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Achieve Your Weight Loss Goals by Not Setting Them

Do you live your life constantly “on”  or “off” a diet? Are you always setting weight loss goals and then attempting to apply some kind of structure to your life to achieve them? Being able to let go of the dieting paradigm may be the biggest breakthrough some people make.

I became a commodities broker back in 2006. The job entails getting people to open commodity trading accounts. I’d never sold anything before and I’d never worked in finance so how I was going to do this was wide open. I was also the only woman at the firm and the only person in their forties. The owners were in their early thirties and all the other brokers were young guys except for a few older men. In my first year, I opened more accounts in less time than anyone at the firm, ever. When I launched my own website, I opened even more accounts and with much less effort.

The other brokers all set goals and thought about being motivated. They’d put pictures of cars and boats on their bulletin boards along with goofy stuff like images of lighting cigars with a $100 bill. They’d talk a lot about what they were going to do with all the money they thought they’d make in the market. They’d brag that they’d write ten new accounts a month and bring in $100K account equity or more. The room where most of the guys worked the phones had a big poster of a thermometer to log how much money they were bringing in. The owner threatened to release any broker who didn’t bring in six figures. He had his assistant make a giant $100,000 bill that each broker posted over his desk.

None of it worked. I had about 100 accounts and the other brokers each had just a few, if any. What did I do differently?

I didn’t set any goals. I didn’t do anything in particular to “motivate” myself. I determined that what I needed to do every day was make contact with people and have good conversations with them so that’s what I worked at doing. Every day, all day, with no particular plan for how many accounts I hoped to close or how much equity they’d total up to by the end of the month. And I ended up smokin’ everybody.

I’ve devoted a great deal of soul searching and thought processing to figuring out why I failed to lose weight for so many years of my life. I’ve realized that DIETING itself was a major factor. Applying some particular goal to a timeframe served to make me desperate and I’d feel like a huge failure if I didn’t make the goal. Goal-setting is not motivational for me; it makes me stressed. But I made a far more critical connection. I accepted that permanent weight management was going to require that I eat in a health-supporting way for the rest of my life. I knew I couldn’t be “on” a diet forever because I thought of that as something that had a beginning and an end. Making it all worse, when I was “off” the diet, I’d usually eat very indulgently in preparation for when I’d go back “on” a diet.

All this stopping and starting kept me in a cycle of failure. I had to let go of it. Eating every day needed to be just a normal thing. So I stopped thinking in terms of any kind of “program” or timeframe. I just got through a day. And the next day, I’d do it again. And then again. It took a while before it started to feel like the new normal but the more days you put behind you, the sooner you get there.

One of the toughest obstacles was letting go of the significance of particular days. I used to think of the weekend as the “off” time. If I’d been “good” all week, I would weigh on Saturday morning and then eat whatever I wanted all weekend. I’d convinced myself that Monday was always official “start a diet” day. Then I realized that I had to let the weekend be like the rest of the week, nothing special. Just another couple of days. I also let go of the beginning and ending of the month. I used to think of the first of the month as the time to go “on” a diet so I’d let myself eat like crazy in the last few days of the previous month.

The effect was also a significant reduction in binge behavior and indulgent eating. If I was never on a diet, there were never any “forbidden” foods and I found I could let go of them, too. I stopped thinking I had to eat something just because as soon as the diet was “on,” I couldn’t eat it anymore. When I did that, I started to stress much less about what I did or did not eat. I accepted that those indulgent foods would always be there; they weren’t going anywhere. I could eat them another day, it didn’t have to be today. That “another day” would stretch farther and farther into the future until it didn’t matter much anymore. If I got through a day, I wouldn’t care by the next day.

I never plan that I will or won’t eat anything in particular, like if I will be attending a party or an event. I might go to the event and just chat with people all night. I got rid of “cheat meals” and treats and “eating in moderation.” I just eat what I know I should in a given day. I keep it very simple: Whole grains at breakfast, vegetables for lunch and dinner, fruit for snacks.

There is no plan. There is just right now.

7 comments

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  1. JoAnn

    I believe I have changed my focus to health. I try to eat well whether it’s a week day, weekend or vacation. My only “off-limits” foods are those that I believe provoke cravings in me. So far I’ve lost 117 lbs, gained strength and improved my health.

    Here’s my struggle. I cannot get past my focus on the scale. I’m still in “weight loss” mode. I’m overweight according to the charts, not some arbitrary number I’m trying to achieve, although BMI chart can be arbitrary as well. Each month I find it a little harder to feel excited about losing another 3 pounds. When there is a gain, I am thrown into a complete tailspin. This even though I now have a few years of success under my belt and know it’s temporary.

    I am seriously considering going into maintenance where at least I don’t have to look at the scale regularly. I swear I don’t have rose-colored glasses on–I know maintaining a weight loss will require the same discipline and good habits.

    Any thoughts?

    1. Dagny Kight

      Wow, JoAnn, letting go of the scale is a BIG ONE!! My good friend Jen and I were talking about it just this weekend and I know my friend Taunia has also talked about how much better she feels since she’s stopped weighing. I’ll tell you this—it’s definitely a “final phase” kind of issue! You’re far along when you reach this point.

      I used to deal with feelings of wanting to be “done.” It becomes its own kind of anxiety that I realized could wear me out as much as worrying over dieting. I realized that I can never feel like I’m truly “done” as that would imply I could go back to where I used to be.

      Something that I think helps a great deal is becoming very connected to your physical presence. I know how my body feels and I know what to expect in how my clothes feel and what my level of physical ability should be. About six or seven years ago, I went through a period when I’d feel a sense of anxiety when I would get dressed for work in the morning. I’d have a feeling of dread that I’d put my clothes on and they wouldn’t fit. It was completely irrational of course and I don’t know why I experienced that. Eventually, it went away as I accepted that, day after day, my clothes would continue to fit me.

      If your clothes fit and you’re exercising, just keep on with your new normal! Focus on how your clothes feel and perhaps they’ll feel different in another month or two as you keep advancing with your exercise regimen. You’ve been pretty serious about it so mix things up if you want to kick up the intensity!

      When you use each day to do what needs to be done, the results will ultimately take care of themselves!

      1. JoAnn

        Oh boy, the need to be done is so potent for me. I get good advice that it takes as long as it takes, that it’s a lifestyle etc. but I also can’t seem to get past the notion that this part, the weight loss part, is a phase. I appreciate your kindness and your help. I really am trying to work this out because I know it’s holding me back, just right now I can’t seem to find the magic to break through.

        1. Dagny Kight

          It’s a phase…and it’s not a phase! You may find yourself in a similar place as I have been that my body seemed to decide for itself that my weight loss would “stop” around the 170s and pushing any further down was going to take more extreme effort than I was willing to expend.

          I have known a LOT of people who reach a sense of a natural “end” of feeling like they’ve been working at losing weight and now they’re just living their lives and their body is where it is.

          I’m going to write a blog post right now that will expand on this… And please jump down to the response to Abby!

  2. Abby

    Oh, this is a big one. I think for me it is going to take many weeks or weekends rather to lose this way of thinking. I’ve lived thinking like this for so long I didn’t even realize it was probably the one thing that was keeping me gaining and losing the same weight. On the weekends I am constantly reminding myself that it is just another day, no day is more special than another. I still get stressed feeling about it, knowing that the weekend does usually mean more meals out, and my habit for the past 10 years has been to eat everything I can’t on the weekdays. I still struggle with not allowing one meal to make me spiral out of control. I’m not making excuses for myself, I know it will take many weeks of practice. I’m learning a habit I’ve had for 10 years isn’t going to go away in a few weekends. It’s going to take many weekends of thinking like this. I’m accepting that there will be times that I eat out and there isn’t anything I can do to prevent that forever. I make the best decisions that I can given the circumstance and situation. There are no off or on days just everyday trying to make the best decisions and not allowing one bad decision to switch me into off mode. I can say that my diet hasn’t been perfect the past 3 weeks but I’m so happy because I’ve finally recognized that my off and on mode has been the most destructive habit. It’s taking some practices and reminding myself and driving my husband a little crazy when I have those moments of clarity or moments where I’m way to stressed about one meal. I’m just so used to one meal meaning a day of binging, and I may think about it all day and constantly have to remind myself that is not how I want to live. The weekends are by far the hardest and Somedays I feel like I have to constantly remind myself but for the most part It has felt like a more natural way to live. I don’t know why I can actually feel normal and in control for days and then all of a sudden have a day where I’m constantly fighting it. I’ve also let go of the scale and I find it gives me a lot of anxiety and a sense of urgency. When I don’t weigh it’s more peaceful. I can focus on my ultimate goal of not binging and not feeling stressed if I feel like I should have lost more.

    1. Dagny Kight

      Oh Abby you are right, this IS very big! It’s early on for you but I’ve been able to see that you’re making huge strides in recognizing within yourself what you’ve been repeating for years and that in itself is a lot of the battle!

      We all spend so many years of our lives trying to follow these rules and programs and plans and it’s all presented as so easy to do! Just start doing it! YEAH RIGHT!!! The reality is you’re fighting lifetime habits and beliefs and that is TOUGH!!

      I think where my views differ from all the “diet books” is that I accept that I am a person with a brain that loves to think about food! I don’t like that but it’s the way I am! You can’t tell me to just be something else! I’ve had to figure out how to deal with who I am and what I know my tendencies are going to be! I know what patterns I could fall back into if I let myself so I keep doing the basic things I know I have to do, day to day.

      The big key to all this is that you can’t really “make” yourself start thinking some particular way. That’s where all the diet plans fail, they treat you like it’s supposed to be so easy. All you can do is exactly what you ARE doing right now—you figure out your patterns and you break them up the best you can, you get yourself through every day, day after day, and at some point, you look back and you realize it’s been months and certain things have drifted away from you and it’s been a long while since you did some particular behavior.

      Time is what changes us in all aspects of our lives. We’ve all experienced a pain in our lives that hurts so much when it’s new, it’s on your mind constantly, and then a year later you look back and you realize you just got on with your life the best you could and the pain faded over time. That is what it will be for you, Abby. You just take a step today and you take a step tomorrow and the next day and the next…

      I can tell you’re really finding a path and you’re walking it!

  3. Taunia

    This is something I feel SO strongly about, and I am on the exact same page as Dagny. I had weight loss surgery almost six years ago. At about the halfway point, I had put back on 20 lbs – taking me up to 185 (my most comfortable weight at 5’7″ is between 160-165).

    For the first 3-4 years, I was OBSESSED with the scale, what I was eating – and it just kept moving in the wrong direction and I had to buy larger clothing. I lost the weight, but that’s because I was in a production and was dancing non-stop every day of the week. Once the show was over, the weight came back on.

    Then something strange happened: I moved out here to California and my (now) husband said he REFUSED to have a scale in the house. I went in to panic mode – because I was hovering between 175-180 again and thought that I had to have a scale to lose the weight. Without the scale, the only way that I had to gauge my weight was through my clothing and how I felt. It was also at this point that my husband reminded me that I was at a healthy weight, and that I should stop obsessing. These two things he did were the best gifts he’s ever given me.

    I decided to be NORMAL. I would eat normally – not scrimp, not overeat. I eat what I want and don’t deny myself anything. The thing is, because I know nothing is off-limits, I make WAY better choices now. I eat a TON of salad and vegetables. I love fruit. Do I still eat bad stuff sometimes? Yes, but I don’t overindulge. Food just feels normal now. Of course, the fact that I still have some restriction from my gastric bypass is also REALLY helpful, but after surgery, my tastes changed and so did my outlook on food.

    I don’t own a scale. I’ve been to the doctor’s office several times over the past year, and my weight is recorded each time somewhere between 160-165. I know if a few pounds come on (or off) based on how my clothing feels. This is the most free I have ever felt in my entire life, and I know it’s because I no longer let food or my weight control my entire life.

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