Weight loss is a hot topic because almost everyone has thought about or tried to lose weight at some point in his or her life. Whether you’ve tried and succeeded or tried and failed, you understand the difficulties of weight loss and weight maintenance. You’ve been there.
You also know that regardless of how much weight you need to lose or the reason you want to lose it, the toughest part of the process is the beginning. Those first couple of weeks are not only the most important but the most mentally challenging. They are the hardest because even though your habits change (e.g., eating less and exercising more), the visible results are delayed. Meaning, you are working hard and fighting temptation without seeing any change in your physical appearance. It’s the worst! You’re hungrier, tired and sore, and on top of that, you look the same as you did a few days earlier when you were blissfully scarfing down pizza and enjoying a few beers. Without immediate, tangible results, many people have been known to “quit” and return to their old habits. “If I look the same way whether I have pizza or chicken and vegetables for dinner, why am I going to eat the chicken? I look the same either way, but at least I feel good when I’m eating the pizza.” I’ve heard that argument from many a friend and client. I’ve also heard those exact words in my head. However, the problem isn’t that you body is slow to reflect your lifestyle choices. The problem is that you expect a quick pay-off. In order to beat the hurdles of weight loss in those critical first couple of weeks, you need to change how you mentally view the process. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Next Stop Central Station
I’d like you to imagine a long train track with one end heading north and the other south. Imagine that there is a central station in the middle of this long track. You and your body are a train on that track. I like to imagine myself as Thomas the Engine. In this example, Central Station represents your ideal weight. That is where you want to spend as much time as possible. The north-bound part of the track is a gradual increase in weight over your ideal weight. Meaning, the farther north you are from Central Station, the more you, the train, weigh. The opposite is true for the south-bound part of the track. It represents a gradual decrease in weight below your ideal weight. So, the farther south you are, the less you weigh. Your direction and speed depends on how many calories you intake versus how many calories you “burn.” When you are on the north track, the more you consume and less you move, the faster you head north. When you are on the south track, the opposite applies.
Ok, so let’s suppose you are overweight and slowly gaining even more weight. Then you, the train, are on the train track heading north away from Central Station. When you decide to change your habits, what happens to you as a train? Just like a real train the brakes are applied, a few sparks are released, and you start the process of slowing down. After a little longer with continued effort and braking (i.e., continuing your healthy habits) you will come to a stop. After a little more time you will finally be able to reverse yourself and start heading south. That slowing down, eventual stop, and directional change represents the first couple of weeks of weight loss associated with a healthier lifestyle. Just like a train cannot come to an immediate stop and change of direction, neither can your body. It has to slow down its weight gain, sometimes plateauing, before finally starting to show evidence of weight loss from your hard work. This is the most satisfying part of the process, but it takes patience to get there.
If you don’t stick to your new lifestyle for those first couple of weeks when you are slowing down, you won’t reach your goal. Imagining yourself as a train that wants to go to Central Station is a valuable tool that will help you stay focused. You are creating an image that has lots of movement and action to replace the part of you that thinks nothing is happening. You can imagine your progress in a way that reflects what is actually happening to your body. This satisfies the part of you that wants your initial progress to be tangible — you can see yourself slowing down and coming to a stop. You will start to feel excited about those first couple of weeks instead of frustrated. It’s exciting because you know that if you continue, eventually you will make it to Central Station.
So, the next time you are thinking about your weight, I want you to think about you the train. First, decide your current location. Are you south of Central Station? Are you thousands of miles north of Central Station? Second, plan out the lifestyle changes you need to make to get yourself to Central Station. Third, if your goal is weight loss, instead of giving yourself a hard time for not seeing immediate results, I want you to stick with your healthy habits to allow yourself to go through the process of slowing, stopping, and reversing. See you at Central Station. Choo choo!