The Difference Between Losing Weight and Keeping It Off

JANUARY 03, 2018
Have you ever had an idea or desire to pursue something, but you stop yourself before you ever get started?
"I would love to learn how to dance, but I've tried that before and failed so."
"I want to get physically fit, but I've joined a gym before and stopped going so that will just happen again."
"I have TRIED to lose weight before, but I end up gaining it all back and then some."
 
All of these thoughts reflecting on past failures can be boiled down to one internal belief:
"I've tried this and failed before, so what's the point?!?"
 
All too often, we stop ourselves from our own success. In working with my clients who are looking to take charge of their health, to both increase their energy and reclaim their love for life, this is one of the most common mental blocks that I help people to overcome. I think it is a very common, and very sabotaging, belief that you CAN overcome. Let me try to define the problem and offer a solution to getting in our own way:
 
Here is a fact: we have ALL failed at something. Sometimes, we can even fail multiple times at attempting the same thing. But this does not make you a failure! The thoughts that we can sometimes have, where we focus on when we have fallen short in an endeavor, is an actual psychological phenomenon studied extensively by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. This belief system where we get in our own way of reaching success by focusing on perceived failure he coined as "learned helplessness." 

The threshold for when self-sabotage occurs differers from person to person, yet for most people, it does not take as many times as you would think. When you pursue a goal, let's say weight loss, for example, and you do not reach your desired outcome, how you perceive that outcome can shape how you internally process it, translating into actions and inactions you take in the future as a result. If you have tried and tried to lose weight but the scale just won't budge, it is very common for people to view that experience as a failure, and then perceive any future attempts to reach that goal as a 'waste of time', developing a discouragement called learned helplessness.

In Dr. Seligman's book, Learned Optimism, he breaks down learned helplessness into 3 specific patterns of beliefs that can lead us to feel helpless in reaching our goals, essentially thwarting our growth in all areas of our life:

1. Permanence

Looking at people who have 'made it'—that is, are highly successful despite the odds and adversity they had to overcome-—do not fixate on what went wrong, or give it more weight than what it's actually worth. That is not to say they ignore the problem—they recognize it, learn from it, and move on. Their view on their setback is not permanent, while in contrast those who fail can see a slight setback—not even a real failure in and of itself—as permanent. Sounds catastrophic, doesn't it? Yet often times we can fall victim to this mindset. This is not to say that you should ignore things, just don't blow them up into a huge 'end of the world' focus, or give them more energy than they're worth. Instead, focus on this one shift in mindset, this one fact that can be applied to any hardship or setback you face:

'This too shall pass'—If you keep persisting, and try different things, rather than the same approach over and over, and expecting a different result, you will succeed. 
"The most successful people ARE the most successful people because they have failed more than anybody else." -Tony Robbins


2. Pervasiveness

All of us have had an event in our life that we consider life-impacting: graduating school, buying a house, marriage—something that you view to have an immense impact on your day to day. Those examples were all good things, but the same emphasis can be placed on negative things: losing a loved one, kicked out of school, divorce ... the list can go on and on. Sometimes those events can weigh heavy on our emotions, and thus focus, and subsequently our mindset and actions we take. The person that advances despite adversity does not see these events as things that control or dictate their entire life—that is what people stuck in their past tell themselves and believe.
 
Back to the weight loss example, people trying to lose weight can face the situation where they eat more than they initially set out at a social event. Let's take for an example a birthday party: they go into it with the intention, 'I'm only going to have one piece of cake,' but as the party goes on, they also have ice cream, cookies, and a brownie.

'This always happens—I'm such a failure (and then eats even more/gets off track for the rest of the week). I am never going to do this.'
vs
'Wow, I really went over at that party. What can I do differently to plan better next time? I still have the rest of the day to make better decisions. I'm glad I was aware of this—I wonder what contributed to my action?'
 
Big difference, and the mindset enabling a successful loss of weight and then maintaining it falls in large part to this state of mind. The solution to breaking free of pervasiveness of problems is for you to see that in every situation, there is a place/action/decision where you can be in control, and then begin to take action to make that control your reality. Yes, you can!

3. Personal

Have you ever had a discussion with someone and you can tell they are offended, but you didn't mean it that way, so you say something along the lines of 'this is not personal?' If we mentally commit ourselves to a problem as being personal instead of seeing it as a challenge to change our approach, you will feel overwhelmed. Said another way, if you make the issue about your character or identity, the impact goes deep in a negative way. When facing a problem, be very careful of believing that the issue is about your character or you as a person; if you do view it that way, how can you possibly shift to a positive state of mind to overcome it?! 
 
Many times, when you are struggling to overcome an unhealthy lifestyle or relationship with food, it is not about the food at all! Food is used as a coping mechanism for the problems we are facing. The beliefs and internal dialogue we have with ourselves is what drives our actions and inactions to get ourselves to that place we are seeking in our nutrition and personal health. The change starts with your mindset.

Whether it is weight loss, muscle gain, or just establishing a healthy relationship with food, you do have the power. I help my clients through this, paired with sound nutrition consultations as The Diet Doc. If this article resonated with you and you are looking to take your health to the next level, email me at [email protected], I would love to help make your goals a day to day reality.
 
References:
Seligman, Martin E. P. Learned Optimism. Random House Australia, 2011.
Robbins, Anthony. Awaken the Giant within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical & Financial Destiny! Simon & Schuster, 2013.
 
   

Adam Martin, PharmD, ACSM-CPT
Dr. Martin is a licensed pharmacist, having earned his doctorate of pharmacy degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 2012. He is the founder of TheFitPharmacist movement, which strives to empower pharmacists and pharmacy students to thrive in their careers by overcoming stress and unhealthy habits using science-based principles and unmatched support. His passion for helping those in pharmacy led to TheFitPharmacist Podcast on the PharmacyPodcast network, where he provides practical tips for staying healthy while working at the pharmacy, along with interviewing professionals in the top of their respective fields to bring their knowledge right to your earbuds. He merges his passion of pharmacy with the experts in nutrition through being the owner and nutrition consultant at The Diet Doc Pittsburgh North, with the company having over 25 years of success. Learn more and join TheFitPharmacist movement at www.thefitpharmacist.com.
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