The key to fat loss success and sustainability is a little more nuanced than simply “diet and exercise.” Your long-term success will depend greatly on your approach.
Unfortunately, we see women making the same common mistakes in their approach to fat loss, time and time again. Mistakes that prevent them from achieving their goals, or from maintaining their results.
Let’s talk about the top three fat loss mistakes that women make — and how you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: Trying to change everything at once.
If you’re like most normal human beings, when you decide that you want to make changes, your natural inclination is to do a major life overhaul in attempt to meet your goal more quickly. If small changes are good, then huge, sweeping changes must be better. Right? We’ve all been there with one goal or another.
Unfortunately, if you’ve tried this approach before, you know that when it comes to making habit and behavioral changes, it’s nearly impossible to make any of it stick this way. You simply can’t become an entirely different person over night. It ispossible to change your habits for the better, but the best strategy for success isn’tthe “overhaul” strategy.
Leo Babauta, best-selling author and habit expert, estimates that when you focus on changing one habit at a time, the likelihood of retaining that habit for a year or longer is 80%. However, if you try to change more than one habit at a time, the success rate drops to as low as 20%.
This means that if you are working towards change, your best bet is to focus on changing one thing at a time in order to be successful.
I realize that may not sound exciting or hardcore enough, but this approach has proven to be incredibly effective. (How many times has the hardcore approach worked for you, long-term? Uhh…yeah. That’s what I thought.)
So, you want to make a habit change — where do you start?
Step 1 — Identify your long-term goal
In order to assess where to start, it’s important to establish your long-term goal, and thewhy behind it. When you’re establishing your goal and your why, you may find it helpful to ask yourself, “How will achieving this goal improve my life, or make me happier?”
For example, maybe your big goal is to improve your body composition by losing some body fat, and thewhy is so that you are able to move more comfortably and keep up with your kids. Or, perhaps the big goal is to get into better physical shape, and the why is because you want to play recreational sports again for the camaraderie.
Step 2 — Choose a small, specific, action-oriented short-term goal
Your very next step is to consider your starting point, and set a small, specific, action-oriented short-term goal that you’ll practice for the next two weeks. This should be something that is realistic, achievable, and moves you towards your bigger goal. It should be reasonable enough that you’re confident that you can do it consistently.
Approaching your goal in this manner sets you up for success. Achieving small, short-term goals over and over again builds positive momentum, gives you a sense of pride, and allows you to celebrate small wins, which will further motivate you to continue to work towards your bigger goal.
Let’s say that your big goal is to improve your nutrition to help you lose body fat. When you take a look at your current nutrition, your starting point, you notice that the majority of your meals are convenience foods and restaurant meals with a heavy emphasis on carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, bagels, and cereal, and very little protein. This seems like a good place to start.
Remember that protein is paramount for both muscle growth and recovery, and it’s the most satiating of the macronutrients (which are protein, carbohydrate, and dietary fat). How about starting with a protein goal?
You set a short-term goal of consuming one palm-sized serving of protein with at least two of your meals each day, for two weeks. It’s fits the criteria because it’s small, specific, and action-oriented, and most importantly, nothing else in your diet needs to change right now. Your only focus is to incorporate a serving of protein at two of your meals each day, and you’ll practice this new habit for two weeks.
Step 3 — Track your habit practice and evaluate your success to determine your next steps
We use 80% as a “consistency goal” meaning that if you are successfully practicing a new habit 80% of the time, you’re ready to move on to a new habit (and continue practicing this one, of course). If you’re shooting for 2 servings of protein each day, 7 days a week that means that you need to include protein in at least 11 meals each week to achieve 80% consistency.
As you’re evaluating your habit practice for the two-week period, you may encounter one of two scenarios.
At the end of two weeks, you review how it went and realize that you easily got a full serving of protein at two of your meals each day with 80% (or higher) consistency. You made it a priority, and it has become a regular part of your meals. Congratulations! You have created a new habit! This is so exciting! You feel successful, and find yourself ready for more.
At this point, you go back to Step 2. Choose another small, short-term goal and work toward it, by first analyzing your current starting point again. For example, you notice that your vegetable intake is rather paltry. Knowing that vegetables are packed with nutrients you need for good health, and the food volume from eating vegetables can help keep you satisfied longer after a meal, your decide your next goal is to work on your vegetable intake.
This time, you continue having two servings of protein per day and aim to also incorporate two servings of vegetables each day for two weeks. Nothing else has to change. Eating a serving of protein at two meals should be feeling pretty normal and automated by now, so you’ll work on having two servings of veggies each day, and evaluate your progress again in two weeks.
Sometimes things don’t go as smoothly. Perhaps you had a hard time consistently having two servings of protein each day. At the end of the two weeks, you’ve achieved only 65% consistency, and the habit still doesn’t feel normal and natural. You have two options in this scenario:
- Continue practicing this same small goal for two more weeks and shoot for 80% consistency — you’re almost there! Sometimes, we just need a bit more time to work on our small goal, and that’s OK. The key is to work on it until it’s cemented as a habit, and feels easy to do.
- If it feels like too much, back it down a little bit. Shoot for a serving of protein atonemeal a day. If you nail it for two meals in any given day, that’s awesome! But for now, make the goal just one. Scaling your habit back is not failure. It’s quite the opposite. It’s setting yourself up for long-term success. Eating protein at one meal every day is still an improvement compared to how you were eating just a few weeks ago. Plus, racking up wins, no matter how small, is a key to your long-term success. Shoot for 80% consistency with just one serving of protein per day — that’s 6 servings that week, instead of 11.
All of these small goals push you towards your bigger goal, and as long as you focus on one thing at a time, your chances for success are substantially higher than if you dive head-first into a massive overhaul.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This is one of my favorite quotes is, and it’s a great reminder of how we should approach a goal.