Ever gone into a weight loss diet fully motivated and ready to transform your life, only to feel completely out of willpower and ready to give up after three weeks? You are definitely not alone in this. One of the hardest parts about weight loss is finding and keeping the motivation to stay on track when things get tough.
No matter how good your weight loss plan is, or how motivated you feel from the start, maintaining your weight loss motivation is one of the toughest things about successfully losing weight and keeping it off. But what exactly is motivation and where does it come from? And even more importantly, how do you get it, keep it and use it to lose weight.
What is Weight Loss Motivation?
Motivation is the desire to perform voluntary movements to achieve the desired outcome. In other words, it is the drive that makes you want to make a change and stick to it.
Motivation is a very broad term that a lot of people throw around at the beginning of a big change, hoping if they have a lot of it, they can be successful. The thing is, it does not stand alone; it's the initial spark that sets the fire, and keeping it can be just as much of a challenge as finding it in the first place.
It is an internal drive. A choice you make for yourself to pursue something new. Recognizing this will help you cycle motivation and create the discipline necessary to achieve results.
Weight loss motivation is simply the aforementioned definition applied specifically to losing weight.
Where Does Weight Loss Motivation Come From?
Mostly it comes from you.
Motivation is sparked through our neurotransmitters, which are designed to release chemical messages that keep us alert and on task. Oftentimes, it is a product of dopamine—the well-known, feel-good chemical in your brain.
Dopamine is produced in two different parts of the brain. It is made in the substantia nigra, a tiny strip on either side of the brain. Dopamine from this area of the brain helps produce movement and speech.
The other area of the brain that produces dopamine is the ventral tegmental area, in the center of your brain. When dopamine is released from this area of the brain it signals to us that something good or bad is about to happen. This helps us produce motivation to take action (1).
It is actually a common misconception that dopamine is the "pleasure" chemical—it does much more than that. While it is fairly well understood that it influences our desire to chase rewards, it is not only released in times of pleasure. It is also used in times of stress or loss and is strongly linked to our motivation (2).
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
When it comes to weight loss or any positive change you are trying to make, the type of motivation can often be more important than anything else.
Oftentimes when someone is looking to lose weight, they focus on the outcome they are desiring, such as looking a certain way, hitting a specific number on the scale, or fitting into an old pair of pants.
This is called external or extrinsic motivation. While this type of motivator can be great from the start, it is still fairly surface level and will quickly lose its steam. It can also be incredibly demotivating when the weight loss results don't quite look as you pictured them.
On the other hand, intrinsic or internal motivation involves doing something out of pleasure or for the joy of doing it. Some people will start off with physical goals and then discover they love that eating healthy and working out gives them more energy, improves their mood or their sex life, or they find a healthy habit they just really enjoy. These types of motivators are stickier and can help you build healthy habits for the long haul, so identifying them upfront can be a real game-changer.
How to Get Motivated and Stay Motivated to Lose Weight
Because motivation comes from within, it is pretty personal. This means the best way to achieve it can be different for everyone. Some are motivated by family, health scares, or other people's weight loss transformation stories. Others may get their weight loss motivation from a desire to look and feel better. There are endless triggers you can use, the trick is finding the right one for you that sticks.
But if you're having trouble finding it, don't worry, there are a few different things you can try to inspire some incentive or help you grasp what it is that is really driving you to make a change.
Motivation also isn't always there. It comes and goes and it's completely normal to lose it more than once when trying to achieve a bigger goal.
The key is understanding this is part of the process and finding ways to pick yourself back up if you lose inspiration or just fall off track.
Struggling with how to get started on your weight loss journey? Start with this weight-loss calculator and learn exactly how many calories you need to eat each day to lose weight.
1. Find Your Why: What Motivates You to Lose Weight?
What is your motive for weight loss? Take some time to really think about why you want to make a change in the first place. A lot of times your "Why" is your weight loss motivation. What is it that you hope to get out of this change? Or what was the final straw that got you to the point to start thinking about doing things differently?
Don't settle for surface level, extrinsic motivators. Instead of thinking about your weight loss outcome, consider thinking about the type of person you need to become to achieve this outcome. This simple mindset shift will help you set better goals, deal with failure, and keep you on the right path.
If you're feeling stuck, try meditation or mindfulness exercises to bring some awareness to your deeper motivations.
2. Visualize the Change
Once you identify the person you need to become to achieve your weight loss goals, start to identify with this person. Words and thoughts are incredibly powerful.
This can be as simple as stating "I am an athlete" rather than saying "I want to become an athlete". Identifying with the outcome you want right from the start builds confidence.
You can also visualize your progress to help you get into the mindset. Imagine what this weight change can do for you. Think about how you will feel, what your life will be like when you reach your goals. What are the benefits of making a change? And what will happen, or what will your life look like, if you continue down the same path you're on?
Visualizing can help remove fear, doubts, and trick your brain into believing that your goals aren't only possible, but that you are already on your way there (3).
3. Get Inspired By Others
Sometimes hearing how someone else lost a lot of weight can be just what you need. Not only is it inspiring to see others achieve weight loss success, but it makes you feel like it's possible for you which is incredibly motivational. Especially if you have something in common with the person or story providing the inspiration.
Research suggests that inspiration is a powerful tool in motivating others to lose weight. It can facilitate progress towards your goals and may improve your wellbeing overall, helping you stay positive and enjoy the journey more (4,5).
These stories of weight loss success could spark your motivation to start down a path towards a new you.
4. Don't Look for a Quick Fix
Focus on small changes and don't try to overhaul everything all at once, in an as fast amount of time as possible. Not only does this set you up for failure, but the process itself becomes overwhelming and discouraging, causing you to lose your motivation pretty quickly.
If you aren't losing weight right away, don't get discouraged. Losing weight takes time, and often requires hard work, Chunking this out into more feasible goals can help you plan better and make the process feel less difficult, meaning you are more likely to stick to your diet and taste success in goals in the end.
Start Small and Build from There
Start by changing one or two things that feel more manageable. These could be bad habits that are holding you back or areas where you feel a small change may make the biggest impact.
For example, if your diet is way out of whack and you have a hard time eating healthy, start by cutting out dessert after dinner, or adding one vegetable a day. These goals may seem small at first, but small actions can lead to bigger results. In addition, giving yourself the opportunity to celebrate a win, even a small one, is motivating in itself.
Need some more ideas on how to start small?
Consider cutting out one can of soda a day or removing 1.5 Tbsp of full-fat mayonnaise from your daily sandwich. Either of these moves could help you cut enough calories to lose almost 15 pounds in a year.
Walk 1 mile at lunch. A daily stroll like this can help you burn enough calories to lose 10 pounds this year.
Not only are these smaller changes easier, but they can slip into your normal routine and inspire you to make bigger, harder changes when you start to see results.
5. Enjoy Your Weight Loss Journey
A major key to lasting results hinges on the ability to enjoy the journey. Take the hardships, figure out new ways to conquer them, and test yourself each and every day.
Don't just focus on the end result, like reaching a goal weight or looking a certain way. If you fall into a pattern of only looking forward to the reward, you will lose sight of the process pretty easily. You may even look for ways to cheat the process. Which will never lead to the same results as pure hard work and discipline. Not to mention, it's harder to establish the habits you need to maintain your results if you're rushing towards the finish line.
Bottom line, if your health change is making you miserable, it might be worth taking a step back and figuring out why that is. Perhaps your diet isn't the right fit for you, or maybe you are being too restrictive with yourself.Stay on top of your nutrition and your fitness plan by tracking your weight progress in the Trifecta app. Track your daily calorie intake, your weight, and get access to free daily workouts. Staying within your daily target macro ranges is another small victory that'll keep you motivated on your journey.
6. Use a Support Network
Having people on your team can make a huge difference in helping you get motivated and stay on top of your weight loss goals. Whether they are joining you in making a change or just serving as a cheerleader, research suggests that social support may be a key influence over your weight loss progress (7,8). And it doesn't seem to matter whether it is over social media or in person.
It's no wonder why so many successful weight loss programs use a community approach to losing weight.
And on the flip side, surrounding yourself with people who undermine your achievements or hold you back in some way can have negative impacts on your motivation to lose weight.
Not ready to join a team? Consider just sharing your goals on your own social media. Not only will this help hold you accountable, but you might be surprised when other people jump on the bandwagon or show support (9). And you could be inspiring other people without even realizing it.
7. Focus on Consistency Not Perfection
Staying consistent could be the single most important factor when it comes to weight loss.
Try not to focus on how fast or perfectly you achieve your weight goals, and instead shift your thinking towards consistent progress.
You might be able to hit your goals perfectly for multiple days or weeks at a time, but perfection isn't sustainable long-term and some days are bound to be harder than others. Not to mention falling off the wagon can bruise your ego and hinder your motivation.
Consistency is more about focusing on hitting your goals most of the time or repeating the same behaviors for an extended period of time so that the average sum of your behaviors continues to move you in the right direction overall.
If you are consistent with your eating, food tracking, or exercise, you're more likely to see results. This is why picking smaller goals and aiming to stick to them most days of the week has been shown to promote more sustainable weight management (10).
Movement creates movement. Think progress over perfection, and remind yourself that putting one foot in front of the other is how you get to your desired goal. Any sort of movement is better than no movement whatsoever.
8. Embrace Failure
Failure does not mean the end. Weight loss is a journey and failures are nothing but a few bumps in the road. Better yet, thinking of failure as an opportunity to strengthen your approach and resolve might even help you.
Embracing creates acceptance, and acceptance creates flow. The saying 'what you resist, persists' can be applied here. Resisting the bumps on the road will create walls and tension, versus surrendering to whatever one defines as a failure.
Keeping a positive mindset, even in defeat, is key to maintaining motivation. And staying positive is really all in how you look at it. Everything we've achieved in our lives, from learning to walk, speak, or play a sport, likely involved many failed attempts. If we had just given up each time we failed, we would have never made it.
Failure is a part of growth. It is how we learn to adapt, fine-tune, and get better at what we are trying to succeed at.
Learning to embrace failure with this type of mindset can teach you resilience and equip you with the know-how to stick to your diet better and live a healthier life overall. The longer we stay in it and the more we learn, the better we get!
So instead of beating yourself up when failure hits, treat yourself with some kindness and see what you can get out of this opportunity you stumbled upon. What did you learn? How can you use this to get stronger, better, and achieve more overall?
9. Reward Yourself in Healthy Ways
The amount of motivation you have is directly related to how difficult you perceive the change to be, and how likely you are to be rewarded.
For example: if your boss told you that if you did an excellent job on the next presentation you would get promoted to that position you really wanted, you would probably master that presentation. You're voluntarily choosing to engage in the necessary movements to produce these results because you see a high reward attached to them.
Finding opportunities to pat yourself on the back, no matter how small, can be a great motivator to keep going.
Look for non-food ways to celebrate little victories (this way you won't wreck your progress) like buying a new pair of shoes, taking yourself out to a movie, getting a massage, going on a weekend trip, taking a day off work to relax, etc. Whatever it is that helps you keep those good vibes going and makes you want to accomplish more goals.
If you do want to have a cheat meal, don't use them as a reward. This will only strengthen a poor relationship with food and might make sticking to your diet long-term more challenging. Instead, plan for cheat meals as a part of your consistent approach. Account for the calories in advance and remove any feelings of guilt or reward, and just enjoy the treat in the moment.
10. Look Beyond the Number on the scale
Losing weight can be a complicated process for many, and while the overall goal might be to shed a few pounds, you might want to look at weight loss more as a side effect of your goals rather than the end result. This is because there is more than one way to measure success on a weight reduction diet, and if you get to a point when you aren't losing weight, it doesn't mean you aren't being successful. You could be losing body fat weight and gaining muscle weight, or it could be changes in water weight, etc.
Using "pounds lost" as the sole indicator for your success is not ideal and can mess with your motivation if things don't go as planned.
Instead, focus on how you feel, how your clothes are fitting, biometric markers (like cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.), your fitness performance, and your overall confidence and wellbeing. Weight is only a number at the end of the day and doesn't always dictate how healthy you actually are.
Weight Loss Meal Plans
We all know dieting is one of the hardest things to get motivated about and stay motivated. Results can be slow, and changing how you think about food and nutrition is not easy.
Find tools and resources that help make this process easier, whether it is perfecting your meal prep, hiring a trainer, or considering a meal delivery program that cuts out most of the diet challenges you face. Weight loss meal delivery programs can be a great way to stay consistent and avoid temptation, by having nutritious and calories controlled options on hand or on the go.
Get more motivational tips for starting, succeeding, and maintaining your weight loss in this comprehensive guide written by health and nutrition experts.
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