Successful dieting is all about attitude.
We talk about weight loss a lot in our culture. And when we talk about weight loss, we almost always talk about what kinds of food and how much food we should eat to lose weight. Secondarily, we talk about how much and what types of exercise we should do. It seems obvious to do so.
Funny thing is, these matters are somewhat beside the point. In the real world, people lose weight on many different kinds of diets and on many different types of exercise programs. The one thing that all serious weight losers do is modify their behavior. Essentially, this means they make a serious commitment to losing weight, one way or another. So if you want to lose weight, think less about discovering the single right way to eat and/or exercise to lose weight, because it doesn’t exist. Instead, think about making a serious commitment to weight loss.
You’ve probably heard of the National Weight Control Registry. It’s basically a national database of men and women who have succeeded in losing at least 30 pounds and maintaining at least 30 pounds of weight loss for at least one year. Whatever these people do, works. It’s not theory, but practice. And what do members of the NWCR do?
For starters, their diets are all over the place. Some are on low-fat diets, others are on low-carb diets, still others do Weight Watchers, yet others are vegetarians, and so forth. Another interesting characteristic of NWCR members is that the vast majority of them failed with weight-loss diets a few times before finally succeeding. The combination of these two characteristics—variety in successful diet approaches and failures preceding success—suggests that different ways of losing weight work best for different people. A certain amount of trial and error is required to find a system that’s a good match for one’s individual needs, preferences, personality, and lifestyle.
So if the diet itself doesn’t matter, what does? After exercise, the behavior that is most powerfully associated with successful weight-loss maintenance among NWCR members is self-monitoring. Most NWCR members count calories or at least track their food intake. This can be done informally, as in aiming for a quota of five fruit and vegetable servings daily or limiting oneself to one sweet per day. But, one way or another, these folks are paying attention to, and quantifying, their intake. And almost all of them are weighing themselves at least once a week and as often as daily.
The interesting thing about self-monitoring is that it’s just observing. There is nothing inherent to self-monitoring that causes weight loss. Yet it is more closely associated with successful weight loss than any dietary prescription for weight loss. Why? Because it symbolizes a commitment to losing weight. You simply aren’t going to make the effort to count the number of calories you eat and to weigh yourself every day unless you’re serious about losing weight. The specifics of eating and exercising for weight loss will almost automatically follow from this serious attitude.
Have you ever bumped into an old friend or acquaintance out in public, caught up briefly, and then discussed the need to meet for lunch and catch up more thoroughly? One of two things always happens. If you and your friend are serious about reactivating the friendship, you will make a lunch date right then and there. You will pick a specific restaurant and a specific time to meet there. If you’re not serious, you will part by saying, “We should meet for lunch! Call me!”
That call will never be made. It’s not that you wouldn’t like to have lunch with your friend. It’s just not important enough for you to overcome the inertia of your normal routine.
Losing weight is like that. It’s not about whether or not you really want to lose weight. Everyone who needs to lose weight really wants to lose weight. It’s about whether you’re serious about losing weight. If you are serious, you will lose weight. It’s as simple as that. You will try and fail with different approaches until you find one that works for you, and once you do, you will pay close attention to what you eat and how much you weigh for the rest of your life. Exactly what you eat is completely up to you.