The first thing we do with all of our clients is have them write an Advantages List –a list of all the reasons they want to lose weight. We then have them start reading their list every single morning. The purpose behind this skill is two-fold. First, it helps them keep in mind exactly why they’re putting in this hard work and exactly what they hope to get as a result of doing so. Losing weight can be very difficult (although it certainly gets easier over time), which is why it’s critical for dieters to know at all times why it’s worth it to them to work on it. When dieters face temptation (e.g. it’s 4:00 and the cookies in the break room are calling out to them, or they’re out to dinner and the bread basket smells really good) it is extremely hard for them to remember why it’s worth it to stand firm. But when they have a physical list of all of these reasons that they read every single day, it helps keep these important things in the forefront of their minds.
The second thing this skill accomplishes is that it helps dieters begin to build their sense of self-discipline and self-efficacy. When dieters wake up in the morning, their first thought is probably not, “I can’t wait to read my list!” But, in making themselves do it anyway, they start to prove to themselves that if they say they are going to do it (where diet and weight loss is concerned) it means they’re going to do it. Whether or not they feel like doing it, they’re going to do it anyway.
When making an Advantages List, it’s important that the items on the list be as specific and compelling as possible. An advantage like, “my health will be better,” is probably not as motivating as, “I’ll reduce my risk of Diabetes which runs in my family,” “My blood pressure will go down and I might be able to get off medication,” and, “I’ll reduce my joint pain.” Similarly, an advantage like, “I’ll have more energy,” is probably not as motivating as, “I’ll be able to run around with my grandchildren without getting too tired,” and, “I’ll be able to go shopping with my daughter without needing to sit down at every opportunity.” It’s important for dieters to take more general advantages and break them into smaller, more specific ones that paint a clear picture of precisely how their lives will be improved on a daily basis.
I recently started working with Angie, who is works in finance and is a mother of two teenagers. During our first session, this is the Advantages List she came up with:
1. I’ll reduce my risk of Cancer and Diabetes
2. I’ll have less knee and back pain
3. I’ll be able to go hiking with my family and not feel like I’m holding them back
4. I’ll enjoy exercising more (like I used to)
5. I’ll enjoy going shopping and have more options – I won’t have to wear it just because it fits
6. I won’t feel like I have to wear black all the time
7. I’ll prove to myself that I can do this really hard thing
8. I’ll be proud of myself and my family will be proud of me
9. I’ll be setting a good example for my kids of how to have a healthy relationship with food
10. I’ll feel more confident giving presentations at work and not worried about the impression I make on potential clients
11. I’ll fit comfortably in a plane seat and in booths
12. I won’t be embarrassed to run into old friends
13. I won’t be scared scared or mortified of pictures I’m in
14. My clothes and jewelry will fit better
15. I’ll feel better about myself and more in control
In Part II we’ll address how we helped Angie begin to read her list every morning, despite having a hectic schedule.