What was the moment you knew you had to do something about your weight? Was it when your favorite jeans became too tight? Something more profound, like being in a restaurant and the chair you’re sitting on gives way? For Sarah, it was finding herself on the floor in a restaurant just following the sudden loud CRACK of her chair. Sarah’s story is not unusual.
We find ourselves at that point the point where we need to make a change. Initially, that point is powered by pain. When we can’t get into our jeans or when we need medication or, like Sarah, when we break a chair, we become motivated by pain, discomfort, and embarrassment. We say to ourselves, “Oh my god, how did I get this way?”
The truth is, for most people snug jeans, failing health, even the threat of death is not enough to change eating habits long term. When motivated by extrinsic factors, things like praise, reward, or fear of punishment (pain), and we lose motivation as soon as the pain is reduced. Reducing your weight by 10 or 20 pounds will certainly make you feel better. But if you have 50 or 100 pounds to lose, it won’t be enough. When we feel better, and our discomfort is lessened, our strongest motivator is gone. Now what?
Intrinsic motivation is about what you value. What is important to you? The truth is, if health were important, you’d be healthy right now. Some of us don’t get a choice about our health. We may have been born with a disease, or we may be fighting cancer right now. But that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about the health issues that we can control.
It’s time to dig deeper. What do you value in life? What is it about having a healthy weight that is important to you? You have to dig deep. You have to want something more than cake, pizza, or pretzels.
In Chapter 5 of my book Keeping Weight off Forever, Caren’s story exemplifies intrinsic motivation. When she was 12 years old, she got a bicycle for her birthday. That bike represented freedom to her. She could go wherever she wanted on that bike. That bike took her further than she had ever gone before. She tasted freedom. When she gained weight later in life, she lost her freedom because of obesity. She is taking it back now because that feeling of freedom is more important to her than food.
Think about it: How will losing weight improve your life? What about life do you value?
The desire to just feel good is not enough. If you felt good, what would you do? How do you see yourself living differently? If your knees felt better, what would you do differently other than be out of pain? Sasha shared with me that dancing was important to her. She hadn’t danced in years because of obesity.
“What is it about dancing that is important to you?” I asked.
“I love movement,” she replied.
Then I asked, “When you dance, how do you feel?”
Her answer: “Powerful and sexy.”
It takes time to connect with the deeper reasons for losing weight or maintaining weight. Find what you’ve perhaps lost, what you’ve valued, and how that made you feel—like Caren and her feeling of freedom or like Sasha and her feeling powerful and sexy.
You have to want freedom and powerful and sexy more than cake!