Weight Loss Should Not Be Your Goal
Very few of my clients have weight gain goals (yes, this is a thing).
Instead, most of my clients want to lose weight, or at least tackle body composition goals that involve weight loss.
But let’s talk about the differences between behaviors, habits, and results, and better ways to set (and achieve) goals!
Behaviors vs. Habits vs. Results
Most people (there are exceptions, of course) improve many markers of health when they lose weight – high blood pressure can go down, blood sugar can stabilize, and inflammation can decrease. Not to mention that healthy weight loss can often result in feeling better, performing better, and feeling more confident!
However, I want to help you re-frame weight loss as a result, rather than a behavior. When you lose weight, it is not an active process. It is the byproduct of a process – the actual process being specific, important behavior and habit changes.
This is key, because your scale number will not always move in a straight line. It will fluctuate naturally on a day-to-day basis, but it will also travel along bigger arcs that include aging, having children, changing jobs, switching cities, or other significant life transitions.
Here is the flow:
Behavior -> Habit -> Result
Sometimes we form habits without realizing it, because we repetitively take the path of least resistance in a given situation. If stopping at the fast food drive through (or bodega, or the Seamless site) is what you do over and over again, this repetitive action will become a habit. It’s easy. It’s mindless.
The routine and ritual will become ingrained.
Then you get the results. You are currently living with the results of your habits, whatever they are.
So when you have a goal, like weight loss, it is important to identify what behaviors will lead to that goal, what habits can easily support these behaviors, and what results you will look for to confirm that you are reaching your goal.
Changing Your Behaviors
This is key. Changing your behaviors involves a change in mindset, but also a lot of hard work. Because these new behaviors are not yet habits, it will take additional effort to implement them. You will have to set up reminders, reinforcements, and accountability so that you continue to do the same positive things over and over again.
Behaviors are your daily microcosm of change. They are the building blocks of habits.
Changing Your Habits
The key to success is to support these positive behaviors by creating an environment that fosters the easy repetition of these actions.
I want to point out here that, for most people, it’s difficult to change multiple habits at once. When women participate in my online coaching groups, they often think they must immediately be perfect, demonstrate 100% adherence, and change all of their behaviors and habits simultaneously.
Habits are sticky. They can take a long time (and a lot of effort) to transform. So I recommend picking one or two that are the most important to you (and that may be rather easy), and focusing on just those at first, until you feel successful. This could mean leaving out your athletic shoes and clothes the night before you want to exercise in the morning. This could mean going to bed earlier at night. This could also mean cooking with more vegetables and bringing your own snacks to work. Habits can be small but powerful, because they’re done over and over and over again.
Think of it like math… it’s hard to give a “10” every day, and if you go all-out, you may have difficulty sustaining the effort. This is what a typical week looks like, in terms of behavior change, if you go too hard, too soon:
10 + 10 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 2 + 0 = 22
The week started strong, then quickly petered out. There will not be much long-term habit formation (if any) from this behavior pattern.
But if you can learn to shift a few things every day, it can look more like this:
5 + 5 + 5 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 2 = 32
If you can pace yourself and do little things every day, you will probably experience greater success, because these behaviors will become internalized as important habits, and you will do them more often and over a longer period of time.
Experiencing Your Results
With consistency, repeated actions over time will lead to some kind of result. Mindless behaviors and unaware habits often lead to results that we don’t love. Intentional behaviors and engineered habits, on the other hand, often result in results that we enjoy.
But you can see how difficult it is to make the result the goal. You cannot control the result – you can only track it, measure it, and adjust your behaviors based on it.
Instead, peel back the process, and make the behavior your goal.
Here are some common behaviors that I advise clients to focus on:
- Increasing daily steps
- Eating more (or any) vegetables at every meal
- Eating lean protein at every meal
- Drinking more water
- Sleeping adequately and consistently
- Strength training several times a week
Behavior -> Habit -> Result
Reserve your goals for things you can control.
Running Out of Runway
Final reflection: there will be times in your life when you should not be focusing on weight loss at all, for various reasons. You could be pregnant. You could be at a healthy, lean weight and trying to put on muscle. You could be ill. You could be underweight.
Or if you are losing weight right now, you need to keep in mind that, at some point, you will need to switch to maintenance rather than loss.
At those times, what behaviors and habits will you fall back on when weight loss is not the focus? How will you manage your expectations and measure your success if you are not actively losing weight?
This is why it is so important to focus on your behaviors and your habits, not your outcomes.
By building a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and wellness, and developing a confident outlook on your ability to manage and change your behaviors and habits, you will equip yourself to deal with any life situation in a balanced way.
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