Ways To Stay And Get Motivated In Losing Weight

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It should come as no surprise that our weight has a significant impact on, both, our physical and psychological well-being. Carrying excess weight increases the risk of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and coronary heart disease; as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.1 

However, losing weight can be a struggle for many of us. Whether that is because of certain medical conditions, not knowing where to begin, or the frustrating weight plateau that many people hit after a promising start!

If the above strikes a personal note with you, please read on to find out ways to get and stay motivated to lose weight.

How much weight should I lose?

This answer differs for each individual, and the first step in working this out is to understand what your healthy weight should be. This can be done using the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measurement that assesses your weight, based on your height. A BMI over 25 is considered overweight and over 30 is obese;2 in England the percentage of adults within this BMI range has been increasing, which is a big concern for public health.3 A healthy BMI range is between 18.5 to 24.9. However, it would be neglectful to say that this tool does not have its limitations. BMI does not distinguish between excess fat, muscle or bone mass, meaning that it can overestimate the amount of body fat in muscular individuals.4 Nevertheless, for the vast majority of us, it is a good starting tool to help guide our weight loss journey.

For weight loss to occur, there must be a calorie deficit, meaning the number of calories (kcal) you ingest per day must be lower than the number of calories  you are burning per day. This number will vary between individuals, but it is generally recommended to aim for a calorie deficit of 500-600 kcal/day, which equates to a weight loss of approximately 1-2 lbs (0.5-1 kg)/week.5

This can be achieved in several ways. Some people tend to choose diets that restrict their daily calorie intake, while others use a combination of diet and exercise. Whichever method you choose, it is important to avoid losing weight too quickly, so as to minimise muscle loss whilst maximising fat loss.

Physiology of weight loss and weight loss plateau

The process of losing weight is rarely linear and is evidenced by the phenomenon known as the ‘weight loss plateau’. You may have heard of this phenomenon where there is an initial period of rapid weight loss before a point is reached, where the rate of loss slows down before finally grinding to a halt. This is normal and familiarisation with this concept will remove the element of surprise, increasing the likelihood of consistency and hopefully finding ways to overcome the plateau.

Why does it happen?

When we create a calorie deficit, weight is lost rapidly as our body uses up its glycogen energy stores. However, as these stores become depleted, our body turns to our muscles as a source of energy. The downside of this is that, as we lose muscle, our metabolism starts to decrease and we start to burn fewer calories, even if we remain consistent with our weight loss plans.6

Additionally, losing weight is not a purely physical process; it also involves hormonal changes. When losing weight, there is an increase in a hormone called ‘ghrelin’ that works to increase hunger and fatigue; and a decrease in the hormone ‘leptin’, which stimulates satiety. Therefore, as more weight is lost, we experience more hunger and fatigue.7

So over time, we start to burn fewer calories, whilst also experiencing more hunger and fatigue. In this, we can see how the weight loss process stalls, and, sometimes, reverses.

Knowing all of this, how can we stay motivated to keep at it?

How to stay motivated

Know your ‘Why’

“When we know WHY we do what we do, everything falls into place. When we don’t, we have to push things into place.”- Simon Sinek

You may be familiar with Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, where he explains the importance of knowing your ‘why’. Whilst he was speaking in a business context, this principle holds true in many different disciplines. 

Shifting the focus from the end goal, i.e. “I want to lose X amount of weight”, to the reason you made the goal in the first place, can be a powerful motivator when it comes to pursuing that goal; especially when faced with obstacles and setbacks. It is very easy to obsess over every pound lost, to the point where if the scales don’t move in the right direction or quickly enough, we are at high risk of losing the motivation to continue and fall back into our unhealthy habits. 

However, if we choose to remember that we made this commitment to improve our health, and cue any other personal reasons we may have, we stand a much better chance of staying the course and succeeding.

Smash your exercise targets

For those who choose physical activity as a means of creating a calorie deficit, workout plans will vary.At a minimum, make sure you meet the recommended UK guidelines of, at least, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

The NHS website has a useful section on the definitions of different workout intensities. You can find that here.

Do not underestimate non-exercise activity

Outside of your dedicated workouts, are you being as active as you can be? 

A study where 16 individuals were overfed in an 8-week period, showed that they individually gained between 1-9 lbs, rather than the expected 16 lbs. The conclusion was that the amount of energy used up during non-exercise activity also had an impact on weight gain.8 

Therefore, making a conscious effort to incorporate more physical activity into our daily routines can maximise the amount of calories we burn. Instead of driving to the station, why not walk? Set a target of going up and down the stairs ten times a day, stand more. Little targets like these, over time, will have a significant impact on your overall weight loss.

Set realistic expectations

A lot of us tend to set unrealistic expectations or choose processes that do not fit our lifestyle. Even the best workouts, performed in optimum conditions, but only for a short period will not have better outcomes than suboptimal workouts performed over a longer timeframe. This principle is so important that it has been built into UK weight loss guidelines. For instance, NICE recommends that a lifestyle weight management programme (WMP) should last for at least 3 months.9 Also surgical intervention for people living with obesity will only usually be considered after compliance with WMP for a minimum of 6-12 months.10

Develop the habit of reassessing your plan at regular intervals. Sustained efforts create healthy habits that can trigger auto-pilot and, before we know it, we’re making progress effortlessly. 

How much weight have you lost so far? Are you on target? Have you met your calorie deficit? If not, why not? Asking yourself these questions can help you regain the intentionality needed to reach success. Keeping a diary may be helpful in this process.

Focus on what you have achieved

“Focus on the step in front of you, and not the whole staircase”- Unknown

It is human nature to focus on the work still left to do, rather than what we have achieved so far. Make a concerted effort to commemorate the little accomplishments in the journey that ultimately build up to your key goal. Celebrate each step taken, whether that be a full exercise week, losing your first couple of pounds, fitting into a pair of jeans that used to be too small.

Know when to seek further help

Despite our best efforts, in some cases diet and exercise alone will not be enough to achieve our weight goals. If the weight is still not budging, despite realistic goals and consistent habits, we should speak to a medical professional.

As briefly mentioned above, some medical conditions can be associated with weight gain, e.g. hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) etc. We may also be taking certain medications that make it harder for us to lose weight. 

A medical professional will be able to assess each person’s situation and advise whether medications to aid with weight loss may be an appropriate next step.

Summary

Ultimately, remember that losing weight is a journey that looks different for everyone. A good strategy would be to hone in on your why - “Why is taking this journey important for you?” Once you have the answer to this question you will find it easier to take that first step. 

It is also important to realise that, as with most things in life, losing weight is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, set your pace accordingly. Remember to take your time, set achievable goals, and celebrate each win; no matter how small. Before you know it, you will look up and find that you’re at the top of the staircase; with your weight loss goals achieved.

References

  1. NHS. Obesity. [Internet]. NHS. NHS; [updated date: 2023 Feb 15; cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/
  2. World Health Organization. Obesity. [Internet]. World Health Organization. World Heath Organisation. [cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/obesity#tab=tab_1
  3. Office for Health Improvement & Disparities. Obesity Profile: short statistical commentary May 2023 [Internet]. GOV.UK. [published date: 2023 May 3; cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/obesity-profile-update-may-2023/obesity-profile-short-statistical-commentary-may-2023
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.). Body Mass Index: Considerations for Practitioners What is BMI? [Internet]. CDC. [updated date: 2011 Feb 8; cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from:  https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/25368
  5. British Nutrition Foundation. Obesity and healthy weight.[Internet]. www.nutrition.org.uk. [cited date: 2024 May 25] Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/health-conditions/overweight-obesity-and-weight-loss/healthy-weight-loss/#:~:text=of%20physical%20activity.-
  6. Mayo Clinic Staff. Getting past a weight-loss plateau. [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. (updated date: 2024 Apr 9; cited date: 2024 May 25). Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss-plateau/art-20044615
  7. Sarwan G, Rehman A. Management Of Weight Loss Plateau. [Internet]. PubMed. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; [cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK576400/
  8.  Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science. 1999. [cited date: 2024 May 25]; 283(5399):212-214. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9880251/
  9. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Weight management: lifestyle services for overweight or obese adults. [Internet]. www.nice.org.uk.2014. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. [updated date: 2014 May 28; cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph53/chapter/1-recommendations 
  10. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Refer to the bariatric surgery service. [Internet]. https://www.imperial.nhs.uk/. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. [cited date: 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://www.imperial.nhs.uk/our-services/surgery/bariatric-surgery/refer-to-this-service

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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