Updated: Jun 1, 2022
We like to think we’re rational, but we’re not. Your ability to make decisions is affected by a great deal of factors, especially your emotional state. Motivation to commit to a weight loss journey is not consistent. You will, guaranteed, go through stages in your journey. Like many others, I’ve found my fitness motivation unpredictable at best. I could start off as disciplined as Bruce Lee, only to have my iron will devolve into a puddle of “feed me everything” in a matter of minutes. I know I’m not alone; most women experience this. You start out with the Hype, manifesting your inner Rocky, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing in the background, you’ve got this! Then the Honeymoon, everything is AMAZING!!! Sticking to your diet, you are committed, you feel great. Regrettably, this feeling does not last very long. Enter the Plummet, a discouraging gut wrenching, ‘feeling sorry for myself’ emotion that leaves you totally out of control. Then, urgh….to compensate for the Plummet, the Relapse. We want to take back control of our feelings and resort to our comfort zone, the lifestyle you are used to, this includes you’re eating habits. At this point many women give up, the guilt and feeling that you failed crushes your determination and you give up. Others, eventually regain a sense of rational, followed by the Surge, you swear to get back on the horse and commit again to lose the excess weight. Once again, short lived, I present to you the Slip, just that one piece, can it really make such a big difference? Losing weight is a journey, some get it right the first time and have Yoda willpower, others struggle. It's hard to lose weight, and its okay to struggle. We cannot measure our progress using someone else’s ruler.
The Danger of Relying on Motivation
Relying on motivation for weight loss success is akin to betting that your favourite Game of Thrones character will be around at the end of the season: it is probably not going to work out in your favour. Think about your typical New Year’s Resolution. You’re super excited about getting healthy and you can’t wait to hit the gym every single day and consume organic salads for the rest of your life. At no point do you feel you are being irrational, even if your history with New Year’s Resolutions says otherwise.
When March rolls around and you failed—probably due to a poor effort-to-results ratio, you resort to justifying your failures. Perhaps work got in the way, or you decided to “accept yourself for who you are,” and so on. This happens to all of us, all the time. When it comes to weight loss decisions, we assume ourselves to be rational regardless of our emotional state. This, paradoxically, means that we’re not being rational at all. Here is how to use the best of those feelings to make better decisions and achieve your fitness goals.
The Five Weight Loss Mindsets States
Our mindsets are driven by two main factors. Your motivation levels and your energy levels. These states can last anywhere from minutes to days. Sometimes these different mindsets are spontaneous and appear with no rhyme or reason.
The “Objective” State
Energy: Normal Motivation: Normal In this state, you are being objectively rational. You absolutely understand the trade-offs of your weight loss decisions (do I join my friends for unplanned pizza’s and happy hour or do I just go home?) and make decisions that optimise both your weight loss progress and your emotional and mental satisfaction. Ideally, we would stay in this state permanently...but we all know that does not happen.
The “Committed” State
Energy: High Motivation: High In this state, almost nothing can derail you from your fitness goals. You do whatever you can to execute your diet and training program, and nothing can get in the way. This is a good time to make sure that the nitty gritty details of your weight loss regimen are sorted, because let’s face it: the logistics are a pain to deal with. So, you might as well maximise your productivity while you are in this state. Ride it out while you can, and plan, plan, plan.
The “Indecisive” State
Energy: Medium to High Motivation: Low In this state, you cannot bring yourself to go to the gym or prepare your meals, but your energy levels are still high, which often leads to outlets like binge eating or drinking. It can be easy to undo the progress you have already done in the Indecisive state. Ironically, this state is often brought about after continued progress in which you feel that “cheating” some of it away is justified. You still want to be successful in losing the weight, but the original focus and drive you started with has disappeared. As a result, you will probably spend some time on diet alternatives or making it up as you go along.
The “Lethargic” State
Energy: Low Motivation: Low The desire to follow your diet is low. If this state is short-lasting, you may do everything you can to rationalise why you shouldn’t be following your regimen in the next few hours or days. If it’s a longer bout, you may feel frustrated with your progress and want to quit altogether. You may feel the need to binge eat or drink, but for a very different reason than when you’re in the “Indecisive” state. The justification that occurs isn’t one of rationalising your progress but rationalising your failure.
The “Passive” State
Energy: Low Motivation: Medium to High You have the desire to make good decisions, but follow-through is a problem. Often this is caused by reasons that may be unrelated to weight. For example, you absolutely want to go to the gym to train, but you don’t feel like dealing with traffic or the rush hour crowd. Or perhaps you would absolutely stick to your diet, but you can’t because of the three back-to-back birthday parties coming up. You may have been on a regimen for a bit at this point and have even seen success, but there’s an element of burnout, even if you want to keep going. This may last a while at the tail end of a diet, or it may come about spontaneously when you have to make a diet-related decision, particularly at the end of the day.
How to Switch to a Better State and Make Better Decisions
Unfortunately, moving between states is not easy. They involve feelings, which are difficult to change instantaneously. You can, however control what you do with them.
If you follow your desires when you’re not in the objective or committed states, you’re setting yourself up for disaster, because your decisions are irrational. Here’s what to do instead:
Catch yourself when you are in a different state. This requires a lot of mental energy. It’s not easy admitting that you’re not thinking rationally, but it does get easier with practice. You can catch yourself being in a different state by reflecting on your thought processes after the decisions you made were not truly objective. You know what your goal is, when you confront your behaviour which deters you from that goal a mental and emotional check in is needed.
Channel how you would think in the "objective” state. This requires a bit of effort. You can’t automatically think into the objective state, but you can think objectively and mindfully about what you would think if you were in the objective state. Pretend you are a coach giving yourself advice, then following it. If it’s a dilemma you frequently find yourself in (e.g., binge eating), you might want to write the future you a note when you’re in an objective state, then read it when you find yourself in that state.
Going against your default way of thinking isn’t easy, but it gets easier. Remember, humans aren’t built to be rational all the time, we have emotions, and we are certainly not perfect. Understand this whilst forgiving yourself for being human, and you’ll be okay.