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Pitfalls and Solutions for Weight Loss

If you are among the 45 million Americans who go on a diet each year, you are likely among the estimated 95% who eventually “fall off the bandwagon” and regain the weight. With an estimated five percent success rate, programs that promise quick & easy weight loss present pretty grim odds. If diets only succeed 5% of the time, why do we keep going back to them?

The allure of the “quick fix”

Promises of quick fixes are alluring, but when we fail to get the results we were hoping for, we feel something is deficient with us, like somehow we’ve failed. However, it’s actually the weight loss plan that’s failing us, not the other way around.

The more rigid the weight loss or fitness plan, and the more changes we’re required to make to live it, the less likely we will be to sustain it long-term. It’s like a pendulum: the farther it swings to one side (diet & exercise rules and restrictions), the farther it will swing to the other side (finding yourself hitting rock bottom in a tub of ice cream).


There are ways to get healthier and lose weight that don’t require white-knuckling, deprivation, or a lifestyle overhaul.  

1) Information Overload

Should you eat low carb, vegetarian, or grapefruit? Should you join a gym, do yoga, or train for a 5K?

There are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes the “best” approach to weight loss, and the conflicting messages can be overwhelming.

The most up to date research suggests that there is no single best diet or exercise plan for weight loss, but the “best” approach is the one you can stick with long term. If you want to create a calorie deficit, I suggest you do that by making small changes to avoid decision fatigue:

The fewer decisions you have to make, the more successful you’ll be.

2) Low Motivation 

You have ideas for ways you “should” be eating and exercising to lose weight, but somehow can’t bring yourself to follow through. You reason with yourself that you’ll start tomorrow or the next day…but the “next day” keeps getting pushed off.

If you are struggling to get started or to maintain your healthy lifestyle, you don’t have a motivation problem. You have an expectation problem. You are likely expecting too much of yourself, and there is a part of you that is rebelling against the self-imposed “shoulds”.

Instead, make your expectations and goals so reasonable that you can’t help but follow through.

For example, a motivation hack for getting to the gym 3 days per week is to start with a smaller goal, such as going to the gym once per week, going to the gym 3 days but making the workouts short, or just changing into your gym clothes (yes that can be a goal! Just get that motivation ball rolling…).

When motivation is lacking, adjust your expectations to meet you where you are, then slowly increase the goals from there.

3) Disconnected from the plan

The more you outsource your eating or exercise plan to friends or ‘experts’, the less ownership you’ll feel over it.

An externally-imposed way of eating or exercising feel burdensome, and makes it much more difficult to stick with long-term. This is because you’re starting from a place of deficit–what things you ‘can’t’ do or ‘should’ do more of, rather than from a  place of what is already working for you, that you enjoy doing, or that has worked in the past.

Take ownership of your health-journey. Don’t consider yourself “on a diet”, but rather: “This is who I am…I’m a person who [eats a lot of vegetables / likes to go walking / enjoys exploring new healthy recipes]”.

If it’s difficult to eat or exercise in ways that your friends or the ‘experts’ do, keep searching for the healthy lifestyle that suits you.  

4) Negative self-appraisal 

Often the primary motivator for someone to lose weight is self-loathing. In essence, you are trying to punish your body into submission: When I get lose weight, THEN I’ll feel better about myself.

But in order to maintain a healthier lifestyle, you need to cultivate self-compassion. You may think that self-compassion will come after you’ve reached your weight loss goal, but your negative self-image is exactly what’s preventing you from reaching that goal.

Instead, start acting as you would when you are your most confident self, no matter where you currently are on your weight loss journey, and the confident feelings will eventually catch up.

Action precedes emotion. For example, if you’re waiting to feel better about yourself before you’ll wear certain clothes, have adventures, or apply for a promotion, you may be waiting a while.

Apply some self-compassion, and start acting in confident ways, then notice the confident feelings grow.

5) You give up too soon

If you don’t see progress and want give up, maybe you need to stay the course, but with minor adjustments.

Approach your weight loss journey with a scientist mind: look for evidence of things that are working, even to a small extent, and do more of those things. Don’t let discouragement derail you from your overall goal of getting healthier. You can do it, I know you can.

Think of a goal you’ve worked to achieve in your life–education, job training, or a fitness goal. How were you able to achieve that goal? You likely took small steps, a lot of persistence, and not giving in to feelings of discouragement.

If you are lacking faith in your ability to change, try having faith in the process. Permanent change takes time, and is not linear; there are many ups and downs, successes and setbacks. You may not perceive progress on a daily or weekly basis, but know that by persisting with the process, you will be better off in a year than you are today.

Quick fix results are less likely to endure, so finding a process you can stick with (and that you enjoy!) will bring more long-lasting results.