Nearly all of us that care about our fitness seem to function in streaks. We will nail the diet and workouts for a few weeks, then we will slip for a few, then again get frustrated with ourselves enough to get motivated to get back on the diet. This seems to be the ebb and flow for 99% of everyone, not just in fitness, but in life in general. There’s an emotional component to this that makes it nearly inevitable, and I’ll explain. If we can understand why this happens, it will help us learn how to properly address it mentally. Lets say for instance Jim allows his weight to get up to 250lbs. Well Jim views himself at 250lbs to be totally unacceptable. This disgust with himself forces him to act. So, he finally says “that’s enough” and then the next day he joins a gym, hires a trainer, and starts to read all about dieting, educate himself due to his new found interest in fitness and implement a diet. So now Jim is full speed ahead, and within 4 weeks, Jim is down to 220lbs, and he is very proud of this, and the pride motivates him even more. Fast forward another 4 weeks and Jim is down to 200lbs, and now he’s looking svelte. People are asking him how he did it and Jim is now giving advice on dieting and training and he is loving it. Around this time, all this success makes Jim feel as though he “did it”. He used to be fat, and now he’s thin….So the initial catalyst for his change (weighing 250lbs of fat) is gone. So, he, in effect has lost his core motivation. So Jim gets complacent. Leaning on his success, he allows himself to have a few burgers and go out on the town. He does this for a week and really didn’t seem to pay much of a physical penalty for it as now he’s only 202lbs, which is still totally acceptable to him. So he keeps down this path of halfway dieting. Fast forward another 4 weeks and Jim is back up to 210lbs, only now these new lackadaisical habits are deep rooted in his psyche, and he also lacks the disgust with himself to motivate himself to go back on the program, as he still looks pretty good in his mind….and also people are asking his advice so if he is the authority, then he must be doing things right, right?
In one form or another, this is the usual progression of our mental and emotional state when it comes to succeeding in dieting and fitness. There’s a catalyst, we act, we “fix” the problem (we lose weight), so the motivation dissipates and the cycle repeats.
Yet, there are a select few people who don’t seem to be caught up in this same pattern. Some people seem to stay in shape all the time. They always eat clean and the always workout. Their motivations do not seem to be disgust or fear driven. Rather, they are motivated by what can only be described as a love for themselves and compulsive if not robotic actions that seem to be impervious from their shifting emotions. So what is the difference between these people and Jim? There are three main mental aspects I’ve identified that seem to be present in these people, and this is why they succeed long term where everyone else fails in the long term.
They don’t consider themselves to be dieting: First and foremost, the people who have long term success aren’t dieting, they just have eating habits. They eat what they want, but what they want to eat just happens to be what the rest of us consider to be a strict diet. From my observation, these people seem to genuinely dislike the thought of eating pizza or cake etc. They have, over the course of time, accustomed themselves to eating a particular set of foods and to deviate from these foods is uncomfortable for them. So how do they get to this point mentally? Essentially, they aren’t what we usually define as “motivated.” They don’t view what they are doing as something to be admired or pat themselves on the back for it. Instead, through attrition, this is what they know. They remove the emotional aspect to it and in turn what they are left with is a habit.
If they fail, they get right back on the horse: This may seem counter intuitive to the first one, but in fact its right in line with it. There will always be times when we aren’t able to stick to our routine. Maybe we have a wedding to go to, the holidays, or perhaps we go on a long hike or outing and don’t have access to our preferred foods, maybe we catch a flu and can’t eat for a bit or get some kind of injury that prevents us from training. For a large portion of people, this causes us to fall off the horse. We miss a meal or are put in a position where we have to eat a hot dog or something and say, “ah screw it” and then the whole weekend turns into a big cheat. Those who are always fit don’t do this. Theodore Roosevelt said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” This is the mentality of those who stick to diets long term. They got a flu so couldn’t eat like they wanted to or workout, but they did the best they could and as soon as they could, got right back on their customary program. They don’t see things as all or nothing. They do what they can, with what they have, where they are. This actually goes hand in hand with not considering themselves to be dieting, as like we said, this is just how they like to eat, nothing more and nothing less. So, they would take no pleasure in following up their hot dog with ice cream or taking the rest of the week off from the gym.
They don’t judge themselves: This final one is hugely important. With most of us who diet. We will weigh ourselves on a Sunday then we start the diet the next day. Fast forward to Wednesday and we weigh again and to our dismay, we haven’t lost any weight! Weight loss is a lot of things, but its not ever linear. Weight comes off in chunks and not in a predictable pattern, so this is to be expected. But anyway, most of us get discouraged by this. We start to second guess ourselves, second guess our diet, and start to think that this may be too hard and we are tempted to quit (or even worse crash diet which also leads to failure). When in fact, had we not weighed ourselves until Friday we would have lost 5lbs, as the weight fluctuation was just about to happen. People who stay fit all the time don’t have this same reaction. For one, they don’t even weigh themselves much at all, or if they do its not an emotional situation. Secondly, they are steadfast in what they are doing, so if someone criticizes their program or if they don’t make any progress for a couple weeks, it’s no that big of a deal. They know what they are doing and don’t second guess themselves. They don’t get discouraged by what they see in the mirror and they don’t compare themselves to other people either.
It’s hard to stay lean and fit, that’s why so many people are obese. Nearly everyone has tried at one point or another to eat healthier or workout, but so very few of us can do it successfully, and long term. The majority of us allow our emotions to sabotage what we are trying to do in one form or another. The select few that are successful though incorporate what they are doing into their lifestyle, they remove emotion from it and they just execute.