Motivation + ? = Habit

According to a fascinating study carried out earlier this year, most British women give up their diets after an average of only 5 weeks, 2 days and 43 minutes. In fact, around 8 percent of women will have given up before the first week is out!

On the other hand, as a nation we do seem to find ourselves in a state of almost ‘perpetual diet’ – a typical British woman will go on a diet 2.7 times a year, and 12 percent will start a new weight loss regime every other month.

So what lies behind this endless cycle of diet, give up, binge, repeat – diet, give up, binge, repeat, that so many of the UK’s female population seem to be stuck in?

The biggest dieting pitfall is losing motivation. Many women start off a weight loss programme with a huge burst of enthusiasm. Either a positive push (a simcha, a special holiday, the promise of a new outfit) or a negative one (seeing a terrible photograph of themselves, not fitting into an aeroplane seat or a dire warning from a GP) will prompt them to sign up. As time passes however, the thought of either the sting or the sweetener becomes weaker, less potent, and they begin to slip back into old habits.

The holy grail of the dieting industry for many years has therefore been an attempt to keep motivation levels high and willpower surging, in order to prevent the proverbial fall from the wagon.

In reality, a successful and maintained weight loss will always be rooted in a change of behaviour that eventually becomes habitual. No-one can sustain their original high levels of motivation forever – be it a week, a month, or even six months; eventually the excitement, the enthusiasm, the zeal to follow a plan, will begin to wane. If new habits have not been put in place, the slope will be slippery indeed and the dieter will soon find herself back at the beginning – and more often than not, a few pounds heavier than where he or she started.

Taking a look at the behaviour patterns of repeat dieters will reveal that they tend to do a few things that may even lead to initial success at the scales, but which will ultimately be their downfall.

  1. They set their expectations too high. Many dieters experience a big loss (somewhere between 2 and 7lb) in their first week on a new plan – this is mostly due to the body shedding excess water. In fact, the human body can only burn around 2lb a week of actual fat (any more than this and you are likely digesting your own muscle tissue). A healthy sustainable weight loss should be between 0.5lb and 2lb a week. If you expect more, you will be disappointed. And disappointment and motivation do not go hand in hand.
  2. They are too strict on themselves. In the early days of a new diet, when you feel as though you will do anything to lose the weight, you may decide to skip meals, cut out food groups or forbid any ‘treats’ in order to speed up your losses and try to reach your goal faster. This is not something you will be able to maintain long term! Sooner or later, your ‘food demons’ will begin to call to you, and eventually the call will be so loud you will not be able to ignore it! An overly restrictive diet, almost without exception, leads to a binge; the binge will lead to a weight gain, and then along come our old friends guilt and disappointment again…
  3. They adopt an all-or-nothing approach. We are all human and at some point we will all slip up! A bad day, a bad week, it might even be a single meal where we didn’t stick to the plan… The all-or-nothingers will throw up their hands in despair and pay attention to that terrible little voice in their head saying ‘you’re rubbish, you’ll never do it, look what you just ate – you might as well just give up now and have the cream cake too.’ The correct response to a blip however is to treat it as just that – a blip. Draw a line under the ‘infraction’, regroup and begin again. It’s the only way to break the cycle.

In addition to avoiding these behaviour traps, there are several methods you can also adopt to assist you in turning motivation into habit. First of all, turn your dream into something a little more tangible; tell someone else what you hope to achieve and where you would like your goal to be, write it down for yourself and really visualise what that goal will look like. Next, make sure you revisit this vision regularly – put that piece of paper somewhere you will see it, find yourself a mentor who will check in with you and see how you’re doing, and ask for help when you feel yourself slipping. Finally, reward your successes. Many people will put aside £1 for themselves every time they lose a pound in weight for example, and periodically will purchase themselves something small with the money (a book or magazine, a manicure, or some other small luxury).

Hopefully, these small steps will help you to succeed in breaking the accumulative habits of a nation, creating new and healthy lifestyle habits for yourself, and achieving your goals!

About the Author
Judy Silkoff is a wife and mother of four residing in North West London. With a degree in English literature Judy had a career as a freelance journalist for a range of Jewish publications before moving into the charity world. She now works full-time for a communal organisation while running a weekly Weight Watchers meeting in Hendon, NW London. Helping her members achieve their weight loss goals is her passion, and Judy considers her own weight loss and lifestyle changes to be one of her greatest achievements, after her family.
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