We know how to lose weight: reduce calories and increase movement. Yet we don’t do it. Or if we do, we gain it back.
What’s missing is your answer to why you want to lose, says Dr. Holly Wyatt, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. The Center, opened in 2012, employs researchers and clinicians to develop wellness programs. Wyatt has worked with overweight populations since 1997, studying weight regulation, metabolism, and the struggle to lose and maintain.
A sound diet and exercise plan are necessary, but not enough, Wyatt says. “Why are you going to do it? That’s the mental side. Your body will follow your mind.
“Even the perfect diet, without the mental part, won’t be successful.”
Wyatt’s patients work with her and other professionals in science-based, behavior-change programs that last either four or 12 months. Medication and surgery are not involved.
“People ask, ‘What should I eat?’ But don’t start with that. Start with why you want to lose.”
If your answer is health, ask why you want better health. If your answer is “to get off diabetes meds,” ask why again. Keep asking until you uncover an emotion about something you feel you’re missing in life, Wyatt says.
“Dig deep. Keep going until it gets personal. Use that as a powerful motivator to exercise, or pass on dessert. The internal ‘why’ keeps that motivational fire going.”
Maybe it’s important to be a great mother, and your weight keeps you on the sidelines, unable to be the mom you want to be. Maybe your father wasn’t there for you, and you’re determined to be healthy for your family.
Realize that strategies for weight loss are different from strategies for weight-loss maintenance. Think of nutrition and physical activity as two individuals in the same car. When you’re losing weight, nutrition is driving and physical activity is in the back seat. When you’re maintaining, nutrition is still important, but physical activity is driving.
Wyatt points out that with any program, physical activity is the best predictor of long-term success. Sixty to 70 minutes of exercise, six days a week, is what you’re working toward.
Concentrate on what you can do, not on what you can’t. Replace all the reasons you can’t lose weight (bad knees, genes, job, family, money, car, your mother) with a list of what you can do. “The can’ts go on and on,” Wyatt says. “Instead, put your energy into success. Believing you can has far more power.”
Go public. Tell people you’re striving to eat better and exercise. Ask for support. “You think people will judge, but instead, most will feel empathy and want to help.”
Take a first step. “Even if you don’t know how you’ll get all your exercise minutes in, start,” Wyatt says. “Action conquers fear.”
Tara Streff of Greenwood Village, Colo., a digital-marketing manager at a law firm, took action after her mother died of Type 1 diabetes. “It took that for me to do something about it,” Streff says. At 5 feet 7 inches tall, in her late 20s, Streff weighed 279 pounds in fall 2014 when she started a 16-week behavior-change program at the center.
“I had high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar,” Streff said. “My leg was numb, my ankles swelled, and I could barely walk up stairs. I had to sleep with an apnea machine. I got a lot of my mother’s genes, including Type 1 diabetes.”
Streff dug deep to find her “why.”
“I learned the decision to change had to come from me and only me. I learned to stand up for what I needed. I learned if you don’t take care of you first, you can’t be there for anyone else.
“I got my doggy Bella at the beginning (of weight loss), and she saved my life. We walked together nearly two hours a day. I got off meds, including short-acting insulin. I will be a Type 1 diabetic on long-acting insulin for life.”
In December 2015, Streff achieved her goal of losing 130 pounds.
“A few months ago, I had surgery to remove 2 feet of skin from my stomach,” says Streff. “I am now at 140 pounds after surgery. I am so happy; I will never go back. Not only did I learn the diet-and-exercise piece, but I connected the emotional-and-mental piece, which helped me not gain the weight back. To get compliments again, like I did in high school, is surreal. I feel so good, inside and out. This journey was worth all the hard work. I pray everyone struggling from this addiction can find this for themselves.”
Overall, participants in the center’s yearlong behavior-change program lost an average of 18 percent of their body weight. The average patient came in weighing 250 pounds and finished at about 200.
A widely accepted industry definition of success is losing 10 percent of your body weight and keeping it off for a year. Diabetes researchers find losing even 5 to 7 percent is successful at delivering health benefits. Another benchmark, from the National Weight Control Registry, defines success as losing 30 pounds and keeping it off for a year. Obesity occurs when your body mass index is 30 or greater, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Compared with industry benchmarks, weight-loss programs at the center are achieving significant success without surgery or medication, Wyatt says.
“We are getting greater weight loss. I think it will start a whole new paradigm. Thirty-nine percent of participants losing more than 25 percent of their starting body weight in a year using a lifestyle weight-loss program (nonsurgical) is significant.”
Wyatt says two things make their programs unique: changing mindset while working on a new self-identity, and connecting weight loss to a larger life purpose.
Weight loss is why people enter the program. “But after, they talk about how their life is changed, about doing things they’ve wanted to do but weren’t able to before. How they feel, how they engage in life, is what they’re proud of. That makes it transformative and a game changer for most participants.”
Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy is a freelancer.
Ask yourself the real reason you want to lose weight