What Motivates You to Lose Weight?
What motivates you?
Why do you want to lose weight?
Why do you want to exercise?
87.6 millions Americans spend 34.8 billion annually on gym memberships yet the CDC estimates that 2/3 of American adults are overweight and half of those fall into the category of obesity. Obesity related illnesses account for a greater percentage of healthcare spending than any other disease category in our country (in non-covid years).
Americans are hyper aware of this public health epidemic, and that is one of the primary reasons we spend so much on gym memberships and diet books are one of the hottest selling book categories. In our decade and a half in practice it has been our observation that people don’t fail at their weight loss goals due to a lack of information or exercise facilities (remember, we owned a gym for quite a few years, and Dr. Matt has been involved in the fitness industry almost as long as he has been a Chiropractor); the reason people tend to fall short on weight loss goals or they yo-yo is due to misplaced motivation. It’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Let’s take a smoker for example. Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous and most smokers have attempted to quit at least once unsuccessfully. Smokers understand the risk of lung cancer and heart disease but are unable to quit due to the addictive nature of the product. Knowledge of the dangers of smoking and the constant “lecturing” from friends, relatives, doctors, and the public at large about the dangers of smoking are extrinsic motivators. Quitting to make others happy is an extrinsic motivator. Extrinsic motivation has its place and certainly has value, but it is not a strong enough motivating factor to inspire lasting change. In my experience, the folks who have the most success in quitting smoking have intrinsic motivations. Instead of focusing on the zeitgeist of information related to smoking and disease risk and the percent chance they have of developing a disease, they are able to successfully quit because they envision a future of playing with their grandkids without being attached to an oxygen bottle, or they can see a future of them and their spouse enjoying their golden years living out their dream retirement on a beach; something that would be near impossible given the time and financial costs associated with lung and heart disease. Attaching an outcome to a deeper underlying motivational factor is a far better outcome predictor than looking for some extrinsic recognition or reward.
Let’s apply that same thought process to folks with weight loss goals. Sorry to say, and this may upset some readers, but most weight loss goals are extrinsic and aesthetic in nature. Folks are concerned with what they see in the mirror and what the scale says because they perceive some type of social or societal value to it. Deep down, most people have weight loss goals centered not around how it will improve their health, but ultimately how others will perceive them. Now…..that’s not all bad. At the end of the day who doesn’t like to be told, “wow, you look fantastic, looks like you’ve been working out?” Those compliments feel great and its always nice to hear that our hard work is paying off, but extrinsic factors like that should only make up 10% of our motivation. The rest should be intrinsic. Let’s face it, and this isn’t a very popular opinion these days, but excess body weight is tied to negative health outcomes. Diabetes, heart disease, metabolic disorders, and certain cancers are inseparably correlated to excess body weight, not to mention the deleterious effects that excess body weight can cause to the physical musculoskeletal frame of the body.
Look inwards for motivation when it comes to exercising. It is a lot easier to get out of bed and go for that early morning walk if the primary motivating factor is a long active life with your kids, grandkids, and spouse. It is a lot easier to go for a run if you are trying to see what your body is capable of accomplishing. Trying to take 5 minutes off your record 5K time is a lot more satisfying and motivating then forcing yourself to run 3 miles to burn calories for an upcoming spring break vacation. Going to the gym is a lot more fun when you are trying to accomplish something you have never done before and defying your preconceived limitations. In my days in the gym business, we celebrated more for a person who was able to do their first perfect pull up unassisted than we did for the person who had six pack abdominal muscles.
The point is that there are many reasons to exercise and eat right. Weight loss alone is rarely a great stand alone goal. Weight loss is the by product of an active life and an active life is far more sustainable (and FUN) when you are chasing something besides calorie burn.