No change leads to no change

By Danielle Johnson MS, RDN, CDN, CPT

                Behavior change is hard! It is complex and multifactorial. It includes our biology, our psyche, and our environment. Change will only occur when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of making the change. We also need to feel we have more strategies and resources than we do obstacles and barriers. Thinking about setting a goal is the first step, but we must realize that we also must take action to make our goals happen – and it’s important to have support, guidance, and accountability in the process.

Surgery and medication are a common approach to weight loss with a stereotypical misconception that it’s “easy”. You may experience weight loss with minimal effort for either of these options, but if no change is made you can certainly expect to see stagnation and/or weight regain. Therefore, behavior change is the KEY factor to success.

Most of the time people focus on their “outcome goals”, which are important, but what’s more important are the “behavior goals”. Behavior goals are what get us to our outcome goal. This is where we need to spend our greatest time and effort. An example of an outcome goal may be “lose 20 pounds”. An example of behavior goals may be “structured meal pattern” or “exercise”.

To make these goals even more concrete, they should be “SMART” (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time based). Unfortunately, many people set goals that are unrealistic or too difficult to achieve. This will make it even harder to want to truly change. Instead, start off small and continue to build off the smaller goals. An example SMART behavior goal could be: Eating three meals per day at least three  days per week (eventually aim for five-seven days/week). This provides you a guideline and a plan to follow to help achieve your overall goal of losing 20 pounds. You may be noticing now that the outcome goal also needs to be more concrete, to make it SMART: Lose one-two pounds per week in 10-20 weeks. It’s important to recognize we cannot lose 20 pounds overnight or in a week, and we certainly can’t do that without any change.

People assume that once a goal is achieved – that’s it, they’re done. We must make a continuous and repetitive effort to MAINTAIN our goals, as well as continuing to improve. When we accomplish one goal, it’s time to set and accomplish another – whether it’s related to the previous goal, or an entirely new goal. This is where we can see people feel stagnant, no progress, or even revert to old behaviors. It’s also okay to set a goal of maintaining your behavior changes, you don’t always have to add in new things (however, that can make behavior change fun!). True behavior change takes weeks, months and even years! It also takes true, continuous effort to maintain.

We may experience obstacles and setbacks along the way – this should absolutely be expected. Expecting plans to go perfect will derail motivation and progress. It’s important to implore a growth mindset to learn from your setbacks and obstacles to improve and move forward. Overall, keep practicing, be as consistent as you can, strive for progression instead of perfection. Most importantly, if you are feeling stuck or frustrated, ask yourself – what can I change?

Danielle Johnson is a registered dietitian who works in the Department of Bariatrics/ Center of Excellence at Mather Hospital, where she specializes in surgical weight loss and medical weight management. She is completing her Master of Science in Integrative Nutrition at Stony Brook University.