Weight Loss Success is About (Mental) Priorities

When I was even more of a kid than I am now, my parents would persistently tell  me to get my priorities straight.

“Jake, you should really stop being such a lady-killer and start focusing on your schoolwork.”

Okay, okay, it was more like: “Jake, get off the video games and clean your damn room before you get the belt again!” But I digress…

I suppose all of that scolding talk about priorities (however indirectly) stuck with me to this day.  Not so much priorities in doing certain things, but priorities pertaining to thinking a certain way and developing the proper mindset as it relates to a specific goal. Whenever discussing weight loss, fitness, and general health, I always try to set up a pyramid of importance in my head, ranking the significance of certain states of mind over others.

When fat loss is progressing swimmingly (of course, this is subjective), it is an indication that internal priorities are in order, the right things are being emphasized, and everything is dandy.

However, when attempted fat loss is not going as planned and disordered eating behavior, depression, and self-doubt begin to come to the forefront, it is a surefire sign that priorities are out of whack.

This post is going to outline some of, in my opinion, the more crucial mindset shifts that need to be highlighted, underlined, and boldfaced in the context of weight loss and overall health.

I’ll attempt to interject some sort of entertainment value so that you don’t want to light your face on fire from the boredom of reading sensible advice, but I can’t make any promises.

Let’s begin.

Emphasize Sustainability Over Immediate Gratification

Thanks to the zeal of popular mainstream media outlets, we have been taught to believe the damaging idea of “quick and easy weight loss” and “seven day belly fat blasters”.

Unfortunately for those of us who actually give a shit about unbiased evidence and spreading the truth about weight loss, the concepts of moderation and creating life-long, sustainable habits are not appealing to the masses. As a result, these ideas are swept under the rug and overshadowed by sensational nonsense.

People are attracted to these “quick and easy” solutions because we, as flawed human beings, desire instant gratification. We want results, and we want them now. But the problem is: This mindset does not lend itself to success over the long-term.

We must place more emphasis on sustainability and the big picture. We must think about how the habits we create in the present moment are going to carry over to the future.

What it takes to achieve rapid, short-term results is simply not sustainable. Drastically cutting calories to the point of starvation, avoiding all food that tastes better than cardboard topped with sandpaper, and exercising until your face feels like it’s going to melt off is not a sustainable approach.

However, being rational, understanding the importance of fitting your lifestyle to your personal preferences, and realizing that sustainable weight loss takes time, is

Flexibility over rigidity, long-term results over short-term satisfaction.

Emphasize Science Over Sensationalism

Honestly, it’s quite tempting to jump to the “other”side of the fence and start making controversial, sensational, and bullshit claims in an attempt to garner more popularity. That seems to be the most effective business approach nowadays, no?

It’s easy to say: You know what, screw that complicated science stuff, I’ll just side with the charlatan that makes one-size-fits-all claims and nonsensical recommendations because, you know, he or she sounds convincing.

I would imagine that this is the mindset of many who are scammed by the various hucksters parading around the weight loss industry today; to side with the argument that sounds most convincing. You can’t really blame them. Heck, I was one of those people in the past, duped by the extreme ideas clouding the objective facts.

These “marketing geniuses” prey on the insecurities of those who have struggled with weight management, disordered eating, and overall health markers by offering a simple and easy solution. They claim that all science is flawed, and that researchers have been confused and misled all these years, and that they have the real answer. And they’ll prove it to you, if you just buy their book for $29.99! Yikes.

It’s very important to understand the objective evidence.

It’s also important to understand what constitutes objective evidence. Evidence is evidence. Personal experience is not evidence, guru fairy tales are not evidence, “this one guy said…” is not evidence, appealing to authority is not evidence. Evidence is evidence. The truth is the truth. Those who warp the truth in an effort to expand their pocketbooks should be challenged, criticized, and eventually, laughed at.

If we emphasize or use anything other than unbiased evidence to prove a claim about nutrition, fitness, or otherwise, our bullshit-repelling barriers become very porous.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the “shiny objects”. Follow those who read, analyse, and digest the research with an open mind, rather than those who use provocative language to push their agendas.

Emphasize Taking Responsibility Over Self-Blame

“It’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.” – James Clear

Playing the blame-game can be  debilitating, especially when you  point the finger at yourself, destructively criticizing your own actions and shortcomings.

Listen, achieving any amount of weight loss and sustaining it over a long period of time is not an easy feat for anyone, and there are bound to be obstacles that whole-heartedly strive to obscure your path. Some of the hardships you face may be a result of your own mistakes, or they may be completely out of your control.

The best action you can take: Keep moving forward. Don’t blame yourself, but take it upon yourself to make things better.

James Clear, when describing J.K. Rowling’s (author of Harry Potter) journey to stardom, emphasized the fact that her road was not a smooth one. She battled an abusive relationship, the hardships of raising a daughter in poverty, and multiple rejections of what would ultimately become the bestselling book series of all-time.

James writes:

“I doubt that J.K. Rowling asked to be in an abusive relationship. I don’t think she wanted to have her marriage end in divorce. And I’m sure that she didn’t dream of raising her daughter in poverty. And while it wasn’t necessarily her fault that any of those things happened, she chose to make it her responsibility to do something about it.” She refused to blame herself, and instead shouldered responsibility, both for herself and her daughter.

Regardless of the struggles you’ve been through while attempting to better your weight, health, fitness, or otherwise, you must take responsibility for your situation. No one is going to do it for you. By that same token, you will get nowhere by beating yourself up.

Shoulder responsibility, not blame.

Emphasize Appearance Over Numbers on a Scale

Obsession with the scale is one of the many roadblocks that weight loss hopefuls should attempt to overcome.

First of all, let me be clear: The scale is a great measurement tool when used properly.

However, there comes a point when the scale does more harm than good. No, you shouldn’t be weighing yourself three times per day. No, you shouldn’t do three hours of cardio because you weighed in two pounds heavier than the day before.

Fluctuations in water weight, the amount of food in the digestive tract, and whether or not you’ve “done your business” can all have dramatic influences on scale weight. In fact, weight can fluctuate up to ten pounds throughout the day (personal experience, everyone is different in this regard).

In most cases, pictures and the mirror are more effective tools. Often times, a newbie lifter who wants to lose a bit of fat will put on some muscle mass, look leaner, yet still be  disappointed  because the numbers on the scale don’t reflect progress. This is silly.

Detach yourself from the scale. If people tell you you’re looking sexy as hell, you can see progress in the mirror, and you’re getting stronger in the gym, then you’re doing a great job. Don’t let numbers on some stupid machine derail your psyche.

Emphasize Activity Over Exercise

Nowadays, thanks in part to the stupidity that is The Biggest Loser, people have this embedded pre-concieved notion that, in order to lose weight, they must kill themselves in the gym seven days per week. Sorry, not even Jillian Michaels’ caffeine pills can make this approach sustainable.

I prefer to think of daily caloric expenditure as activity rather than exercise.

This may be a bit of a semantic argument, but I think there is a distinction to be made. The most important one being the fact that some simply don’t want to “exercise”. However, if they are instructed to play with the dogs outside more often, park further away from the grocery store, or go for a walk with their spouse, they’re happy to oblige.

As Jamie Mendell says in her excellent article titled How Exercising Less Helped Me Lose Weight, “When the time comes, just move your body in whatever way feels right, listening to your inner guide. Skip, shake your booty, stretch, run. Do a little bit of everything. This connects you to your intuition and your innate desire to move.”

It’s completely unnecessary to become neurotic about your daily physical activity. While I do support structured training programs, they have their own set of drawbacks, namely when they cause the individual to nitpick and focus on meaningless details.

So, think in terms of activity over formal exercise, especially when attempting to lose body fat. If you’re unable to make it to the gym, go outside and play catch with your kids or simply switch to a standing desk for the day. Don’t force yourself into a set routine if it’s not enjoyable and doesn’t jive with your preferences.

Just move and enjoy that movement. The rest is often meaningless noise.

Emphasize Your Own Opinion of Your Appearance Over Anyone Else’s

Typically, when someone asks me for advice on how to lose a few extra pounds, I ask: Do you even need to lose a few extra pounds? Why do you want to lose these “few extra pounds”?

Basically, I’m trying to weed out those who are doing this for themselves, and those who are doing this to look good in the eyes of others.

At the risk of sounding like a cliche-spouting hippie: Who cares what anyone else thinks?

If you’re attempting to achieve a goal for someone else rather than yourself, you will likely end up falling short.

Emphasize Enjoyment Over Obsession

We obsess enough.

Our job, our schoolwork, our kids, our relationships.

To make matters worse, we consistently distribute some of the obsession we apply to the above areas to facets of our lives that should, in theory, be enjoyable.

We become so fixated on the minutia of dieting and exercise that they become chore-like; almost a vice. People get so caught up in the latest and greatest in the nutrition industry, which encourages yo-yo dieting and unnecessary food rules, along with unneeded obsession coming in for the kill.

Eating is an aspect of life that is meant to be enjoyed, in my opinion. Yes, food is fuel, but it is also so much more.

Food tastes fucking good (no, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your food). Food allows us to come together at the dinner table in a world so hectic that we barely spend enough time with our loved ones. Obsessing over your dietary habits can cause you to  under-appreciate some of the most important moments of your life.

I know that I turned down countless family dinners because I “couldn’t” eat what my mom was serving. I thought I was better than everyone else, and that  I was being conscious of my health and everyone else was being irresponsible.

Don’t fall into this trap.

The same goes for exercise. Exercise should not be a chore, it should be something you look forward to on a daily basis. Of course, this requires you to do exercise that you actually enjoy. If you don’t like to spend hours on the  elliptical, then don’t spend hours on the elliptical.

Put simply: If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to do it for very long. Don’t obsess. Rather, appreciate and enjoy.

Wrapping Up

Where does your focus lie?

Understand that the above examples are just that; examples. They do seem to be common amongst those attempting to lose weight and improve their body composition, but this post needs a healthy dose of context.

Your priorities must be set to adhere to personal preferences and must be related to the goal at hand. This is true for dieting, training, and many other aspects of our daily lives.

Weight loss is, more often than not, an issue of mindset rather than physical capabilities. We must push past our own internal vices in order to acheive and sustain weight loss over the long-term. And it’s not easy. Just like changing any other habit, changing a formerly rigid mindset can be very difficult.

Taking slow, progressive steps is key.

Where are some areas that you feel the need to improve or make adjustments? No one’s perfect, so let’s hear some of the mental blocks that are holding you back in the comment section below.

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