When new clients come to my office, one of the first questions I ask is: What is your goal? Most people have a good answer ready. I want to lose weight, I have diabetes or high blood pressure that need to be treated, I ought to be in better shape at my age, etc, etc.
Determine what you want
It has been said that nothing in the world arouses more false hope than the first hours of a diet. It is indeed a sad fact that the majority of dieting- and fitness regimens fail over time. Most candidates don’t consciously give up on their good intentions, they just slip up. Consequently, they are sometimes left with a sense of helplessness and resignation. Many do not only gain the weight back they already succeeded at losing, they often add on more than they ever had before.
Set Your Goals and Keep Reminding Yourself
Of What You Want When the Going Gets Tough
When the going gets tough, reminding yourself from time to time of your original intentions is important to get you out of the slump. After you have identified the purpose of your efforts (e.g. to lose weight to be healthier, live longer, look better, be more active, etc.), you can decide on the appropriate strategies.
Keep track of your actions
For some people, it can be helpful to keep a “food diary.” Setting up a food diary is easy. A notebook, computer or even your smart phone will do the job. Most importantly, make it user-friendly! If it turns into another cumbersome project, you will not maintain it for long.
Here are some simple design ideas. Write down the daily calorie amount you want to allow yourself. Keep track of your hunger level and actual food intake, including all meals, snacks and beverages. Remember, everything counts.
At the end of each day, take stock. Compare your notes several days back. Have you met your goals? If so, congratulations, keep going. If not, ask yourself why. Some set backs are bound to occur along the way, but you need to understand what provoked them. Perhaps your strategy needs to be modified as you go through different stages of your progress.
You can do the same with regards to your activity level. Observe how your fitness increases with your workouts. For instance, you may want to keep track of your increasing ability to lift weights or perform endurance exercises. If you skip a day or two, return to your schedule as soon as possible.
Pace your changes
Commit yourself to only one or two changes every week. Old habits die hard. Behavior modification is not something you decide to do one day and then you’re done. This is an ongoing process. Pay close attention to important cues (e.g. boredom, frustration, anger, loneliness, stress, etc.) and your responses (reaching for food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Then purposefully adjust your actions. Follow through with your plan, even when you struggle.
Try different strategies if necessary
At times, your strategy may have to change. You may have to stop and build new skills before proceeding further. For example, if stress or anxiety constitute serious obstacles to acquiring healthier eating habits, more effective stress management measures may need to be included in your program.
Monitor your progress
Take stock on a regular basis and see how things are progressing. Analyze the results you are getting. As long as you are doing well, you only need to “check in” with your diary once a week or even once a month. At one point, you may decide that it’s time to take on new challenges. But even if things go poorly, you always have another opportunity to regroup, adjust and recommit.
Don’t forget to reward yourself once in a while
Every so often, it is important to stop and reflect on the purpose of your efforts. Maintaining or regaining your optimal health is a worthy goal in itself, but it also must give you some form of gratification. I often say to my clients that nothing lasts, unless it produces a certain measure of satisfaction. If you feel deprived for too long, you will not stick to the program, no matter how beneficial it would be for you. A little treat once in a while is necessary to ease the pain.
Rewards can come in many ways. You don’t have to fall back into old habits and risk undoing what you already have accomplished. Instead of a box of chocolate, how about that slim fitting dress or super-sexy bikini you had your eyes on for a while… That should keep you focused.