When you've put a major effort into your healthy lifestyle, there is nothing better than seeing the number on the scale drop. These results are just what you need to stay motivated. But interestingly enough, this weightloss high might be the same reason you've feel a little bummed out once you reach your goal. Maintaining doesn't feel nearly as much fun as shedding which can lead to weight creeping back before you know it. Michelle Segar, Ph.D., behavior-change expert at the University of Michigan and author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness
tells us what’s behind this frustrating phenomenon and how you can stop it
in its tracks.
“All behavior begins with wanting to change something," says Segar. "To keep doing that behavior, people need feedback that their efforts are effective and that they are being successful. So when you’re trying to lose weight and you see a drop, it's the feedback that you need to feel successful at that moment.” It is the rush you feel when your jeans are baggy, it reinforces your efforts. “When you’ve been working hard on your body and you weigh yourself, hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine make you nervous and excited to see your results," says Matthew Goldfine, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York and New Jersey. "When you realize you’ve lost weight, dopamine and serotonin create a feeling of pleasure.” When you don't see the drop anymore, you lose all those feel good chemicals. A healthy lifestyle can be tough to stick to (no matter the other healthy benefits) if you aren't seeing
For every person on a weightloss journey, there comes a time when the needle on the scale refuses to move, not matter how much effort you are putting in. “When you hit plateaus, you don't feel like you are making strides toward the goal you set," says Segar. "Given that you need feedback to stay motivated to keep going, this can be demotivating." This can lead to emotional eating and slacking during workouts because you don't see the point.
This is why you need to reinvent your thoughts on plateaus (especially if you've reached your weightloss goal as this will be a 'lifelong' plateau). “If instead, people were taught that plateaus are a real part of the process, to expect them, and not judge them as evidence against their progress, they would not become as disappointed,” says Segar.
One way to stay jazzed, according to Segar, is to switch things up with weekly challenges. Your body and your mind are likely bored with the same old thing so swap indoor cycling for barre, highlight a different vegetable to cook with each week. Find ways to mark progress that don't involve weightloss.
And don't forget to allow yourself a slip up or two. “Understand that this is a learning process, one big experiment," says Segar. "Be kind to yourself as you learn how to stick with this behavior, and overcome the challenges that arise."
You can redefine the way you think about weightloss to help banish feelings of disappointment. So much of weightloss is focused on the future and it is time for that to change. “To maintain motivation for any behavioral change, the key factor is to identify a concrete reason for doing it that is grounded in today, in feeling better and being more successful at what you do every day,” says Segar. Stop thinking about the future and shift your focus to how eating well and working out will make you feel good in the present.
Segar recommends sussing out what she calls a "goal clout” for each healthy habit: Identify a reason for sticking to the behavior, and make sure it’s relevant to your daily life. Stay focused on the positive. Think about the rush you get after a workout instead of being hard on yourself for wanting that piece of cake.
Concentrate on the present, create mini goals that have nothing to do with weightloss, and stay positive. This is the way to keep your in shape so your body can stay there too.
What do you do to stay motivated for maintenance once you've reached your goals? We'd love to hear!