If you have been on the weight-loss journey for any length of time, or on and off it more than once, you know that it can be an emotional rollercoaster. In the beginning, things go great. You're motivated, determined and excited about your plan. The scale moves in the right direction. You feel alive, energized and confident. "This time, it is going to be different," you tell yourself. That continues for a while, and just when you think you have everything under control, something shifts.|
Your energy level starts plummeting. You don't feel nearly as excited as you did only a few days earlier. You begin to skip an exercise session now and again, and treats slip back into your diet a bit too frequently. What is going on?
You've lost your momentum! You were moving full speed ahead, and now you've come to a complete standstill. The little voice in your head says, "I'm tired, and don't want to do this anymore. I knew I couldn't keep it up. Why did I think this time would be different?"
Sound familiar? Why is it that you can be doing great one moment, and then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, your motivation and momentum are gone?
When I started writing this article on the greatest obstacles to maintaining momentum in the weight-loss journey, I knew decades of experience working with weight-loss clients would provide me with the insights I needed. But I also knew, that my clients and the SparkPeople community could answer that inquiry way better than I ever could.
So I asked. And I was blown away by the number of responses I received. Some didn't surprise me at all, and others, well—I had never thought about weight loss that way.
Before you start your journey to weight loss, or if you're in the midst of your journey now, discover what people say are the most difficult momentum obstacles to overcome and learn how to knock them down before they knock you down.
Whether it's eating the same "healthy" foods day in and day out, sticking to the same old exercise routine or just the realization that this is a lifelong journey, boredom inevitably sets in for most everyone. You crave something different, and often it is the very stuff you've been avoiding. As old habits creep back in, so do the pounds.
The Remedy: You have got to keep things interesting. It is not only good for your mind, but it is good for your body. Doing the same strength-training workout every week, for example, could strain specific muscles, while neglecting others. Adding variety will ensure that you're giving your whole body the attention it needs to progress. The minute you feel yourself making excuses to stick to the routine you set for yourself, is the minute you should consider if boredom is the culprit. Monotony can make people feel like they're just going through the motions, rather than actively working toward something wonderful.
Search for new recipe ideas each month, take a healthy cooking class, choose a brand new seasonal food to try each week. Investing in a fitness tracker or using a new app can make the journey enjoyable again. Shake up your exercise regime, too, with a new class or even hitting the gym at a new time of day to workout. Grabbing a friend for a workout or committing to train for a competition can also help reignite the fire.
2. The Dreaded Plateau
You are losing weight at a slow but steady pace, and each week the scale rewards your efforts with the number being a little lower than the week before. Then, it stops. You haven't seen a change in weeks, and you are feeling discouraged. What's all this effort worth if you're not making progress?
The Remedy: First, alter your mindset. Going through a plateau after losing a significant amount of weight is not a bad thing, but rather your body's way of adjusting to a lower weight. As you lose weight, you've likely lost some muscle along with fat, which will slow your metabolism. Thus, staying at a new set point for a few weeks or even months is a significant accomplishment. Secondly, remind yourself that although the number on the scale may not be changing, your body composition probably is. If you stick to your exercise routine, your fat cells are shrinking, and your muscle mass is increasing. Lastly, shift your focus from weight loss to improved health! Keep up those healthy lifestyle habits and remember that you are progressing in more ways than what a number on a scale says.
Once you have a better attitude about plateaus, a few shifts in your behavior may get the scale moving downward again. Mix up your exercise routine by increasing your dumbbell weights, experimenting with high-intensity interval training, or moving from the elliptical to the treadmill. Turn to your plate and slightly alter your eating habits, as well—adjust your calorie intake, shift the percentage of macronutrients or change your meal timing. Consider having a consultation with a registered dietician who can reset your meal plan to meet the requirements of your new lower body weight.
3. Changes in Routine
Maybe it's added hours at work to meet a deadline, guests visiting from out of town, the holiday season or your favorite exercise studio closing, but life will often throw curveballs, no matter how good your intentions may be. These routine shifts can make it difficult to manage the calendar and squeeze in exercise in between other obligations.
The Remedy: It is time to go back to the beginning of your journey. Slow down, take a deep breath and plan. Before you started exercising, eating better and focusing on weight loss, you had to figure out the what, where and how. Time to do so again, looking at the new set of circumstances. Do you need to temporarily use a meal delivery service or delegate food shopping and cooking to a spouse or older children? If you can't make it to evening exercise classes, can you start walking during your lunch break? The bottom line is this: Failure to plan is planning to fail. Life is constantly shifting. If staying healthy is important, you must engage in healthy habits always, not just when it's convenient.
4. End of Day Fatigue and Lack of Sleep
It's easy to start each day highly motivated, determined to power through your day making healthy food choices and hitting the gym, but sometimes it's easier said than done. Often, as the day wanes on, so does your momentum. For many, evenings are where it all falls apart after keeping it together and in control all day long. At night, it's tempting to cut loose. If you're skimping on sleep, it makes it even more difficult to muster the energy to focus on your goals even during the day, not to mention after trudging through a full day's responsibilities.
Remedy: Fatigue is indeed the enemy of weight loss. Sleep deprivation messes with your hormones, causing a surge of the ones that increase appetite and a decrease in those that signal satiation. When you are exhausted, it's common to crave simple carbohydrates—chips, cookies, candy, soda—anything that gives you the quick boost of energy; but it is short-lived, and you'll be searching for more of the same soon after. Most concerning, sleep deprivation dampens the activity in the part of your brain responsible for impulse control, and the emotional brain lights up. When overly fatigued, rash impulsivity is often responsible for your food selection, rather than thoughtful choice connected to your goals. If you want to have sustained weight loss, you must prioritize sleep.
However, even if you are getting the sleep you need, you may find yourself drained and lacking willpower in the evening hours. Here is where some planning can help. A mid-afternoon snack consisting of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fat can give you an energy boost and take away feelings of being famished before dinner. Have a visual reminder or early evening ritual that reminds you of your most profound motivators to live a healthier lifestyle. Many people find activities like journaling, a vision board, walking, yoga or meditation extremely helpful to re-center and refocus on your goals. If evening socialization with friends revolves around eating out, choose restaurants that can accommodate your new eating style, or switch up the status quo by suggesting an exercise hour or offer to cook at home.
5. The Scale is Moving Too Slowly
Despite working hard practicing healthy habits, the scale is moving at a snail's pace. While it's just a number (really!), it can be difficult for some to move beyond this physical representation of progress. Watching a number often makes the journey feel like it is going to take forever, which, for anyone who is impatient, might just be enough to throw you off your healthy living game.
The Remedy: Sadly, your rate of weight loss is not always proportional to your efforts. Everyone is different, and many factors go into how quickly or slowly your body takes off the excess pounds. To stay the course, it is imperative that you shift your focus from losing weight to getting healthy. Be on the lookout for non-scale victories. Do you climb a flight of stairs and no longer get winded? Do your knees or back hurt less than in the past? Are your clothes fitting a little better? There are many ways to measure your progress aside from the scale, but if you remain singularly focused, chances are you'll lose sight of all the other ways your life is improving. Keep in mind, too, that your body may settle into a body weight that is not as lean as you would like, but it is still a body that is vibrant, strong and healthy, no matter what the scale says.
If despite all your efforts, you are not feeling better, and you can't identify the non-scale victories, it may be time to call in a team of experts. Speak with your doctor about doing a metabolic panel to assure nothing medically is hindering your progress. Consider meeting with a registered dietician to figure out what type of food plan would be best for you, or see if a certified personal trainer can tailor an exercise plan to assure the time you put in is paying you back.
6. Living with Someone Who Is Not Concerned with Weight Loss
We are undoubtedly influenced by those with whom we spend the most time. When your partner is not concerned about losing weight or healthy eating, you may find yourself faced with temptation way too often. Foods you prefer not to eat show up in your pantry, fridge and freezer. You get coerced into going to restaurants you'd rather not visit. You are set to go to the gym, but you get persuaded to go to happy hour, instead. They mean no harm, but in reality, they're unknowingly sabotaging your goals.
The Remedy: It is time to sharpen your communication skills. You must speak up and make your needs known. No one is a mind reader, so do not assume your roommate, spouse or partner knows they are making your journey more difficult. By voicing your concern, you will open up possibilities for compromise. Perhaps you can have a separate cabinet where those trigger foods can live, or you can request that they eat items that might tempt you in another room. Explain how important your health goals are and find shared activities you both enjoy that don't disrupt your efforts. Don't preach or try to convince your partner to join you in your weight-loss program, just ask that he or she support your efforts.
Negative self-talk and self-doubt are the greatest saboteurs to motivation and momentum on the weight-loss journey. A common self-defeating attitude is an all-or-nothing mindset: "If I am not perfectly in control all the time, why bother? I messed up at lunch, so the rest of the day is shot" or "I'm not athletic enough to exercise so there's no point in trying." Then there are the messages you berate yourself with any time you slip up: "I'm such a failure," "I have no willpower," "I am destined to be fat," "I knew I couldn't do this!" Whether it's an internal dialogue that dominates your thinking or feelings that creep up when you're looking in the mirror, putting an end to this behavior will alone greatly influence your journey to self-love and health.
The Remedy: Those messages will cease your progress in its tracks, and if you have been telling yourself this story for years, it is tough to stop. Being part of a support group or working with a certified wellness coach or a therapist could be extremely helpful. Your thoughts are not unusual; many share them, but they are saboteurs nonetheless. To succeed, you must learn to stop the pattern of beating yourself up, increase your self-compassion and self-confidence, and embrace a more empowering story. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people and remember that the voice in your head is yours. If you don't like the message, talk back and change it. With time and practice, you can become your own cheerleader and best friend.
The journey to health is a long one, and bumps, potholes or detours along the way are inevitable. With a kit full of the tools you need to overcome the worst momentum busters, though, you'll be ready to fight back when negativity comes knocking.