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12 Ways to Stay Motivated, Not Deprived, During Your Weight Loss Journey

When you have a lot of weight to lose, you must make the journey a joyful one or you will quit.

Focus on What You’re Gaining, Not What You’re Giving Up

If you have a lot of pounds to drop like I did, you’re likely to lose motivation during your weight loss journey. You start off with the best intentions, eager to exercise and prepare low-calorie cuisine, but eventually abandon your mission when it gets too boring and bleak.

We’ve all heard fitness experts proclaim, “It took you a long time to put on the weight so it will take you a long time to take it off.” While that’s certainly true, it’s less than inspiring. In fact, it’s downright discouraging as you look ahead to a future of restricting your food intake, calculating your calorie input, and squeezing exercise into your already jam-packed schedule. No wonder so many of us quit!

That’s why it’s essential that your weight loss journey doesn’t center around dieting and deprivation. To succeed at losing weight and keeping it off, you need to incorporate joyful new activities into your life. For many of us, good times have always centered around food. A weight loss journey is an opportunity to fill ourselves up in ways other than eating.

12 Ways to Stay Motivated on Your Weight Loss Journey

  1. Walk, walk, and walk some more!
  2. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and focused.
  3. Reward yourself with things other than food.
  4. Create an inspiration board.
  5. Minimize time with foodie friends.
  6. Get plenty of sleep.
  7. Find an exercise buddy.
  8. Write about your feelings in a journal.
  9. Set goals other than weight loss.
  10. Buy workout clothes.
  11. Figure out why you gained weight in the first place.
  12. Do nice things for yourself.

Embrace New Ways of Living (and Thinking) so the Weight Loss Becomes Permanent

Quitting my weight loss journey wasn’t an option this time around. I was at a crisis point and needed to get the weight off for health reasons, not vanity. After decades of yo-yo dieting, I was fully cognizant that the new habits I developed during this attempt would need to be permanent. I was no longer young and foolish, thinking I could return to my old ways but the weight wouldn’t.

With food no longer a major player in my life—my comfort when I was sad, my pick-me-up when I was tired, my hobby when I was bored, and my reward when I was overworked—I needed to fill myself up in other ways. I needed new tools for staying motivated during my weight loss journey and beyond.

12 Ways to Stay Motivated, Not Deprived, During Your Weight Loss Journey

1. Walk, Walk, and Walk Some More!

I had gained so much weight that going to the gym to run on a treadmill or take an aerobics class was out of the question. I needed to get in better shape before I could do those things. Therefore, I did what I could: lots and lots of walking!

Whenever I had a break in my day—before work, during my lunch hour, while my son was at swim practice—I walked. I listened to music or a favorite podcast as I strolled through my neighborhood, the downtown, nearby parks, and the mall. Walking soon became my favorite part of the day, and I looked forward to it more than eating. I found it incredibly peaceful and soothing. It helped me get back in touch with my body after decades of neglect.

Many fitness experts say face-paced walking is the best exercise for those of us who have 50 pounds or more to lose. Personal trainer, Jessica Smith, says: “I truly believe it’s the best way to get and stay in shape. Not only is it free, anyone can do it and you don’t need any equipment to begin. It’s easy on the joints, and I believe it helps with appetite control.”

The starting point of all achievement is desire.

— Napolean Hill

2. Drink Lots of Water to Stay Hydrated and Focused

In the past, losing weight was always difficult for me because I focused on what notto do: eat. This time around, though, I focused on what to do: exercise, write in my journal, eat fruits and vegetables, meditate, have lots of downtime, make time for fun, and drink lots of water.

Studies show that most of us don’t take in enough liquids. We become dehydrated, causing us to feel weak, lightheaded, unfocused, and unmotivated. Jaime Mass, a registered dietitian, says many of us misinterpret these symptoms as hunger rather than thirst, making us eat more when we really need to drink.

In addition to combating dehydration, water makes us feel full. But, let’s face it: Drinking lots of it throughout the day can get tedious. To make it more enjoyable, I like to add slices of lemon or lime or drops of flavor such as Mio (contains no calories, sugar, or carbohydrates, and was ruled safe by the FDA). I also like to sip my water from a fancy crystal glass—a visual reminder that I’m doing something valuable for myself.

Many of us were rewarded with food while growing up and continue the practice as adults.
Many of us were rewarded with food while growing up and continue the practice as adults. | Source

3. Reward Yourself With Things Other Than Food

For as long as I can remember, reaching back to my earliest childhood memories, food was used as a reward for doing unpleasant tasks. Mom gave my siblings and me a candy bar each week when we cleaned our rooms. After a dental check-up with no cavities, she’d take us to the ice cream parlor. In elementary school, teachers gave us M&M’s when we got a word right during spelling bees.

As a teenager and young adult, I continued this pattern by rewarding myself with high-calorie treats: a bowl of ice cream while studying for exams, a pizza after completing a big assignment, cookies when I received a good grade. After decades of rewarding myself with food, I decided this habit finally needed to stop. At long last, I became determined to treat myself with kindness and respect, not food. With this goal in mind, I made a list of ways to reward myself that included some of the following:

  • getting a manicure
  • having a massage
  • taking a walk in the woods
  • having a cup of tea
  • taking a long bath
  • reading a novel
  • watching a favorite TV show
  • playing Scrabble with my husband
  • purchasing a new pair of shoes
  • going to a movie
  • taking a nap

I had never taken care of myself in ways other than eating so this was new, radical, and a significant break from the past. Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a licensed dietitian, recommends being even more purposeful with our rewards, linking them to a change in our behavior. She recommends, for instance, that those of us who are stepping up our workouts sign up for an exercise class that we’ve been wanting to try: yoga, aerobics, spin, or dance. She believes new eating habits should be rewarded with something related to that shift. She says, “If you are trying to improve your diet you could buy a new blender to make smoothies or a new cookbook filled with healthy recipes.”

4. Create an Inspiration Board

Food is all around us as an immediate source of pleasure. It’s easy to succumb when we feel weak, tired, stressed, and defeated. To combat its temptation, I created an inspiration board to display in my home: a big, bold reminder of what I was striving to achieve.

It included photos I cut from magazines of things I wanted to do when I got thinner: a woman climbing a mountain, a couple walking on the beach in swimsuits, a husband and wife taking a ballroom dance class. It reminded me of all the things I’d given up because of my obesity that I wanted to recapture. It kept me focused on what I was gaining, not what I was sacrificing. “Create a weight loss motivation board in 7 easy steps” has some fantastic tips and some eye-catching samples to get you started.

Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.

— Oprah Winfrey

5. Minimize Time With Foodie Friends

When I was obese, most of my pals were also overweight. We were foodie friends, trying out new restaurants and overindulging with appetizers, drinks, and desserts in addition to our entrees. When I was ready to lose weight and overhaul my lifestyle, many of these relationships became casualties of that. It turns out that a shared love of food was the only thing we had in common.

I started meeting new people who loved to walk, hike, and do yoga. I found a hand-full of folks who inspired me through their example, helping me achieve my goals. I recently joined a weekly book club where we fill ourselves up with knowledge rather than food. It’s a huge departure from my previous life when eating was always at the core of whatever I was doing.

Studies show you're more likely to stay committed to a fitness program if you do it with a partner.
Studies show you’re more likely to stay committed to a fitness program if you do it with a partner. | Source

6. Find an Exercise Buddy

By enlisting an ally during our weight loss journey, we increase our chances for success. John Raglin, a professor of kinesiology at Indiana University, found that those of us who exercise with a buddy are more likely to stay committed to our fitness goals. He says, “When we studied the drop-out rate of a year-long fitness program, we found couples who entered the program together had only an eight percent drop-out rate compared with roughly 50 percent of the people who entered the program alone. And we’ve found that you get similar results whether you’re working out with a spouse, a friend, or within a group.”

I chose a friend who didn’t need to lose weight but who wanted to get fit after years of being sedentary. We made a plan to walk together before work three days a week. There were many mornings when I didn’t want to do it because it was too cold, too dark, or too early. Knowing I had to meet her at a specific time, though, always kept me accountable for showing up.

7. Get Enough Sleep

With our hectic lives, it’s tempting to skimp on sleep. When we do that, though, we’re sabotaging our weight loss efforts. In “Why Sleep Is the No. 1 Most Important Thing for a Better Body,” Adam Bornstein says that getting less than seven hours of it per night is a bad move when trying to drop pounds. When we don’t get enough sleep, he explains, two hunger-causing hormones (leptin and ghrelin) get produced in our bodies. Their production makes us more susceptible to overindulging and less satiated after eating.

We’re also more likely to make poor food choices when tired. Bornstein writes, “The bottom line: Not enough sleep means you’re always hungry, reaching for bigger portions, and desiring every type of food that is bad for you—and you don’t have the proper brain functioning to tell yourself, ‘No!'”

8. Write About Your Feelings in a Journal

I’ve followed many weight loss plans through the decades where I kept a daily diary of what I ate and drank, counting calories and keeping track of how much I exercised. While I lost weight on those plans, it always came roaring back…plus some. Writing down everything I consumed made me obsess about food even more and made my life miserable. Even more than a thin and fit body, I desperately wanted freedom from a life where I was consumed with thoughts of food.

That’s why intuitive eating appealed to me so much. When we’re intuitive eaters, we listen to our bodies and only take in food to satisfy hunger. We don’t stuff our faces as a means to numb our emotional pain. Now, instead of eating when I’m frustrated, sad, angry, bored, or tired, I write about my feelings in a journal. Not only has that helped me keep the weight off, it has helped me get in touch with my emotions, to feel every feeling, and deal with them in a constructive way.

A Therapist Explains Why Intuitive Eating Works While Dieting and Deprivation Don’t

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out.

— Robert Collier

9. Set Other Goals Besides Weight Loss

Setting small realistic goals is a terrific way to stay motivated. Since the scale is not a true measure of all your hard work, it’s best to have goals other than weight loss. Otherwise, it gets discouraging when you hit a plateau and the pounds aren’t coming off like they once were. Some of my goals included fitting into a particular pair of pants, walking a certain distance, completing a rigorous hike, and going to a fitness class three days a week.

Paul Salter, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition consultant, warns against putting too much stock in what the scale says. Instead, he advises us to celebrate the other positive changes that are happening to our bodies. He writes, “Sometimes the scale won’t budge for days or even weeks , even though important changes are happening in the realms of body composition and athletic performance.”

10. Buy Workout Clothes

Once I started to drop pounds, I bought some cute workout clothes: yoga pants, exercise bras, tank tops, and running shoes. I’d put them on when I got home from work, and they motivated me to jog on the treadmill, lift weights, or take the dog for a walk. Wearing those clothes gave me a new persona—the jock—and I embraced it.

Dr. Jonathan Fader, a sports psychologist, says purchasing new workout clothes can motivate us to exercise longer and more strenuously. He says, “When you put on new fitness gear you begin to get into character like an actor putting on a costume for a performance. As a result, you expect to have a better performance, making you more mentally prepared for the task.”

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.

— Zig Ziglar

11. Figure Out Why You Gained Weight in the First Place

This was a significant element that had always been missing in my previous weight loss efforts. The simple answer, of course, was that I ate too much and exercised too little. But it went much deeper than that. My weight gain through the years had to do with the depression and anxiety that I struggled with since childhood.

Studies show people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are more likely to gain weight and become obese than those who don’t. For many years, I thought my depression was caused by my weight gain when, in fact, the reverse was true. Knowing that important bit of information was key to losing weight and keeping it off. I also discovered that exercise was not only necessary for me to lose weight but key to my overall emotional stability and well-being.

12. Do Nice Things for Yourself

It’s crucial to do nice little things for yourself during your weight loss journey. You’re working hard and need to treat yourself with kindness, patience, and love. Many of us who are overweight don’t know how to treat ourselves well. That’s why we eat junk on the run and don’t take time to exercise. We need to get stronger and advocate for what we need without feeling guilty.

While some people may think we’re fat because we’re lazy, that’s probably not the case. We’re often people-pleasers who put others before ourselves. Each day of my weight loss journey I did something nice for myself: bought flowers at the market, sat down to eat a salad, took a nap, listened to music, played fetch with my dog—anything to show love and concern for myself.

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