Q: Now that I have lost weight, I’m finding that my motivation to stick to my diet is lessened and my Advantages List and Response Cards don’t have the same strength/power to keep my motivated. Why is this? What can I do?
A: Good question. We find that this sometimes happens to dieters – they are overweight and very unhappy about it. They learn the necessary cognitive and behavioral skills and they lose weight. Their life and health gets better. They keep practicing their skills and eventually they become used to their new look and size. And, most importantly, they (for the most part) really forget the reality of their daily life before they lost weight and the countless ways that being overweight is difficult.
When this happens to dieters, especially if they tell us their Advantages List is not really helping, the first thing we have them do is sit down and do a visualization. We ask them to think back to a time before they started losing weight and see themselves going through a typical day. We ask them to think about:
• What are you wearing?
• What do you wish you could be wearing?
• How easily or not easily are you moving around?
• Are you able to exercise comfortably and without being self-conscious?
• Do you have any sharper aches and pains?
• How is your health? Are you at higher risk for any illnesses or diseases?
• What are you eating?
• Are you feeling good about what you’re eating, or does eating certain foods cause you guilt?
• Do you feel in control of your eating?
• Are you often engaging in the uncomfortable “should I/shouldn’t I” struggle about eating things?
• How do other people look at you?
• How do you feel about yourself?
• Do you have a sense of pride in your appearance?
• Do you feel comfortable interacting with other people, either professionally or personally, who are a smaller size than you are?
• Are you setting a good example for your children?
• Do you feel comfortable being intimate with your partner?
• Are there things you are doing that day that you don’t have to do now?
• Are there things you do now that you weren’t able to do that day?
If dieters are able to do this effectively, it should help remind them of all of the small and big reasons it has been worth it to keep working on implementing their skills consistently. When we ask dieters if they would rather stop implementing their skills and return to how things used to be, 100% of the time we hear a resounding “NO!”
We also discuss with dieters the fact that, in the beginning, dieting was likely very hard for them because they were learning all of these skills for the first time. Eventually it got a lot easier and they were able to implement them consistently. But the truth of the matter is, from time to time dieting gets more difficult, which then causes motivation to lag, which then causes dieting to get even harder. We remind dieters that harder periods are completely normal and they happen to everyone. The biggest shame of all would be if dieters gave into a harder time and used it as a reason to give up, telling themselves, “This is too hard, I don’t want to do it anymore.” What dieters need to know is that as long as they keep working at it, dieting will get easier again. It always does.
So what can they do in the meantime to help make this difficult period go by faster?
1. Make a new Advantages List. By this point you’ve probably stopped reading it every day, and that’s fine. But as soon as dieting gets more difficult it’s important to start reading one every day for a period of time. Likely your old Advantages List will not be as compelling anymore because you’ve been living those advantages for a while. Use the visualization technique we mentioned to think about some new advantages you haven’t been paying attention to lately (maybe you forgot how you used to hate it when people looked at what you bought at the supermarket, or how you didn’t like to eat in social situations where everyone was of a smaller size than you, or how you used to worry that you were setting a poor example for your kids).
2. Make new Response Cards. Take time to identify what sabotaging thoughts you are having in regards to continuing to practice your dieting skills and write down strong responses to them on cards. Read these cards every day until dieting gets easier again.
3. Visualize. For a few days, take a little bit of time and again think about how your life was different before you lost weight. Ask yourself how it would feel to get back there and whether or not practicing your skills, while not always fun, are actually less of a burden than being overweight.
4. Remember. There are a few things that dieters often lose sight of once dieting gets tougher. One of the biggest ones being that when they were eating whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, often they were doing so without a sense of complete control and it did not feel good. Making healthy choices and feeling control of your eating feels so much better than constantly feeling bad about what you’re eating. Remember how it used to be and then remember how it is now.