How can I stay on this diet?
December 9, 2008 1:24 PM   Subscribe

How can I stay motivated on a very long term diet/exercise/weight loss routine, and eventually convert it to lifetime maintenance?

I have fought weight my entire life. My first diet was at age 5, controlled by my parents. I'm now 34, and starting yet another diet. I am morbidly obese and would like to lose at least 160 lbs, which will still leave me as obese but in far better health than I am now. (for my height, my BMI would be only "overweight" were I to lose 50% of my body weight)

I realize that most of my previous diets have been hampered by two things: reluctance to exercise for various reasons, and an inability to stick to the diet long term.

Currently for exercise: My wife and I have joined a gym and will be doing basic weight-loss cardio (exercise bike and treadmill). Our current goal is 60 minutes 4 times a week.

The diet, we have recently started the South Beach Diet.

Here is where my past failings have come in:

Exercise: I usually am gung-ho about working out for a period, then it becomes more reluctant. I finally find an excuse to miss one (weather, sickness, too busy) and the routine fails until I am paying for a gym club membership I don't use (or have a treadmill/exercise bike as a clothes rack), and then I cancel the membership.

Diet: I again start off gung ho, but I end up "cheating" on the diet for whatever reason. It usually involves eating out with wife or family or friends and just desiring food I shouldn't have. I then find that I don't gain as much as I imagine, or perhaps don't gain at all, which justifies more cheating on the diet, which then leads to fear of the scale, and then to a complete abandonment of the diet and weight gain.

Additionally, plateaus can be very frustrating and lead to quitting the diet, though I know they are a required part of weight loss.

I know my patterns, I've done them for almost 30 years now, time and time again. But I'm coming to the point where I am considering surgical weight loss options (which I know don't stick either without regular exercise and proper diet, and if I could keep to a proper diet and exercise regularly I wouldn't need the surgery). Additionally, my mobility is starting to be impacted by being obese for my entire life... I'm viewing this as a "must do, last ditch effort" to save my own health.

But I realize I'm looking at lifelong lifestyle changes, hard ones, and years and years of strict diet and exercise in order to lose the weight in the first place.

How can I stay motivated during this process? (You'd think the health problems, life extending, etc. would be enough but I'm an immediate gratification kinda guy....)

Help me mefites to stay motivated before I lose it this time.
posted by arniec to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
One suggestion I've read about is to get a giant calendar. Each day that you succeed at your diet you place a big red check on the calendar. Try to get as many checks in a row with no white space.

Note that I haven't tried this one myself.
posted by valadil at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

You haven't mentioned keeping a food diary, which is a definite must. It may be a lot of work, but you sound serious enough that this kind of motivation may not be a problem. Regularly tracking your caloric ins and outs is a very useful way of keeping actively involved in your plan on a daily basis.

I really get the feeling that diet is more important than exercise, at least in the sense that the calories you burn in 30 minutes at the gym can be eaten in 30 seconds. Not having an accurate picture of just what you're eating every day makes this guesswork at best.

I've used an online food diary here with good results:
posted by Adam_S at 1:42 PM on December 9, 2008

Whenever my husband and I go on "Allstar's Fabulous Weight Loss Plan," we allow ourselves one freebie meal a week - whether that is eating out or ordering pizza or whatever. This way we don't feel deprived, and it makes it easier for us to stick to the diet the rest of the week.
posted by at 1:45 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ask your wife for help! I am on a diet right now, and my wonderful partner is keeping a watchful eye on me. We have agreed that I can cheat as much as I want, but every time I cheat, I have to pay him 20 bucks, which really, makes me never cheat.
posted by shamble at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2008

Take a look at your eating habits realistically. My diet breakthrough came when I realized that I really, really like snacking at the end of the day, and if I didn't allow for that, I'd cheat. When I started leaving myself a couple of hundred calories' worth of snacks for after dinner, I kept to my diet, and lost the weight.

Stay within your diet boundaries, but watch your cheatin' habits. They're a clue as to how you really should be distributing your food throughout the day.

Good luck, and be well.
posted by MrVisible at 2:25 PM on December 9, 2008

Find support in online forums. South Beach is considered low carb; here are a few to get you started.

Best of luck to you!
posted by chez shoes at 2:26 PM on December 9, 2008

Find a workout buddy (NOT your wife!) - someone who will keep you on track, even if it's only over email or text messaging. Remember that mistakes happen and that sometimes you're just not going to feel like going to the gym, and that's okay - don't beat yourself up about it, because then you'll just be discouraged. Not everyone is perfect and can resist a free piece of cake at the office, either, but just because you ate some cake doesn't mean you've totally ruined weeks of dieting.

For me, I made little posters and signs and hung them around my apartment. I put a sign that said "Cavemen didn't need snacks and neither do you" on my pantry door (note: I don't know if that's scientifically accurate, but it works for me) and "You could have a body like Joan Holloway if you lost 50 pounds" on my refrigerator (I totally could too!) and my personal favorite, a tiny strip of paper that says "You can watch TV at the gym" taped on the back of my remote. But I need visual things to remind me of that.

Another thing that works for me is a rewards system. For every 10 pounds I lose, my boyfriend has to buy me a book. When I lose all the weight I want to, he promised to buy me something big, so I have that to look forward to.

But basically, you really just have to change your entire perception of things. Change your plate sizes and your portion sizes - use the 1/2 a plate rule and fill that up with veggies. Drink lots of water - I keep rubber bands around my left wrist and for every 8 oz or so of water I drink, I transfer it to the other hand. Track your food on Sparkpeople or FitDay or wherever - it really surprises you where your calories come from.

And most importantly, be forgiving of yourself, as you are only human. You have had your bad habits for your entire life, and it can be difficult to shift your switch from "fat habits" to "thin habits". Good luck!
posted by kerning at 2:32 PM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

if you are that overweight, you may want to bring a nutritionist on board to design an eating plan for you. having an "authority" to answer to may help you stay on track.

good luck!
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:33 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I recently lost 30 lbs and am continuing to shed the weight. Here are a few things I'd recommend to keep on track:

Choose exercise you like, not what others recommend. Do you prefer working out at home, which is cheap, convenient, and easy? Or do you prefer the gym, which has excellent equipment and social motivation? Or combining both?
One trainer had this suggestion for people who become reluctant to visit the gym: "Just promise yourself you'll go to the gym, suit up, and do 5 minutes of exercise. You'll find that once you're there and exercising, you'll get through your entire scheduled workout."

Workout to inspirational music. Never be without your iPod.
Get online support. For example, considering joining the free Men's Health Belly Off Club. Its workouts are excellent, as are its members' support and recommendations.
Read others' weight loss stories for motivation and tips. There's no perfect way to lose weight. The best way is what works for you.
Allow yourself slack. If you deviate from your diet, acknowledge this and carry on. If you miss a workout or two, just resume where you left off.

Lastly, when you find yourself backsliding, analyze the causation (emotional upset, stress, disappointment, craving or food temptation), then address the provocation.

Weight loss is a torturous journey. Many fail because of the pervasive "quick n' easy" messages from advertisers, celebrities, and diet gurus. Think of your journey as a lifestyle transformation rather than as a diet/exercise regimen. That way, you never fail. You just keep fine-tuning.
posted by terranova at 2:42 PM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tips (from someone who's lost 60lb this year, and has had several bad diet weeks on the way)...

Exercise REALLY speeds things up.

Try to build exercise into your daily routine: walk, cycle if you can, and generally try to burn calories getting from A to B. I try to get 20+ minutes a day of what I call "crap exercise" - walking, cycling gently - and the 3 gym trips a week are on top of this.

Find exercise you like. My gym life has improved 100% since I realised I can read "easy" books on the bike, X-trainer and stepper - I've been getting through the Elmore Leonards and the Agatha Christies, and the time just flies by. I also really like hill walking so if the weather is good I skip the gym and go outside.

Reward yourself. If you do well - go up a level on the gym machines, or lose 10lbs, get yourself a book, or treat yourself to a long soak in the bath, or a computer game. Get into the habit of treating yourself but not with food. It is still hard for me to do this - break the connection between "I've done well!" and "I'll have some chocolate!!".

Go mad every now and then. The suggestion that you have one meal a week which isn't diet is cool. I find I can get away with 2 "naughty nights" of booze if I am totally totally totally on track the rest of the week and do a lot of exercise - experiment, and see what you can get away with, but if you're a binger like me I think that's the way to do it.

Keep a spreadsheet. Mine has a sheet for exercise and a sheet for weight. The exercise sheet gives me a running average of visits-per-week (my aim was to average 3 over the year and I think I am going to make that) and a very broad categorisation of what I did (swim/gym/walking/cycling/etc). The weight sheet has weight in lbs, BMI, total lost, weight in kilogrammes, total left to go. I think in lbs, but have no objection to celebrating when I drop 10kgs or drop a BMI class.

If you know you're going to have a bad week (going away, birthday parties, the sorts of situations where you don't have control over the food) acknowledge this, try to get an extra good week in the week before and the week after, and don't beat yourself up over it. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I've found Weightwatchers to be really useful, but I think it depends a lot on the leader, and whether you're the sort of person who gets on well with group support situations, so I won't bang on about that here.
posted by handee at 3:10 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

terranova wrote
"Just promise yourself you'll go to the gym, suit up, and do 5 minutes of exercise. You'll find that once you're there and exercising, you'll get through your entire scheduled workout."
I think this is perhaps the single most-important thing about overcoming gym-reluctance. I have had days where I felt physically and emotionally drained, to the point where I didn't want to exercise. Someone said to me that an hour of working out wipes away eight hours of stress, and I believe it. That initial step of starting the exercise can be a difficult one, but once the ball is rolling it is very easy to keep it going.

You mentioned succumbing to bad foods when eating out with your wife and friends. Does your wife allow herself to eat these bad foods, leaving you hungry for it as well? If so, remind each other about the diet. If you order a South Beach-type meal, perhaps she orders one, too. As you've said, this is a lifestyle change, and lifestyle changes aren't restricted to the gym and kitchen. It's a 24-hour responsibility, and I'd like to think it's very much akin to the vows you spoke to each other during your wedding ceremony.

That's the ideal, of course. In order for it to work, both of you have to be quite receptive of the pushing and prodding from each other. You will also have to "man up" when you receive this urging and actually get off your duff to work out. Hopefully you and your wife are willing to do this.

kerning's suggestion of finding a workout buddy is good if you want to be held accountable, and not risk raising the ire of your spouse. Sometimes people react better to a stranger's admonishment rather than hearing it from a loved one (particularly if loved ones feel they would hurt your feelings).
posted by CancerMan at 3:12 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am going to second some of the above suggestions and add a few more....these are mainly help exercise be part of your life.

Building on the idea of a work-out buddy, I would emphasize that this be a person you actually meet in person (or wherever you plan to exercise). I've had several work-out buddies over the year, and if I know person X is waiting outside in the cold to do a few mile run, I am motivated to get out there and not let the person down. It also becomes a social activity after a while.

In addition, I have found working up to a "challenge" type event helps. So, if you are starting to run -- well sign up for a 5-mile race a few months from now -- or if you cycle a lot, sign up for a 100-mile ride at the end of the summer. I build these activities into vacation so it truly is a reward.

I am going to second find things that you enjoy - whatever motivates you, and perhaps find a club that also does that same activity. For me, it is biking, and having a small group of cyclists to explore a new area with gets me on the bike for most of the weekend.

Finally, also building on a suggestion above, can you think of ways to increase physical activity in your life? Park the car farther away from the door and walk the extra 50 feet? Or walk to get groceries? I don't know how conducive your life is to these changes, but it helps.

Good luck and good health.
posted by Wolfster at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2008

I lost 100 pounds 5 years ago and have kept if off with a low-carb lifestyle. Here's what helped me succeed:

Find out why you're really fat. In my case, I'm an emotional eater and a "bad day" meant consoling myself with a Snickers bar, pizza, french fries, etc. You say you're an immediate gratification kind of guy. If you specifically mean food, find something else to gratify yourself with.

Start out with a bang. The first 10 days of my new eating lifestyle, I only drank water, I cut out all bread, pasta, sugar, etc. Basically I ate tons of green vegetables, some fruit and protein. Not only did I lose 10 pounds in that time-frame, I felt fantastic. It was the healthiest I had felt in my life.

This was the biggest realization for me - I eat half my meal and then I stop for 10 minutes. If I'm still hungry, I continue to eat. If not, it's leftovers or gets taken away. You don't have to clean your plate.

Don't let yourself get hungry. You are much more likely to eat badly if you are starving when you arrive at mealtime. Snack all day, with approved foods. This is most important when you go to the grocery store or out to a restaurant. If you're going to a restaurant, eat something before you get in the car. By the time you get to the restaurant you won't be as tempted to snack on bread or chips, and less likely to order a "bad" meal.

Finally, don't look upon your lifestyle change as a punishment or deprivation. You can't eat the way the commercials, T.V. shows, movies and main-stream media say you can because it's killing you. But you can enjoy a lot of delicious, satisfying foods without feeling like you are starving.

Good Luck!
posted by lootie777 at 3:32 PM on December 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

nthing a food log. When I use my food log I lose weight. When I "wing it" by guessing at total calories in a day I gain weight.

I use The Daily Plate which I very highly recommend. Excellent food database, easy food log entry, great weight tracking and display of info (including carbs, fats, and protein consumed in a pie chart right on the main food log page).

Also, The Daily Plate will let you input your activity level, age, height, and current weight then tell you how many calories you can eat each day in order to lose X number of pounds/week.

I've lost 50 lbs with essentially only tracking my eating (as recommended by The Hacker's Diet: How to lose weight and hair through stress and poor nutrition.). Excellent read, gives perspective on other diets and supplements them regardless of which you choose.

Silly little piece of advise I can say has also helped: when you're picking up something to eat, ask yourself "can I choose something better?" Usually the answer is yes - then the next action is up to you: make a better choice and lose weight over time ... or the alternative =)

Best luck!
posted by unclezeb at 3:49 PM on December 9, 2008

My immediate reaction is that you are starting with a pretty steep exercise goal, and using a tool (going to the gym) that hasn't worked well for you before. Why not set a lower target to begin with (say, 30 minutes, every other day) and doing something that is much harder to get derailed by work schedules, weather, etc? I'm a huge, huge fan of using neighborhood walks as the beginning point of activity, because you need no equipment other than your shoes, and you start right out of your front door.
posted by Forktine at 5:36 PM on December 9, 2008

Don't ever mention the word "diet" ever again. Diets are temporary and a pain in the ass, eventually you'll get off the diet b/c it sucks and you'll gain the weight back. Keeping weight off takes a lifestyle change, a diet is something people do for a certain period of time. That's great that you are going to the gym for an hour 4 times a week but do you really plan on doing that for the rest of your life? If so than awesome, but that's pretty tough to do. It's all about the little things, walk more, excercise every once and a while, DRINK WATER ALL THE TIME FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, don't drink soda, etc. We can go into the boring details of "ok I ate 4 ounces of chicken, that was x number of calories...." and yea that should work if you're calculating calories, but that just seems so mechanical and not fun, and you definetely don't want to do that for the rest of your life. I've always found portion control to be a big factor in my weight. I hate denying myself of foods, that's a horrible way to live life so one trick I do is to eat crap tons of vegetables before a meal, like half a bag of carrots or something, and when meal time comes I just naturally eat less. Drinking tons of water helps with the portion control too. I'm not really in the same boat as you, I've had a decent metabolism my entire life but the past few years I've put on the pounds and portion control has been the biggest factor in lowering and maintaining my weight, that and doing pushups during commerical breaks.
posted by BrnP84 at 5:56 PM on December 9, 2008

Yeah, diets do not work. You have to change your lifestyle. You have to drink lots of water and you have to exercise consistently. Every other day for half an hour, go for a walk/jog. Walk five minutes and jog for one. After a month, increase the jogging time. Be aware that you will not see any results for perhaps up to six months. This is normal. You have to do it religiously and keep to the schedule.

Stop eating fast food entirely. Stop drinking sodas entirely. The momentary reward they give you is not worth it in any way.

Eat five or six small healthy meals a day. Do not eat a massive breakfast, lunch or dinner.

This is my advice to you. You can do it.
posted by Kafkaesque at 6:12 PM on December 9, 2008

Always remember this. When you are at the gym working out you are doing the best thing in the world you can possibly be doing. No other activity be it work or leisure has as much value to you at that moment. When you are in the gym you are doing something for yourself that no one else can do for you, and you are willingly doing it, and it's not exactly enjoyable.

Also this is useful to me. Remember that your mind is way, way stronger than your body. Your mind competes with your body in the gym. The instant you walk in the door to workout your mind takes the lead 1-0 because it's your mind that put you in the position of carving out time in your day to do this healthy, important, difficult activity. Then when you are actually working out your body ties it up by defeating your mind. Here's what I mean. Some days you can do 100 pounds of something for 10 reps. Most days you can only do it for five. Has your muscle changed that much from workout to workout? No, your muscle is always capable of doing that 10 rep set. But usually your mind lets you down and your body tells you to quit after 5 because it's getting hard and it hurts and nobody will know if you stop. But then there are days when your mind is tough and bold and unstoppable and you do the ten, and then you do three or four more with the same old muscles from last week and that's when your mind has told you that the weight is nothing, nothing at all for your body.

Lastly, I refer to this all the time. Along with the Desiderata and Winston Churchill's speeches I find it the most inspiring thing I've ever read:

What is a Workout? (By George Allan)
A workout is 25 percent perspiration and 75 percent determination. Stated another way, it is one part physical exertion and three parts self-discipline. Doing it is easy once you get started.

A workout makes you better today than you were yesterday. It strengthens the body, relaxes the mind, and toughens the spirit. When you work out regularly, your problems diminish and your confidence grows.

A workout is a personal triumph over laziness and procrastination. It is the badge of a winner-- the mark of an organized, goal-oriented person who has taken charge of his, or her, destiny.

A workout is a wise use of time and an investment in excellence. It is a way of preparing for life's challenges and proving to yourself that you have what it takes to do what is necessary.

A workout is a key that helps unlock the door to opportunity and success. Hidden within each of us is an extraordinary force. Physical and mental fitness are the triggers that can release it.

A workout is form of rebirth. When you finish a good workout, you don't simply feel better, YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF.

posted by vito90 at 6:37 PM on December 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

Have you spoken to your doctor about your diet? I agree with others who say this is a lifestyle modification and diets don't work. I'm a big carb junkie and I know I can't cut them out, I've cut them down and limited them to more healthy complex carbs, I've found the only "special" pasta I like is the barilla plus brand. I can have a small portion and be satisfied. I don't salivate every time I pass an Italian restaurant. Garlic bread on 7 grain made with olive oil instead of butter also makes me happy:)

My other big diet thing is dark greens (spinach, arugala, kale etc.), much more nutritious and filling than the regular iceburg or mixed greens. I'm still working on liking the kale, but you'd be surprised how filling they can be. Also, make sure your plate has a larger serving of greens and veggies than other items. has been recommended on the green before and I find it really helps with meal planning and portion size. It is free. There have also been a lot of questions on here about seasoning veggies, very useful.

If you don't already, eat a good breakfast, it really helps.

I've started going to the gym - I've went all out and hired a trainer, it has really helped, I simply tell him if he's showing me something I hate and we change it out for something I know I'll stick with. He's introduced me to fitness (some call them exercise) balls, I love them but was scared of them before he showed me how to use them ( has a good primer on them if you are interested). So I recommend having someone help at the gym, showing you how to use the items there, if you don't already know. Plus, I have someone to be accountable to, which I find helps. Also, do start out slow, it gets much, much easier to go once you build strength and build it into your schedule.

Best wishes!
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2008

Regarding exercise, I suggest first finding a form of exercise you actually like. It sounds like you are a big enough guy that if you do anything, no matter what it is, it's going to help you lose weight. Don't worry about the "30 minutes of cardio, five days a week" stuff, that is not the magic prescription of weight loss. Do you like dancing? Rollerblading? Hiking? Whatever it is, go do that at least four times a week and forget about the exercise bike and treadmill unless you really like those.

If you want my suggestion, you would probably be better off (and maybe have more fun) lifting weights. Also, because you are big, you're going to get real strong, REAL fast, and you will feel fucking awesome. Buy yourself a copy of Starting Strength, check out the wiki, and go for the program.

Regarding food, the "check" thing that valadil talks about works really well for me. Also, recently I've been having more success with my weight loss goals by setting the bar really, really low. Instead of saying "I have to be 100% on track all the time!" I say "What is the absolute minimum I have to do to meet my weekly weight-loss goal of 0.5lbs/1lbs/whatever?" Maybe it's cutting out carbs five out of seven days. Maybe it's replacing all bread with green vegetabes. Maybe this week, it's the week I should start counting my calories. And then I do that. If I don't meet that goal, then I know the next week I have a try a little harder, incorporate another small lifestyle change into my life. And in that way, I'm changing my diet and habits slowly, rather than shooting myself in the foot by trying to pull a 180.

Another advantage of this method is that because you're so heavy, even the smallest changes will result in some weight loss. The more weight you lose, the harder you'll have to work, but that's OK because from week-to-week you've slowly been making those changes necessary to lose weight.

For some people, going cold-turkey works really well for kicking off a lifestyle change. I've finally accepted it doesn't for me, so I'm doing this bit by bit. Maybe it would work better for you, too.
posted by Anonymous at 8:19 PM on December 9, 2008

It's always been my opinion that many people use the idea of planning to diet/exercise as a replacement for actually doing the work. You could say that's what's happening right now. While, yes, you need to acquire some rudimentary knowledge about exercise, diet and fitness, I would focus all my mental energy on just keeping disciplined on the exercise routine. Let NO excuse stop you, even if you have to get up at 1 AM to get that day's promised workout in. That's first. You'll need to keep this singular focus for just a few months. Then, you'll be past the initial discomfort of a new exercise regimen and you'll have created a habit. (I belive the experts say it takes about three months to mentally establish something as a habit.)

Then, focus on a carrot and stick mental trick to keep yourself going. The carrot is how good you feel after exercise. You know (or you will come to know), that warm fuzzy "I just did something good and I feel great about myself" feeling. Focus on that strongly. At the same time, recall the pain of getting started from a dead stop. Really remember it. That alone can keep you going to the gym. "I'm never going through THAT again" kind of thing.

But at the risk of sounding cliche, just do it. I've met way too many people who confuse the planning and talking and organizing with the actual doing. Don't be one of those.

And as an aside, if I saw someone like you at my gym, I'd have all the respect for you in the world and them some. Because it's hard. And you're there doing it.

Good luck. Really.
posted by lpsguy at 6:54 AM on December 10, 2008

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