Speaking from experience, I believe learning how to find and keep the motivation to lose weight is one of the hardest parts about the whole process. You start off optimistic but after some time, you realize that your willpower isn’t where you need it to be.
So, just in case you needed it today, let me be the person to tell you that you can do it. Keep on pushing!
Also, I’m here to help you recharge that drive with a few solutions on how to stay motivated to lose weight. Believe me, I’ve done these things over and over again, so I know they work for me. Maybe they can work for you, too.
1. Force yourself for 66 days
I’m glad you asked.
Per study, that’s about the average time it takes a person to form a habit. Of course, it’s different for everyone. The study even says it ranges anywhere from 18 to 254 days but you don’t need to worry about the specifics.
All you need to worry about is to keep on pushing for about 2 months. Working out and sticking to a diet should be right around automatic by then but if it isn’t, you should at least see results — and that could end up helping you feel more motivated anyway.
2. Reward yourself
Rewards are a vital part of habit formation, along with cue and routine (which we will get to later). Think about it: why are there certain things you do everyday, like watching TV or going to work, for example? Because there’s a reward waiting at the end of each one.
You watch TV; your reward is getting entertained. You work; your reward is getting paid. You eat; your reward is… well, you get the point. Sure enough, it’s because of these rewards that these same things become a habit over time.
It’s the same thing with losing weight. The reward motivates you and therefore makes you more consistent.
For example, I treat myself with a small bag of cheetos and a box of pizza after 2 weeks of being in the gym. Those are my guilty pleasures and they drive me, so I lift weights to be able to eat them — and the cycle continues until I’ve accomplished my goal.
3. Establish a routine (and figure out your cue)
Again, let’s use watching TV and brushing your teeth as an example. Have you noticed how there’s a specific timing to these things?
I turn on the TV at night after feeding the dogs — that’s my cue. I brush my teeth at night after a couple of episodes of whatever series I’m watching — that’s my cue.
These cues help me establish a routine and the routine makes me consistent.
In the context of weight loss, find a cue that automatically tells you to exercise or to eat right.
For me, that’s after work. When I clock out, I’ve programmed myself to hit the gym. That ends right about the same time I eat dinner, so my reward for all that sweat is immediate food. Thus, completing the cycle.
We’re different though, so find what works best for you and stick to it. If that’s after work, great. If it’s something else, cool. Just work with your schedule.
P.S.: If you want to learn more about the habit cycle (i.e. cues, routines, rewards), The University of North Carolina is where I got my info.
4. Plan your cheat meals
Before we get to anything else, I understand that cheat meals are not for everybody. For some people, cheat meals can quickly spiral to straight up binge eating. But for some others (such as myself), cheat days are a refresher.
From a biological standpoint, there’s proof that cheat meals help kick start your metabolism after it’s slowed down from not having too much food. In turn, this makes losing weight more efficient. That’s great.
But when it comes to mindset, a study says that a planned cheat meal can help you stay motivated and help you stick to your long-term goal.
5. Find the type of diet and exercise that works for you
Not everyone is going to love jogging but not everyone loves lifting weights either. The same can be said for diet. Not everyone digs keto but the Mediterranean diet isn’t for everyone, too.
So, my point is that you should do you. If you feel like you’re constantly dragging yourself to workout and eat right, what you’re doing probably isn’t the right fit. If so, then try something else.
Don’t worry if it takes you more than a couple of tries because once you do find it, doing it will feel more rewarding — and with reward comes motivation.
6. Use a smaller plate
In line with finding the right diet, try to use smaller plates. A study found out that this might actually help you feel more satisfied despite eating less food. Cool, huh?
While this might not necessarily be a way to feel more motivated per se, think of it as a trick to use up less willpower because it makes it easier for you to turn down food.
7. Keep track of what you eat
There’s research suggesting that keeping a food diary doubles how much weight you lose. I don’t know about you, but that’s incredible!
I mean, it’s so easy to do but somehow, just keeping track of what you eat motivates you to eat fewer calories.
Now, the study did require their participants to write down food diaries and turn them in every week but I don’t think you have to do all that.
Speaking from experience, I just use the free MyFitnessPal app to log whatever I eat. It helps keep me honest because I see how many calories I’ve already eaten. However, if you want to go old-school and really use pen and paper, I assume that works, too.
8. Be competitive
This is a case of easier-said-than-done (particularly if you’re not innately competitive) but, yes, try to be competitive.
According to this article on the science of motivation, when your goal is to outperform others, you feel more motivated. On the other hand, when your mindset when you do things is simply so you don’t do worse than your peers, your level of motivation is far less.
So, anytime you step into a workout regardless of whatever form it is, I want you to tell yourself you’ll be the best. Find a nemesis if you have to (but please don’t be too cocky about it).
I don’t believe this will work for everyone though because it’s probably more connected to your personality. Still, it won’t hurt to give it a try.
9. Keep your plans to yourself
Contrary to the more popular belief of speaking your thoughts into existence, I want you to keep your plans to yourself.
The way I see it, realizing that there’s still work left to be done is one way to teach yourself how to find and keep the motivation to lose weight — and, according to research, announcing your plans to people might actually give you a false sense of accomplishment.
In turn, this compromises your motivation and your progress.
Instead, work silently. Let your results do the talking because — trust me — people will notice sooner or later, even without you saying a word.
10. Step on the weighing scale. Everyday.
There’s research suggesting that weighing yourself daily can be an effective way to lose weight and, probably more importantly, keep the weight off.
The research still doesn’t yet fully understand why it’s effective though. But, personally, seeing that number staring right back at me helps motivate me.
If I felt like I did well with my workouts and nutrition today, I expect to at least see the same number or a small reduction tomorrow. If I don’t, I know there’s something in my routine I have to adjust. That sense of knowing if I’m going in the right or wrong direction helps keep me sane.
11. Set smaller, more reasonable goals
In other words, take it a step at a time.
The reason is because your brain releases dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, everytime you accomplish something. But if your “ultimate” goal is still a long ways away, well… you’re depriving yourself of this positive feeling and it might actually lead to anxiety.
On the other hand, setting smaller, more attainable goals that build towards the “ultimate” goal will give your brain a more steady sense of accomplishment (by releasing dopamine) when you actually achieve them. Therefore, helping to make sure you never run out of motivation.
Let’s say for example your “ultimate” goal is to lose 40 lbs in 6 months. That’s a long time and a lot of weight to lose, right? So, set smaller goals that build towards that. Maybe aim to lose about 2 lbs per week and reward yourself when you actually get it done.
12. Take photos of yourself
Per research, receiving feedback for your progress is better than not having any feedback at all. So, in the same vein as setting short-term goals, I believe seeing your own progress can be a powerful motivator.
But how do you give yourself this proverbial pat in the back?
Easy. Seeing your own before and after pictures. I suggest taking your pictures weekly or monthly using the same angles and lighting.
Sure, it’s vain. But, guess what? This whole losing weight thing is! Even if you say it’s for health reasons, all of us want to look a certain way. And on days where it seems like you’re stuck on the couch, seeing how much progress you’ve made might just be what it takes to get you motivated.
13. “Why do I want to lose weight?”
If you haven’t already, I want you to ask yourself this question. What made you step on that scale and drove you to your decision about losing weight?
This may sound cheesy but it’s important. There’s research suggesting that you’re better able to control your weight if internal reasons are what motivate you.
So, are you trying to lose weight because you want to fit that dress? Is it because you want to live a healthier life for your kids and loved ones? Is it because you just want to look and feel good?
Whatever it is, I want you to remind yourself of that reason every time you feel demotivated. Who knows? It could be a strong enough reason to put you back on your feet.
14. Dress the part
There’s this thing called enclothed cognition which basically means how you dress affects how you think, act, and feel.
I mean, I mostly workout from home now so I can literally wear anything I want. However, I still end up wearing my gear even when no one’s around to impress because, somehow, having them on unconsciously makes me feel like an athlete, so I end up working out harder.
This can work for you, too. So, dress for your exercise — be it yoga, lifting weights, cycling, or whatever it is you’re into.
15. Expect setbacks and be ready for them
So many things can happen in a year that can (and probably will) sabotage your efforts. There’s birthday parties you can’t say no to, holidays, and social gatherings that’ll pressure you to eat, drink, and just overall set you back.
You know what? That’s okay. Don’t compromise your relationships and mental health for a couple of pounds. Instead, just plan ahead.
If you know there’s a party coming up, maybe eat fewer calories during the day so you have a bit more freedom at night. Or, you could volunteer to bring food so you know it’s healthy. Or, you could simply just be mindful of your portions.
And if you mess up, so what? No big deal. Take pride in knowing it’s just one day of mistakes over an entire month — maybe even a year — of sticking to your goals.
This is where I bid my farewell but I hope I helped you learn how to stay motivated to lose weight.
I know it won’t be easy. It will be an uphill battle that can sometimes have you stumbling back to where you started. But if you keep in mind all the things I listed here, I have no doubt in my mind that you will get to where you want to be.
Now, go out there and make everyone proud!
Oh, and if you know someone who needs help, please share this with them so we can hopefully help them, too.