3 Keys to Weight Loss Success That Having Nothing To Do With Diet or Exercise

I’m sure most of us can agree that losing weight requires making changes to our diet and exercise routine.  However, it can be challenging to implement these changes in a way that sticks long-term.  Attempting to launch a new diet or exercise program over and over again can be physically and emotionally draining.  As a behavioral health doctor and health coach, I’ve met hundreds of clients who have experienced this type of “weight loss fatigue.” 

One particular client of mine named Pam arrived at our first appointment with a file folder filled to the brim with research and magazine articles written about numerous diets that have been shown to help people lose weight.  She was hoping that I would assist her with evaluating these diets and pick one to get started losing weight.  So I looked through the folder, then looked up to her and told her the truth by saying, “any of these dietary approaches will help you lose weight and keep it off if you commit to following it forever.”  Then I said, “do you think you can do that?”

Pam looked at me and very honestly said, “not forever.”  I then responded by saying, “why not?”.  She replied by saying, “because diets aren’t meant to be forever.”  And you know what?  She was absolutely right.  Diets and exercise programs aren’t meant to be forever, but lifestyle changes are.  

By design, diets and exercise programs are born with a shelf life.  They are made to help you lose weight while you are “on” them and then gain the weight back after you are “off” them.  While on the other hand, lifestyle or habit changes are designed for the long-haul.  


So how do you form weight loss habits that are built to last?  Well, there are three critical steps that you need to take to build sustainable weight loss habits, and they are:

  • Step #1: Identify your personal values
  • Step #2: Envision your future 
  • Step #3: Set value-based goals

By taking these three steps before attempting to change your diet or start a new workout routine, you’ll be creating a foundation that your long-term habits can be built upon.  However, by not taking these three steps but instead jumping into the actions of attempting to eat or exercise differently you are essentially trying to build a house by starting construction on the second floor.  

In this article, we will dig into each of these steps so that you will be able to fully understand and implement each of them prior to moving to the action stage of your weight loss plan.  

Step# 1 Identify Your Personal Values 

Walt Disney once said, “when your values are clear to you, making decisions become easier.”  This is a brilliant quote that I would take one step further when it comes to achieving sustainable weight loss by saying, “once you have identified your personal values, decision making can become automatic.”  Making healthy decisions on what to eat and whether or not to exercise can be really hard.  However, identifying your personal values can make decision-making easier and, over time, automatic. 

The clients I work with that are able to identify their personal values clearly, or in other words, what is most important to them in life, most often go on to achieve and exceed their weight loss goals, especially compared to those who skip past this step.  Why do people who take this step go on to have so much success?  They are successful because the act of identifying what is most important to them in life provides them with the motivation they need to take action based on these values.  

Your personal values should establish where you invest your time, energy, and resources.  Identifying your personal values will help you understand how your life would change for the better if you achieve your weight goals, allowing you to stay focused and stay with your plan when things become challenging.  To identify your personal values, write down each of the values on this list that are meaningful to you:

Achievement Creativity ExcitementFriendships
Belonging Learning Expertise Growth 
CommunityEfficiency ExplorationHard Work
Compassion EnjoymentFamily Oriented Health
Independence LeadershipMaking a differenceHelping others
ServiceSimplicitySpontaneity Stability
StrengthSuccessTeamworkUniqueness 

Now, add any missing values that you deem important to you that weren’t represented in the list above.  Once you have an exhaustive list of your values, choose the 3-5 values that are more meaningful to you.  These are your personal values.  

Step #2: Envision Your Future 

Visualization is a technique for creating a mental image of a future event.  When we create this image, neurons in our brains transmit information and interpret the imagery in our minds equally to living the experience.  As a result, when we visualize an action, our brain creates a new neural pathway, which are clusters of cells in our brain that work together to create memories and learned behaviors.  The creation of this neural pathway gets our body ready to act in a consistent way with what we envisioned.  In other words, by imagining yourself in this future reality, you are priming your brain and your body to take the necessary steps that will lead you to this image of your future self.  

To increase the likelihood of reaching your weight loss goals, I recommend putting visualization to work by creating an “ideal wellness vision.”   Your ideal wellness vision should be an image of what you see yourself weighing and what habits you see yourself performing to achieve/maintain this weight one year from today.  Your ideal wellness vision should include details like:

  • How much you weigh
  • The healthy habits are you performing regularly
  • The  desired activities you can now perform as a result of your weight loss 
  • How you feel differently now that you have reached your weight loss goal 
  • How reaching your weight loss goal will allow you to live in lockstep with your personal values.

Your ideal wellness vision is, of course, yours to personalize, but it should meet one criterion; your vision should make you over the top excited about your life if you were to reach this vision. 

Step #3: Set Value-Based Goals 

The clients of mine who have lost weight and kept it off for good have done this by creating healthy habits that stand the test of time.  Doing so is easier said than done, but achieving this type of sustainable lifestyle change becomes possible when you can “automate” your decision-making by setting value-based goals. 

Value-based goals are goals that, if achieved, move our behaviors in alignment with our personal values.  For instance, if you’ve identified “making a difference” as one of your personal values, then setting a goal such as “volunteering at the soup kitchen every Saturday” would help move your behaviors into closer alignment with your values.  Setting goals that bring us closer to living in sync with our values brings real purpose to our goals, increasing the likelihood of them turning into sustainable habits. 

Every once in a while, my wife will say something to me like, “I don’t know how you decide to get out of bed every morning at 5:30 AM to exercise”.  To tell you the truth, if I laid in bed every morning and asked myself, “do you want to get up to exercise?”, it might be a struggle to pull myself out of bed each day.  However, long ago, I stopped asking myself that question because I set a value-based goal to exercise each morning, and since then, this habit is on “autopilot.” 

I value my health and spending time with my family.  Therefore, the goal I set, “exercise before work five days a week,” was a value-based goal because it aligned with my personal values by allowing me to maintain my health without sacrificing time with my family, which would be the case if I exercised after work.  When I first tried to establish this habit, I had to remind myself of getting up in the morning to exercise was important to me and the things I valued most in life.  But after time, I was able to stop reminding myself why this habit is important, and now getting up in the morning to exercise is one of the habits I have on “autopilot.”  The more weight loss supporting habits you can set value-based goals around and eventually move to autopilot, the easier it will become to lose and sustain significant amounts of weight.  

Summary

Improving your diet and exercise habits is essential to weight loss; however, the steps you take prior to changing your habits determine whether or not you achieve sustainable weight loss success.  To make habit changes that will generate significant and sustainable weight loss, you should first take the three foundational steps revealed in this article:

  • Step #1: Identify your personal values
  • Step #2: Envision your future 
  • Step #3: Set value-based goals

By taking these steps, you will be able to make habit changes that will lead you to your ideal weight.  I’m convinced that you can use these strategies to make lasting habit changes. Still, if you’d like to explore these strategies in greater detail, you can do so by reading Weight Lost: 5 Steps to Achieving Your Ideal Weight and Gaining the Life You’ve Always Wanted, which you can find on Amazon.  

 References:

1. Sherman, R. P., Petersen, R., Guarino, A. J., & Crocker, J. B. (2019). Primary Care–Based Health Coaching Intervention for Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Adults: A 2-Year Experience. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(4), 405-413.

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