I’m sure many of you have experienced this at some point in your weight-loss journey:
You’ve just found the magic solution to losing the extra weight and keeping it off forever. You figure out what to eat on the plan outlined, buy the groceries needed to adhere to it, and adopt the exercise regime it recommends. You follow the program strictly for two weeks, and guess what? You lose some weight, you feel better, and you like how your clothes fit. Success!
Then ___________ happens.
There was birthday cake at the office. Your partner left you. Your boss reprimanded you. You went out to lunch with your coworkers.
Before you know it, you’ve had a “snack-cident.” It crept up on you without your conscious knowledge and drove your head into a bag of potato chips.
After your snack-cident, then comes the wall of shame that sends you into a pit of despair and self-loathing. You ask yourself: “Why did I do that? Now I’ve really blown it!”
Feeling like a failure, you ditch your diet and fall back into your old patterns. The weight you lost soon comes back, along with a little extra.
Why does this keep happening? Below are 3 of the common pitfalls that set up unrealistic expectations and can lead you to fall off the healthy weight loss wagon. I’ve also included 5 tips on how to develop an approach that will stop you from engaging in that unhealthy cycle you know all too well and that will help you ultimately reach your goals.
Pitfall #1: New beginnings
Human beings enjoy things that are new and exciting. It may sound strange, but sometimes it’s fun to start a new diet or exercise routine. You get to try new recipes and new workout routines and there’s all these gadgets that track all your metrics. But, once the initial excitement wears off, we tend to get bored.
Pitfall #2: Short and sweet
We also tend to have short attention spans and want immediate results that don’t require a lot of suffering on our part. Suffering doesn’t have to be physical pain — though the soreness you might feel when starting a workout routine could count — it can also be the annoyance of not ordering your usual unhealthy coffee beverage or avoiding the fries or preparing healthy meals ahead of time instead of vegging out on the couch.
Pitfall #3: Unrealistic expectations
If it were possible to lose a huge amount of weight in a short amount of time and keep it off for the rest of our lives, none of us would be in this situation in the first place. Sustained, healthy weight loss and maintenance takes time, endurance, and patience.
Here are 5 tips to avoid those pitfalls and set yourself up for success:
1. Focus on the Big Picture
Acknowledge the desire for novelty and meet these needs in other areas in your life before the newness of the diet and/or exercise routine wears off. For example, you could try a new sport or hobby. Also, look at the rest of your life and what realistic, sustainable changes or allowances you need to make to meet your goals. Include special occasions like birthdays, meals out, and vacations into your overall plan.
2. Become a Mental Endurance Athlete
Think of weight loss and maintenance as a marathon rather than a sprint. If you reflect on your struggle with weight, you’ll probably discover that it took you years to get to where you are today. Similarly, it may take years to find success in your weight loss journey and to stay there in the long run.
3. Be Realistic About Human Nature
Accept your weaknesses. For example, if you know that an upcoming family gathering will be stressful and it will be hard to stick to your food plan, work around it by planning ahead. Consider what you will eat ahead of time and figure out a way to de-stress afterwards that doesn’t revolve around food.
Remember that being healthy is hard work and doesn’t come easily and you may not always enjoy the process. Expect tough times when you are bored of your meal plan and feel like rebelling or resent having to work out because you just don’t feel like it that day.
4. Celebrate Your Successes
We tend to flourish and succeed at goals when we are praised. Instead of giving yourself a label like “failure,” when you go off-plan, tell yourself it’s okay and accept that you’re “a work in progress.” Stay away from extreme labels that make you feel hopeless (“failure” is one of them), or set unachievable standards (like “looking like a supermodel”).
5. Develop a Strong Support System
Many people find that they are more successful with long-term weight loss when they involve others in the process. How could your partner, family, or friends support you in your goals? Could your share healthy meals or exercise together? Or could they be a support line? If you’re feeling like skipping your working or eating something you shouldn’t, could you text or call them to help you get motivated to stay on target?
Invest in counseling. There is a tendency to slip back into old eating patterns after an initial weight loss due to how we deal (or don’t deal) with our emotions. A therapist can help you pinpoint patterns when faced with upsetting emotions and help you address problems when they arise instead of stuffing them down with food.