Before you can get what you want, you first have to know what you want.
Obviously, you say. But actually, it isn’t. We don’t think about what we want enough—we’re too quick to focus on methods instead of outcomes.
Seven years ago, if you had asked me what I wanted, I’d have told you that I wanted to lose twenty pounds.
On the surface, that sounds pretty good. It’s measurable and specific. All I had to do was lose twenty pounds, and then BOOM. Success!
Focusing on weight alone is why people go on crash diets. But, as we know, crash diets don’t result in permanent change. Why is that?
It’s because the numbers aren’t the whole story. The real reason you want to lose weight doesn’t have anything to do with numbers. You’re hoping that reaching a certain weight will bring other benefits. And those benefits are your actual goal.
What are you hoping to achieve when you lose weight? Do you want more energy? To move more comfortably in the world? Do you want to be in control instead of your food? Whatever the reason, you have to identify what you’re actually hoping to accomplish by shedding those pounds, or you won’t be happy just by reaching that weight.
Let’s use me as an example. In my case, I not only wanted to be skinny, I wanted the ability to eat like someone who was “naturally skinny.” In my experience, people who were “naturally skinny” weren’t people who lived primarily off soup and salads (my worst nightmare). They ate normal food and didn’t go to the gym for hours but somehow stayed thin. That was what I wanted.
Once you know what you want, it’s a lot easier to figure out how you’re going to get there. Since I wasn’t aiming to look like a fitness model, I ignored all weight loss plans that revolved around working out.
Like I said before, I also knew I didn’t want to be the sort of person who lived off salads. I hate salad. I never feel full, happy, and warm after eating a salad. (By contrast, I loooove casseroles. Can you tell I was raised in the Midwest?) So I didn’t lose weight by forcing down meals made of spiky, crunchy water-leaves.
That said, I didn’t get to keep absolutely everything I loved eating and doing. To gain something, you have to give something up. It’s a set of tradeoffs. So ask yourself: what are you willing to give up? What isn’t as valuable to you as what you stand to gain?
Let’s say, for example, that you love cheeseburgers. But you want to lose weight, so you have to make some changes. Depending on your goals and what you love about cheeseburgers, you have several options:
- Eat a lighter-calorie pattie, like a turkey burger
- Eat the burger without a bun
- Become a vegetarian and eat a veggie burger
- Eat only half the burger
- Make a lower-calorie version at home instead of ordering out
- Eat a cheeseburger for lunch and have a low-calorie dinner to balance it out
- Burn enough calories during your workout to cover a cheeseburger with no changes
(And on and on…)
I know, the sheer amount of options you have can feel overwhelming. How are you supposed to pick? This is why following a prescribed diet is so tempting. It’s much easier when someone else just tells you what to do.
But diets rarely work precisely because they give everyone the same list of foods to eat and behaviors to follow. A diet isn’t customized to your personal goals and preferences. It’s hard work, but in the long run, it pays off to narrow down what you want and what you are willing to give up or change to get it. Understanding the mechanics of how your body loses weight, like understanding how calories work, will help you make these choices. For the rest, you’ll have to rely on reflection and experimentation.
Start with making easy changes. Maybe give up a food you won’t really miss. Or you can cook a favorite dish the same way, except that you swap half the starches/carbs with vegetables instead. Or try not snacking between meals.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s in line with your ultimate goal of how you want to feel, what you want to look like, or what lifestyle you want to lead when you get to the other side. Giving things up is hard. But you’ll gain so much more than what you lose.
Change is desire made manifest. So what is it you really want?