I sat listening quietly to the women in my monthly weight-loss support group talk amongst themselves over the conference line. Marge was sharing how happy she was to be back to her regular daily walks after months of being derailed by her broken ankle. She was sad that five pounds had crept back on but felt determined and ready to get back down to her pre-injury weight. "You can do it!" Sue cheered, "I remember you gained 20 pounds the year your mom passed away, but you got back down to maintenance. If you can take off 20 pounds, five will be a walk in the park."
Every month, the group members reconnect to swap stories, support one another, and share anything new they have learned in the field of weight loss to help them continue their journeys. Some are maintaining at their goal weight; others are still looking to pare down. They range in age and life experiences, but what they all have in common is resiliency. Each one of them has experienced setbacks, and not a single woman has given up!
There are a lot of personal strengths that are helpful for achieving permanent weight loss: determination, perseverance, self-discipline, even organizational skills. However, the one strength I believe to be vital is resiliency.
Resiliency is the capacity of humans to come out of extreme shock, damage, injury and trauma and get back to normal life. However, Robert Brooks, author of The Power of Resilience, feels that we should not foster a resilient mindset just to safeguard against the possibility of unfathomable crisis and tragedy. His research has led him and others to believe that a resilient mindset will help us handle even the "minor" setbacks, disappointments and problems of ordinary living.
Another author and researcher in the field of developing resiliency is Emily Werner. She states, "Resilience reflects the concept of 'reserve capacity.' It helps us prepare for future adversity and enables the potential for change and continued personal growth."
I particularly like this concept as it relates to permanent weight loss, which requires adjustments to one's habits and lifestyle. Many who achieve and maintain their weight-loss goals report that they have changed not only in body size but also in mental toughness, finding strength, perseverance, and determination they didn't know they had—and developing, sometimes for the first time in their lives, the inner belief that they can succeed at whatever they put their mind to. Along with weight-loss success came increased confidence and self-esteem, not necessarily because of their new body, but because of their success at reaching a goal.
I would define resiliency as our ability to bounce back from life's adversities and difficulties within a reasonable time frame, and the ability to be flexible and adapt to difficult circumstances. Simply put, when we are resilient, we stand up again after falling down, learn from and evaluate our mistakes, and keep trying even if we have to change directions. When working toward a goal we find meaningful and valuable, we don't give up. In my mind, fostering a resilient mindset is vital for permanent weight loss.
Weight loss is never a straight path. Seldom, if ever, do you hear about an individual who makes the decision to lose weight and does so without ever having setbacks. You might lose three pounds one week, and be up one the next. You do a fantastic job sticking to a healthy diet throughout the holiday season, and then lose your job and start the new year soothing yourself daily with ice cream and cake. You were exercising consistently five times a week, and then realize you haven't been to the gym in months because you're overwhelmed taking care of a sick parent.
When you make a decision to try again, to get back on track after a setback or even start over, that's resiliency! You proclaim and you believe, "I've done it before and I can do it again!"
The National Weight Loss Registry is a large, ongoing research study of several thousand individuals who have maintained weight loss. To be part of the study, participants need to have lost a minimum of 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. Registry members have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for five and a half years. However, most registry members didn't permanently lose the weight on their first try. Nearly 60% of them had tried to lose weight and keep it off five times before finally achieving success. Close to 20% had dieted three to four times before finally figuring out what worked best for them. If that doesn't demonstrate resiliency, I don't know what does!
Successful, sustained weight loss is usually achieved despite setbacks and plateaus. Dealing with and accepting the disappointment of the scale not going in the direction you hope, or as fast as you would like, is important if you're going to make it to the end goal. When that happens, rather than giving up, the resilient individual will re-evaluate what's been going on, be willing to try a different approach, and keep going. They rarely feel hopeless, or if they do, they stay in that state for a very short time. They remind themselves—as the weight-loss group members reminded Marge—that they have weathered storms before, and move quickly to a place of recovery and resolution.
If you are thinking resiliency is an innate strength of a lucky few, the good news is you can definitely strengthen your resiliency muscle. Here's how to become more resilient in the journey of weight loss—and in life.
6 Keys to Resiliency
1. Accept and face difficult situations head on. Anticipate in advance that challenging situations will arise all the time. Almost every week is marked with a birthday party, unhealthy temptations or busy workdays at home or the office. Be proactive rather than reactive, and plan how you will handle the challenge. Learn more about developing a Plan B to stick to your goals.
2. Believe in your own inner strengths. Take time to remind yourself of past successes in other challenging areas of your life. Identify the strengths you used then, and apply those strengths to your weight loss journey. This is a good exercise to try in the beginning of your journey. Write down those successes in a blog post or a journal. When you start doubting yourself, return to them for motivation.
3. Reframe your thinking. Tell yourself that setbacks are temporary, not permanent. Focus on what is still working, rather than the area where you lapsed. Remind yourself of all the things you did well before that small setback, then celebrate the next thing you did well, like getting up for your morning workout the next day rather than beating yourself up over the thing you did wrong.
4. Talk back to your inner critic. Despite a difficult week, it doesn't mean you are a failure, you'll never lose weight, or all is lost. It only means you had a difficult week, and you have the opportunity to do better in the upcoming one.
5. Try to learn from your setbacks. Mistakes and slip-ups aren't failures; they are learning experiences. Gather data to help you move forward in the future and avoid a similar issue. Treat them as learning opportunities.
6. Find a cheerleader. Children who grow up to be resilient and highly successful adults report there was one person in their life who never stopped believing in them. Brooks refers to these individuals as "charismatic adults." When it comes to weight loss, having just one supportive, significant person in your life is essential. Whether it's a coach, your trainer, spouse or best friend—even your mom—hearing from, remembering, and receiving encouragement from someone who believes in you will help you achieve your goals and strengthen your resiliency muscle.