Weight loss is hard because individuals treat weight loss like a forever pursuit. Weight loss is not supposed to be a forever pursuit. It should be very short and temporary.
I often see women over 35 in my weight loss focused nutrition practice who have been on a constant pursuit of dieting and weight loss for years and decades.
So when they begin weight loss coaching, their brain immediately reverts back to the hard, strict, rigid and restrictive diets they've done in the past.
They immediately think about how hard it should be because that's all they know.
The truth is the steps to lose weight are simple, but the human brain gets in the way from doing the simple, basic, boring things it takes to lose weight.
In this Dish On Ditching Diets podcast episode, I explain the psychology behind why weight loss is hard.
Yes, I said weight loss IS hard!
For most individuals, their negative self-talk, lack of belief in themselves, all or nothing mindset and perfectionist thinking gets in the way of doing the boring, simple things it takes to lose weight.
Unfortunately, without awareness around your brain and understanding how to think differently about mistakes or things not going right, you may find yourself always struggling.
I share a 1944 study that demonstrates what happens to human psychology after extreme dieting.
Additionally, I share the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and what you need to focus on to get to achieve your weight loss goals and keep the weight off long-term.
I hope this episode clears things up for you and is helpful in your journey!
In this Dish On Ditching Diets Podcast Episode, You Will Hear:
- The 2 Primary Reasons Weight Loss Is Hard
- What Happens When You Treat Dieting & Weight Loss As A Forever Pursuit
- What The 1944 Minnesota Starvation Diet Tells Us About Human Psychology and Dieting
- Why Losing Weight Is Not As Simple As Eating Adequate Protein & Fiber in a Calorie Deficit
- Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation
- A Reader Question On An Extremely High Calorie Diet
Related Dish On Ditching Diets Podcast Episodes
- 5 Basics Of Weight Loss
- The Mental Diet
- Katie's Weight Loss 3 Years After Coaching
- Dieting Inside Out
Why Weight Loss Is Hard Podcast Transcript
Hello Friends! Today we’re talking about why weight loss is so hard. I hear this frequently from clients and women over 35 I speak to who are trying to lose weight.
So, today I want to shed some light on why weight loss is hard or feels so hard for you.
As always, I appreciate you being here and would just like to ask if you have been enjoying this podcast and getting benefit from listening, would you please pause the podcast for a minute and leave it a 5-star rating and review in Apple podcasts.
Also, be sure you subscribe to the podcast, so you never miss an episode.
That said, I’ve got a listener question today and it’s a great question.
I’m so glad I get to share this one with you guys because it really highlights some of the stupid stuff we fall for when it comes to dropping body fat.
It also fits in nicely with today’s topic.
This listener wrote in via Facebook and said...
“Have you heard about the diet where you eat 5,000 calories two days in a row then you eat 800 calories for 6 weeks. It did work for me, lost the 15 stubborn pounds that I couldn’t lose for decades but gained almost all back. I never fully understood the science behind the extremely high calories that helped stimulate fat loss which it did or maybe it was just the low calories after.”
Here was my response to this individual.
"The extreme high calories does nothing for stimulating weight loss. It’s the fact that you’re eating 800 calories for 6 weeks which is getting you into a caloric deficit that causes the weight loss.
5,000 calories multiplied by 2 equals 10,000 calories. 800 calories times 42 days (6 weeks times 7 days) equals 33,600 calories. Total calories equal 43,600 for the total of 44 days. If you divide 43,600 by 44 days, your average calories over the 44 days were 990.9 calories.
This means you were in a calorie deficit. The majority of individuals eating on average 990 calories are going to lose weight because 990 calories is extremely low so of course I would expect weight loss. The fact that you ate 5,000 calories for 2 days is not magic. It's math to get into a calorie deficit."
This was such a great question as it highlights how we fall victim to these gimmicky diets that makes us believe there’s some science or something magical behind them.
The only science behind doing this is it gets someone into a calorie. The only way individuals lose body fat is through a calorie deficit.
That has been repeatedly confirmed by clinical research over and over again.
Here's the thing about this diet. She told me she lost weight, but she gained it back. I’m not surprised she gained it back at all. First, no sustainable habits were created FIRST.
I spoke about this in podcast episode 102 – the 5 basics of weight loss. If you do not take the time upfront to build sustainable habits that you can do until you’re 85 years old and work on your mindset, you are guaranteed to gain the weight back.
Second, when you do an extreme diet like this one your body’s physiology will kick in and cause you to eat more food.
Hormones like leptin and ghrelin kick in causing you to eat more food because your body is wired for survival.
When your body senses very little food coming in, it begins to slow down functions like thyroid, digestion, hormone production, digestion.
This is a protective mechanism the body has to keep you alive as long as possible in the event of a famine.
When you diet to an extreme, it often backfires into rapid weight regain because your body will make you so hungry that you eat.
So you get off your diet, then you eat more food because food is so readily available everywhere and now the weight is slowly coming back on.
This is why we don’t drastically slash calories; we lose weight slowly and is why we do not stay in calorie deficits for long periods of time.
This listener question fits in perfectly with our topic of conversation today. The first reason why weight loss is hard is because you pick hard diets.
You do hard diets where you restrict your food hard core, you exercise hard core so then the next time you try another diet, your brain gets scared of having to restrict and do all these extreme, exhausting things that you dread losing weight.
It feels miserable, it feels unbearable, and you want to rebel from that. This is why many people want to lose weight but then will start a new diet and sabotage. Because their brain rebels against it.
They fear restriction. They dread the hard things.
Their brain immediately correlates any new diet or way of eating with the extreme diets they’ve done in the past.
Then they get scared. Some people their fear is so strong, they won’t even try.
The diet industry has legitimately brain washed people into believing that we need to do really hard and extreme things to lose body fat when the simple truth is, you don’t need to do hard things.
You need to do the basic, boring things. The tradeoff is those basic, borings things take time.
But if you spent a good year building new habits and mindsets, you will look back after that year and see how far you’ve come.
In the day to day and month to month, you wouldn’t notice that big of a difference but after one year you would look back and notice a difference.
So that’s the first reason why weight loss is hard because we do hard diets. Extreme diets and it’s just unnecessary. Is it hard to change your habits? Yes.
Will you need to learn new things? Yes.
Is it going to take time to learn new things and figure out how to implement them in your busy life? Yes.
I’m not saying some aspects are not going to hard.
Figuring out how to strength train. How to get your steps in. What foods are protein and what foods are fiber.
How to have them prepared and in your house for your busy week. Yes, that part is going to be challenging because if you’ve never done it before it’s new and anything new is going to be challenging.
But that’s not extreme. That’s just learning new skills.
Sometimes I see women getting frustrated they have to learn things. In some ways, it does make the extreme diets look attractive because you can shut your brain off, do the hard, restrictive diet and never have to think or learn.
The tradeoff is if you want this to be a lose the weight forever kinda thing, you are going to need to turn your brain on and learn. The key with that is you must be patient.
No one has ever taught you proper nutrition and how to eat like a normal person. You’ve only learned how to do extreme things with food.
Be patient with yourself like you would with a child learning something new.
Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t learn new things. You are entirely capable of learning and doing news things. It just feels hard because it is new. That’s all.
But the bottom line is weight loss feels hard when you do extreme and restrictive things.
Get out of the extreme and build your foundation first. That’s what I talked about in episode 102 with the 5 basics of weight loss.
You have no business even thinking about losing body fat until you have done that step first. It will make your weight loss much easier if you work on things step-by-step this way.
Okay, so that’s the first reason. Extreme diets! Treating dieting like a forever pursuit.
Reason number two. Before I tell you what reason number two is bear with me while I tell you a few thoughts first.
The best randomized control trials show if you eat appropriate amounts of protein and fiber while simultaneously eating in a calorie deficit, regardless of the ratios of carbs and fats, you will lose weight.
That’s why the coaches who promote macro coaching are making it way more complicated than it needs to be.
Unless you are a body builder or have some type of specific medical condition, there is no need to track to specific ratios of carbs and fats and we have good research to back that up.
So, if the best randomized control trials show it’s this simple then it stands to reason that if I just tell you to eat less and I tell you to consume adequate protein and fiber and I tell you to walk every day and get your steps, lift some weights so you won’t lose your muscle then you should just coast to the body of your dreams. Right? Nope!
So, what’s the problem?
There is a massive disconnect that exists here and it’s a huge problem in the diet industry. Here is the problem.
Are you living in a metabolic ward? Are you living in a completely controlled environment where all your food is carefully calculated and measured and delivered to you without any access to outside foods?
Are you living right now where stress, lifestyle, and every variable of how and why you eat is accounted for? Are you a robot without tastebuds, moods, aches and pains?
Nope, I didn’t think so!
Your environment is an environment that is fluid. It changes and it’s not controlled. You can’t exactly take something that was done in a beautifully controlled lab and expect the same exact results.
Let’s ignore the fact that you have a hectic life and busy schedule. Let’s ignore the fact that you have all the stress going on.
Let’s ignore your job, family dynamics and the fact that some family members like to have junk food in the house and that your family likes to go out to eat every Friday night and that you do holidays, and your relatives cook delicious food.
Let’s ignore all the trauma you have.
Let’s ignore any medical conditions you have like hormonal issues, thyroid issues, PCOS, autoimmune issues.
Let’s just ignore all this stuff and pretend like it should just be this simple.
There is a missing link in all of this that the studies don’t account for, and diets don’t account for. Have you figured it out yet?
It’s the thing you’re using now in between your ears to process this information.
Your brain. Your psychology and we have evidence of what happens from a psychological standpoint when people diet.
In 1944 there was a guy named Ancil Keys who ran the Minnesota Starvation Study. There were 36 healthy and active men and they wanted to see what semi-starvation would do to these men.
So, initially they were put on a controlled diet of 3200 calories per day then they were taken to 1570 calories per day.
Now if you Google the Minnesota Starvation Study, you can see the images of these participations. They look frail and weak.
These men went from being fit and active to looking like they had an eating disorder.
In the study, they mentioned these men lost strength, stamina, their body temperature lowered, they lost their sex drive.
What’s interesting about this study though is what it did to these men mentally. These were men who had no signs of disordered eating. No obsession around food.
But the mini starvation changed that.
These men would fantasize about food. Read and talk about food. Talk about recipes. They wanted to watch others eating.
They became obsessed, and food focused. They even had to reduce their gum intake because they became obsessed with chewing gum.
One guy was going through 30 packs of gum per day. They were mentally irritable and there was an increase in depression.
All these psychological impacts were from dieting. Now, this was an extreme protocol like I mentioned in the first reason why weight loss is hard.
Going from 3200 calories to 1500 is an extreme protocol. But now maybe you’re asking well what if I did a small calorie deficit that’s not so extreme?
While that is the way you should be doing it; we’re still asking a human being who is not in a controlled environment to remain very consistent and diligent in an environment that is not conducive to consistency and adherence.
This is where the issue is. Your brain, your psychology gets in the way of doing the very seemingly basic things, and I see it all the time with clients.
Here’s an example. A client will come to a coaching call and tell me. Megan I was doing so well with my calorie deficit.
I was getting my steps and strength training. I was doing all the things.
Why am I not tracking my food? Why am I not doing what I know I should be doing? What’s wrong with me?
If I had a penny for every time this has happened, I would be a multi-millionaire. It happens all the time.
The problem is so obvious, but it’s never obvious to clients.
When this happens with clients, I ask a lot of probing questions and usually what comes up is they think nothing’s working.
They’re thinking why bother. It’s taking so long. I’m not seeing results.
This happened with a client I was coaching recently. She told me in our coaching call, I’m not losing any weight; however, I’m looking right at her inches and her inches have decreased.
I said that’s interesting you think you’re not losing weight because your inches have decreased. We have the data right here!
As soon as I said that she immediately said to me yes, I know I’ve lost some, but weight loss feels so hard. Ahh… did you hear what she said? It feels so hard!
This is where your brain, your mindset, your psychology gets in the way of doing the very basic thing that will allow you to lose weight.
And this is the massive disconnect in the diet industry and the missing ingredient for many of you who can’t seem to lose weight.
You know all the things, you do all the things, but your mindset sucks and sabotages you.
First, feelings are not facts. They are just feelings and while feelings are valid our minds often over dramatize our feelings so much that it clouds our vision of the facts.
Second, if your expectation is that it should be fast or that you should be seeing more results it is likely your expectations are unrealistic or that perhaps, your expectations don’t match your efforts.
If you’re putting in C effort, you should not expect A results. If you think you should lose weight every week or see fast results, your expectations are unrealistic.
Your mindset is the problem. Not the calories. Not the plan. Not the diet. Calorie deficits work when you get in and out of them and don’t diet forever.
Weight loss works when you lay the foundation and establish your foundational habits before attempting weight loss.
The process of establishing the habits and doing a short calorie deficit is easy. What is hard is your mindset.
Your mindset constantly telling you – why should I bother, it’s never going to happen, I haven’t been able to do it before, this is taking forever, I’m not losing anyway, I got off track a few days and it’s too hard to get back on track, I screwed up so I should just quit.
All of that is stinky thinking. That line of thinking is what makes weight loss hard.
Not believing in yourself is what makes weight loss hard.
Constantly, judging yourself and putting yourself down for making mistakes… that is what makes weight loss hard.
Dieting all the time mentally and beating yourself up for eating something you think you shouldn’t have eaten… that is what makes weight loss hard.
Weight loss would not be hard if your brain wasn’t part of the picture and that is what’s missing from every diet out there – the mindset part.
Learning how to deal with the stinky thinking your brain is in the habit of doing. Thoughts create feelings and feelings create behaviors and behaviors create results.
Your behaviors are your habits, and your results are your weight loss. The only thing that interferes with your habits and results are your thoughts and feelings.
Your thoughts and feelings are what shape your mindset. So, this is why weight loss feels hard. Your thoughts and feelings aka your mindset get in the way.
If you want permanent results, you have to become self-aware of how you think about things. Just like the client telling me the results weren’t enough.
If you think a thought like the results aren’t enough of course you’re going to stop tracking your food and doing what you need to do because that thought is unmotivating.
It makes you feel terrible. Terrible thoughts will result in inaction.
Here's the other piece you need to understand. Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation means you are doing something for a reward or outcome, something external and there are three types.
Reward based, power based, and fear based. The reward based is I want to lose weight because I want to look better in my clothes and I want to fit into new clothes, or I want to look sexy in front of my partner.
It is a type of external reward that is motivating enough for you to start taking action. The power based is if it gives you a sense of control.
Like if I lose weight, I can help others. I can inspire others to get in shape and lose weight too.
The fear based is my doctor told me to lose 20 pounds and get healthier because I have prediabetes. My doctor told me if I don’t do this, I’ll get diabetes.
Extrinsic motivation is what drives us to do things that we don’t particularly want to do like losing weight and dieting. Dieting is usually reward or fear based.
Potentially, it could be power based, but it’s mostly reward, or fear based. The bottom line is we do these things we don’t want to do for external reasons – the extrinsic and that is what everyone believes because that is how dieting and weight loss is always presented, and it is a fallacy. A weight loss fallacy.
There’s another other form of motivation called intrinsic motivation, which means you do something for its inherent satisfaction regardless of the results or outcome.
There’s no I have to do this by a certain date and time. There’s no reward.
You’re just doing it for the inherent satisfaction regardless of the results or outcome and it is a long-term motivation driven by yourself.
An example would be I lift weights because it makes me feel strong and powerful.
Now for decades, we’ve been treating weight loss as if it’s rooted in extrinsic motivation when in reality, it needs to be an intrinsic pursuit. The pursuit of losing body fat is extrinsic.
No human actually enjoys losing body fat. Nobody is intrinsically saying I love to diet. No one cuts calories for the inherent joy of the process.
No one loves the task of eating fewer calories a day. No one gets up in the morning and says yes, I can’t wait to take on this day and eat less food.
I can’t wait – let’s go! So dieting, calorie deficits and losing body fat are not intrinsic pursuits.
The solution here is simple.
You treat the habits and lifestyle you create as the intrinsic pursuit. I walk for the joy of moving my body and how good it makes me feel.
I strength train for how strong and powerful it makes me feel. Also, the sense of challenge and accomplishment. I eat protein and fiber because of how they make me feel.
There is inherent satisfaction in building these quality habits that support your health long-term.
It’s long-term and self-motivating. These are the things that last forever. But there are zero results or rewards attached to doing them.
The reward and satisfaction are what you get out of it. You’re doing these things because you love the process.
You enjoy walking, you love how strong you feel strength training and the sense of accomplishment you get; you like how good you feel when you eat quality foods with protein and fiber.
When it comes to losing body fat, understand that it is extrinsically motivating. You are doing it for an outcome and results.
You are not doing it for the love of dieting. So, intrinsic motivation is long term and long lasting. Extrinsic is short-term and short lasting.
This means the answer for weight loss is to build the intrinsic habits first then for weight loss don’t do it for very long. Again, extrinsic.
Understand the intrinsic things are all the basics. The basics foundational habits.
The things I spoke of in episode 102. How does it make you feel to prioritize your health? It should bring you internal joy. Weight loss, you should not enjoy.
This is not something you should love. It is extrinsically motivating. You’re doing it very short term for an outcome. That means you do it for a short period of time and get it done with.
The healthy habits and the foundational basics are the things you do forever. The dieting, the calorie deficit, is the thing you do short-term to lose body fat.
The dieting may not even have to happen. I see this with some clients. If you have intrinsic motivation in the process and you begin to acquire new behaviors and habits, you may never have to diet again.
If you do need to diet to lose body fat, get in and get out. Be very intentional that you are doing something that you do not necessarily want to do for a short-term timeframe.
No one enjoys being in a calorie deficit. It’s supposed to suck a little, yet everyone is doing it forever and ever.
This is where many of you get stuck. You think you need to dieting and restricting all the time.
When you’re dieting, restricting, and treating weight loss like it is a forever game. It’s impossible.
So many women that I talk to have been mentally dieting (I spoke about the mental diet in episode 92 – it’s one of my most popular episodes) for years and decades.
And some women have been both mentally and physically dieting for years or decades.
It is not supposed to be a forever pursuit. The forever pursuit should only be the healthy habits, your foundation of doing things that inherently bring you value, joy and are inherently satisfying.
Satisfying to move your body, lift weights, fuel your body, prioritize your health etc.
Then the short-term intervention is the extrinsic pursuit of dieting and doing the calorie deficit.
If you focus on the habits and the foundational stuff, then the dieting piece can be short. Like no longer than 12 weeks in a dieting phase.
I don’t like making sweeping generalizations like that because there are always exceptions. But the bottom line is stop treating weight loss like a forever pursuit.
Like it’s a forever game. It is not. It’s a short term means to an end.
This is why weight loss feels so hard though. Because people treat dieting like a forever pursuit. It’s not!
The people who are successful with losing weight and keeping it off long-term find intrinsic value in the foundational habits they do forever. They change their mindset!
Most of us are wired for extrinsic or external results so when we don’t see the physical results constantly, we start talking to ourselves like jerks – this isn’t going to work, this is taking too long, why bother – and then because of that negative self-talk we give up and quit.
The mindset has to change too. You have to learn how not to put yourself down and judge yourself so harshly.
But the diet industry doesn’t teach any of this. I believe there needs to be more advocates who understand behavior change and the psychology behind this teaching people this because it’s not as simple as just eat less, move more.
So, those are the two reasons weight loss is hard and of course, if you’ve been spinning your wheels with losing weight permanently investing in a good coach is going to help you get there faster.
Structure, accountability, a plan, direction and more importantly, transforming your mindset and teaching you how to un-diet your life is going to give you so much freedom.
Is it going to take time? Yep!
You’ve heard my clients on this podcast who have been with me 2 or 3 years. It takes time.
Not everyone takes that long, but I like to highlight all the stories for you so you know it’s normal if it does take you longer.
The bottom line is it takes as long as it takes and if you’ve been dieting for decades then 2 or 3 years to build lasting, sustainable habits and a solid mindset is nothing.
Investing that time upfront in your journey will pay you back repeatedly in the future!
Okay that’s all for today. I hope this was helpful to you. Talk to you soon!