By: Tricia Stefankiewicz
For most of my life, I was able to maintain my weight by exercising no matter the amount or how I ate. If I overate at one meal, I could easily increase my physical activity and keep my weight stable with no change in my eating behavior. As I got older, however, I started to gain weight because my eating behaviors and episodes of overeating continued despite my decrease in physical activity. I knew I had to either eat less or increase my physical activity to lose the weight. Multiple times I joined Weight Watchers to help lose weight and keep me accountable. I had success and almost always lost weight on the program. But like most people, I would get to a point when I would eventually stop the very things I needed to do to keep my weight in check and then ultimately I would gain back the weight that I worked so hard to lose. And I would feel terrible, full of shame and embarrassment, and maybe even inadequate that I let this happen to me after all the hard work and effort I had made. Does this sound familiar?
As we step into the new year, there will be a desire to make a change to our eating. There will be ads and friends who are jumping in and making changes and we will want to join them. We may start to follow a diet plans like Paleo, Keto, Weight Watchers, Mediterranean or Whole 30. At first, we may feel excited and hopeful. This is it!!! This will be the plan that gets the weight off forever! We start imagining our new body and how we will feel different this time around. As the weeks go by however, we realize that this plan does not work for us. It just does not fit into our lifestyle. It is much more challenging than we had realized. Little by little we do less and less of the behaviors to get us to our goal of weight loss or eating better. Over time we end up right at the beginning of where we started. We have failed yet again.
Many of us look back on diets with shame that we did not continue the very behavior that helped us lose weight in the first place.
When we make the decision to try the weight loss thing again, we go full steam ahead without ever taking the time to look back at old behaviors. But doing so will provide invaluable information to you. This reflection provides knowledge about what worked and what did not work in the past, patterns of eating behaviors, and how you dealt when feeling overburdened, stressed, or bored.
Often, we fail to consider the nuances and challenges of our own life. We choose a plan that may not be feasible for us. We may not even be ready for a change in our life but feel like we must because we have a blank slate, called the New year.
Looking back at past diets and patterns of eating can provide us with valuable information.
1. It can teach us what has worked so that we can repeat this process for long term success.
2. It can teach us what did not work and should be avoided this time around
It is not the diet that leads to weight loss, but rather the behaviors and what we think about ourselves. Let that sink in. It’s not the diet but the behavior associated with it that leads to the transformation you desire.
Let’s review past behaviors.
1. Which behaviors worked in the past to make the change you desire?
a. Did you pack your meals most days of the week?
b. Did you minimize your snacking?
c. Did you prep your meals on the weekend making it easier for the work week?
d. Did you write down your meals ahead of time?
e. Did you have support from friends and family?
f. Where you ready to make the desired change?
g. Did you have positive self-narrative and self-talk you were doing? Examples include: I am enough, I can do this, it doesn’t matter if my behavior is perfect, progress is better than perfect?
2. What behaviors did not work to help you make the behavior change?
a. Did you fail to have a plan? Never knowing what you would eat?
b. No consistent method of preparing meals beforehand?
c. Periods of mindless, emotional, and stress eating because you didn’t have an outlet for that pain?
d. Were you NOT ready to make the change, but felt like “now or never” so you “should” start?
e. What was the negative narrative or self-talk you were engaging in? Examples include: I must be perfect, I am not enough, I won’t follow through, I’m too old to try something new, I can’t do it?
It’s hard to know what to do better the next time around when you haven’t looked at what prevented you from achieving your goal the last time.
When I asked myself the above questions, I realized that I was good at planning ahead and packing meals, but I often went looking for a high calorie mid afternoon snack and would mindlessly eat goldfish while driving home from work. No matter how hard I tried to lose weight, if I continued to do the same behaviors, I would not be able to keep the weight off for good. I would continue to see myself as a failure not in control of my health – rather than identifying a behavior that I could control to make the change I desired. And it wasn’t about the weight. It was more about the mindless behavior I was doing including accepting things about myself without questioning them and feeling shame for not being perfect. I had no idea how much my self-talk and narrative were influencing my behavior. I had not yet realized the importance of behaviors and self-narratives when it comes to any transformation you want to make in your life.
So let’s figure out what is slowing your progress!
What behaviors are you doing? What behaviors have used in the past? Identify them. This is a NO shame or judgement zone! It’s merely a reflection of what has worked and what has not worked so that you can start to achieve what you want this time around.
What self-talk or narrative are you engaging in? Is it negative or positive? I can’t do it, I am not deserving, I am not enough. I am not worthy? OR. I got this. Done is better than perfect. I am enough.
Decide what you can commit to NOW. Don’t strive for big goals if you know that you don’t have the time to commit to them now. Instead, start with a smaller goal that you will be able to commit to and achieve now.
Think about this. Is the behavior you are doing something that is sustainable? Pick something that works for your life and is sustainable. You don’t want to start a new behavior only to realize that conditions have to perfect in order to be successful. Pick a behavior that meets you where you are at, rather than making a huge transformations at the beginning. It is more important to get started and practice the behaviors often so that habits can be formed. Over time, new habits will be built upon them.
Be Focused and consistent. Take a step every day to lead you in the direction of the desired outcome. The will ensure that the habit becomes more a way of life than an on and off again task.
Losing weight, eating healthy, and health transformation is an individual choice. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Rather it’s what works for YOU! I have learned along the way that losing weight is like raising a child. Everyone has an opinion about it and feels like their way is the right way. For the ladies without children, you too will experience this questioning that makes you doubt your decision. Trust yourself. You know what works best for you.
Weight loss is not a one size fits all solution. There is no right way. It is not fluid or perfect. There are good days and bad days. What works for you may not work for your friend. Focusing on behaviors that are sustainable for the long term will allow you to be successful. Let’s stop punishing ourselves for what hasn’t worked in the past and start celebrating what we have learned so that we are better able to move forward. Let it all go. Whole Health is not an impossibility, but it will require you to become aware of your beliefs and align them with your identity of who you wish to become and be consistent in your actions. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being 1% better each day. Be kind to yourself friends.