Weight loss is boring. There. I’ve said it. It’s boring and long and frequently demoralising. It feels like you’re going two steps forward and one step back. It’s easy for it to take over your life. On top of that, it’s typically a pretty slow process — and in fact for it to be sustainable and healthy for your body in the long run it needs to be slow. During the process we can see ourselves in a really two-dimensional way, reducing our value to nothing more than a number on the scale.
For these reasons and more, I think that weight loss makes for a very poor goal — at least by itself. As something to aim for, it’s both tough and pretty depressing. Yet most of the people I meet who are new to fitness have weight loss as their only goal. They don’t even care how they do it, they just want to be smaller. It may be the key thing motivating people to step through the gym doors or into a class, but it’s actually one of the most complicated, long-winded, full-of-setbacks goals I can think of.
None of this is to say that weight loss isn’t what you might want. It’s not for me — or any fitness professional — to tell you what to do with your body. If weight loss is your initial impetus for getting fitter and healthier that’s an awesome start, but I think there are compelling reasons to quickly shift yourself to other goals.
Why not weight loss?
When it comes down to it, losing weight is all about diminishing yourself. Dieting is about restriction, cutting things down, missing out. That might seem like picky semantics, but many long-term dieters find themselves obsessing over even tiny increases in their size. The results of a weigh-in can easily send us spiraling into self-criticism and self-sabotage, because if we’re not shrinking, we’re not succeeding.
However strong you are mentally, it’s a tedious process. Over the long term it takes it’s toll, and when we get tired of it, we tend to give up. Your chances of losing weight and keeping it off are statistically very low, so if that’s your only interest, you’re setting yourself up for a tough ride.
Change the Frame
So what I am suggesting is that you try to see yourself as more. More than a number. More than someone whose only purpose is to shrink. Reframing our goals this way is much more motivating. Think about gaining things, growing, improving. It may seem like a trivial shift but it can absolutely be the difference between your new, healthier lifestyle being a temporary measure or a long-term change. Positive goals are exciting and they give us something to look forward to.
Losing weight is a singular goal but with a huge number of contributing factors: diet, exercise, sleep, stress, mental health, plus all the individual barriers we face. Once you start thinking positively, you realise the sheer range of things you can aim for. It’s huge! This brings us to my other top tip for staying motivated in the long term: varied goals.
It’s the Spice of Life
Often we don’t break the weight loss process down into smaller steps, which means we can miss a lot of the progress we’re actually making. Perhaps this week you exercised 5 times just as you’d planned. Success, right? But if the scale hasn’t budged it’s almost impossible not to feel like a failure. Judging ourselves by one very particular measure sets us up for failure even if we actually succeeded in all of our contributing behaviours.
Setting ourselves varied goals, including a good mix which are definitively within our control, is far more motivating. You cannot decide if you lose or gain weight, but you can decide to make behaviour changes which may have weight loss as a result.
Having varied goals encourages us to see ourselves as the multi-faceted beings that we are. It also means that even on weeks where some healthy habits have gone by the wayside, we’re likely succeeding at something. That means not feeling like your whole week was a worthless write-off because you gained half a pound, and that means better chances of enjoying and sustaining the process in the long-run.
The Way Forward
So my suggestion is that if you’re looking for weight loss, you keep your focus on varied, positive goals. The wonderful thing about this approach is that an improvement in body composition is an extremely likely side effect. Focusing on these contributing goals, and giving ourselves a break from the mental stress that solely aiming for weight loss brings, means we’re actually much more likely to achieve that weight loss in the end.
In the long run you may even find that those other goals — be they lifting more weight, running further, trying new recipes or whatever else — become your main motivation. For some of us that shift in perspective even leads to a new career!
So, what can you do on your health and fitness journey that makes you feel empowered? How can you use health and fitness to help you learn new things? To grow more brave? To surprise yourself? Shift your focus, shift your thinking and let the scale take a back seat.