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What does it really take to lose weight? Over the past week, I asked several people this question and got some great answers. My niece (almost a teenager) said, "You have to eat a lot of salads and you have to not eat Dairy Queen Blizzards and you have to take a walk, even if you miss your favorite TV show." One of my clients said, "Hire the most masochistic trainer you can find and...oh, I didn't mean you, of course."

Ha ha.

The mechanics of weight loss are actually simple - eat less calories than you burn. But, eating less and exercising more require more than just putting on a pair of shoes and going for a walk. For many of us, losing weight requires an overhaul of our lives, schedules, eating habits, exercise and, most importantly, how we think.

This week, I'm talking about the mental side of weight loss and discussing some of the obstacles the mind creates, such as failure, self-doubt and dishonesty. Learning how the mind can derail you may be enough to overcome those obstacles the next time around.

What mental strategies do you use to stay on track? How do you handle times when you question what you're doing or wonder if it's worth all that hard work? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

September 2, 2009 at 3:04 pm
(1) TM says:

You are right. Weigh loss and fitness is about 10% understanding the importance of exercise and eating fewer calories than you burn, and 90% mental. I’ve lost 120 pounds in the past 26 months by utilizing a food diary and striving to eat only 1200 calories a day. I have had periods of good results with consistent weight loss, weeks here and there on plateaus, and then the weeks where I backslid. It is about making choices with every meal, every snack, every sip, every morsel that I consume. The food diary concept keeps me aware of how much I have had and how many calories I have left for the day. It is about knowing that I can mess up and get right back to making good choices. It is hard. It is all the time. It is about making those choices every day, every meal, all the time from now on. Then, there is the exercise. Even harder for me to do on a regular basis, but, again, it is about choices. I do it and reap the benefits, or don’t and don’t feel as amazing as I can. The entire journey is one step at a time and it does not end.

September 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm
(2) Marilyn says:

I agree totally with TM. Most work to do with weight loss starts in the brain. It is a constant struggle, every second, minute, hour, day, week. I have lost almost 50 pounds in the last 10 months and it is very hard. Everything I take a bite out of makes me think!!!!

September 2, 2009 at 5:25 pm
(3) rogue1092 says:

Ditto for me, too. I’ve lost 65 lbs in the last 7 months, and really truly it’s all about how bad you want it. You MUST have the right motivation, otherwise, you won’t stick with it. You MUST have a plan. You MUST have goals outside of losing “X” pounds per week/month/etc., so that you don’t just get all hung up on the scale. And you MUST take charge of your health and educate yourself. You can kill yourself with exercise, but if you’re doing it wrong, you’re not going to get the results you want. You can eat 1200 calories a day, but if those 1200 calories consist of a Big Mac and fries, you’re only sabotaging yourself. You have to figure out what works best for your body and commit and choose things that you can really live with. If you hate running, don’t feel like you have to train to run a marathon. Make the changes that you will stick with for the rest of your life. Don’t fall into fad traps. Also, look at the changes you’re making for the long-term. If you were quitting smoking, that might mean not going outside with your “smoking buddies” any more. If you’re losing weight, maybe it means no more meals out with that particular group of friens that always eats the most unhealthy they can. You may have to do something different in order to spend time with them. Things like that require a complete mental re-set and strategic planning on how to incorporate those “small changes” (ha ha) into your life. But the most important part is not getting discouraged. Remember that every choice is a brick in the wall: while making the wrong choice every once in a while won’t cause the wall to fall, enough bad choices will cause structural failure.

September 2, 2009 at 8:12 pm
(4) Lori says:

I have SO much respect for people who manage to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off. I was overweight for 15 years. I lost 50 pounds 20 years ago and have kept it off. I KNOW how hard of a struggle it is and continues to be. I think I will always be programmed now to think twice about everything I put into my mouth, but I eat just about anything that I want. Just not too much of it. I just want to let all overweight people out there know that YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Be smart about your food choices and remember that exercise is like a snowball effect. The more you do, the more muscle you will have, the more calories you burn at rest, the more you will be able to enjoy the foods you love (in moderation and sometimes even overdoing it, I sometimes do). Don’t ever give up on yourself!

September 2, 2009 at 9:33 pm
(5) Ayanwa says:

While I agree that a large part of loosing weight and keeping it off is a test to ones metal strength. I must add that one must surround themselves with people who are equally invested in their success. I have been struggling with my weight all my life and while it is irresponsible of me to lay the blame elsewhere it is difficult for me when I am surrounded by people who are not invested in my success and seem to hinder me every step of the way. How do I breakaway from such individuals without causing a rift in our relationship.

September 2, 2009 at 10:17 pm
(6) miike says:

Thinking positive and telling yourself you can do it will not only help you lose weight but help you benefit in other parts of your life.

September 2, 2009 at 10:25 pm
(7) ag says:

Drink green tea after every meal 3 times daily. and exercise

September 2, 2009 at 11:14 pm
(8) Trina says:

For Ayanwa, you may just have to let some people go. You have to start putting YOU first. Depending on your other obligations, that may not always be the case, but it HAS to be the case at least sometimes. I know you’ve probably heard this before, but if someone doesn’t want the best for you, then you really need to think long and hard about how much of a role you want that person to play in your life. In my quest to treat myself better, including my body, I’ve had to distance myself from more than few of my circle of friends. But guess what? Others have joined me on my journey and they are just what I need. It’s not easy, but like so many others said, it is a mental choice you have to make, stick to and will probably struggle with for quite a while if not forever. I’ve lost 30+ lbs in the last 4 months, but even better than that – I run 4 miles 5 days a week and I can feel the difference. It’s not easy, but it is possible if you want it.

September 3, 2009 at 7:03 am
(9) Mary says:

Some of us eat to live, and some of us live to eat. Unfortunately, for those of us for who food is the center of our lives, it is much harder to lose weight. Every event in our lives, and every minute of our lives, involves a choice about food. It’s all about making wise choices a priority and not giving in to self-indulgence. Overeating is not pampering yourself; eating a healthy, balanced diet, even though it means not eating everything you want, is the best way to be good to yourself.

September 3, 2009 at 7:07 am
(10) Jane says:

For me, it’s about focusing on what I want, and keeping that picture firmly in my mind at all times. I want fitness, I want better health, and with a bunch of medical issues looming, I want there to be one less concern on the table. It just makes sense when you picture yourself as (however many) pounds lighter. It is possible, it is doable, it just takes some hard work. I do keep a food diary, and I do also keep a workout log, and I am absolutely honest in both. I don’t write that I ran 3 miles if I only ran 2.7. That takes away from the time that I do run 3 miles, and the next time I run 3.5 miles. There is a sense of accomplishment in improving all the time. Similarly, if I eat a chocolate bar (which is a rarity these days), then it doesn’t make sense to not include it in the food diary. Not inputting the calories and fat doesn’t mean that I didn’t eat it! What I have to do is readjust the rest of my day to make up for that chocolate bar. I feel a huge sense of pride in improving myself. I know it can only get better.

September 3, 2009 at 8:31 am
(11) justbstill says:

Mindful Eating is the key to reducing mental chatter, emotional response to food. So when you eat, just eat.

September 3, 2009 at 10:15 am
(12) highintensity says:

its a daily struggle…i try making my workout my main priority for the day. if you get it out of the way early you feel better all day and tend to make better choices.

September 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm
(13) MC says:

I love the article and the comments. All of us in this boat struggle with the mental aspect. I’ve lost 60 pounds and have 17 to go. It’s been slow. Things I’ve learned this time around (I’m in my 40′s so this isn’t the first time I’ve lost but it will be the final time):
1. The honesty factor Paige mentions – I do not lie, disregard or fudge my food journal. I use Lose It! for my iphone and it’s the best journal I’ve ever used and it was free. Anyway, I gave my permission to eat whatever and however much I want as long as I LOG it accurately. It’s amazing how cool that worked in stopping the overeating. I have a goal of 1400 and I haven’t missed it in a year. My excellent food scale has been indispensible. It’s hard to guess wrong when you spot check the eyeballing. I do eyeball amounts darn good after years of measuring. When I spotcheck by weight, I have noticed I’ve never been over the amount I expected. I’m under and that’s awesome because then I get a tad more.
2. Expect sabotage. Well meaning family and friends sabotage fat losers left and right. There’s so many reasons they do, I won’t list them but I’m always aware that few people try to make it easier. OK, I can live with that. I am strong and can say no. And I never feel guilty about it anymore. A big lesson learned. I also don’t spout healthy conversation so I don’t annoy either. I just say no.
3. Exercise even if I don’t feel like it. I give myself permission to not go full tilt if I’m not in the mood. Of course, that competitive streak in me always wins. I might start slowly but I get into it and just go, go, go. Again another mind trick.
4. There are so many others but like the first 3 they all come back to the mental aspect. I 100% agree is is 90% mental to lose weight.

September 3, 2009 at 1:49 pm
(14) Ted says:

At this point I think of food as fuel for my workouts. So I tend to go with “high octane” foods knowing that good food will improve my performance at the gym. Also I noticed eating healthy leaves me satisfied not full ! I never need to take a nap after eating, but I used to want to sleep after eating crap. I also feel like I am respecting myself more by eating good. :-)

September 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm
(15) Cheryl says:

I agree with all the above. I have to say that losing 125 lbs 3xs now, losing weight is not the issue…keeping it off is. So, 2 years ago got a mental overhaul…food is still my addiction, but like most OCD individuals you can pick up others.

I decided that being in my mid 40s health was going to have to take priority over my OC Food Disorder!

I joined a club, one I really felt comfortable in and makes me feel like I’m on vacation instead in a dreary workout gym…it helps me feel special.

I decided to control what goes in my mouth during the week, so on weekends I can enjoy life…I made a commitment to myself. I sway from time to time, but never get so far off track that I have more than 5 or 10 lbs to lose. I usually can take this off in less than 2 weeks with a bit of determination.

I feel successful after committing to it for the past 2 years. I used to be a size 26, now a 4 to 6. I’m back to my youthful figure when I used to be a trainer/aerobics instructor…I could use more energy, but, well I’ll have to wait until science figures that one out.

I do not have anyone close to me who follows this regime, so I’m alone in my fight. Married 21 years, daughter in college…still living home and extremely busy with work, family and social times.

It’s possible! It is very hard and never gets easy for me…but, it is worth it…every single second!

The old saying no pain, no gain…only gets truer with age…so, yes I get aches and pains even though I’m in the best shape of my life.

I admire all who aspire to be fit and healthy because it is one of the hardest things to do throughout life, especially if you have weight or food issues…best to all.

September 3, 2009 at 6:28 pm
(16) LK says:

Weigh loss and fitness always involve a series of short term and long term goals. For me, the short term goal is more important, and is always the same. Doesn’t matter if in the long term I want to lose 10 pounds or run 3 miles, my short term goal is always NEVER QUIT. That way, if I have a bad day where I eat a whole bag of cookies or skip my run, the next day I’m right back in the saddle because my short term goal is NEVER QUIT. It works for me.

September 6, 2009 at 9:57 am
(17) Krissybell says:

Ok. I know that no one wants to hear this, but it is true. I work at a huge fitness center, and I started this well before I ever worked at a gym. You have to change your life to lose weight. Also, you have to keep it changed in order to maintain the weight you like when you finally reach your goal. It is not a magic potion, there is no special pill, and no some people aren’t just “lucky”.

I lost over 30lbs in a year, and continue to keep the same weight, but lose dress sizes. It is not what is on the scale the matter so much. What matter is how you feel and look. You are the one who is going to have to get up every day and look at yourself naked in the mirror.

It is up to YOU to make a commitment to yourself and to keep it!! I work at a place that is open 24/7, and I still hear the “I don’t have time to workout” excuse. I am sorry you have to make time for it if you want to achieve your goals. You owe it to yourself to do it!

September 7, 2009 at 11:05 pm
(18) Bob says:

From someone in their 50′s, I am motivated to eat healthy and exercise as a way to live another 30 to 40 years pretty much free from any serious debilitating illness. I want to be as active in my retirement years as I am now. But as others have mentioned, it is a daily struggle. Every craving must be fought; every “I don’t feel like exercising” must be challenged. Although I have been at my goal weight for the past couple of years, I can’t get my body fat index to go lower than 18%. This is very discouraging. Many times I wonder what’s the use? At times I have to shut out the voices in my head and just stick with my routine. I weigh myself every day and record it on a large calender. I tell myself every morning that I am going to drink 8 glasses of water today. I say to myself throughout the day, “I will not eat anything after 7:30 tonight.” I check every grocery store item for a low fat label and will not buy it if it is high in fat. No matter how tired I am, I go to the gym 6 days a week. All of this takes a lot of mental effort and will power EVERY day. But I do believe in the pay-off: I am in control of my own destiny and will live a long and illness-free retirement. This is the mind game I play on myself.

January 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm
(19) sally says:

It’s really mind over matter, as so many others have stated. Put yourself first, make “you” a priority. No one will ever lose or control it for you. Start today and make it your new way of life. It’s always for the best. You have to motivate you, in good times and bad. Teach yourself to love yourself, you are worthIt! Be your own best friend and confidant. Self respect and self love are good tools to help keep you focused and motivated. Always look within, you own it! Be positive, stay positive, please don’t let the worries of the world inhibet who you are or who you want to be. When you feel better about yourself, you will send a positive energy out there, and we will all benefit!

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