How to Let Go of an Obsession With Weight Loss

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Many people would like to lose a little weight, while others might want to lose a lot of weight. Whether your goal is to lose extra fat in your belly, thighs, hips, or butt, it's common to be dissatisfied with certain aspects of your body.

While it's possible to be healthy at any size, it's important to feel good about yourself, too. If you've been trying to lose weight and are frustrated because you can't seem to reach your goals, you're not alone.

You may have tried various diets that you eventually gave up on or exercise programs that you weren't able to stick with. Although everyone's weight loss journey is unique, one common frustration is having unrealistic expectations about weight loss and setting unsustainable goals.

Letting Go of a Weight Loss Obsession

The secret to weight loss is to stop obsessing about a number on the scale and make dietary and lifestyle changes that you can stick with for the long term. Because the real truth is that quick weight loss methods rarely work.

What would happen if you gave up on weight loss as an end result? What would happen if you freed your mind from the pursuit of an ideal you haven't been able to reach? What would happen if you forgot about results and focused on what you're getting out of your workouts right now?

Why Exercise Is Key

Exercise is not a means to an end. Experts generally agree that focusing on the process of exercise rather than the outcome leads to greater long-term success. As Jim Gavin, PhD, and Madeleine Mcbrearty, PhD state in an article published by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, "Connecting people solely to an exercise outcome can negatively affect long-term adherence."

In a study about exercise and motivation, researchers concluded that a "change in exercise-related motivational factors, with a special emphasis on intrinsic sources of motivation (e.g., interest and enjoyment in exercise), play a more important role in longer-term weight management."

Your Weight Loss Priorities

To find out if you need to lose weight, a good starting point is evaluating your body mass index (BMI), which will help you to determine if your current weight puts you at risk for certain health conditions. Your doctor can also provide a diagnosis and recommendation for you.

In order to lose weight and keep it off, it's important to prioritize sustainable weight loss. Your priorities should include the following:

Do you do all of these things each week? Maybe a few, but not all? Maybe none? Take a moment to consider how you might shift your priorities to ensure that you accomplish the above on a regular basis.

If weight loss is more of a 'should' rather than something you truly want to do, then maybe it's time to shift your priorities.

Dangers of Unrealistic Goals

Many people set weight loss goals based on a body they would like to have. This might include thinner thighs, flatter abs, more defined muscles, or a certain dress or pants size. But these ideals are not always attainable depending on a person's body type and genetics, and can cause harm.

Disappointment and Discouragement

Because your body is in charge of where the fat comes off, you might be disappointed if you don't lose fat from those problem areas as quickly as you'd like. That may lead to frustration and, of course, giving up.

Doesn't Fix Everything

Changing how you look can certainly make you feel better about yourself, but you're still the same person no matter what the outside looks like. It's common to believe that external changes can help us deal with emotional or psychological issues. But then disappointment ensues if the same internal problems still exist even after external changes like weight loss have been made.

Perfectionism Can Backfire

Weight loss goals aren't very forgiving. To lose one pound in a week, you have to consistently burn an extra 500 calories every single day to create a calorie deficit. What if you have to miss a workout or eat a little too much at a party? Just one slip could set you back and leave you feeling guilty and frustrated.

Hard to Stay Motivated

You might get motivated to lose weight if your clothes feel tight or you feel guilty about overeating, but these feelings can be fleeting and that motivation will fade away. Unrealistic weight loss goals essentially lose importance over time.

Not Sustainable

Looking great in a bathing suit is something that many people might want, but how often do you wear a bathing suit? Working for something that only happens a few times a year doesn't always translate to daily life and does not promote long-term weight management. You want to set goals that will allow you to feel good about yourself year-round.

If you've found that the goal to lose weight isn't enough to get you moving, it's time to explore some new ideas.

Changing Your Mindset

Many people approach weight loss as a desire to change their bodies and they think that in order to do that they must also make drastic changes to their lives. As a result, they might follow a restrictive fad diet, which often doesn't work. There is simply no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. What works for someone else may not work for you.

So, what if you started from the other direction and made changes to your lifestyle and let your body respond? By doing it this way, you're implementing changes that you come up with and that actually work with how you live.

This, of course, requires the ability to focus on what you're doing now rather than the future. The key to that is to set new, realistic weight loss goals for yourself.

You're no longer focusing on weight loss (e.g., "I'll lose this many pounds"), but rather, on the actions you will take to get there (e.g., "I'll exercise this many times this week").

Setting Healthy Weight Loss Goals

Set goals using the SMART principle—i.e., they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely. But there are two more important parts of goal-setting: your goals should be Meaningful and Functional.

Meaningful Goal Setting 

In terms of thinking about your life and the things you want to accomplish each day, what fitness goals would have more meaning for you? If you believe that exercise would help you accomplish more each day, would you be more motivated to do it? What if it could also help relieve stress and reduce tension—would you do it then?

Consider these examples of meaningful goals:

  • Have more energy to accomplish more each day
  • Get more and better quality of sleep each night
  • Be more alert and able to concentrate
  • Become a good role model for your family
  • Increase your body awareness and sense of accomplishment
  • Reduce tightness, tension, and anxiety caused by stress
  • Keep your body strong, balanced, and fit as you get older

Taking your focus off weight loss may help you see all the ways that regular exercise can make your life better.

Functional Goal Setting

Another way to change the way you look at exercise is to focus on how it improves your life right now. Functional goals, by definition, will usually be very specific and more immediate than long-term weight loss goals. Here's what you can expect immediately from just one exercise session:

  • Better mood: Increasing evidence shows that exercise can boost your mood and benefit psychological well-being.
  • Increased creativity: Research shows that regular exercise can increase creative potential. Some of your best ideas may pop up during a long walk or stretching session.
  • More energy: Moving your body through virtually any form of exercise is a surefire way to boost your energy levels.
  • Relaxation: Some types of exercises, like yoga and tai chi, are known for calming the mind and body and promoting relaxation.
  • Lower blood pressure: Some studies have shown that regular exercise improves blood flow, which can help lower blood pressure.

Other functional goals may take a little time to manifest, but can be just as meaningful in your life. Think of a typical day for you and how your body feels. Do you have any chronic aches or pains that could be managed with a little more movement? Are there things you wish you could do better? Working toward something tangible can help you stay on track.

People are more likely to exercise regularly when they care about what they are trying to achieve. Focusing on short-term weight loss on its own does not promote long-term healthy habits or weight management

How to Stay Motivated

If one of your functional long-term goals is to have more energy and your weight loss goal is to, well, lose weight, what could you do to have more energy? These two strategies will give you the energy to help you stay motivated:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Eating a balance of nutrient-dense foods will give you energy, whereas overeating or eating too much saturated fat can leave you feeling fatigued.
  • Exercise regularly. When you move your body, blood flows, oxygen gets to your muscles and your heart rate increases. This means more energy both during and after you work out.

These energy-generating tasks are also two things you would need to do to lose weight. The difference is that if your goal is to have more energy, you've already reached it.

A Word From Verywell

To lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for the long term, it's going to take consistent effort. There's not going to be a change on the scale from one workout or one day of healthy eating. But when you achieve your functional goals each day, you'll stay motivated to keep going and will eventually reach your weight loss goal.

Remember that it's possible to be healthy at any size. But if your BMI indicates that you are overweight or obese and your doctor recommends that you lose weight, it's important that you prioritize your health and set realistic goals.

Your healthcare provider might suggest a diet and exercise plan. Or you could consult a registered dietitian and hire a personal trainer to develop a weight loss program that's tailored just for you.

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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