The single best advice I ever received when I was trying to lose weight

The single best advice I ever received when I was trying to lose weight I heard long before I figured it out. It was so simple, I didn’t think that it would just work.  But when I finally took it to heart, that was when I started making progress. Progress I could maintain.

On the Left, July 2010, 195 pounds, on the right, July 2011, 159 pounds.

On the left: July 2010, 195 pounds; on the right: July 2011, 159 pounds.

The advice?

When you really are motivated to start to lose weight, you have a lot of extra energy. You want to do everything you can to achieve your goals. You’ll say this time will be different.

Don’t take that extra willpower and focus it on exercising more or eating less than you plan. This will just make you burn out faster.

Instead, focus your energy on building systems that will make it easier to keep your goals on days when your willpower is low.

This is a mistake I see so many people making. And I made it all the time when I was younger, too. I thought if I really wanted to see results I should eat as few calories as possible that day. Or spend an extra 20 minutes on the elliptical. A few days like this, no matter how motivated, and I’d be cranky and burnt out and back to my old habits — especially because I wanted to see results now and no matter how tough you are on yourself, it will take weeks or maybe even months to see maintainable results.

So when you’re motivated to make a big change in your life: Spend some time thinking about all the things that get you to fall into your bad habits.

  • Do you often grab fast food for lunch? Make a plan to have something tasty and healthy for the next few days.
  • Do you find it really hard to squeeze in gym time every day? Would packing your outfits ahead of time make it easier for you to head out the door?
  • Do you always need a cigarette at 3 p.m.? Plan a route for a walk at that time.

I think this is why the Couch to 5K worked so well for me, because that time was the first time that I took my energy and motivation to make a change in my life and instead of channelling that into 800-calorie days, I channeled it into a plan.

A few years later I read one of the best books about fitness that’s not about fitness I’ve ever read that pretty much sums up that whole theory, and I recommend it to anyone who tells me that they want to make a big change in their life. It’s called The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit_ Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business_ Charles Duhigg_ 3520700000553_ Amazon.com_ Books

 

I’ve written about this book a few times before because it articulated everything I learned when I lost weight so well. Losing weight really didn’t feel hard because I found ways — habits — that made transforming into a healthy lifestyle seem effortless.

The publisher contacted me a few weeks ago because I wrote about his book and asked if I wanted a chance to chat with Charles Duhigg, the author. Needless to say I was super psyched.

During our talk, Duhigg said that he actually started writing the book when he and his wife was pregnant with their first child, and they had the idea that they’d look at all these studies that suggested ways to improve your life and try to live one study at a time for every month after their child was born.

“This just shows how totally insane we were,” he said. :)

One of the months that stuck out … or at least, that they stuck to, was the month where they looked at the habit studies, and that was how the book came to be.

An interesting part of the book, especially to me right now, is that when there’s a major shift in your life, habits become more flexible and there’s more opportunity to build (or break down) good habits. I saw that when I moved to Bangor and I expect I’ll see it again after the baby is born. (You might recall the story about Target developing algorithms to predict when a woman is pregnant because getting someone to change their shopping patterns then is so valuable — that story is in the book, too.)

I’ve got a copy of the book to give away. Tell me what the habit you want to build (or break) is on my Facebook post, or in the comments below, and I’ll pick a winner at random by next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Pattie Reaves

About Pattie Reaves

By day, I'm the User Experience and Audience Manager for the Bangor Daily News. By night, I'm a soon-to-be first-time mom and renegade fitness blogger at After the Couch. I live in Brewer with my husband, Tony, and our two pugs, Georgia and Scoop.