I stood on the scale in the pale, sterile exam room and slowly lowered my head to read the dreaded display. My polite half-smile melted away as evil numbers made my heart pound and my cheeks hot.
Why is it that when I get weighed at the doctor’s office it’s more painful? At home or in the gym, my weight is just a number, like an old, annoying friend.
But at the doctor’s office, that stupid number betrays my weaknesses. It’s the tattle tale that tells my doctor I haven’t done anything for my body in the 12 months since I was last here.
“So, you’ve gained some weight…” the doctor says innocently, but I feel the daggers of blame piercing the flabby parts of my body.
The guilt can be unbearable, as if the President of the United States gave me one simple job to do but I got stuck on Facebook and didn’t do it. Now I sit in the over-lit, scorching oval office for the State of the Union Address, the camera’s on, and sweat pours down my face as the whole country wants to know why I suck so bad.
Then I let the excuses fly, and even I don’t believe them as they bounce off the white, antiseptic-smelling walls.
“We moved and I hurt my knee and then the kids started school and I changed jobs and eating healthy is so expensive and we just got back from vacation…”
But all the best excuses in the world say the same thing:
My health is not a priority.
WHOA. Back up there a minute. I think about health and fitness and weight and EATING all the time, so don’t tell me it’s not a priority!!
Oh no. Suddenly I’m a cartoon coyote and all I can do is stand there while the falling anvil crushes my soul to the ground.
It’s true. The hours tick by and there are so many other things that are more urgent. And more fun. And taste better. Damn it all. Why is weight loss so hard? Two words.
I have a set of white blinds in the window above the sink in my kitchen. They have a layer of grease, dust, and splashed soap and food covering them.
Every time I deep clean the kitchen I want to scrub them, but that would take about 3 hours on its own, and I don’t have time.
I have a great plan, though. If I clean 2 slats a week, it will be done within 3 months.
I’ve been saying this for about 5 years. I never clean even 2 slats.
Does this sound familiar? Why do we do this?
The answer is in our brains.
When we receive an immediate reward, the reward center of our brain dances. It feels good.
When we do something with a delayed reward, we don’t get that same high.
So the job is too big to do all at once, cleaning 2 slats doesn’t get the job done, and there is no benefit that I can recognize right away. So I never do it.
Unfortunately, working out is exactly like this for most of us.
Oh sure, tell me there are “endorphins” and the “runner’s high” and blah, blah, blah.
This is true, but when you haven’t been working out, that first few times just suck. It hurts. It’s hard. And there are no immediate rewards. Your fun brain is not dancing.
And of course, food is even tougher.
Food gives instant gratification, and certain foods (donuts, anyone?) make the brain dance more than others. It’s hard to fight such a great reward.
Even when we have a goal, an image, a skinnier version of us in our minds, it is almost impossible to overcome the lack of instant gratification in a long, slow weight loss program.
So, here’s the trick:
Get instant gratification from daily goals
When I lay my head on the cool, fluffy pillow at night, when the quiet air allows my mind to think through the day, I often hear things like “I can’t believe I ate all those Cheez-its. And I was going to go to the gym, but I worked on writing that article too long and it needed to get done. Oh well.”
But when I meet even a small daily goal (and on hard days I set teeny ones), I hear things like “I’m so glad I met my goal today. I am going to do that tomorrow and go to the gym!”
Success is addictive. Quick wins are like cigarettes. One leads to another, which leads to another, and next thing you know, you are addicted and your body gags when you don’t get that fix.
Except the result is a healthier body instead of lung cancer.
Quick wins through daily goal setting is the key to achieving long-term weight loss goals
There are many ways a food journal can help you be healthier. My food journal has a section for setting daily goals. This is how I trick my brain into dancing.
Here are 5 examples of small goals I use for quick wins.
- Eat only one donut instead of 5
- Substitute one sugary beverage with water instead
- Eat breakfast
- Eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal
- Fill out my food journal all day
Set small daily goals to get instant gratification and bragging rights. So the next time your doctor is shooting blame daggers at your flab, you can say with confidence that most days you work on at least one thing to be healthier, whether the scale shows it or not. So there.