Why It's Important to Focus on What You Gain in Weight Loss

People jump into health and fitness plans for a lot of reasons—maybe a new diet promising amazing benefits has been floating around social media, perhaps it's part of your new job's health incentive program or you've been roped into a monthly challenge with your best friend. Whatever the reason, if you're anything like the millions of Americans who go full-force into a healthy eating and exercise program, though, there's a good chance you'll lose motivation and regain any lost weight when the initial excitement wears off.

The real question then becomes, why do we keep looking for the "best" diet plan—you know, the one that will finally be the answer to every weight-loss roadblock—without first addressing the real reason why you want to lose weight?

What Is Your "Why" for Wanting to Lose Weight?

Most diet programs focus only on the "what" of weight loss. Participants have a list of foods they can and cannot eat and losing weight is the only pre-determined outcome. Goals are set based on the answer to one question: "How much weight do you want to lose?"

And consequently, your success is measured by the scale, not by how you feel. Unfortunately, when your focus is only on what you want to lose, the results are often short-lived. After all, physical appearance can only bring you so far—real happiness lies in a healthy lifestyle and positive body image.

Shifting your focus from what you want to lose to what you want to gain, or your "why," is no easy feat, though. Ditching the fixed diet mindset can be difficult— especially if your value comes from external sources like your doctor, spouse, friends or societal expectations.

So, what should you do instead? 

According to NASM-certified trainer Dani Singer, director of Fit2Go Personal Training, the key is to forget about all of the external sources telling you (be it directly or indirectly) to lose weight and figure out why you, as an individual, want to get in shape. Defining your "why" before you decide which weight-loss program to commit to is often the single-most important step you can take if you want to achieve lasting change.

But here's the catch: Your "why" can't just be, "I want to lose weight." You need to dig deeper and find out why you actually care enough to proactively work toward self-improvement.

"Your why is everything," says Singer. "If you don't understand exactly how your weight-loss goals are going to affect the important areas of your life, you're going to drop off as soon as you hit the first road bump."

From a psychological perspective, the "why" behind human behavior is as important, if not more, than the "what." That's because when you target a deeper motivation for why you want to lose weight, you're able to target the behavior (the what) that will help you reach your goals.

"Chronic dieting and a weight loss focus are two of the barriers to shedding weight and keeping it off, as well as [being] major promoters of weight-cycling and the despair felt by many people who struggle with food and the scale," says intuitive eating counselor Paige O'Mahoney, M.D.

She explains that weight loss is an external goal and doesn't work as well as internal goals such as living a healthy lifestyle and a commitment to consistent self-care, body appreciation and self-kindness.

Moreover, she says, weight-loss as a goal puts the emphasis on the end of a process, whereas focusing on habits such as tuning into hunger and satiety signals, practicing kind and motivating self-talk, and nutritious eating, focus on the process itself.

Defining Your "Why"

If you are struggling to define your "why" one thing to consider is whether or not you have a personal or emotional investment in what you are trying to accomplish. If the answer is "no," then you need to go back to the drawing board and start over. Try asking yourself these three questions:
  1. Why is losing weight important to me?
  2. Why does that reason matter?
  3. Why do I feel strongly about that reason?
Once you have determined your "why," the motivation to change should be obvious. Singer recommends envisioning your life and detailing exactly what is going to be different as a result of achieving your goals. People who are intrinsically motivated are far more successful than those who are only motivated by extrinsic rewards.

What if your only driving force is that you really just want to lose weight, though? How do you adjust your mindset? While it's easy to say, "I want to lose weight because I want to be healthy, so I'll never drink another diet soda or eat another cookie again," it's rarely realistic. Realistic goals lead to a realistic life, so do your best to set manageable goals that will eventually result in sustainable change.

"It's important to set realistic goals, that you can achieve easily in the first few weeks so you have success—even if it's small—which can help motivate you to keep moving forward," explains nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D. When you're ready and willing to reset your "why," consider the end first. What will be easier when you lose weight? How will your health improve? How will your overall wellness benefit? Will your happiness improve?

Shifting your focus from what you want to lose (i.e., 20 pounds) to what you want to gain—more energy, improved physical and mental health, more quality time with family, etc.—will help you stay on track when you inevitably encounter setbacks.
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Member Comments

I don't have a why yet. Report
great article Report
My reason is medical; so I can live a healthier life. Report
My why is easy. My grandbabies. I have health issues and while losing weight won't make them disappear, the weight loss will make them just a bit less hard to deal with. I will feel just a bit better and the longer I feel better the more time I have to be an active participants in those babies lives. Report
My "why" is definately to look better but it does go much deeper. I want to have control and freedom over what I eat and how I look. I want to be self confident inside and out. I want to be strong. Strong willed and strong bodied. I want to be healthy and active and vibrant. I want to know that I'm doing everything possible and under my control for my own health, well being, and happiness. Being at a healthy, stable weight does that for me.

Dr. Judith Beck suggests writing your advantages and reading them everyday, twice a day for a loooong time. And also to revisit and reread them when things get slippery. It's part of her CBT for weight loss and MAINTAINENCE.

Good timing for a great article. More awareness on this topic needed every where, every day.

Spark on Spark friends! Report
1. Why is losing weight important to me? I want to be healthier. I want to do things like ride horses at the beach, hike Manastash Ridge, be able to run (or at least job), be healthy and feel healthy and good about myself.
2. Why does that reason matter? Because if I feel better about myself, then I will be less depressed and have less depression episodes.
3. Why do I feel strongly about that reason? My work & home life are affected by my actions and feelings. If I feel good about myself, then I will bring that positive attitude to others that I come into contact with.
Realizing one's limitations is part of being realistic. Report
Great Article as always. My motivation is usually to fit into my clothing. I buy new clothing when I have lost weight and normally after a year, gain some back. Other motivations, sometimes it is a reason to catch the eye of someone special. Losing weight tends to give me more confidence in myself. I find I have to renew motivations periodically. Set another goals, or find another strong reason to keep working at it. I am a senior. The bottom line, I am grateful to have my health. A good reason to keep at it. Report
My goal is 100% appearance, the health aspects go along with it. Report
As I age I want to be healthy and be able to live a fun active life is why I wanted to lose weight. Report
My focus is health and appearance. Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Thank you. This is something I need to work on. Report
Excellent article. Report


About The Author

Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, nutrition and wellness. She holds a bachelor's of science degree in exercise science and a master's degree in counseling. She has spent her life educating people on the importance of health and wellness.
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