“You put some weight on, love, didn’t you?” The guy I was seeing last January told me this while holding me in his arms. I suppressed my knee-jerk reaction of pulling away and tell him to piss off, because he said it with a sweet, rather an observational tone and because I knew he was right. I was deeply offended, hurt to my core and I felt that my secret was out and there was no reason to deny it or fight it.
I mumbled something, totally embarrassed and devastated, and it didn’t help that he repeated several times that he found me attractive and sexy and amazing — I didn’t feel attractive, sexy, or worthy, at all. I already felt bad enough about myself, and his comment was the last straw. A wake-up call. An innocent comment that set off an avalanche of events — leading right until today.
I texted my kickboxing coach and close to tears I told him that I needed his help — right now. He had launched a 3-month transformation program as part of his coaching business and I wanted in. We met for a coffee and I told him — as honest as vulnerable as one just can be — that I had had enough, I couldn't carry on like this anymore, and we had to figure out something.
The timing was right, so we decided to start the 3-month journey next Monday. He told me to take ‘before’ pictures, to weigh and measure myself. He told me that it’s not for now, it’s for ‘after’ — to have something to compare the results to. I had quite a few terrible minutes weighing myself, taking pictures, and measuring my dimensions. I kept telling myself that it’s for the best and it can only improve while swallowing back my tears.
I wanted to do this, I wanted to change something, potentially a lot of things, hopefully, everything I ever struggled with. I felt motivated but miserable. And then covid hit and life as we had known it ended in a split second. The shitshow of the lockdown, the homeschooling, the uncertainty would have been too much to take — but thankfully I did not have to give up on the personal training sessions. And I never did. I never missed a session. I never cancelled on him. I started this journey and never looked back.
I lost 70+ lbs in a year, and I am skinnier and fitter than I have ever been in my entire life — including my childhood and college years. I changed my life by changing my daily habits. And changing my mindset about dieting, weight loss, exercise, and healthy choices.
I am a sucker for life hacks, productivity hacks, and mental hacks. Not because I am looking for shortcuts, but because it’s really rewarding to figure out how someone’s method could work for you. The point is to create your own system eventually, but it’s great to be inspired by others.
I collected — for inspiration — the tricks that worked for me this past year, so you could find some suggestions on how to make your weight loss journey easier — on a mental level.
#1 Choose your words carefully
Words are immensely powerful. The words you choose to describe yourself, your habits, your activities, or your choices are crucial. Some words are gentle, some words are harsh, some words mean obligation, some mean liberty.
If you ever dieted in your life, you might have negative feelings about the word diet. Being on a diet means that you have to be careful and disciplined all the time. It usually involves some kind of restriction — of time, of portions, of calories, of specific food groups. For me, when I say ‘I am on a diet’ it takes away my power and gives it all to my diet. As if it was my diet that called the shots whether I can eat this or eat that.
I spent a lot of time figuring out what words to use when describing my weight loss journey. I cut out words that forced me into a passive state and used empowering words. Instead of weight loss and being on a diet, I told myself that I am doing a lifestyle change. Instead of going to the gym to do some exercise, I started to call my exercise sessions training because the word training sounds more committed than going to the gym. Instead of cheat meals, I decided that I am not cheating anyone when I choose to eat a cheeseburger — might not be the healthiest choice, but aiming for perfection never works sustainably.
I took back the power by rephrasing some commonly used words, not condemning myself to a lifetime of dieting, but committing to a lifestyle where making healthy food choices is the norm and a cheeseburger can easily fit in.
#2 Out of sight, out of mind
Food freedom is a very popular term these days — referring to reconnecting with the natural cues of your body, listening to it, and repairing your broken relationship with food. Food freedom sounds really great, but I am doubtful that I would have the willpower and discipline to eat with a food freedom mentality and still lose weight.
The magic ingredient for my weight loss was being in a general calorie deficit for a long time (more than 12 months). And I had to make it sustainable, I had to make it tolerable. And as the weight management part of weight loss never ends, I still need to keep the sustainable formulas.
As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits, the environment that surrounds you has a huge impact on your habits and your daily choices. If you want to cultivate better habits, make sure that you make it easy for yourself to follow them and not deter from them.
I have been establishing healthy food choice habits — when it came to portion size, nutrition level, carbohydrate and fat content — and I couldn’t rely on my willpower only. It helped a lot that during the pandemic going out for dinner was mainly out of question. It also helped that I refused to keep some types of food in my pantry, or that I never started to eat food that I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop eating.
For me, it’s easier to say no to chocolate or cookies than to stop after 2 bites. I didn’t want to test my willpower so I put them out of sight, I left the room when my kids were eating potato chips, I distracted myself so I shouldn’t even start.
Instead, I made better choices and drank a lot of water and herbal tea, ate a lot of fruit, vegetables and seafood.
#3 What would a fit person do?
Whenever we have to make choices about any activity, food or mentality, people usually go for the easiest and laziest — instinctively, as a first reaction. Evolutionarily, being lazy wasn’t a character flaw, it was a way of survival, and it was called energy preservation. We have been conditioned for thousands of years to go for the easiest, quickest, lowest-effort solution.
Now, we are still the same species as we used to be, but the world changed exponentially. Now we don’t need to save our energy reserves, as in our time, we are in no imminent danger that requires us to go from the couch into fight or flight mode — physically.
So, laziness, while perfectly natural and reasonable, doesn’t fit with our comfortable lives anymore, and results in a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle — which was only too familiar for me.
My breakthrough moment arrived when I started to ask myself: what would a fit person do? At every choice I had to make — and during a day we are continuously deciding, making thousands of tiny choices we don’t even register — I asked myself this question.
A fit and healthy person — as I imagine it — would always opt for healthier food, an activity that involves movement instead of lying down, stairs instead of elevators, walking to the shop instead of ordering out etc.
While always trying to answer this question to the best of my ability, I was also forming a new identity — of a fit person. When I walked to a store that was slightly farther away, I strengthened my fit identity. When I said no to my daughter’s remaining fries, I strengthened my fit identity. When I wanted to cancel my training session but I didn’t, I was proud of myself beyond measure. With these choices, I became who I wanted to be before I actually reached the goal. I acted as a fit person, when I took the stairs, when I stood during video calls, when I walked instead of driving.
#4 Gratitude instead of obligation
When I started the whole journey, going for training wasn’t an obligation, it was an escape for me — from all the negativity that has been going around in a locked-down world, in a new and uncertain life. I didn’t have to go, I could go. And I was extremely grateful for it.
This has made a huge difference. I figured it out accidentally, but then I started to use it consciously and deliberately.
Whenever I was facing a lack of motivation or discipline or patience, I kept telling myself that I am so lucky that I can do this. That I am lucky that I have enough time to get in shape without any external factors (such as the stupid concept of a beach body) pushing me. That I am blessed to be able to afford to go to training — because my flexible work allows it, because my kids let me have my me-time, because I can spare the money I am paying to my coach.
Shifting my focus from feeling obliged to being grateful turned my experience into a pleasant one, instead of being a burden.
#5 Find your tribe
We are social creatures, and as much as self-validation is crucial, we still need external confirmation about our actions and accomplishments. Social isolation last year forced us into reconsidering our key connections and made us realize how much we need other people’s company.
When it comes to changing your identity from fat to fit, or to accomplish some physical challenges, I found it very helpful to surround myself — both in real life and virtually — with people who are already living the life I am looking to live.
Surround yourself with people of your future, not your past.
For one, when you start a new lifestyle it brings a lot of new knowledge that you will need and you will want to share. I figure that my family would get really tired of listening to my weight-loss issues, struggles and successes had I always turned to them with every little detail. I didn’t want to bore them to death and I didn’t want to annoy them with my obsessions.
I was lucky to have a personal trainer who listened to me two or three times a week, eager to hear about my progress, my feelings, my problems. But I also started to connect with other people — in the gym, talking about weight lifting and how to do a proper squat, online in user groups discussing nutrition tips, following authentic fitness experts sharing their experience about the same topic I became interested in.
Recently I started running, and I am extremely grateful for my ultra-runner friend who gives me invaluable advice, supports me and listens to my ramblings about running a quicker mile or a longer course than last week.
The point of finding your tribe — likeminded people who understand your journey because they too are walking a similar path and might be a bit ahead of you — has three major benefits:
- You can learn a lot from them and share your experience without boring outsider people to death.
- You spend your time with people who already have the habits and mindset that you want to establish and strengthen. For them, your desired habit is the norm, and it helps you to act without wondering whether you should do it.
- If you can also find an accountability partner to report to regularly, it will make the journey easier — as we tend to break our promises to ourselves, but we care about what others would think if we didn’t keep our words.
When it comes to exercising and weight loss, it’s not all in your head — there are a lot of physical changes and consequences you will need to deal with. But, as with the majority of things in life, a mindset can make or break it.
Our mind is stronger than we would think, but it’s not useless to help it by a few mental hacks:
- rephrasing the journey we are going through by choosing our words carefully,
- removing the choice overload and stop ourselves overthinking by eliminating items that require a lot of willpower,
- figuring out what identity we want to relate to and make our decisions based on that imaginary person’s potential choices,
- considering our journey as an opportunity instead of an obligation,
- and finding like-minded people to share our experience with who can also help us strengthening the habits we are building.
These can be used in any other area of life, whether you want to lose weight or build a business or become a better parent or partner.
Want some more? Let’s stay in touch!