Weight loss is an important goal for many of us. We feel more attractive, our health is improved, and our opportunities in life are greater as a result of both these things. But 95% of diets fail, in that within five years of losing weight most people have regained it. So why is something so important so hard to achieve? It is a matter of mindset. When we aim to lose weight we often approach it from the perspective of a one-off event. But this is not conductive to success.
Single events are things we do once, which we complete and check off our lists. A single event has a deadline, or a set amount we need to accomplish. When we have done that, it is over and done with. Examples of single event goals are running a marathon, handing in a presentation, or completing an audition. These events are great because they give us perspective and allow us to work towards a set ending that we can focus on, motivating us to finish. They are defective in that after the goal is met we are done, and in some cases all our hard work can be undone in minutes or years.
Progressive events are not the opposite of single events, but are very different. A progressive event is one with no set goal. You do not have a deadline, or a set amount, you just keep doing it until you either no longer need to, or forever. Examples of progressive event goals are learning a language, reading more books, or, indeed, losing weight. These events are great because they put us in a position where we need to hold ourselves accountable for something long term, and look after ourselves for the future. They are defective in that they are hard to adhere to, and therefore need flexibility, which makes them vulnerable to degrading over time.
Weight loss is a single event, but weight maintenance is a progressive event. Therefore, losing weight is a combination of both: first a single event where you lose weight, followed by a progressive event of keeping your weight in check. This is what people mean when they say that lifestyle changes matter more than diets for weight loss.
But how do we put them together to reach our goal? Simple, for goals like weight loss we need to set ourselves continual single event goals to support our progress in the progressive event.
Losing weight is the easy part, and no matter what way you choose to lose weight, chances are you will succeed so long as you stick to it. But if you want to develop the right mindset not just for losing weight, but for keeping it off, you need to start early.
You need to plan out your long term goals as best you can. You will have your first goal, of course. It will probably be something like “lose 20lbs” or “fit into a size 10 by Summer” or “get out of the obese category”. But you can't just work to get there and then go back to eating what you did before and exercising like you did before. Because eating and exercising like you used to will make you gain weight like you used to. And you can't keep following the same diet forever, because then you will carry on losing weight even after reaching your goal.
What you need to do is set a series of goals, both throughout your weight loss, and some afterwards. The best way to do this is to set daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly or quarterly goals.
For example, your quarterly goal may be to fit into a size 10 by Summer, but your weekly goal is to exercise for four hours total, and your daily goal is to eat no more than 1600 calories and no fewer than 1300 calories, and to avoid snacking. Then, when you reach that size 10, your quarterly goal may be to stabilize at that size, your weekly goal to try some new exercises, and your daily goals to eat 1800 calories, no more no less, of clean foods. Following this structure, you will succeed not just at your single event goal of weight loss, but at your progressive event goal of long term health.