Last year I worked with a woman who had been stuck in a pattern for 8 years. From Thanksgiving until January 1st, she’d gain between 8 to 15 lbs. Once the magic of January 1st rolled around, she’d be on some kind of crash diet or cleanse and sign up for training or workout classes and spend the next few months trying to lose the pounds again. She’d lose some of the weight, but not all, so the pounds just kept piling year after year. When we met she was at her heaviest and simply couldn’t go through another holiday season as in previous years.
Last year for the first time in many years, she managed to lose 8 lbs over the holidays. And, for the first time in 8 years didn’t feel like jumping on another crash diet in January.
Since then she’s lost 45 lbs and counting. How did she do it?
It wasn’t diet entirely.
It wasn’t exercise.
It also wasn’t some magical supplement.
It was a very simple thing she changed: her attitude.
Let me explain.
When she told me her story, I noticed she was using words that showed me her all-or-nothing person. She’d say things like:
“…and then I went to this work event and because there wasn’t any good food available, I had the dessert and then a few too many drinks. Or, “at that point I had skipped a week’s worth of workouts and since I had already missed a week, I stopped all workouts.”
She was a perfectionist in her approach to weight loss.
She was able to eat clean meals every day easily for a week, but once she had a single French fry or a piece of something ‘not allowed’, she’d completely change course and eat whatever she felt like because in her mind she had messed up, so she might as well eat whatever.
She was either full-on in diet and exercise mode or did nothing at all. There was no in-between. She believed she could only make progress when she was perfect. Anything less and it wasn’t even worth putting in any effort. And that then led her to undo any progress she had made.
When we discussed the holiday season, I took out a calendar sheet. I asked:
“How many holiday dinners/parties are you attending this year?”
There were 7 major events she was planning to attend.
I showed her the calendar sheet with the 7 events over the course of 35 days.
On average she was attending one event every five days. At that rate, she’d still be making progress because the nutrition approach we came up with, allowed her to incorporate two to three cheat meals a week. Her black and white thinking made her think of the month of December as a total wash, a month to just indulge without limits. The reality was that there were only a few events that added to her calorie intake, which was completely in line with our current nutrition approach on which she had been seeing great progress.
These 7 big dinners alone weren’t the cause of the 8-15 lbs she put on every year, but it was her mindset that led her down a slippery slope. Her brain was running on an old program that just wasn’t working for her. Her thought of: I have all these dinners to go to, so it’s impossible to stick to my strict diet. Might as well just go for it and eat other things that tempt me. I’ll lose the weight in January.”
I asked her if she was willing to try a different mindset for the holidays, along the lines of: “I will be attending 7 dinners and enjoy them with modifications. After all, if I overdo these dinners, they’re not enjoyable anyways. I will find ways to balance out any overindulgence. I’ll continue to make time for short workouts because my goals matter as much in December as in January and the rest of the year. If I want to be fit and strong for the rest of my life, I’ll have to put in life-long effort and not just a few months of the year.
The change in mindset was the biggie that allowed her to make lasting nutrition and workout changes. The idea of being able to make progress over the holidays excited her.
I taught her several strategies to make up for bigger meals, how to use exercise to work off excess carbs, and hacks to boost her metabolism.
I’ll share these strategies with you in the next blog. Stay tuned!