Knowing how to stay motivated to lose weight when your diet and exercise plan starts to go off the rails is probably the biggest key to getting lasting results, and hitting your goals. Motivation is a huge factor in reaching any goal, and weight loss is no different.
You will have good days and bad days… days when you feel good and are naturally motivated, and then days when you don’t feel your best and all you want to do is eat pizza and cheesecake. So how do you get and stay motivated? Especially for something as grueling as lifelong weight loss?
Step 1: Find Your “Why”
One of the very best exercises you can do for any type of goal, is to write out all the good things that will happen if you hit the goal, and then the “bad” things that will or won’t happen if you hit your goal.
So when I say good things, what I mean is you want to write down all of the things that will be of benefit to you or ways that you will feel better, or any type of improvement that will happen in your life as a result of hitting your goals.
Top 5 Benefits of Getting Down to My Goal Weight:
1) I’ll be able to fit into my old pants again
2) If I hit my goal weight I’ll book the cruise I’ve been wanting to go on
3) It will dramatically improve my health so that I feel great each day
4) I’ll look and feel better in my own clothes
5) I’ll be healthy and energetic and can spend more time & effort enjoying my kids and family
Then you’d do the same thing but in the opposite: You’d write out 5 things or reasons that will or won’t happen that are “negative” if you don’t stick to your plan and hit your goals:
Top 5 Negatives of Not Hitting My Goal Weight
1) I could literally die sooner – I have one life, I want to be healthy for it
2) I don’t want to huff and puff and feel tired just from playing with my kids
3) I’m sick of feeling my stomach bulge over my pants when I bend over
4) I’ll probably have to go on blood pressure medication if I keep going like I’m going
5) The doctor says I’m at risk of developing diabetes if I don’t make changes
Be honest with yourself and put the reasons that matter to YOU. This can be a sobering exercise, but you want to write these down or do it on the computer and then literally print it out. Then, you want to tape or pin this on a wall somewhere that you’re forced to see it every day, such as next to your bathroom mirror or on the mirror itself.
Step 2: Take a Long-Term View and Be Realistic
It can be enticing and tempting to “lose 10lbs in 2 weeks”, but what it will take to do that won’t be sustainable. Anyone can drop 10lbs if you only drink a protein shake once a day and don’t eat any real food, but you can’t do that for more than a few days… so in the long run it doesn’t even matter. You should focus on realistic goals such as losing 1lb a week. It is true that once you start a healthy eating plan and start tracking your food and calories, you will probably drop 5-10lbs in the first couple of weeks, but that’s mostly water weight.
Setting realistic expectations puts a lot less pressure on yourself, and it allows for parameters that are much more sustainable and that you’ll be able to stick to. Yes, you’ll lose weight fast on 1,200 calories a day, but it’s so restrictive that you won’t last very long, and you’ll go back to your old habits. 1,600 or 1,800 calories a day will still help most people lose weight (this all depends on your daily energy expenditure), but it feels completely different from 1,200 calories a day and is fairly easy to stick to when you eat nutrient-dense foods.
Step 3: Focus on New Habits, Not Just Calories
Starting and sticking to any weight loss plan will require adopting new habits, or changing your current habits. Focusing on what you can do to move towards your goals on a day-to-day basis is much more helpful and productive than just weighing yourself each day and wondering why you’re not losing weight.
What can you do on a daily basis that will help you lose weight? Make a list of things that you can do- meaning that you personally consider “doable”, that will lead to eating less calories throughout the day?
5 Daily Habits to Help Me Lose 10lbs Over the Next 60 Days
1) I will track all my food in MyFitnessPal and stay at 1,800 calories or less
2) I will do my workouts and if nothing else, go on a 30 minute walk Monday through Saturday
3) I will eat a 2 full serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner
4) I will cut out all junk carbs, white bread, pasta, and added sugar.
5) My new “treat” will be toast with peanut butter and jam at night if I have the calories, but no “dessert” food
Sticking to simple goals like this even for a few weeks builds your resilience, self-esteem, confidence, willpower, and most importantly your motivation to keep going until you reach your ultimate goal.
Step 4: Be Strategic About What Each Day Will Look Like
This is something that is rarely talked about when it comes to weight loss and starting a new diet, but it’s the “glue” that can holds your plan together. Everyone has a daily routine… even people who don’t think they have a “routine”. Most humans would be shocked at how robotic they are day to day… doing the same things without even thinking about them. Then at the same time people think they will simply start a new “diet” – which again really means adopting a dozen or more new habits – overnight. It’s no wonder it’s so difficult to stick to a new diet and why so many people fail in their attempts at weight loss.
You need to break your goals down into daily steps like we talked about in step 3 above, but then you also have to overlay that onto your daily routine and figure out what it will actually look like each day. If you work full-time, and you write down that you’re going to start working out or walking 6 days a week, when are you actually going to do that? It will take a lot of willpower to come home each day from work when you’re feeling tired and change into workout clothes and head back out to the gym or on a walk. It’s doable, yes, but maybe you should try waking up an hour earlier and hitting the gym on the way to work. Once you get used to waking up a little earlier, you’ll be surprised how good it feels and how energizing it is to workout in the morning. You’ll start the day knowing that you’ve done something really good for yourself and your body, and your motivation to stick to your eating plan will be increased as well.
If you’re going to get up earlier, the best way to make that easier is to of course 1) go to sleep earlier and 2) figure out how to get better sleep. Experiment with white noise, wearing breathe-right strips, wearing a sleep mask, or new pillows or bedding. Quality sleep and getting enough sleep is another one of the biggest keys to weight loss (or hitting any type of goal) that is rarely discussed directly. Lack of sleep drastically lowers your willpower and motivation to be productive and healthy, and increases cravings for fatty, salty foods. Put your phone down an hour earlier, or switch scrolling on your phone to listening to podcasts while you fall asleep so that you don’t have blue light shining in your eyes while you’re in bed.
Another thing that can work wonders is a sleep supplement that contains Melatonin such as TrimZzzs.
Step 5: It’s Not “All or Nothing” – Forgive and Forget
One trap people fall into when they’re starting a new diet is they’ll be perfect for a few days and then they’ll screw up, and from there they go off the rails. On a smaller scale, it’s easy to have one day turn into a binge day after a small screwup. You might think “well today is ruined” and then go crazy. Even one day of binge eating can wreck your weekly calorie goals.
For example: If you’re daily energy expenditure is 2,100 calories and you’re trying to stick to 1,600 calories per day, that would lead to a deficit of 3,500 calories in one week, which equals losing one pound of fat. Let’s say you’ve gone 5 days in a row, so you’ve built up a deficit of 2,500 calories, then you have a small screwup at lunch when someone brought in cupcakes for their birthday. That cupcake tasted amazing, and it was around 800-1,000 calories, but now after work you’re craving junk food like crazy, so you drive through your favorite fast food spot and get a value meal. That’s another 1,500 – 2,000 calories. Now since the day is officially ruined, around 10pm you’re craving even more junk food so you run out and get a milkshake… another 800-1,000 calories. So in one day you consume 4,000 calories, which puts you on track to actually gain weight for the week instead of losing that pound.
So 5-6 days of carefully counting your calories, preparing healthy food, and eating healthy food goes down the drain. Now on the other hand… if you just kept it to that one cupcake, it’s just not that big of a deal. You could eat the cupcake, then re-commit to your eating plan for the rest of the day, and skip your afternoon snack and then get back on track with dinner. Maybe you go over your calories by 500 for the day… but by the end of the week you’ve still built up a deficit of 3,000 calories, which is still a big win for the week and provides some payoff for all your hard work.
The point here is to be quick to forgive yourself for minor screwups, and to not make a mountain out of a molehill.
Step 6: Find an Exercise That You Like
Half the battle of knowing how to stay motivated to lose weight is finding an exercise that you like or that fits your lifestyle or daily routine.
Exercise not only helps you burn extra calories and speed up the weight loss process, it also reduces stress, helps you feel better, and gives you a sense of accomplishment. If nothing else, just heading out the front door and going for a walk for 30-40 minutes is much better than doing nothing. Ideally you want to do something a 3-4 times a week that gets your heart pumping, but even fast walking can do that for you.
Get a pair of exercise headphones that will stay in place and listen to your favorite podcasts or audiobooks while you walk. If you have a treadmill, a great thing to do is only let yourself watch your favorite shows when you’re on the treadmill walking. An hour on the treadmill flies by when your watching an episode of your favorite show.
Another thing that helps a lot of people is to go to group workout classes. This takes out all the guesswork of what to do at the gym, and it also removes the need for willpower to get yourself through your workout… you simply have to show up to the class and let the instructor lead.
Getting in consistent workouts also helps with your overall motivation and commitment level… when you’re putting in the time and effort to workout, you’re that much more likely to stick to your eating routine.