Improve Mental Toughness Before Trying to Lose Weight

When you're on a mission to lose weight, mental strength is a gamechanger. There's a reason why motivational quotes, articles and T-shirts are so inspirational! But what about the planning stage, when goals are just a glimmer in your eye? Mental strength during this period of preparation is just as—if not more—crucial.

Perhaps you were just diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, or you're craving more energy so you can play tag with the grandkids. Or, maybe you've been bucked off the weight-loss train and want to give it another go. Regardless of the reason, how you plan a weight-loss mission can (and will) set the tone.

Unsurprisingly, like all lifestyle changes, reaching for health goals can be one heck of a bumpy ride. "You will encounter frustration, obstacles and stress," explains  Candace Rhodes, a personal trainer and creator of Rhodes To Strength. "How you mentally [prepare for] these issues will determine whether you succeed or give up."

What's So Special About the Goal-Setting Stage?

Whether it's your first or tenth attempt, the goal-setting phase isn't always easy. It involves hard conversations with no one else but yourself. And now you have to think about thinking, too?

It may feel like extra work, but prioritizing mental prep is key. It's a lot like double checking your refrigerator before heading to the grocery.   

"Mental preparedness [promotes] a healthy, balanced lifestyle by making you aware of your weaknesses while figuring out effective health strategies from past experiences," says Dr. Zubaida Qamar, a nutrition researcher and health educator in California. She adds that it can go a long way, considering we are surrounded by so many distractions and temptations. However, by honing mental strength, we are more likely to stay on track from the get-go.

Rhodes even identifies mental strength as the deciding factor in a successful (or unsuccessful) weight-loss journey. After all, as mental toughness improves, so does the understanding of self and habits. In turn, there is more space for balance and success.

6 Ways to Improve Mental Strength Before Diving In

1. Acknowledge Changeable Habits

This might seem like an obvious first step. Yet, the practice of deciding which habits to make and break goes beyond just planning—it fuels the fire of your mental strength.

When you accept the need for change, you make room for growth. Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from challenges, also improves. You'll be more likely to "thrive"—and not just "survive"—throughout the journey.

This type of self-knowledge and understanding of your habits is a gateway to success, shares Rhodes. Furthermore, you'll promote self-compassion, or the practice of being kind to yourself during tough times. (Don't forget, you are only human.)

Not sure which habits need the boot? Rhodes suggests reflecting on past experiences to find noteworthy behavioral patterns. By doing so, you can determine what needs to be tweaked this time around. <pagebreak
2. Plan for Bumps

While it's important to be optimistic, recognizing the presence of challenges is a healthy part of goal-setting. After all, even positive change isn't always a smooth ride. Bumps and hiccups are natural with any big life adjustment.

Ask yourself: What are the potential setbacks? How will I handle them? Am I willing to learn from the scenario, whatever it may be? Simply being aware of these situations is an awesome way to flex those mental and emotional muscles.

To bring it one step further, take a tip from Rhodes and ditch the concept of "failures" or "setbacks." Instead, look at these bumps as feedback. "Your results are lessons [of what] you need to learn [and what] will get you closer to success," she explains. With this outlook, you'll be able to better navigate and tackle potential future challenges.

3. Strategize Solutions  

In addition to acknowledging the expected bumps, developing a strategy can help you handle, limit and even avoid altogether.

"Thinking about potential scenarios [can help you] figure out the best health solution in those situations," says Dr. Qamar. As a result, you can weave the solution into your game plan as you change habits and face potential motivation busters. Knowing you have a plan of attack in place beforehand can provide a sense of control when things are not exactly going your way.

Let's say you tend to eat out when work gets crazy, for example. After recognizing this habit, think about how you can meal prep in a way that works for your schedule. For instance, if you're not a morning person, focus on preparing healthy breakfasts like frozen veggie quiche cups and overnight oatmeal.

Strategizing also comes in handy for social situations, like birthday parties and restaurant outings. If you often show up hungry, reflect on what you can do to control hunger before heading out. Expecting happy hour hangouts every week? Consider stashing healthy snacks at your desk and learning about diet-friendly drink options. If portion control is your weak spot, plan to order half-portions or appetizers as meals.

"[While] it may be trial and error in the beginning, one needs to be aware of the barriers and motivators of behaviors," shares Dr. Qamar. "[This] awareness will help you pre-determine how to tackle a situation."

4. Honor Your Calendar

When it comes to adopting new habits, a calendar is a tool for consistent change. It doubles as a foundation upon which mental strength can be built.  

A calendar is especially useful for sticking to an exercise routine. "A lot of time and decision-making energy is wasted trying to figure out when to fit in our workouts," says Rhodes, who notes that many people do this at the end of the day when they're likely more tired and stressed. "Instead, honor your calendar and respect workout times like it's a meeting or deadline."

The almighty calendar doesn't stop at fitness, either. You can plan meal prep in advance, a practice that saves you time, money and calories. The perks even extend to meal times, as you can plan to snack if you can visually map out a long day of meetings.

Calendars keep you accountable before the going gets tough. Moreover, in the name of mental strength, it cultivates awareness of your own time and priorities.<pagebreak>
5. Check in With Reality  

There's nothing like a good reality check to toughen up your mental health. In this case, it's vital to recognize that weight loss is a journey, not an overnight result. By accepting this reality, you can dive in with a better head on your shoulders.

It's a smart move to realistically approach personal achievements, too. "Set goals that are measurable," recommends Rhodes. "You can't determine if you are successful if you cannot measure progress." Plus, being able to gauge how much you're kicking butt is a wonderful way to reinforce effort.

For example, instead of striving to "eat more vegetables," aim for five daily servings in the form of checkmarks. Want to be more active? Tack on five more minutes to each workout or walk an extra block on your daily stroll. Whatever your goals may be, planning measurable habits that can be developed and cemented over time will get your expectations in line. This, according to Rhodes, is exactly what will help you face and persevere the long yet worthwhile journey.

6. Rally Your Support Crew

There's no doubt that a solid support system can have an incredible influence. In fact, a 2012 study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that exercising with a competitive partner improves motivation and duration. Even online workout buddies are linked to longer workouts, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

But why wait until the journey starts? By fostering relationships as you prep, you'll feel supported from the get-go.  

"Enlist an accountability partner to remind you of the things you wanted to do at the beginning," Rhodes encourages. "Because you have someone to report to, you're more likely to keep the promises and goals you made for yourself." Even better, honest feedback from accountability partners will offer valuable insight into your past or current behavior.

Finding accountability partners may seem daunting, but there are countless places to look. Friends and family offer trust and comfort, while co-workers are more likely to have similar schedules. Familiar faces in exercise classes may have overlapping schedules. Facebook, Twitter and community support message boards are home to virtual partners, options that can be especially beneficial if you're an introvert.  

7. Practice Meditation

Weight loss isn't just about breaking a sweat. Aside from promoting good-for-you habits, a regular meditation practice is amazing for cultivating mindfulness. With a little meditation, every bullet on this list will benefit and flourish.

While the weight-loss journey is laced with bumps and challenges, meditation improves the way we handle these negative emotional experiences, states the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. It's mental strength at its finest.

Beyond mental toughness, a 2011 article in the Journal of Obesity found that meditation can regulate emotional eating in overweight and obese women, while a 2016 Mindfulness study also links meditation to healthier food choices. Talk about a win-win. Start with a guided meditation online or using an app to center yourself and get on the road to clarity.

While mental strength is important during every step of this journey, nurturing it early on will set you up for success in the long run. Most importantly, mental preparedness allows space for a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Rhodes reminds us that this ability to face potential negative experiences you may encounter is exactly what will boost resilience and perseverance. In other words, you'll be able to thrive throughout your weight-loss journey—and beyond.