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If you’ve tried to lose weight before, you know that motivation can be the hardest part of the journey—not just finding the motivation to start, but keeping it going long enough to make your results last.
Well, it turns out that there are a few “secrets” to weight loss motivation. Combining them with some of the science-backed weight loss tips below can help you make healthy changes that’ll stick around.
Let’s get started!
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How to find weight loss motivation
When we talk about types of motivation, we break them down into two types:
- Intrinsic motivation is a drive that comes from within yourself—like a personal desire to feel healthier.
- Extrinsic motivation comes from factors outside yourself—like the opinions of other people.
Can you guess which type of motivation is more effective for sustained success with healthy weight loss? That’s right—multiple studies show that people driven by intrinsic motivation are more likely to not only achieve satisfaction with their weight loss attempts but also to maintain that success down the road (Teixiera, 2012).
So what does intrinsic motivation look like in real life?
Do it for yourself
When you’ve been unhappy with your weight for a long time, it’s not unusual that the opinions of others have played a part. Comments from loved ones and even strangers—whether they’re made on purpose or not—can hurt big-time. Many emotions are tied up in our self-image, and feelings about weight can be a stinging trigger.
But try as we might, we can’t control what others think about us. When it comes to your self-image, there’s only one thing you can control—how you feel about yourself.
Starting this journey for yourself, not others, is a surefire way to tap into your intrinsic motivation. It’s a huge first step toward achieving the success you want. You’re worth it!
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Focus on health, not looks
Let’s face it—the desire to look good in a swimsuit can be pretty motivating. But for how long?
Research shows that concentrating on your health and wellness can be a more powerful intrinsic motivator than how you look. Multiple studies have shown that the people who have the most long-lasting success are those who want to take ownership over their health (Teixiera, 2012).
You get a say—you have the power to take steps to be the healthiest version of yourself.
Find your Why
Now that you know what types of motivations are more likely to have the most success, it’s time to dig deep and find yours. It’s time to find your Why!
First, grab a pen and paper. Take three slow, deep breaths, then close your eyes. Visualize yourself feeling healthy and fit. What does it feel like—not just physically but also emotionally? How does this healthy and fit future you feel in terms of confidence? How are your relationships at home and work? What can you see yourself doing better or differently than you can now?
Write down what resonates with you most when you visualize this healthy, fit, future self. These feelings that strike a chord with you are your intrinsic motivation—they’re your Why.
You might see that over time, your Why changes. That’s okay! Our reasons for doing things are allowed to change as our journey continues. But for now, this Why is what’s important to you—so hold it dear to your heart and run with it!
5 keys to sustained weight loss
Okay, so you know why you want to lose weight. And at this point in your journey, maybe you’ve already made some changes and seen some results.
How can you make sure that any progress you see lasts long-term?
Luckily, there are specific steps you can take to beef up your sustained weight loss superpowers:
1. Set specific, attainable goals
You may have seen this mentioned before, but it’s important to set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
When first setting out to lose weight, it’s common to say something like: “I want to exercise more,” or “I want to eat healthier.” But what do those goals mean? If your goal is to “exercise more,” it’s tough to look back a week or two later and decide whether you met your goal.
Instead, set goals that are as specific as possible. An example might be: “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m going to run for 20 minutes when I first wake up.” This is a super specific goal in terms of what and when, is easily measured, and is something you can build upon in the future. It’s also based around a behavior rather than an outcome, which is key—we have control over our behaviors. Outcomes? Not so much.
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2. Include exercise and an eating plan
You might have heard “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” or that “abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s true—while every step you take can have an impact on your weight loss, combining approaches can make that impact even more significant.
A 2012 meta-analysis of studies found that people who combined exercise with a healthy eating plan lost more weight—and kept that weight off longer—than people who only exercised and didn’t change their eating habits (Johns, 2012).
3. Track your progress
Keeping track of your weight, workouts, and what you eat not only shows you the progress you’ve made (go, you!), it can also keep you engaged with your plan of attack.
Research shows that people who track their food intake with a food journal lose more weight and keep it off longer than those who either don’t track consistently or at all (Ingels, 2017). Tracking might seem like a bother, but it’s well worth it.
4. Incorporate others
It’s no mystery why exercise plans like CrossFit and Peloton are a hit—working out with others brings a little extra magic to the experience. The same can be true for other aspects of the weight loss journey. Going through the experience with other people can add accountability, inspiration, fun, and even some healthy competition—and it’s been shown to increase your odds of both sticking with and benefiting from the weight loss plan you choose (Wing, 1999).
So sign up for a class, join a weight loss group online or via social media, or recruit an exercise buddy. It’ll make your journey a lot more fun and successful.
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5. Prioritize your mental health
It’s no surprise that emotions impact our body image, and the weight loss journey can be filled with good days and bad.
In fact, there’s a close relationship between mental health and weight—how we feel influences how we eat, and how we eat impacts how we feel (Rajan, 2017).
Suppose you know that emotions are daggers that easily pierce the armor of your motivation. In that case, learning strategies to deal with your emotional triggers—whether on your own or with the help of a professional—can help you find better weight loss success and make it last.
Keeping your momentum going
Author Jessica Townsend writes: “Small sparks make big fires.”
When you can make little lifestyle changes that you can stick with, they can profoundly affect your life over time.
While it might be tempting to try to make radical changes all at once to achieve a short-term goal, plans like this tend to be hard to stick with and their benefits short-lived.
Instead, keep your intrinsic motivation high and set yourself up for weight loss success by taking small steps over time. View your journey as a process rather than a quick-fix, a journey that’s worth the time because the prize—a healthy, strong you—is absolutely worth it!
Reevaluate your plan
One essential part of keeping your momentum going is to reevaluate your plan and your goals regularly. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do your goals line up with your Why?
- What’s working? What have you found easy to incorporate into your day?
- What isn’t working—and why not?
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When you look at what isn’t working, think about whether small changes would make it easier to make that part of your action plan work. For example, if you said you’d run every day but are finding it hard to get up to do it, maybe tweak your plan a bit—aim to run only three days a week and maybe do a short yoga video on YouTube on the days in between.
When you look at what is working in your plan, how can you build on that? If you’ve found it easy to bring a pre-packed lunch to work two days a week, can you make it three? Four?
Make it a point to reevaluate your healthy habits action plan every few weeks, making small changes here and there whenever needed.
Do this, remember your intrinsic Why, and—boom!—you’ve got the tiny sparks that can keep you fired up and confident in the months to come.
- Ingels, J., Misra, R., Stewart, J., Lucke-Wold, B., & Shawley-Brzoska, S. (2017). The effect of adherence to dietary tracking on weight Loss: Using HLM to model weight loss over time. Journal of diabetes research, 2017, 6951495. doi: 10.1155/2017/6951495. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28852651/
- Johns, D. J., Hartmann-Boyce, J., Jebb, S. A., Aveyard, P., & Behavioural Weight Management Review Group (2014). Diet or exercise interventions vs combined behavioral weight management programs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of direct comparisons. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(10), 1557–1568. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.07.005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180002/
- Rajan, T. M., & Menon, V. (2017). Psychiatric disorders and obesity: A review of association studies. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 63(3), 182–190. doi: 10.4103/jpgm.JPGM_712_16. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28695871/
- Teixeira, P. J., Silva, M. N., Mata, J., Palmeira, A. L., & Markland, D. (2012). Motivation, self-determination, and long-term weight control. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9, 22. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-22. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312817/
- Wing, R. R., & Jeffery, R. W. (1999). Benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(1), 132–138. doi: 10.1037//0022-006x.67.1.132. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10028217/