last Word on Weight Loss
Phew, that’s a lot. Expectations, goal-setting, mindset, and circuit training, I’ve really covered the broad range of topics in this article. If nothing else this should help you understand that weight loss isn’t simple and straightforward. In fact, successful weight loss comes from working with both the mind and the body. It also takes time and patience.
If I can leave you with one last thing to consider, it’s give yourself some grace and your journey. There is no rule that says you have to lose all your weight by a certain date. Take the time you deserve, be patient, learn, grow, and enjoy the journey. If that is your mindset around your New Year’s Resolution, you cannot fail.