Working as a dietitian specializing in weight loss for the past two years, my patients consistently report similar challenges. Lifestyle changes are hard – going from daily take out/fast food to home-cooked meals, for example, requires a dramatic change in your daily routine. Suddenly you have to not only plan out a grocery list, but you might also have to develop cooking skills and allow extra time in your day for food preparation.
One major thing I’ve learned in helping people manage their weight is that anyone can make a lifestyle change, but the motivation and commitment comes from you.
Most people are aware that maintaining a healthy body weight leads to health benefits (from reducing risk of cancer, to diabetes, to increasing life span and improving quality of life). Your doctor, a friend, or a significant other may have put pressure on you to lose weight. However, at the end of the day, the one thing that really matters is your own desire and motivation to make that change.
I like to show my patients a model called the Stages of Change Transtheoretical Model, developed by a health psychologist at the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues. This model depicts 5 stages and can be a helpful tool for anyone interested in embarking in the life-long commitment that is necessary to lose and maintain weight loss. Here are the stages:
1. Precontemplation: You don’t intend to take action, and may be unaware of your health risk. If you are in this stage, it is highly unlikely that someone else (e.g. a healthcare provider or spouse) will get you to change your behaviors.
2. Contemplation: You are beginning to recognize that your diet, for example, might be hurting your health and you have begun to think about the risks and benefits of continuing to eat in that way.
3. Preparation: You are now planning on making a lifestyle change, and may have already begun to make small steps. You have not yet changed behaviors, but maybe you have signed up for a gym membership in your area.
4. Action: You have already made changes and are acquiring new healthy behaviors. For example, you now pack your lunch daily or have started having at least 1-2 servings of vegetables nightly with dinner (things you didn’t do routinely in the past).
5. Maintenance: You have been able to sustain these new changes for a while and you are working to avoid slipping back into old habits. For instance, you know on vacation you will not be able to plan every meal, however you plan ahead to bring healthy snacks and walk regularly while away, and are ready to get right back to your routines upon return.
So if someone else is encouraging you to change your behaviors, I would challenge you to contemplate this model and assess where you are personally. Do you want to make changes? How important is weight loss to you, and what are the reasons you want to achieve a healthy weight? When you figure out your own motivation and desire – for instance, living longer and being more active with your kids – then you are ready to seek support and tools (such as joining AICR’s New American Plate Challenge or seeing a Registered Dietitian) that can help you make those behavior changes you feel ready to do.
Remember, you are what makes the difference.
What motivates you to make a lifestyle change?
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her on twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.