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Tuesday
Dec222015

7 Mental Hurdles for Beginning a Weight Loss Program

It can take a lot for someone to walk through our doors for the first time, a lot to approach the dietitian and fitness professionals’ desk, a lot to venture a major lifestyle change. I’ve seen it.

I know the looks on people’s faces when they’re lost in the weight training areas, when they’re surveying the products on the shelves with questions they’re not ready to ask yet, when they’re moving around the club wondering if anyone in that room feels like they do right now.

And I imagine them at home looking in the refrigerator or at the grocery store deliberating whether they’ll resist making the same unhealthy choices or attempt something new.

Some of the hurdles we face when beginning a health journey are physical. We have chronic conditions, pain or low fitness levels. Other barriers are mental but, in some ways, feel just as formidable.

What insecurities and excuses have you heard yourself or others say in transitioning to a healthy way of life? Read on to see which ones I hear most frequently - and enjoy watching clients overcome!

“I need to get in shape before working with a trainer/dietitian or before starting my group program.”

This misconception is often rooted in embarrassment or fear of being judged by the club staff or by your peers.

First things first: I think I speak for all health/fitness professionals when I say that I am thrilled and honored to be part of your journey from Day 1. If you haven’t exercised since elementary school and even smoked a cigarette in the parking lot before you walked in, you’re here. That is reason enough to celebrate. Truly.

When you begin your journey with your trainer and dietitian, you’ll intentionally start with a structure that's geared toward helping you enjoy successes in the crucial early weeks. These achievements will set the tone for success throughout the rest of your journey.

In other words, we will meet you exactly where you are today.

And your peers? They’ve been there, and you’ll be humbled and surprised by the transparency (and maybe similarity) of the struggles and triumphs they'll share as well as by the encouragement they're ready to offer you on the days you need it most.

“I’ve failed in the past, and this time will probably end the same way.”

People’s paralytic fear of failure can be so strong that they won’t allow themselves to even acknowledge or verbalize their health and fitness goals.

If you’ve tried in the past (and tried…and tried) and have either not seen success or have not maintained it, guess what? There’s a flaw in the system, not in you.

Maybe you had the wrong information. Maybe you didn’t have enough support. While many health care professionals, media influences, and governmental initiatives still suggest that the cause of obesity and chronic disease is overeating, lack of exercise, and absence of personal responsibility, the science tells a different story.

Instead of continuing the trial-and-error method, why not find out what your body needs? When you start with personal and targeted assessment of your unique metabolism, you’ll have the benefit of an individualized, results-driven nutrition and exercise program that works for you.

“It’s too expensive.”

I won’t beat around the bush about hard earned dollars. Yes, working with health and fitness professionals, taking pharmaceutical grade supplements, eating organic foods, and completing personalized assessments (to name some recommended actions or tools) all cost money.

That said, hospital stays, doctor visits, diagnostic testing, medications, and even those hyperpalatable but nutrient-devoid processed food products also cost a pretty penny - particularly the medical expenses associated with ill health and chronic conditions. The old adage holds true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In many (albeit not all) cases, money spent on prevention and money spent on healthcare are inversely proportional. I’m a firm believer that we all have a choice: spend money on attaining and maintaining a healthy way of life, or spend money on managing disease. The only difference is timing. Additionally, it’s impossible to place a dollar value on better mobility, more vitality, higher energy levels, quality sleep, pain-free days, optimally-functioning digestion, and a happier mood. If these benefits could be quantified, this mental hurdle might instantly evaporate.

While I can personally appreciate that we all have different financial situations, this hurdle in many people’s circumstances can be addressed through reassessing budgetary priorities. While some people live very close to the bone in terms of basic necessities, most of us have a certain amount of discretionary income. For example, if you spend $5 daily on coffee house drinks, go out to eat frequently, enjoy regular happy hours, or opt for an all-inclusive cable package, reallocation of these funds is a realistic option if you have the willingness to do so.

Even if you have a solid hold on your finances and find that you’re stretched down to the dollar, there’s still good news: it’s been shown time and again that healthy eating actually saves you money. Additionally, daily movement and in-home/outdoor workouts are 100% free.

“Nutrition guidelines change by the minute, so why bother?”

With no shortage of contradictory headlines about nutrition, it might feel easier to throw in the towel than attempt to follow the constant and ever-changing debate. A quick Internet search will lead you to conflicting information on eggs, carbohydrates, red meat, butter, margarine, coffee, and whatever else you can imagine.

Don’t be fooled, however, by sensationalist headlines that overgeneralize or mislead. Here are a few things to be sure of. A good diet consists of real, whole, unprocessed foods. A good diet is high in vegetables and contains ample amounts of protein and essential fatty acids. Finally, one of the best ways to eat a good diet is to avoid packaged foods that require nutritional labels.

“I hate working out.”

To paraphrase pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, overeating and lack of exercise are a result of imbalanced biochemistry and metabolism - not the cause. (Yes, that statement is worth reading again.) In other words, the healthiest version of you really does want to move and be active.

When you have imbalances in your hormones (often caused by poor quality nutrition and unhealthy lifestyle factors), it’s likely you will feel sluggish and unmotivated. Address the imbalances, and you will prime yourself to get moving.

Also, don’t pigeon-hole yourself into exercise regimes that do not suit your personality! If you’ve given a particular class or training style a solid attempt for a few weeks and are miserable, find a fitness professional to help you brainstorm alternatives that you’ll find genuinely fun. Once you get a fitness habit established, you should look forward to your workout time.

“I will do it on my own.”

First and foremost, ask how long you’ve been telling yourself this. If it’s been more than a few weeks, it’s time to seek out support. Even if it hasn’t been very long, ask yourself how likely you are to continue with new habits when you’re stressed, emotional, having a bad day, or irritated with a disrupted schedule.

We all need support and accountability, whether it comes from a friend or family member, workout buddy, a professional, fitness team or combination of all of the above. As a dietitian, even I have peers checking in on my protein intake and loved ones checking in on my stress management! Some days I like it, some days I don’t, but in moments of clarity, I always understand how much I appreciate it.

Being intentional about finding an accountability team is not a sign of weakness: it’s a smart, strategic commitment to your long-term success.

“I’m not going to give up bread/sugar/etc.”

Who says starting a path to a healthier way of life is based on deprivation?

This is your journey and no one else’s. I’ve had some great consultations with clients that started off with guns blazing proclamations about everything they are not going to do. (These conversations, fortunately, ended with light-hearted laughter.)

Surprise usually sets in when my response is, “O.K., those big steps don’t sound like what I would recommend you start with either. What are you willing to do today?”

Oftentimes, we convince ourselves that the hardest thing to do is the first thing we must do. In reality, the most effective starting point is the easiest habit to change.

The beauty of this approach is this: as you change easy things consistently, the once-impossible becomes possible. The person you become three months from now will be able to do what the person you are today cannot fathom.

As you feel better and see more results, barriers to change crumble. If you ever give up bread/sugar/etc., it will be because you reach a point at which you genuinely want to do so. Be okay with where you’re at today, and take things one step at a time.

It’s no secret that we all have internal debates about making significant changes in our lives: reasons to do so, reasons not to do so, and thoughts of potential outcomes. Health and fitness are no different. If you find yourself walking the line between staying put and achieving a healthier way of life, an honest evaluation of your mental hurdles is in order. Self-beliefs are inextricably linked to health, and your journey begins with your state of mind.

Would you like support around your mental hurdles? Talk with one of our professional trainers or dietitians today. Thanks for reading. 

In health, Samantha Bielawski, Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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