Excuse the cliché, but weight loss is very much a marathon, not a sprint, which can be difficult to accept when you see significant progress right out of the starting gate and then watch as it slows way down over the next few months. Plateaus tend to rear their ugly head and wreak havoc on your motivation at some point along the journey to weight loss, but they don't have to derail your progress. Learning how to arm yourself early against the mental blocks and ennui that can come with being right in the middle of your weight-loss journey is key in leaping over that hurdle and powering through to the finish line.
Re-Evaluate Your Reason
"The first step to getting motivated again is to look at why you wanted to lose weight in the first place", says Lisa Austin, personal trainer and owner of It Fits Personal Training. Did you want to lose weight simply to look better for a big event, or were you doing it to lower your blood pressure or decrease your risk of heart disease? If your reason for losing weight isn't serious enough, it's easy to lose your motivation. Many people give up because they realize they don't really want to do the work, even though they know they should lose weight. Improving your diet and exercising regularly is hard, though, and you can't be successful if your heart really isn't in it.
Consider making a list of all the ways your life could improve once you lose the weight or how your health will benefit. Then, when your motivation is at an all-time low, consult the list and remind yourself of all the positives waiting for you at the end of the road.
Embrace the Learning Experience
Losing your motivation doesn't mean you're a failure, so don't beat yourself up. Think about what you've learned, instead. If you've tried lifting weights a few times but hate it, you haven't failed because you don't like weights—you've simply discovered what you don't enjoy. If you haven't worked out for a while, Austin recommends making a deal with yourself to exercise for only four minutes at a time. "A few minutes of stair climbing, jumping jacks or planks every day is better than going to the gym once a week for an hour and hating it", says Austin. This is a short, easy-to-reach goal, and it's likely you'll want to keep going after those four minutes are up. If not, you've got some exercise in and you haven't let yourself down.
Acknowledge the Stress Connection
"Stress causes many women to lose motivation", says Lisa Hocking, registered holistic nutritionist. If you're working all day, then rushing home to take the kids to soccer practice while also trying to maintain some sort of relationship with your partner, you're likely pushing your own goals and needs aside. It's hard to lose weight when you're busy taking care of everybody else, and you might not realize how stressful your life really is because it just seems normal to you.
Calling your best friend to vent about the day or sitting down with a cup of tea and a good book will help give you the mental and physical energy you need to keep eating right and exercising. "Self-care is important if you want to stay motivated", says Hocking.
Escape the Boredom Trap
If you're bored with your diet, break out of your mealtime rut by trying different foods instead of eating the same things all the time. Pick some new recipes each week and buy all the ingredients at once so you have what you need to make healthy meals every day. Consider adding a meal prep day to your calendar so you can do all your prep work at once and make large batches of foods like soups and stews to freeze, which is what Hocking does each week. That way, you always have a healthy meal that you can warm up quickly, instead of being forced to order pizza again.
Going back to what worked for you at the beginning of your weight loss can re-energize you. Clean out your cupboards again and toss any foods like potato chips and cookies that have crept back in. Crack open the food journal if it's been gathering dust, too. Keeping track of your meals every day will show where your eating habits have slipped.
Make it Manageable
If the thought of having to lose a large amount of weight is so overwhelming that you want to give up, break your goal into smaller, attainable chunks. Instead of focusing on the 50 pounds or more you need to lose, concentrate only on the next 10 pounds instead, which is difficult enough to be a challenge but not unachievable. You are more likely to stay motivated if your goal isn't too easy or too difficult—otherwise known as "The Goldilocks Rule".
It may seem surprising, but motivation is the result of taking action, not the cause of it. Even if it's only baby steps, getting started is what motivates you to keep going. It's that tiny thrill you get when you've done what you've set out to do. It's the reason why exercising for only a few minutes gives you the push you need to keep going.
Create a Ritual
Creating an easy-to-repeat ritual is another way to get motivated. If you exercise in the morning, that means putting on your workout clothes as soon as you wake up. Wearing that outfit is your ritual, the signal that says it's time to exercise, no thought required. Another ritual might be to drive straight to the grocery store after work on Fridays so you can prep your meals over the weekend.
Your motivation is likely to slip when you can't make healthy choices easily. If you need extra support, hiring a personal trainer or a nutritionist might be a good way to stay accountable. Losing weight is hard work, but look forward to where you could be in six months, one year or five years and remember that all the struggles, sweat and strength are all adding up to something great. Don't give up. Keep going, and do something your future self will thank you for.