I can remember so often during my weight loss journey saying I wished I could get motivated. I would say that when I was struggling to take action to lose weight. I usually felt the desire to lose weight. In that sense, I was motivated. But, I couldn’t take that next step to action. I was missing a couple of pieces.
It was almost always easy for me to say that I was motivated to lose weight. Of course, I was. I wanted to be thin. I wanted to look good. I wanted to feel good. I wanted to be healthy. The desire to lose weight was there. So, yes, I was motivated.
My Motivation Failure
But, I remember one point somewhere around the year 2000 when I quit going to Weight Watchers meetings and quit trying to lose weight. I realized that I wasn’t really motivated. Oh, I still wanted to be thin. If I could have waved that magic wand and been thin the next day I would have done it. But, I wasn’t really consistently taking the actions that led to weight loss. And, I really hadn’t been for years.
During this time, I would go to a meeting and be resolved to follow the program. And, maybe I would do it for a week and I went back and had a loss. Then, something happened. We went out to eat when I hadn’t planned for it. Someone at work brought a treat and left it in the kitchen. I went downstairs and bought a candy bar from the vending machine. I got hungry late at night and ate too much. And, I knew I would have a gain so I didn’t go to my meeting. And, then a while later, I went back and I had gained a few pounds. And, sometimes I would then intensely work on weight loss for a few weeks and get back to where I started, but then I would fall away again. This went on over and over again.
Ah, yes. I have copies of some of my old Weight Watchers books. Here is the first one:
These books tell the tale of my motivation failure. They are a little hard to read but the first one is in March of 1995. I weighed in at 180.25 pounds. I had had my son in 1994 and I remember that I weighed 180 pounds a few weeks after his arrival. Ten months later, the good news was that I was at the same weight. Ten months later, the bad news was that I was at the same weight. After all, that weight was 17 pounds more than I weighed when I became pregnant. And, 180 pounds put me into the obese category. So, I was motivated to lose weight and decided to go back to Weight Watchers. I had last been there when I had still been at my goal weight of 125 pounds a few years earlier. When I gained more than 2 pounds above that goal weight I quit going. But, in March of 1995, I finally decided to go back (to a different center though).
And…that was it. There are no other weights recorded in that book. I don’t remember what happened exactly but I just couldn’t seem to get going.
The next book I have (I think it was the next time I went back, but not sure), I had lost a little weight and was at 166 ½ pounds. This was in April, 1997. The good news was that I almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight. The story was a bit more complicated though. I had started keeping a weight chart at home. By June of 1996, I had gained up to 185 pounds. I started exercising and working out at home. And, by the start of March, 1997, I was down to 155.75 pounds. I was doing great. I was motivated and my motivation was leading to action. And, yet, five weeks later, I walked back into Weight Watchers at 166.5 pounds. I gained 11 pounds in 5 weeks. I don’t really remember what happened. But, somehow I went off track and I couldn’t get back on. The motivation wasn’t working to, well, motivate me to lose weight.
So, I went back to Weight Watchers hoping for magic. And, I was inconsistent. At my first weigh in, I was down a pound. I didn’t go back to Weight Watchers then and decided to lose at home and I lost about 5 pounds over the next month. But, then I gained about 7 pounds in 2 months. In June of that year, I again went back to Weight Watchers and after all that I was up a pound and a quarter from my prior weigh in at Weight Watchers in a couple of months earlier. I was down 4.5pounds from where I had started in April.
And, then it all fell apart. I didn’t weigh in for two months, either at home or at Weight Watchers. I went back to Weight Watchers that August up 10 pounds. I had gotten up to 172 pounds. And, there that book ended. After that weigh in, I didn’t go back for about 7 months. During that time, I had a few sporadic attempts at weight loss at home. I lost down to 161.5 pounds once, but then I gained back to 176 pounds (I gained 10 pounds over the holiday season that year).
In March of 1998, I went back to Weight Watchers. I was at 173.25 pounds then. I actually went fairly steadily for several months. I often went only once a month (this was before the Monthly Pass and as a lifetime member I didn’t have to pay for missed meeting fees), but my motivation was working for me here and I was acting on it. By July, I had lost 12 pounds and was down to 161.5 pounds.
And, then I quit going to the meetings. But, I did continue working on losing weight at home. I was working with a trainer and doing well. I had a temporary bump up in January and went to one meeting, but kept working on it at home and actually got down to a low of 156.5 pounds by March.
And, then I quit weighing, quit exercising and gained 14 pounds. I actually remember what happened then. We were in the middle of looking for a house and moving and my mind wasn’t on weight loss. By June, I am sad to say that I was back to the low 170s.
In January of 2000, I went back to weight Watchers weighing 181 pounds. I went to a couple of meetings and then quit. For the next 5 years, I didn’t do anything to really lose weight. I didn’t go to meetings. I didn’t watch what I ate. And, I didn’t weigh myself at home. I have a 5 year gap in my weight record except for one weigh in I recorded from a doctor’s visit. When I next weighed myself at home, I was in the mid 190’s.
So why did I take that 5 year vacation from weight loss? Basically, at some point, I realized I wasn’t really motivated to lose weight at that time. That was why all my attempts had failed. I couldn’t sustain it over time mostly because of motivation reasons. My motivation failed. Despite this, during all of this time I still wanted to be thin.
Here’s the thing. Almost everyone who joins Weight Watchers or starts a weight loss program wants to be thin or at least wants to lose weight. I’m sure there are some who do it to please someone else and may not really have any motivation, but I think most who try to lose weight are doing it because they want to actually lose weight. So, it is easy to think that desire is motivation. And, to an extent, it is. It just isn’t enough by itself.
We all have competing motivations. All that time I wanted to be thin, to look good, and to feel good – I also wanted other things. I wanted to eat whatever I wanted to eat. I wanted to go out to eat a lot. I wanted to have a Snickers bar every afternoon at work. I wanted to not have to think about losing weight. I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to sit around and read or use the computer (yes, even back then). I wanted to have cookies when I wanted them. I didn’t want to have to think about my weight. When I started that 5 year vacation from weight loss I had 3 children and I worked full-time. I had a lot of stuff on my plate and most of it was not food.
I was motivated by a lot of things. Just finding enough time in the day to do everything I really needed to do was tough. Watching my weight seemed like just one more chore that I couldn’t manage. And, finally, I admitted it. Yes, I wanted to be thin. But, at that moment, that motivation wasn’t my primary motivation. I had so much other stuff going on. All of my desires competed with one another. The actions I had to take to lose weight weren’t the same actions that I would take if some of my other motivations won out.
It seemed almost like a heresy to admit it to myself back then. But, I remember consciously deciding that I wasn’t going to try to lose weight right then. Yes, I wanted to be thin. But, I wasn’t sufficiently motivated by that desire to take the actions necessary to achieve that goal. I am not saying that was the “right” decision for me to make. Looking back on it, I wish I had done more to lose weight then. Or, to at least just try to maintain when I was in my 170s. But, those kinds of regrets are always easier to have in hindsight.
To Lose Weight, the Motivation to Do So Must Be Primary
What I have realized was that for me to lose weight, the motivation to do so had to be primary. It had to be more important than many of the other things I wanted. Losing weight had to be more important to me than eating out 5 times during the week. It had to be more important than having a candy bar every day. Going to a Weight Watchers meeting had to be compete with all the other tasks pulling at me and had to win the competition. And, for a few years there, it didn’t. I am not saying that losing weight had to be more important than me being a parent or me working at my employment. But, I don’t think that was the choice. I think I could have still been a good parent and worked and still lost weight. But, it was the other things I didn’t want to give up or didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to give up being able to eat whatever I felt like eating. I didn’t want to be careful when I ate out. I didn’t want to give up my afternoon candy bar. I didn’t want to have to think about weight and eating. I wanted to spend what free time I had doing other things. That was more of a priority to me than losing weight at that time.
Honestly, it took a full 10 years before weight loss won the motivation sweepstakes for me for any extended period of time. About 5 years in, I started to make sporadic efforts to lose but I didn’t put together a sustained loss until I seriously started going to Weight Watchers again in 2010. That coincided with a number of things happening in my life that resulted in my having a lot more time available to me and making it easier for me to prioritize weight loss. My free time was a lot freer and I was able to do weight loss and still do other things.
Once I made weight loss an important goal for me, I found things were much easier. When I was considering going to a restaurant I consciously thought about whether it was more important to go to the restaurant or to lose weight. If I did eat out, I would choose what I ate based upon thinking about whether it was more important to have a good weigh in that week or to have dessert at the restaurant. Most of the time, the weigh in won.
Throughout all this time, in some ways, I was motivated to be thin. But, I didn’t achieve much long term success until that motivation beat out all of its competitors.
Motivation Isn’t Enough By Itself
While I think that motivation is very important to both weight loss and maintenance, it isn’t enough by itself. Motivation to me is a desire which if prioritized will lead to action to achieve a goal. Motivation doesn’t achieve the goal itself. That is, motivation will not alone cause weight loss. Actions result in weight loss. Motivation helps us to take action, but action is necessary. For me, that action is most likely to succeed if it is purposeful and if I use tools to facilitate my actions. Following Weight Watchers, counting calories, tracking what I eat, going to meetings, exercising, not buying certain foods for the house, limiting my eating out and so on are all tools that I use to help me to lose weight. The tools are part of the actions that I take that actually lead to the result of weight loss. Learning what tools help me to lose weight has been an important part of my weight loss.
So, motivation + tools has equaled weight loss for me. Tools without motivation didn’t work for me long term. The best tools in the world didn’t work for me if I wasn’t motivated to lose weight more than I was motivated to do all the other things I wanted to do. I could not sustain the use of those tools when the motivation wasn’t there.
On the other hand, motivation alone – no matter how strong – won’t result in weight loss if I don’t take actions to achieve weight loss. I had to have both to achieve sustained weight loss.