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'Trying' to Lose Weight? Three Common Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Make your weight loss plan doable and realistic, and join a group effort to see that trimming down can be fun and effective when you have others' support.

I spent years trying unsuccessfully to lose weight. I tried fad diets (remember the cabbage soup diet?). I also used questionable over-the-counter products. Even though I kept gaining weight (my 5-foot, 1-inch frame eventually carried 183 pounds), I didn't give up. Through trial and error, I eventually succeeded in losing more than 60 pounds (see the book excerpt).

From my own experience and from conversations I’ve had with individuals, I've found three common mistakes that keep us from realizing our fitness goals.

  • We make our fitness grim. We "diet," which involves deprivation and eventually triggers a backlash. Or we find an exercise that we feel we "should" do, such as walking on a treadmill for an hour a day. We rely on willpower to change our habits and, when that willpower fails, we beat ourselves up about our failures.

Solution: Find foods to eat that are enjoyable and pleasurable but that don't add pounds. Enjoy your food. Replacing a bowl of ice cream with a serving of fresh fruit is easier than giving up all desserts forever. Find an exercise that is so much fun you would you engage in it even if there was no physiological benefit. Instead of grimness and determination, make your commitment to fitness one that is fun and light-hearted.

  • We search for the magic potion that will melt off pounds and give us the shape and build we want. We look for quick fixes, such as a special diet. We don't take into account age, any medical conditions, or body type. We adopt what works for other people and then feel let down when it doesn't work for us.

Solution: Accept that there is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution. Whatever our age or genetic inheritance, each of us must take sole responsibility for the care of our bodies. Every body is unique. Design your own eating and exercise regimen to achieve fitness. Let weight loss be a by-product of living healthfully. Try different kinds of foods. Cook in new ways to reduce calories. I even experimented with different kinds of exercise—from race-walking to yoga, from weight training to kickboxing. There's a whole world of adventure waiting to be explored! In designing your own program, you and a professional can find one that is appropriate for you—a program that you can sustain for the rest of your life.

  • We try to meet our needs all by ourselves. We ignore the resources around us. We don't search out help. For example, instead of talking to our doctor about our plans or getting expert help from a registered dietitian, we launch our fitness programs without consulting others. Instead of sharing our goals with friends and family so they can support us, we keep our fitness goals a secret, so that if we fail, we won't be embarrassed. In taking this approach, we deny ourselves what we need—human interaction. As human beings, we thrive when we both give and receive support.

Solution: Form a fitness community and undertake your efforts by letting others know about your plans. By forming our own mini-community, we can help each other reach our goals. When we encounter unexpected obstacles in our fitness pursuits, our support group can help us pick up and get back on course.

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