Why Weight Loss Alone Isn't Enough
Oh weight loss... such a popular and somewhat touchy subject! We see these words all over the place these days. You can't walk through the magazine isle at the grocery store without seeing some form of them plastered on at least half of the options. There are countless products sold daily promising it in just 30 days! And don't get me started on the "lose weight without changing your diet or exercise" gimmicks... That will be a whole different post for a different day. I recently read an article about a girl who lost about 90 pounds over the course of 17 months (a very significant amount of weight to lose in that time frame). She worked really hard at changing her eating habits and adding workouts into her daily routine. It took so much dedication and persistency! However, when she finally reached her ideal weight she started dealing with a serious bout of depression. In the article she stated, "Losing weight was something I did for such a long time that it felt like I lost a friend. This journey made me really happy - to see myself losing weight- and when it was over, there was nothing else there."
It takes a lot of courage for someone to share their personal story, especially if they've experienced a negative outcome. I commend her for her bravery and hope that she is surrounded by encouraging and supportive people to help her get through this. She is not alone, and this is definitely not the first time I've heard about or seen this same outcome. In fact, there have been numerous studies done on the link between weight loss and depression.
Losing weight can be an incredibly gratifying process. You see the number showing your progress frequently and people take notice, complimenting and encouraging you. However, there will be an end to it and if weight loss is the main focus and motivation for change, you run the risk of serious disappointment. That "now what..." feeling, may make it difficult to continue your new healthy habits. If you're having thoughts like "Once I'm at my goal weight, I'll be happy", "After I lose weight, I'll no longer be dissatisfied with my body," or "Once I weigh (insert magical number here), I'll no longer feel inadequate," you might be counting a little too much on weight loss to add value and happiness to your life. These thoughts have the potential to lead you down a very tough path to a dead end, because weight loss alone will not be enough.
Weight is just numbers on a scale, not a perfect indicator of a healthy, fulfilling life. So this brings me to the question: Should we make weight loss a top motivator for change?
Weight loss can be a loaded goal. Usually, when someone desires to lose weight, they want so much more than to just see that number decrease. They want to feel more confident and enjoy things in life that they might not have been able to before. They want to avoid health problems, so that they can be around for their children or grandchildren. They want to participate in life. To be more satisfied with themselves and how they're living. So if you're wanting to lose weight, ask yourself, "What is it that I'm really wanting as a result of losing weight?"
Don't get me wrong, weight loss by itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Studies show that having a healthy body composition (fat free mass vs. fat mass) can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, infertility, arthritis, sleep apnea, etc. Therefore, weight loss is often necessary for many people in order for them to be healthy. In the coaching world, weight loss is considered an Outcome Goal. It is a byproduct of lifestyle and behavior changes. Sure, it's nice and can make you feel better, but it's only a side effect of the journey, not the final destination.
When I talk with my clients about goal setting, 90 percent of the time weight loss is a desired outcome. Rather than focusing on the outcome, we focus on their behaviors. We draft an effective wellness vision, helping them uncover what it is they really desire for their lives. Then, we set Behavior Goals that will get them on the right track for long-term success and satisfaction. I want my clients to be happy and to enjoy their lives. And because wellness is a lifelong journey, I want to teach them how to continue being successful even after their initial goals are met.
One of my clients, who had experienced similar disappointments in regards to weight loss, has been working really hard at shifting her mindset this past year. She has begun to focus on her behaviors and making healthy decisions, instead of her weight. The phrases "you are fat, you can't do this, you need to lose weight, you won't succeed.." that used to play over and over again in her mind, are finally gone. Rather than allowing the number on the scale determine whether or not she is successful, she now focuses on the things she is able to accomplish in her day-to-day life and celebrates her ability to continue making healthy progress both physically and mentally.
She said, "I still think realistically, losing some weight would be helpful to my health. However, I now have a more positive attitude in that I can focus on making healthy choices each day and it goes where it goes. It's like you said - focus on behavior and results will follow, instead of obsessing and stressing over the outcome."
Setting Behavior Goals can allow you to focus on the positive decisions you make each day. You will be far more likely to be proud of yourself because you are paying more attention to what you're doing and accomplishing. And yes, weight loss will usually come as a result. If you are focused on your actions from the beginning, you're more likely to stay motivated and move forward in your wellness, feeling capable of continuing to improve and enjoy your life.
Shift your mindset. Identify what you're hoping to gain as a result of weight loss. Then, focus on what you can DO and celebrate the positive decisions you make! What is one life-improving behavior you can focus on doing this week?