Health & Wellness Articles

Put the ''I'' Back in Your Vocabulary

Increase Your Chances for Weight-Loss Success

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Would you believe me if I told you that knowing the answer to one simple question could improve your chances for weight loss success by up to 100%? Well, it’s true. Here’s the question:

Which of the following is the single most important factor in long-term weight loss success?

A. Calorie Counting
B. Regular Exercise
C. Starting your sentences with the pronoun “I”
D. Both a and b

The correct answer to this question is: C—starting your sentences with the pronoun “I”.

Here’s why it’s so important:

You already know that to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories and burn more through exercise. But if just knowing this was enough to drop the pounds, you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this. You’d be off flaunting your incredible body in that new swimsuit you’ve got your eye on. Or doing something—anything—but reading about how to lose weight. There’s a big difference between knowing what to do, and knowing how to do it.

People who succeed at doing what needs to be done are people who have mastered the art of defining problems accurately, and choosing (and implementing) effective solutions.

You can master this art by starting your sentences with “I” statements. Here’s how this works. If you have persistent difficulty actually exercising like you know you need to, for example, you probably don't describe this problem to yourself with thoughts that begin with the pronoun "I". You may tell yourself that your job or your family responsibilities don’t leave enough time or energy for exercise; that the gym is too far away but you don’t have the money to buy exercise equipment; or that your body is so large or out of shape that you can’t do enough exercise to make a difference.

This is the helpless thinking of a victim, which will get you nowhere fast.

What would happen if you started thinking about the same problems but started your thoughts with an “I” statement? When you say to yourself, "I have made working and family priorities, and I haven’t put exercise very high up on my priority list," you define the problem much more accurately. You also bring the only realistic solution to your problem into sight for the first time. That solution, of course, is to put exercise high enough on your priority list that it gets the same amount of effort and attention as other important responsibilities in your life. This is something only you can do, and starting your sentences with an "I" will help you acknowledge that, and take responsibility for your own decisions and their consequences.

This self-responsibility is the necessary foundation upon which all success is built. Unless you take the time to build this foundation for yourself, your chances of being successful at permanent weight loss are not good. This doesn’t mean, of course, that starting your sentences with an "I" statement is going to make all your conflicting demands go away. There may well be days when deciding not to follow your plan is the best choice you can make under the circumstances. And, as long as you know that it is you making these decisions—not the job, or the family, or the food—you won’t have to worry about falling off the wagon completely. You’ll know that it is just one decision, and that you can make a different one 10 minutes later if you want to. That can really help you take a lot of the stress out of difficult situations, because it’s usually the feeling of being powerless that really gets those stress hormones flowing. A key to staying in control is using "I" statements.

Practicing "I" Statements Every Day

If you’re like most people, you probably don't use many "I" statements, especially when it comes to diet and exercise. It may take some time and practice before this becomes second nature for you. Here’s what you can do to help yourself out:

Before the fact
Whenever you notice a persistent problem in any aspect of your weight loss program—whether it’s related to food choices, exercise, or motivation—try to define the problem in writing. What specifically are you doing (or not doing) that you need to change? Why do you think this keeps happening? What are the major triggers or causes of this problem? Do this writing without thinking or worrying about being “correct” at first. Just write down whatever comes to you when you are thinking about the problem, and don’t worry about finding solutions at this point.

Then, go over what you have written with a fine-toothed comb, looking at the language you used. Do those words make it sound like you’re in charge, or as if something else is in charge of you? Go back through the words you wrote, changing any passive verbs to active verbs ("My lunches are packed by my husband" becomes "I let my husband pack my lunches") and replacing any external forces with "I" statements (“It was too cold to walk outside today” becomes “I decided I didn’t want to walk in the cold today”). Once you have done this, go through your problem statement again and see what solutions come to mind.

After the fact
Go through this same basic process whenever you have done something you wish you hadn’t done. Describe what happened and why you think it happened, and then put your words under the microscope, as above, changing your words to "I" statements to form solutions.

Try to do this every day, or whenever you are having a problem. It won’t take long for you to automatically think in "I" statements, and your odds of avoiding problems and finding good solutions will increase dramatically.

For more ideas on putting yourself in charge of your weight loss success, read The Challenges of Maintaining a Healthy Weight - Part 3

This article is Step 1 in SparkPeople's Mind Over Body series, a 10-step program to ending emotional eating and creating a permanent healthy lifestyle. View the full series here or continue to the next step.

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Member Comments

  • yep!!! id highlight the whole article.....its that good to meeeeee!:)

    There may well be days when deciding not to follow your plan is the best choice you can make under the circumstances. And, as long as you know that it is you making these decisions—not the job, or the family, or the food—you won’t have to worry about falling off the wagon completely. You’ll know that it is just one decision, and that you can make a different one 10 minutes later if you want to.
  • This is something only you can do, and starting your sentences with an "I" will help you acknowledge that, and take responsibility for your own decisions and their consequences.

    love sparky miester dean anderson. today i will love myself enough to....take responsibility for my actions/choices
  • love this!!!! taking responsibility for my well being is doable!!!!
  • Hey, this guy is a behavioral psychologist! This is probably one of the best articles I have read on SP!!! I am going to read the entire three parts. Thanks again SP this article is a big home run!
  • Thank you for a much needed and helpful article!
  • I found this article very insightful. I've been on track, losing weight and increasing my activity levels since July 2014. I still have 70 more pounds to lose. I like this author's suggestion that I am responsible for my own success. I make the choices.
    For me, two other concepts have also helped. I saw a motivational sign here in SP that said, "There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Can't you spare 30 of them for exercise?". The other was what my doctor said that kicked off my weight loss quest. "Barb, losing weight is simply more calories out than calories in." It's a simple equation, that I am totally in control of IF I HONESTLY TRACK MY FOOD INTAKE AND ACTIVITIES. Sometimes, the progress is very slow. But it works.
  • I feel (see what i did there) that it should be pointed out that people with eating disorders do this compulsively. Accepting personal responsibility is nice and all, but as a person who is recovering from eating disorders, let me assure you, the "I" thing can get out of hand. For example (trigger warning) i can say "I don't have to eat." I can use that to fuel my disordered behavior all day long.

    So, perhaps a more balanced approach is needed? Perhaps we should all learn to see when something is within our power to change and when it is not?
  • Why do I exercise? I do it for me. My health is my responsibility. Not my mother's, my signifant other, my dog, my kid, or whoever. I don't do exercise for my family, my church, god, my mother, the dog, the cat, or the weather. Or whatever.

    I do it for me. It's ok to deserve things like self-care. If you feel "controlled", then you definitely need more "I" statements in your life. If you are feeling controlled by others, seeking out some professional help can be a good thing.

    I work to make better choices most days.

    The hard part about some of these articles is knowing which might apply to your own situation and which ones might not.
  • I really needed something like these 10 steps. I want to keep the weight off. I am grateful!
  • KATHI319
    Very good article, Can be applied to all aspects of ones life especially if they
    unknowingly have the victim mentality.
  • SONOFCZAR
    This story is ridiculous. It's like the whole "power of positive thinking" mentality. The problem with this is that talk is cheap. Take some action, be mindful of your food intake and exercise regularly and you'll lose weight.
  • "I" will make intelligent decisions about my own behavior regarding food and exercise.
  • I need to prioritze making a habit of using I in my weightloss strategy. It reallymakes sense I think itwill be bery helpful Good article. Thanks!
  • Great article. "I" had never thought of this before, but it is SO true.
  • Very insightful! I will definitely be putting the "I", back into my way of thinking

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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