There are many reasons people fail at weight-loss attempts. But many of my patients admit that their biggest problem is this: They cannot keep the commitment they made to themselves.
They may start a new diet and exercise plan, and even feel psyched to lose weight. Yet they give up, regain the lost weight (plus a few more defeating pounds) and have to start all over again. That is, whenever they can muster the emotional energy to renew their commitment.
Millions of people lose millions of pounds each year but fail to maintain the healthy lifestyle that lasts for life. Why is that?
Perhaps too much focus is put on the weight-loss portion of the equation, rather than the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve long-term success. Watching the numbers drop on the scale is exciting; keeping them down may not be.
But just being tired of the roller coaster doesn't mean you know how to stay off it.
This type of commitment requires a few important steps:
• Easy does it: Diets cause weight loss, not the means to maintain that weight loss. That's especially true for rigid, quirky diets. Nobody can subsist on cabbage soup or boiled eggs indefinitely. Sooner or later, the dieter falls back on the behaviors that led to the weight gain in the first place.
So make sure you enjoy the food you'll be eating and the exercise you'll be doing during your weight loss, because you should plan on doing it (with minor variations) for the rest of your life. After all, who wants to waste time on something that's destined to fail?
• Roll through the rough spots: Rough spots are a part of life, so we need to accept that fact if we want to stay committed to our fitness intentions. Difficulties are inevitable; the question is how we deal with them. Be realistic and do the best you can while remaining as relaxed as possible. The tough times will pass and you can get back to normal soon.
• Bench the judge: Let go of harsh judgment about your performance with weight loss and fitness. Punishing yourself is the quickest way to get derailed and lose commitment. Focus on praising yourself for your efforts and achievements.
• Be real: There's no room for perfectionistic expectations in life because life isn't perfect. So, trying to be perfect at weight goals is a waste of time and will only get in your way. If goals and expectations are realistic, staying committed becomes possible.
• Be a perpetual student: We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Therefore, we shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes or to face them. People who ignore mistakes tend to repeat them more than those who try to learn from them. The key is to own your mistakes, not beat yourself up over them. The art of commitment involves studying mistakes in order to reduce them in the future.
In the end, commitment to a healthy lifestyle is like commitment to a good marriage. A good marriage isn't perfect. But the positives outweigh the negatives, and should be the focus. Difficulties need to be addressed in a constructive manner in order for the marriage to stay healthy and for the partners to stay committed — happily.
Being committed to a fit life is not supposed to look perfect either. It has its ups and downs, but by accepting those and continuing on, we can maintain the commitment.
Commitment is also not about willpower.
It's about sensible, logical thinking about ourselves, and our behaviors. It's about staying relaxed and positive, learning from experience and focusing on getting better rather than being perfect. This kind of commitment is possible, enjoyable, and it can last a lifetime.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Psychological Barriers to Weight Management."