Around the time I decided to quit dieting and trying to lose weight, I signed up for a nutrition class at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Two days a week, I left work, drove downtown, and sat in a classroom with a bunch of 20-somethings and learned about the science of nutrients and how food affects the body. (Which was the farthest thing from my mind when I was dieting and obsessed with losing weight.)
I took this one class and loved it so much that I quit my job and became a full-time student. I studied biology and chemistry, I learned about the psychology of making changes, and I did hands-on training at Grady Hospital, working with all kind of patients — from those who had diabetes to those who were burn victims (and everything in between). Three years later, I became a registered dietitian.
It was amazing. I woke up every day, filled with excitement that I was doing something new and completely different than my old job as a meeting planner in a hotel. (Don’t ever ask me about this. It was traumatizing, and I still have nightmares of being screamed at in the lobby.) I realized that I was really good at working with people, and I adored it. I felt like I was contributing something of value and finally had purpose in my life.
And guess what? I lost weight.
I cannot overstate the importance of having a larger goal — one that has nothing to do with losing weight. It seems crazy, but once you take your focus off of losing weight, you will actually lose it.
How is it possible that being so hell-bent on something keeps you from doing it and that not trying to do it at all means you end up doing it?
Well, here’s how it works. Trying to lose weight is a negative-focused goal that directs all your attention on what you hate — and dieting creates more of the same. That’s because you will inevitably fail — and when you do it over and over again, your confidence gets drained. And if looking at yourself and hating what you see makes you feel bad enough, feeling like a failure makes it even worse.
Here’s how setting and achieving a bigger non-weight-related goal can help you lose weight:
1. It gives you confidence. Rather than feeling incapable, setting and achieving a larger goal makes you feel accomplished. A bigger goal inherently has multiple steps, so you get small wins every time you reach one of the smaller goals necessary to achieve the bigger goal. It makes you feel good about yourself instead of feeling down on yourself and depressed that you’re not getting anywhere.
2. It makes you feel in control. Setting a goal that you achieve entirely on your own — rather than doing a bunch of things a diet tells you to do — puts you in charge and allows you to choose the steps and the path you take. And it’s action-based rather than fear-based: you’re actively working toward something exciting as opposed to having the feeling of dread that you will once again run out of willpower and fail.
3. It keeps you busy. When you work on achieving a more fulfilling goal, you’ll be too busy and too energized to obsess about what you eat — more accurately, what you’re trying not to eat — and you won’t be as likely to binge out of misery or boredom.
The first key is to come up with something exciting that you’ve always wanted to do. Do you want to go to a foreign country? Do you want to live there for a while? Do you want to do a triathlon? Do you want to learn how to cook?
The second is to break it into small steps that are easy to take and don’t overwhelm you. Then you gain little victories that give you confidence. If you want to live in another country, call a travel agent to find out how much it will cost or buy a book to learn about the country. If you want to do a triathlon, go to a bike shop and check out their equipment. If you want to learn how to cook, get online and see if there’s a cooking class near you.
Just like it feels impossible to lose 10 pounds in two weeks, you can’t do a marathon if you can’t even run around the block.
There is no failure when you have a self-directed goal, because you’re deciding what to do and how to do it. If something isn’t working, you try something else. There’s a whole lot of failure if you try and force yourself not to do what you usually do and follow a set of instructions you didn’t come up with in the first place.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but never did? And what’s one step you could take today to get you going? Leave a comment and let me know.
When you shift your focus from what you look like and what you’re trying to get rid of to what you’re capable of and what you can create, you’ll get tremendous positive energy and find the confidence to do things you never thought possible.
Most of us say that once we lose weight, then we’ll do all these things. But the irony is that if we do all those things first, we will naturally lose weight in the process.