12/31/2012 03:27 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2013

Replace Goals and Resolutions With Agreements and Promises of Action

As we prepare to turn the page on 2012 and ring in 2013, it's highly likely that most of us will be making resolutions regarding weight loss that go something like, "I want to lose 30 pounds in three months."

Many of my patients verbalize this, or a similar goal, when they walk through the door of my office. Over the past 20 years, I have come to realize that having a goal by itself does not lead to success. A stated goal is often a wished for, or desired, future. It is something that we want and try to make happen. However, losing 30 pounds is not a wish, it is a performance outcome.

What does this mean? Many of my patients can be motivated to lose weight and make dietary changes by the desire to feel better, look better, or due to fear of the development of medical problems. However, these strong feelings only produce the desired outcome, weight loss, when our patients focus on action or non-action.

High Performance Weight Loss

Losing weight is about our performance and our actions. We perform action that results in the outcomes we want when we follow a healthy meal plan by eating the foods that we know we should. We perform a non-action that results in the outcome we want when we do not buy candy or cookies at the store that tempt us to disregard our meal plan when we are tired or frustrated. We have a say in our performance when we make promises to ourselves to take certain actions and promises to not take other actions. Having a say means we have power and control, which is key.

However, performance does not always guarantee the desired performance outcome. With our performance outcome, we do not necessarily have the ultimate say. I have worked with many patients over the years who have followed the healthy meal plan we created for them but did not lose weight, or lost weight extremely slowly. The actual performance outcome of "no weight loss," when following the appropriate actions and non-actions, is the impetus for more action. The additional action in many such cases is adjunctive treatment of metabolism with supplements or medication, and our medical staff has great expertise in this.

Actions and Outcomes With Metabolic Issues

However, for the large majority of people, our performance is directly correlated to our performance outcomes. For this reason, I ask my patients to focus only on action and non-action. We want to perform action that works to improve our metabolism and take out action that does not work for our metabolism. As an example, most of my patients have insulin resistance. This is a common metabolic problem that makes gaining weight easy and losing weight difficult. If you have insulin resistance, you are not able to move glucose properly into your cells for energy. Your cells are resistant to the action of insulin, so sugar or glucose remains outside of your cells, and a false state of starvation is experienced by your body. This false state of starvation causes your body to crave sugar and starches, which it converts to glucose, and ultimately to fat for storage in your cells.

With such a metabolic issue, eating foods high in carbohydrate or sugar causes this process to worsen. If you have insulin resistance and follow a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet, your body's cells will always be in starvation mode or hungry. Eating a high-carbohydrate diet increases your appetite throughout the day, as well as your appetite for simple carbohydrate foods, which make the metabolic issues only worse. Eating a "healthy breakfast" of cereal, toast and fruit or fruit juice does not work for your metabolism. These foods are not "bad." They work well for someone who is not insulin-resistant and very physically active.

Action Steps to Take

Purchase the foods you need for your plan and have them readily available.

Clear your home or work environment of foods that tempt you and do not work with your metabolism and agreements in your plan.

Plan in advance what you are going to eat for the day.

Ensure you have adequate lean protein at every meal, and drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Make plans for restaurant eating that follow your plan and stick to them.

Record what you are eating, right after eating, or even consider writing down what you will be eating before starting, and then follow that plan.

Continue a regular exercise program, or start one if you are at that point in your weight loss plan where you are gaining confidence in your ability to stick with it daily.

Actions to Not Take

Do not shop for food when hungry, upset, bored, or vulnerable.

Do not bring food into the house that you know does not work with your plan and tempts you.

Do not arrive at a party ravenously hungry, especially when you do not know if there will be foods available that work with your plan and your body.

Do not skip meals all day in anticipation of going out to eat later in the day.

Do not schedule things that conflict with your ability to keep the agreements you made with yourself about your exercise plan.

Individualized Action Plan

There are hundreds of more specific examples of actions to take and other actions to retire and stop taking. Actions, once created, may need to be refined and re-evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure they are bringing you to the performance outcomes desired. Taking specific actions, and not taking others, are the only things you can do to impact your performance. If they don't provide the performance outcome desired, the action steps have to be refined and adjusted, and other actions may have to be added.

Using the Right Language to Declare Your Action

So what's in a word when it comes to declaring action? Everything, and one word in particular, can hold you back more than most. A common problem with action plans is in the language that is used to create them. People use the word goal often. Remember, a goal is a wished-for future, and something we want to try to make happen. We say, "My goal is to make it to the gym four times this week," and what this really means, often unconsciously, is, "I will try to make it to the gym four times this week."

Yes, you should try to achieve your goals, or more correctly, your planned actions, but try leaves wiggle room and a small opening for an excuse if something comes up. And because you are in a "trying" mindset, you are less likely to make it happen. The other problem with "try" is that once you've tried and failed, then you are less likely to try again. Attempting something is one thing. Doing it is another. When you are in a doing mindset, you are going to make the action happen no matter what comes up. You've made an agreement with yourself -- a promise that you are going to do it.

Losing weight requires us to change our ways of being and acting. If we have been sedentary, or if we are not used to planning meals, and instead we are used to relying on what is quick and convenient when we are hungry, then we have to take different actions every day. Luckily, as dynamic human beings, we have the power to change in order to attain the result we want for ourselves.

The Secret of the Successful

My successful patients are remarkable because they do what is necessary, rather than just try. They take action, and they take it seriously. They make promises to themselves to do the actions they agreed to do. This allows them high performance with weight loss.

The process changes when we are able to say, "I promise myself that I will go to the gym twice this week." You will be at the gym twice this week. Or, if you'd rather, "I am making a commitment to myself to visit the gym in the morning on Tuesday and Thursday this week." The more specific your action is, the better you will be able to foresee issues that may arise and avert them.

That being said, we live in the real world. Certainly, the unforeseen will always happen in life, and sometimes we have to break promises we make to ourselves and others. Breaking a promise should not shame us. With weight loss, we have to acknowledge what works and what doesn't, and accept them both. If we have a plan that works, we will have results if we commit to doing it. Promises we make to ourselves are just as important as the promises we make to others. When that becomes resolute and unwavering for us, real lasting results are possible.

For more by Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D., click here.

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