Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Why of Weight Loss

"I want to lose weight!"

This is the most popular goal reported by our health coaching clients.  It's an easy assumption that - for societal or health reasons - most of the health conscious public wants first and foremost to lose weight.  We hear this request on a daily basis, so we've become very good at helping people achieve this goal.  

But have you ever asked yourself: "Why do I want to lose weight?"

The majority of people who want to lose weight answer this question with any or all of the following:
  • "I want to feel more confident."
  • "I want to look good naked."
  • "I want to fit better in my clothes"
  • "My doctor told me to do it."
  • "I want to be able to stop obsessing about my weight and to stop thinking about food all day."
  • "I just want to lose weight and be happier."
The surface level reasons for wanting to lose weight are all valid, but, if we dig a little deeper with our clients, it always comes down to the desire for more happiness and fulfillment in life. We often mistake the desire to lose weight with the expectation that it will provide a deeper level of fulfillment.  

Our next question to a weight loss client is: "What are your goals?"  Normally, the response is an arbitrary numerical value that they have been married to for years: 

"I need to lose 20 pounds." or "I want to be more toned."

Regardless of your number, it's important to consider why 20 pounds will make a difference to you.  Would you be happier if you weighed less?  Would your relationships become more cohesive if you weighted less?  Would you have more free time if you decreased that number on the scale?

The point of this exercise is to consider your personal rationale behind your health goals.  Many people do in fact report improved happiness initially after losing weight, but a few months later they often find themselves back to square one: still unhappy and still looking for answers.  The same has been said - and studied - about money.  We all think that a larger paycheck will lead to happiness: "Once I hit six figures, I will be care-free!"  But this is simply not true, and it applies in the same way to weight loss.  

Losing weight may be a source of renewed confidence at the beach.  You might be able to shop at stores that cater to thinner people.  Your doctor might be extremely happy with your progress.  But improved body composition is not the end of the line.  Take a moment to truly consider why you want to weigh less.  Ask yourself: "If I could wave a magic wand and magically hit my goal body weight, which aspects of my life would change?"  Think hard about this.  What new opportunities become available to you?  What would you think about all day if not about losing weight?  What would you do with all the time you'd free up if you weren't  wasting time obsessing over your weight? 

Answering this question will get you to the root of what is really missing from your life.  You will feel more confident when you achieve your ideal body image.  You will have more energy and a better, more stable mood after you lose weight.  Looking past that, though, you may realize that working on the book you've had on hold for two years and laughing more and spending more time with friends instead will bring you to a much deeper level of happiness.  The best part about this is that these are all things that you can start working on while you're trying to lose weight.

Instead of obsessing over the weight loss goal by starving yourself and working your butt off at the gym, consider the other aspects of your life that need improvement.  The weight will drop if you clean up your diet and lifestyle, but it will stay off if you've taken care of the other things, many of which have nothing to do with the scale and everything to do with your relationships and personal life.  After all, is your goal truly to weigh less?  Or is your goal to find comfort in your skin, spend more quality time with loved ones, and to live more

Nathan Riley, MD, writes about food, movement, sleep, relationships, and stress in order to bridge the gap between his patients and evolutionary theory and clinical evidence. You call follow him on Twitter @BeyondtheMD.  He can be reached at  You can also connect with him on Google+. 

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