There are so many diet and exercise plans for losing weight that it’s starting to get ridiculous. There’s keto. There’s paleo. There’s Whole30. There are cabbage soup diets and coffee diets and frozen food diets and even something called the Sirtfood Diet, which sounds like it might be totally made up although it is actually not.
All these diets promise that their plans will help you lose weight and swear that their extreme method—and only their extreme method—is the correct way to achieve it.
Except that all these diets are wrong. Or, rather, they are right in the short term. They can help you lose weight fast—but they can’t deliver on the promise that you’ll keep that weight off in the long term.
To do that, you need a sensible approach to eating as it relates to your life long-term.
And you need motivation.
If the one thing that seems to be missing from your weight loss efforts is the motivation to get started on a plan or to stick with it, you might be surprised at how much control you have when it comes to this seemingly mysterious, fired-up feeling.
While motivation seems like it comes and goes whenever it pleases, it’s not a random force. “Maintaining motivation is a skill, and you can get good at that skill,” explains Liz Josefsberg, who is the author of Target 100 and has been a weight loss coach to thousands of people, including Charles Barkley and Jennifer Hudson. And the discipline to stick with it doesn’t have to be any kind of unpleasant struggle, either (more on that later).
To get your motivation where you want it, you have to let go of what motivation isn’t. “It’s not this thing outside of your control, and it’s not going to be high all the time. It’s supposed to have peaks and valleys—that’s what being human is,” she says.
And when you hit a valley, all isn’t lost. You can move it toward the peak again with some simple strategies.
These simple strategies.
1. Accept That Your Motivation Isn’t High
If you’ve already been on a weight loss program, but you’re not as excited about what you’re doing as you used to be, the first step to getting your momentum back is actually identifying that your motivation is waning.
Sounds obvious, but too many people berate themselves or try to power through this feeling without stopping and noticing that it’s happening. Acceptance is your foundation to further motivation.
2. Ask Yourself: “What’s Up?”
This doesn’t have to be a major investigation. “Most people don’t identify it,” says Josefsberg. “They don’t recognize that they’re bored, or that something has changed.”
What has changed could be something as simple as you don’t like going to the grocery store any longer because there’s construction on the way and it takes forever to get there. Or that you’re really, really bored with walking and need a change-up to your exercise routine.
3. Ask Around
If the way you’ve been doing things isn’t working any longer, change it a little bit. Don’t be afraid to get away from the “one program fits all” mentality. Ask friends what they’re doing and see if any of their principles or recipes make sense for you.
You don’t have to make dramatic changes to get your weight loss motivation going again. “For instance, if keto is really working for a friend, you don’t have to go all in, but you might try a keto recipe or two. Or ask yourself what aspects of a keto lifestyle you might want to play around with,” Josefsberg says.
Similarly, if intermittent fasting appeals to you, try skipping breakfast for a week and see how it goes. Instead of berating yourself over what’s not feeling right at the moment, experiment with new strategies that might get you excited about weight loss again.
Once you play around with something appealing, put it into practice and see what happens. Doesn’t work? Try something else. The process is an exploration of trying new things so you look forward to your plan again. It sounds simple, and that’s the best part—it can be. You don’t have to do something drastic in order to get your motivation on the upswing.
5. Detach “Discipline” From “Motivation”
“I think discipline is highly overrated,” Josefsberg says. If you’re doing the same exercise routine weekly or cooking the same dang muffin tin bacon egg cups for breakfast every morning, of course you’re going to get sick of it.
That’s not because you’re undisciplined. It’s because you’re bored. Grin and bearing it through boredom may cause you to lose weight—and is technically disciplined—but it’s not enjoyable. Motivation is dedication plus enjoyment.
6. Schedule Motivation
It sounds oversimplified, but you have schedules and alarms for everything else you do, so why not set up your weight loss strategies that way, too?
Suppose you want to stop hitting up your kitchen cabinet at 3:00 p.m. for that sleeve of cookies. Set your alarm for 2:50 p.m. and go to the fridge to get the healthy snack you packed (because you set a reminder on Sunday night to put it in a container so it was ready for work on Monday).
7. Limit Opportunities for Less-Than-Great Choices
The trick to sticking with something is to set up your environment to support your decision to be healthier, says Josefsberg. “It’s about being a little bit prepared and creating an environment for success.”
In other words, you don’t have to resist cookies if there aren’t any in the house (or your car). The same goes for moving your home office from the comfy sofa to a not-as-comfy dining room chair so you get up and walk around more frequently.
8. Create More Opportunities for Good Choices
You also can bias your healthy life to success by indulging your natural tendencies in setting up this environment.
For an exercise example, put your running shoes where you can see them, such as right by the front door (like, so you can’t even open the door without it pushing them aside) instead of hidden in your closet.
Keep your fruit in a bowl where you see it and your vegetable snacks at eye line in your fridge. Out of sight, out of mind is true—as is the reverse.
9. Avoid the All Or Nothing Pitfall
Really bad diets completely exclude foods or, even worse, entire food groups. So if you eat any of these foods, you “fail” on the diet.
Don’t buy in to any of that. Guilt and shame are not ingredients of a healthful diet and, in fact, can backfire if you’re trying to make positive changes in your life.
10. Think Macro
No healthy diet is sunk by just one unhealthy meal. When you do indulge (and you should!) frame the meal of food within a larger context.
How did you eat, overall, today? This week? This month? If the answer is something along the lines of “pretty dang good!” then don’t beat yourself, okay?
11. Try One New Food a Week
Research shows that a varied diet is healthful foods offers the best benefit for your overall well-being. Plus: It keeps your taste buds interested.
So you don’t have to decide between a beef burger and a veggie burger. A truly healthful diet makes room for both beef burgers and veggie burgers and also chickpea, lentil, tuna, and, sure, plant-based “meat,” burgers too.
12. Buy Something
Shopping is a powerful motivator. Do not underestimate the ability of a new pair of running shoes, weight lifting gloves, a fitness DVD, or an exercise streaming service to motivate you.
Granted, this is not an excuse to shell out a ton of money for an exercise bike you’ll likely use for a few months and then abandon. Think small—an item that will boost your motivation if you find that it’s been running low, not an item that you’re hinging the entirety of your weight loss hopes upon.
13. Lean on Others
Especially those wiser than you. (Or at least wise enough to have their quotations memorialized in the zeitgeist. Here are a mere 30 inspirational quotes to help you find the motivation you need to workout.
Post-It note a few of them (or set them as part of one of your reminders from tip #6!).
14. Lean on Others Who Are Real People
Set up some time to walk or run with a friend. They’ll help keep you accountable (it’s pretty sucky to blow off a friend who’s expecting you). Plus, a training partner may even double the length of your workout, say researchers at Michigan State University.
15. Put Away Your Scale
And, for the matter, any device you’re using to track your weight loss progress. Instead, check in with yourself at the time you’d usually weigh yourself (or download the day’s data) and see how you’re feeling.
How’s your energy level? Do you feel healthier than this time last week? Has your mood improved in any way?
Because there are other ways to measure success.