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For successful weight loss, embrace failure

  • Most people quit their weight loss efforts when they don't see visible results. Real success lies in not giving up

For effective weight loss, consistency and a never-give-up attitude is key
For effective weight loss, consistency and a never-give-up attitude is key (Unsplash)

You walk into a coffee shop to meet your friend, whom you have not seen in some time. As you approach, you see something different about her. It’s not her hair; perhaps it’s how her clothes are noticeably looser – she’s lost weight!

Your stomach drops just the tiniest amount because you've been trying and failing to lose weight for ages. “What’s your secret?” you ask, your tone laced with a jealous edge. As she begins to reply with a flippant, “Oh, it's easy, I just…” you immediately tune out because her answer will be infuriatingly easy. You’ve tried every diet. You’ve bought every type of weight loss food or detox tea. You’ve been on every plan. You even signed up for a personal trainer, which lasted as long as you tried each diet. If losing weight was easy, you’d have done it long ago. But it hasn’t been easy. And the only thing that’s changed is that your ego now resembles a shredded punching bag.

As someone who worked as a weight loss coach for many years, I’ve coached both kinds of clients – the chronically unsuccessful and those for whom weight loss has come easily. There isn’t a magical secret or formula I can share that will be the blueprint for success. Instead, there is a series of skills that a successful person masters and it has nothing to do with food, exercise, or having enough ‘willpower’. It comes down to consistency, curiosity, and accepting mistakes, not as failures but as feedback.

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There is no perfect diet plan. There may be better ways of eating than others, but in terms of seeing a real and demonstrable change in body size, most diets have the potential to all lead to the same result. The same goes for an exercise plan. There are thousands of ways to set up an exercise plan for someone in the gym. However, all roads have the potential to lead to the same destination.

So what makes someone successful if there are many ways to succeed, yet only some find it? The first and most simplistic answer is consistency. People undervalue the amount of effort it takes to do the same thing over and over again until it becomes a habit. We often think eating a single salad will catapult us into instant success. We must replicate the healthy eating tenets and go to the gym to exercise frequently enough for our bodies to change. After all, even if there was the perfect diet or exercise plan, don't expect to see change if you don't do it.

I tell my clients that if they don't notice themselves putting on weight, that's the same progression they should expect when losing weight; it will be unnoticeable to the naked eye. There will be a point where they may become frustrated, angry, and want to give up, which is when most people do. You've done all the right things —  eaten your vegetables, learned the push-up, and still, you're not happy with your rate of change. However, instead of quitting, you can become a person who doesn't give up. You can make this monumental change in your attitude by getting curious and digging deeper into your own experience with your behaviour around food.

When people take an interest and invest in themselves, which will remotivate them to achieve their goals, a lot of people will hang onto every word their coach says or read every line on their diet program, trying to capture the magic of success. It sounds easy. However, learning and being unafraid to ask yourself questions, and to stand aside, and observe the answers is difficult. It's what diet and exercise plans don't teach you how to do, but good coaches will – mistakes aren't failures; they are feedback, and they beg you to ask the question: What can I do better?

Putting it all together
Let's take emotional eating. This is a common eating habit that derails a lot of my clients. They can be following their diet plan to the letter every day until one day, a stress bomb hits, and they can no longer emotionally navigate through it and instead process their feelings with food. The more the stress, the more emotional eating episodes we can anticipate.

Most people experience a lot of guilt and shame after emotional eating episodes, perceiving them unrightfully as "failure." When the negative feelings of failure build up so much, we tend to internalize them and run away rather than stand and learn from what the situation can teach us.

The more times this happens in our lives, we start quitting before failure occurs, called "self-sabotage." It doesn't need to be this way – in weight loss, healthy eating endeavours, our careers, relationships, or other personal goals that we may have. We can learn and elevate ourselves beyond the trap of self-sabotage. 

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When it comes to emotional eating, there is a simple exercise that, when done thoughtfully and consistently over two weeks, can shed some beautiful light on emotional eating tendencies and provide us with the information we need to learn and move forward. It's called the "food awareness journal," and it takes a situation that is perceived as "failure" and turns it into a unique learning opportunity to make better decisions in the future. In this journal, you record what time of day you ate, what you ate, how it tasted, and the feelings you had before eating and after. Within approximately two weeks of completing this exercise, you'll notice some pretty interesting trends – what foods trigger you the most, what emotions, situations, or environments cause you to crave food, or the time of day associated with certain food choices.

Whatever it is, you gain invaluable feedback from your perceived "failure" to choose differently in the future. The knowledge becomes power in your hands rather than feeling powerless. For example, let's say that when you're feeling stressed out over a deadline at work, you tend to get up from your desk and go to the staff kitchen, where you eat canteen cookies over the sink for lunch before you race back to the desk to keep working. You know this action doesn't serve your overall plan, but you can identify a different habit to do in that situation. Test it, try it, tweak it, and make it yours.

Jen Thomas is a master women's health coach

Also read: How chronic stress can make people crave comfort food

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