Ways to Stay Motivated to Lose Weight
(aka How to Get Motivated to Lose Weight, Diet, and Exercise)
By Kristen Brooke Beck
Content Updated August 10, 2007
You know the reasons why you should lose weight, but how can you stay motivated once you start your new healthy lifestyle?
Don't Wait for Motivation
If you wait to get motivated, you'll be waiting for the rest of your life. You have to create motivation, the same way that a drug addict or alcoholic needs to create the motivation to kick the habit. If you do just keep waiting, just like an addict, you may wait until it's too late, when you've hit rock bottom, after you've had your first heart attack, stroke, or diabetic complication (or your last if it's fatal) or can't walk anymore because your bones and muscles can't support your own weight. Don't wait. Don't wait. Don't wait.
Start by getting up and moving. Don't just say, "I'm going to lose weight this time." Really get up and do something about it. The very act of getting up and moving triggers parts of your brain that tell your body, "I'm serious. I'm going to do this. I'm going to get fit." And believe it or not, your body will listen, and you'll officially be on the road to a healthier life.
Make it happen, now! Right now, get up and march in place for 30 seconds. Don't even wait to finish reading this article. Just get up and do it. If you can't march in place, then just stand up, do arm circles, reach for the ceiling, and twist at the waist. If you can't stand up, then sit and do arm circles, reaches, and twists. Just start moving. Before you know it, you might even discover that the 30 seconds of moving just wasn't enough. You might find yourself exercising for a minute, or 2 minutes, or even 10 minutes. And then, all of sudden, you'll realize, you're getting a workout. So get up! Get up! NOW!
Sign a Contract with Yourself
I know it sounds silly but there's something about writing it down on paper that makes you realize that you deserve to be healthy. You deserve to lose weight. You deserve to have energy and flexibility and strength.
When you write your contract to yourself, be specific. Don't just say, "I promise myself I'll lose weight;" it's too general. Instead say, "I promise myself that I will walk for 15 minutes every morning, even if I'm tired. I will eat one fruit with every meal. I will have 2 veggies with lunch and 2 more with dinner. Whenever I have a choice between eating white bread or whole grain bread, I will choose whole grain. I will not eat or drink anything that has corn syrup or hydrogenated oils in it. I will choose water or tea (with no more than 1 small spoonful of sugar) or diluted juice instead of drinking soda, sugary drinks, sports drinks, high calorie coffee drinks, or milk based drinks."
This time, it's going to be different. This time, you're serious. And you've got a contract with yourself to prove it.
Chart Your Progress
Charting your progress gives you the opportunity to see how much you've improved over time, how all of those seemingly insignificant little steps have added up to big things. It also makes you stay honest with yourself. You can't say, "Oh I worked out three times last week," when your chart clearly shows that you only worked out once.
Get on that scale, weight yourself, and write it down. Make a graph out of it, so you can see that little line going up and down. Now post it somewhere you'll see it frequently (especially when you eat, like your wallet when you eat out or the refrigerator when you're at home). The more that line goes down, the more satisfaction you'll get.
Also chart your exercise. Give yourself a gold star for every day that you exercise. Write down how long you were able to walk, jog, dance, etc. Write down how many crunches or pushups you did.
Then chart your food. Give yourself a happy face sticker for every day that you drank water with a squeeze of lemon instead of soda at a restaurant or for every time you chose whole grains instead of white bread, white rice, or white pasta.
Visit Your Doctor
Get a full physical exam. Tell your doctor that you would like to lose weight and you need some motivation. Your doctor will likely check things like your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, etc. The results are often motivating in themselves, because bad numbers mean that you have a shorter lifespan than healthier individuals (on average). Also, be sure to tell your doctors about any symptoms you have (e.g. snoring, being tired, being out of breath, mood swings, etc.). Your doctor may be able to tell you which symptoms are caused by your excess weight. Your doctor can also help you understand what problems your excess weight will cause for your health and lifestyle in the future. (Note: If you're doctor doesn't seem to take your weight loss goals seriously or doesn't answer your questions about how being overweight will affect you long term, then get a new doctor. Find somebody who understands how important this is.)
Keep a Journal
I'm definitely a diary keeper, and I'm happy that I am. When I'm lacking motivation, reading through old journal entries can often remind me how far I've come and give me the confidence to keep going. I can see that I've had obstacles before, and I overcame them. I can read about how tired and depressed I felt before a workout and how I energetic and alive I felt afterward.
So get a diary and start writing. It doesn't need to be a fancy book (although sometimes it's nice to have one). You can use a bunch of papers stapled together. You can write it on your computer and print it out. You can start a blog online (lots of blog services are free). Just start writing about your experience.
You can also add photos to your journal. And if you create a digital journal, you can also add video clips.
Exercise First Thing in the Morning
You can't procrastinate when you've already finished your workout because you did it right after you woke up. This also sets the pace for your day, high energy, and reduces your appetite all day long.
If you can't exercise immediately after you wake up, at least exercise as early as possible in the day. Get it over with, so you won't have to spend the rest of your day thinking "I need to work out" and feeling guilty about it.
Watch Weight Loss and Fitness Shows
There's something about watching a show on television or on the Internet about somebody who lost weight. It gives you that I can do it too feeling. You also might learn something new that will help you in your own weight loss experience.
For me, I like to record these shows with my DVR or download them from the Internet and que them up while I exercise in front of my TV when I'm half asleep in the morning. I don't have to worry about the weather outside, and the stories reminded why I'm working out even though I'm so tired.
Focus on Little Goals
"I want to lose 100 lbs." is hardly a little goal. Instead, focus on losing just 1 lb. If I lose 1 lb. I've succeeded. Likewise, focus on exercising for just 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. rather than running a marathon. Focus on eating a healthy breakfast or skipping snacks after dinner instead of how many calories you ate during the entire week. It's the little goals that make the real difference. Each step you achieve should be a celebration because it means you are just a little better than you were yesterday.
Just Do Something
This is closely related to the little goals you set up for yourself. If you ever catch yourself dreading a long workout, just give yourself permission to do 5 minutes or one set of sit-ups. If you just do the minimum, hey, at least you did something, and that's definitely better than not doing anything at all. Chances are, though, you will find yourself doing more than the minimum, and maybe you'll even do the whole workout.
Work Toward Fitness Goals
Maybe you want to run a marathon, jog a 5k, or just walk a mile. Maybe you want to become a black belt in martial arts. Maybe you want to win a bike race (or at least show off your mountain biking skills to your friends). Such goals can help you lose weight. Focus on the goal (just try to improve a little every week), and by training for it, the exercise and weight loss will follow.
Draw a Picture of Yourself
Don't giggle; I'm serious. This is a psychological exercise that gets lots of different parts of your brain involved in thinking about how you look right now. Try to draw the picture as accurately as you can. Then compare it to a photograph of yourself. Your work of art may make you realize just what you really think about yourself.
Take Before and After Photos
Photos are amazing. I make sure to take lots of photos of my and my family, and I look at them daily. It's nice to see a photo and remember back to when I had a triple chin and know that I don't have one now. It's also nice to take those front-view and side-view photos in my underwear. The first ones motivated me just out of pure shame. Seeing my progress, though, has helped me realize how much better I look today and how much better I'll look tomorrow.
Read Your Labels
When I'm drooling over my favorite junk food at the grocery store, motivation is often just one glance away. I read the label. Most of the time, the number of calories, fat grams, or sugar grams is enough to put me into shock, and suddenly, I'm not so hungry for it anymore. If I still have a craving for it, looking at that label will motivate me to find a less harmful alternative or even learn to make my own healthy version.
Lie to Yourself
I know you weren't an athletic person last year or yesterday or even 10 minutes ago, but right now, at this moment, you can become an athletic person. Just lie to yourself. Say it out loud, "I'm an athletic person." Now, let's think about this. What do athletic people do? What are their lifestyles like? What do they eat? What do they not eat? What do they drink? What do they do in their spare time? How much of a priority do they put on exercise? When do they exercise? Now it's time to live the lie.
Start acting like an athletic person. Lie to yourself every morning. Wake up and say, "I'm athletic. I'm athletic." Then get up and start your workout and your new athletic lifestyle. Eventually, you'll start to believe it, and then you can brag to others about your athletic life: "So I was going for my morning jog...." Eventually, other people will also see you as an athletic person, and now you'll have a reputation to uphold. Before you know it, you'll really be an athletic person, and you'll develop the athletic body to go with it.
Take a Class
Let's say you join a gym because you think that paying for a membership will motivate you to actually go and work out. This can work for some people, but most people tend to lose the motivation to hit the gym after awhile. They start putting off their morning workout until their lunch hour, then putting that off until after the work day, then eventually skipping their workout completely because they were just too tired. Several weeks later, they realize that they've paid for an entire month of gym membership but never went to the gym. So what's the answer there? Join a class.
Joining a class is even better than just joining a gym because, in addition to paying for that class and wanting to get your money's worth, you'll have a schedule to keep you on task. From 7pm to 8pm, you're going to be in a dance class, martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, or aerobics because that's the only time when the class is offered, and the teacher is expecting you to be there. No procrastination allowed because they're not going to put the class on hold for little ol' you. Plus, you'll likely end up making some friends in your class, so you'll look forward to going and socializing with your new pals while you get a workout.
(If money is an issue, try signing up with a community college PE class or a class at a community center.)
Tell your family. Tell your friends. Start a website, and tell total strangers. It's amazing how publicity can be motivating. Most of us don't like disappointing people, so there's something about knowing that people are expecting you to drop a few pounds that makes you want to reach that goal and convinces you to eat just one cookie instead of the whole bag of cookies or to finish that workout instead of just skipping exercise for the day. Yes, peer pressure can be a good thing.
Join a Support Group
You can join a group online or in person. It's just nice to know that other people out there are going through this fat struggle too. You can also get tips from them, whine to them, brag to them, and give them support too. If you end up making friends there, you may even end up feeling needed and loved, which helps fill some of those emotional voids that we often try to stuff with food.
Only Do Hobbies While Exercising
Like watching your favorite television show? Like listening to audio-books or music? Like talking on the phone? Well here's the deal. You can only do your favorite things if you're exercising while you do them. Want to watch TV, then you have to get on your stationary bike or climb up and down on your step bench to do it. Want to listen to music, then you have to grab your music player and go for a walk or clean your house from top to bottom. Social phone calls can be done while you're strength training or stretching (so you aren't too out of breath to talk). You can even make deals with friends and vow that the only time you'll see each other is when you're walking, hiking, biking, etc. It's amazing how well multitasking in this way can make those dreaded exercise routines enjoyable.
Reward Yourself with New Clothes
For me, the reward comes with the loss of every 10 lbs. Lose 10 lbs., buy something to wear (something indulgent, not just some used pants from the thrift store). You don't have to buy a new wardrobe. Just buy an outfit or two. Clothing is not just a reward. It's also a highly motivating measurement tool. Every time you drop a size, you can beam with pride as you now get to look for clothes with the XL tag instead of the XXL tag. When you finally move from the fat sizes section to the regular sizes section, you can throw a party. (Don't forget to buy some new shoes too. You're feet even get thinner.)
Avoid People Who Discourage You
If you can avoid them, do it. If you can't, at least talk to them about how their attitudes are affecting your progress. Be honest. It can be tough, especially when Grandma is making you feel guilty about not eating a pound of her homemade cookies, but be firm anyhow. Even if they get angry or start crying, just remind yourself that you are doing the right thing. Give yourself a mantra if you must: "I'm going to be healthy, and I'm not going to let anyone, no matter how much I love them, stop me." Just standing up to such people will give you a new sense of confidence that you can use to keep you on track to meet your goals.
Weigh Yourself at Least Weekly
Getting on that scale and seeing the numbers jump up or down is a quick way to remind myself to stay on track. I highly recommend getting a digital scale, so you can see the fraction of a pound you're gaining or losing.
Weigh Yourself Daily
Even better than weighing yourself weekly is to weigh yourself daily. Getting on the scale the next morning after stuffing yourself at a wonderful Italian restaurant and seeing that you've gained half a pound because of it is an excellent way to get motived to eat healthier and to exercise more.
Measure Yourself Monthly
I keep a log of my measurements, and every month (or sometimes every other month) I measure myself (e.g. neck, upper arms, forearms, wrists, chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves, etc.). It's certainly nice to see my log of number progressively getting smaller.
Make Plans to See Your Old Friends in 1 Year
Set a date 1 year from now. Call your old friends and tell them when you're going to visit them. Make plans. Now you have a deadline. Now you have a reason to lose weight and look good. Impress them.
Promise Yourself Something BIG
You know how you have that list of things you wish you could do... someday. Well, guess what! When you reach your goal weight, you get to do one of those things. Pick one: travel to another country, go on a cruise, get cosmetic surgery, get laser hair removal, redecorate your house, or buy something you've always wanted. Of course, you'll need to save up some money to do this as well, but it's worth it. You get healthy, you look good, and you get to cross something off of your dream to-do list.
See other Kristen's Guide topics in this category.