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Stages of Change in Weight Loss

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Sustained weight loss is difficult to achieve. It requires discipline, perserverence and a willingness to make lifestyle changes. Such changes do not occur overnight. Rather, most people pass through a series of predictable stages of motivation and action en route to weight loss.

Challenge

Successful programs for weight loss usually start with a challenge. Perhaps you try on a favorite skirt or pair of pants and find that you can no longer fit into them comfortably. Perhaps your high school reunion is in a few months and you compare yourself today with the pictures from your yearbook. These or similar events get you thinking about weight loss and challenge you to make it happen. A challenge can be the first step in your successful journey, but only when you chose to take that challenge seriously.

Awareness

Taking a weight loss challenge seriously means devoting time to learning about ways to successfully accomplish weight loss. Awareness means learning about nutrition and the realities of weight loss. Numerous resources including books, magazine articles and websites (including this one) are available to help you gain this necessary knowledge. While you need not become an expert, you do have to learn enough to figure out which of the many weight loss programs and strategies will likely work best for you. All too often this important "awareness" stage gets skipped and people end up sabotage their chances for real weight loss by choosing unworkable programs or by setting impossible goals.

Preparation

Proper preparation is often key to success. Preparing a weight loss program means setting up the conditions that will make it most easily possible for you to sustain your weight loss program. Preparation tasks may include getting kitchen supplies in order, deciding on what kind of dietary and weight records to keep, and setting a date to begin your diet. If your house is full of food temptations, you'll want to throw them away or find them a new home. It's important that you tailor your approach to your lifestyle and needs. The diet your neighbor used might not work for you.

Most importantly, you must break your ultimate weight loss goal down into little, achievable mini-goals so that you won't easily become discouraged during your diet. You may want to lose 100 pounds or more, but you should not delay rewarding yourself for progress towards this goal until all 100 pounds have been shed. Instead, you should reward yourself for each several pounds lost along the way. Reward opportunities should be frequent and the distance from mini-goal to mini-goal should never be too long. Your larger weight loss goal will stand a far better chance of being achieved if you take the time to break it down into small, achievable sub-goals versus if you try to meet it all at once.

Action

Action means actually getting started with your weight loss program. The effort you previously put into identifying, preparing and tailoring your weight loss program and breaking down your program goals into manageable chunks pays off now in the form of your greater likelihood of sticking with your program over time. Be sure to keep records of your weight and diet so that you can actually chart your progress over time. If you're exercising too, keep records of your exercise sessions.

Maintaining your goals

If nothing else, your efforts at weight reduction will likely teach you the virtues of humility and patience. It's somewhat likely that your first efforts at dieting will be unsuccessful, or will produce only partial success that gets erased as you gain back the weight you've managed to lose. When a lapse from your program occurs, keep in mind that change is more of a spiral than a straight line. You will lapse from time to time. You may gain a pound or two. Everyone does. Lapses become become failures only when they successfully intimidate you into stopping your weight reduction program. Those who are ultimately most successful in sustaining weight loss learn from their lapses instead of being intimidated by them. The best thing to do when lapses occur is to go to sleep that night and wake up the next day recommitted to following your weight loss program. Or, in other words, "if you fall off the horse, get right back on." Failure is an opportunity for you to reflect on why you have failed to maintain your goals, and to make adjustments to your goals or your resolve so as to more successfully meet your goals in the future. You may need to increase your awareness in a specific area or prepare more before getting back into the action stage.