Weight Loss is a Journey, Not A Destination
Jennifer, a forty-six year-old successful business owner my brother Tu Song-Anh Nguyen, M.D. and I have worked with in our weight loss clinics, prides herself in working hard and it shows in the success of her home-health business. While she enjoys this success, her inability to lose weight and keep it off represent an unspoken or unconscious failure. This failure has weighed on her heavily over the years.
No matter which weight-loss programs she enrolled in, she was unable to keep the weight off. Even if she came close to her goal, she would regain most of it fairly quickly due to the normal stress of raising two children along with running a busy practice. “I thought dieting was starving myself,” Jennifer said. Once she made her goal weight, she didn’t know what to do next. She viewed weight loss as a destination rather than a journey.
This is the very problem so many people seeking to shed pounds face. The pattern looks like this: You set the goal of a timeline and a specific target weight. You wake up early to go to the gym, and stay on course by restricting what you eat until you’re there. Or almost. And then...
Unfortunately, life is never so simple. Getting from point A to point B is rarely a smooth, straight line. You might look up from your desk at 8:00 PM and realize there’s still work to be done. Or the kids have an unexpected after-school project you have to help with. Or you just got a migraine. Each of these scenarios throws a wrench in your best dieting intentions. You were going to cook a totally amazing on-diet dinner, but there’s no way that’s going to get done tonight. Plus, you’re stressed. Takeout happens.
Does that mean you give up? Not at all. This is why you must see weight loss as a journey rather than a destination.
Setting a goal to lose a certain amount of weight is similar to traveling. Once you arrive at your destination or goal of weight loss, where do you go from there? What do you do next? Do you keep walking the same path? Not thinking of weight loss as a journey is the major problem with dieting and why it leads to so much failure.
Too often, negative, all-or-nothing thinking traps us in unrealistic standards of perfection. To reach your goal, you set the bar so high that it’s impossible to make any significant changes in your eating habits. Then guilt sets in. The thinking goes, if you mess up once, you might as well give in to your cravings and eat whatever you want. The guilt of breaking a diet is complicated. You might look around at others with superior willpower and feel inadequate. You might even start to feel like your own worst enemy, like you’ve cheated yourself out of your own health, well-being and goals. It’s hard to make-up with enemies, so you might find it hard to start taking care of yourself again.
So you continue doing what you’re most comfortable doing, and revert back to your old ways.
That’s why the key is to avoid looking ahead toward a specific destination and instead, view weight loss as a journey, taken one step and one day at a time. This is far less intimidating than taking a giant leap. Then one little misstep won’t be so catastrophic since you know that the real goal is to keep on heading in the right direction.
Equally important is to understand the real science behind weight loss. Envisioning the process within your body is a powerful tool for helping you continue on the right track, missteps or not. In our book, The Thinsulin Program, we explain that the key to successful, sustained weight loss is controlling insulin levels in your body. More powerful than counting calories or nixing long lists of food, focusing on the insulin in your body readjusts your thought-process from cycles of painful restriction and punishment to intentional self-care. Without restrictions and deprivation, the journey is a lot less arduous.
After making the connection between insulin and weight and coming to view the tools we offered her as a program, not a diet (which has so many restrictive, painful connotations!), Jennifer was able to lose fifty-four pounds. In September 2015, she celebrated a year of keeping the weight off. More importantly, her self-perception as a “failed dieter” has turned around completely. She feels more confident in herself and it shows in her life.
Getting aboard the weight loss journey can also serve as a meaningful lesson to enrich personal growth. You might have your ups and downs, but you’ll learn from these examples to find success down the road and to take the small steps necessary to make the bigger changes you want.
Charles Nguyen, M.D., is medical director of the Lorphen Medical Weight Loss Clinic in Riverside, CA, and co-author with Tu Song-Anh Nguyen and Mary Ann Marshall of The Thinsulin Program: The Breakthrough Solution To Help You Lose Weight And Stay Thin. (Da Capo Press, 2016).