It’s the end of January, and right in the middle of “change” season. Resolution morale is currently high, and I hope that everyone is slaying their goals. It’s no secret that for the majority of people, one of those is health- or physique-related. A lot of high-spirited fitness newbies will be headed into this year with the main questions, “Which diet is best? Which diets work?” I’m here to tell you why this is NOT the correct question.

In truth, a lot of diets work. In fact, most of them do. Whether it’s just a general calorie deficit, or something more specific — along the lines of keto, paleo, Whole 30, etc. — most have some research backing them up. These main diet contenders also have loads of testimonials in their corner, telling you why they are the best and how, “No other diet works like this!” 

It’s a bunch of bull. You could choose any of these and most likely, if you followed the instructions correctly, you’d lose weight. They all result in a caloric deficit of some kind.

Here it is: If diets themselves were the answer, no one would have to lose weight more than one time. Can you imagine? Dieting ONE time and keeping the weight off? 

It’s not so much about how you eat to get there, it’s about the mental and behavioral modifications you use to get and stay there. The habits created during weight loss will always dictate more about your long-term success than what you’re specifically eating. So, aside from a medical diagnosis or hormone imbalance that could make losing weight very difficult, I’ll share some of the reasons you can’t seem to keep off the weight:

Losing weight and maintaining that weight loss are two entirely different procedures.

Both require completely different strategies and diets only tackle one. Most people CAN lose weight successfully. Whether it’s fast or slow, if you restrict yourself to a diet, chances are you’ll succeed for a little while. However, all that time you were dieting, did you do the mental work to figure out why you were overweight in the first place, or did you just delay it? If you don’t tackle the behaviors that are keeping you unhealthy, whether it be emotional eating, eating out too much, or something else, you aren’t learning or changing anything. In other words, that weight loss will not matter, because you haven’t done the work or created the habits to support it.

You do not think of yourself as a person who is fit.

One of the things I often explain to my clients is how habits that seem hard now will not always be hard. Habits are not hard, they are automatic. Building them is hard. Every single habit you have, for better or for worse, was created by you. You just might not give your main ones any notice anymore. People who identify as healthy individuals just do healthy things. For example, they wake up in the morning automatically reaching for a healthier breakfast than someone who usually goes through the drive-thru, and they don’t think it’s work. It just is. They just do. Even if you are successfully doing healthier things, you might not have made the transition to identifying as someone who does those things long term. 

I’ve had a lot of clients who wrestle with the idea that they’ve been seeing me consistently for over a year and are significantly healthier, but still somehow view themselves as the people they were when they started. It’s hard to give ourselves credit sometimes, but we should. Have you been successfully going to the gym? Okay, so why don’t you think you’re a weightlifter, again? Building — and continually reinforcing — the bridge between your old identity and your new one is a huge key to staying with it for the long term.

You’re not comfortable putting yourself ahead of pleasing others.

People who have a support system stand a greater chance of weight loss success than people who don’t, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Everyone deals with peer pressure. Every. Single. Person. People can be a lot more understanding for the first few months when someone is dieting. The harder part is after, when people start to realize you aren’t going back to your old ways. How you navigate this is a huge determining factor to your long-term success. It’s hard to turn down the drink, or the French fries, and no one likes to be pointed out as the wet blanket on Cinco de Mayo.

I believe this dynamic should be explored in terms of two ideas: considering why people care about what you do, and why YOU care about them caring. People who might not have put in the work to keep themselves healthy, or just aren’t choosing to, may be less inclined to support those who do. They may not understand why this is hard work, or possibly it makes them feel insecure. You’ve made the decision to better yourself, and that can make others feel “less than” by comparison.

Change can be hard for you AND for others. However, if you don’t maintain boundaries to protect and reinforce your new lifestyle behaviors, you may have a harder time making this change without keeping yourself isolated. 

Saying “no, thanks” is a muscle, and you need to work to make it strong. People will stop pressuring you once you’ve made it clear that you make your decisions without their help. You should also do some mental exploration on why pleasing others competes for importance with your health and state of mind, because this is a very common stumbling block.

You’ve done too much, too soon.

Changing your routine, habits, and ideas about yourself takes a lot of time. Transformation is the sum of changing a lot of small things. One of the reasons people lose weight quickly after their start date, but can’t keep it off, is because they tackled too many things at once. It’s easy to do everything differently for a week or two, but if you haven’t reinforced habits around how you handle health-challenging situations, how you eat, how you shop, how much you move, and more, you may find it more challenging to sustain your new plan. One of my favorite parts of coaching is pin-pointing the small but specific habits a client needs to develop to build long-term success. Our advice is to change one or two things to begin, then move forward once you feel confident in those new patterns. It’s a fantastic way to keep momentum without hitting burnout levels of effort, and your new habits will be more sustainable over the long term. 

If you’re looking for where to start, check out our blog on “5 Easy First Steps to Take in The New Year for a Healthier, Fitter You.”

By: Charlotte Hornbarger, CPT, CPPS, Pn1