Your weight loss journey is made up of moments.
The moment you decide to start a new program, the moment you see a new number on the scale that you haven’t seen, the moment you realize you have eaten an entire bag of Cheetos unconsciously, and for most of us, the moment we decide it’s too hard and we quit.
I think there are three pivotal moments that determine our weight loss success. If we can focus on these three moments, instead of having a moment where we quit, we can instead experience the moment where we realize we are at our goal weight and will never go back because we are changed.
The good news about these three moments is that they happen over and over again throughout our journey. We have lots of opportunities to build our skills here and create success in each one.
The Before Moment: Decide What You Will Eat
This is the moment, before we eat, where we decide what we will eat.
Most people think this is THE moment. The only, the most critical, moment. Because if we decide right, we will lose weight. And if we decide wrong, we will be off the wagon and climbing back up the scale.
That’s a lot of pressure on this moment, right? No wonder we freak out so much about what to eat, how much, the macros, the points, the carbs, the bad, the good.
This is also where the battle usually ensues. The tug of war between what we can and can’t or should and shouldn’t eat starts up full force and the will-powered defense weapons engage.
This is where we feel restriction, and deprivation, and all the “it’s not fair that I can’t have what I want/eat my favorite foods/have to do all this planning” conversation happens in our heads.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
This before moment doesn’t have to be RIGHT before when our toddler brain has the reigns. We can make these decisions LONG before the moment of eating when our adult brain has control of the situation. When we know our adult brain is in charge of the decision making, it makes it much easier in the moment to say no to our persistent toddler brain.
The key is to have this conversation with yourself before emotion is involved. Decide well before the moment of eating what you will eat. I recommend my clients plan their meals the night before.
You can make this plan with your adult brain that is able to see the long-view, not just what’s right in front of you. You can decide with your goals in mind, what you want to put on the plan.
Questions to ask when planning what to eat:
- What foods serve your goals?
- What foods help you get closer to the person you want to be?
- What is realistic for you?
- What do you want to commit to that you know you will stick to?
And then you get to wake up and carry out your plan, knowing the decisions have already been made. Doesn’t that sound so lovely?
Well, it won’t be.
Because you can’t remove your toddler brain from the equation altogether. Your toddler brain, when it sees the salad you have planned for lunch, will start whining about how it wants a burger and fries instead. Or wants to skip the salad and just eat ice cream. This is where we find the next pivotal moment that we usually plow right through.
The During Moment: Investigate Why
Your toddler brain is convinced pizza is the best choice, even though your adult brain already decided on chicken and broccoli. So it’s time to take a beat and regroup.
You have a plan and your brain doesn’t want to follow it. So what we want to do is create some space to investigate why.
The space doesn’t have to be three hours. It could just be three minutes. But as soon as you notice your brain wanting to argue with the plan and eat something else, stop.
Set a timer for 10 minutes (or 30 minutes or whatever you decide) and question it.
Questions to ask when you’re tempted to eat off plan:
- Why do I want this other food?
- Why does it feel important right now?
- Does this other food serve my goals?
- How am I feeling right now?
- How will I feel if I eat it?
- How will I feel if I don’t?
- Will this matter tomorrow?
- What would my future self advise me to do in this moment?
- What am I really looking for?
At the end of the time you set, you can decide if you want to eat the thing or not, but you will be doing it consciously with your adult brain instead of your in-the-moment toddler brain.
Think of how many things you eat without thinking, without knowing why. Imagine how many things you would not have eaten, if you took a beat to regroup before deciding to put it in your mouth.
This eliminates the “how did I eat this many Oreos” or “I have no idea what happened” out-of-control, against-our-will eating scenarios that cause so much frustration and weight gain.
You’re not going to want to do this in the moment. You’re going to want to shove the food in your mouth to quiet the tantrum of your toddler brain. You will feel uncomfortable as you are questioning and refraining from eating. That’s okay.
You may decide at the end of your questioning period to eat the thing anyway, and that leads us to the third pivotal moment… the after moment.
The After Moment: Compassionate Curiosity
Inevitably, you will have some during moments where your toddler brain wins and you eat the thing. And this, to me, is the most pivotal moment of all.
This is the make or break moment, the moment that ends most weight journeys… because this is where we become our own worst enemy.
After we eat the thing, all of the judgmental and often vicious self-talk starts running in our brains.
We start to question and doubt our commitment and capability, we use it as more evidence of how broken we are, we start to feel shame about our inability to control ourselves and guilt about breaking our commitment, we feel embarrassed about our lack of willpower, and frustrated that this happened again.
And here’s one thing I know for sure:
When we are feeling shame, guilt, embarrassment, and frustration, it is highly unlikely that we will be reaching for roast chicken and veggies.
For most of us, we escape these uncomfortable emotions by slipping into a cool pool of apathy. This is where the “Screw it, I don’t care, I’ll try again tomorrow” dialogue begins.
It’s the beginning of the end.
This after moment is where you have a chance to change the conversation, and create a new future for yourself.
This is where your real power lies.
This is the moment your future self will thank you the very most for. Because this is where all of the learning and growth happens.
Get specific and curious
This moment is your opportunity to be honest about what happened, decide what you want to make it mean, what you want to learn from it, and how you move forward.
Your most powerful tools in the after moment are curiosity and compassion.
What I have found about curiosity is that it is impossible for it to coexist with judgment. When you are curious, you can’t be judgmental and vice versa. And when you are compassionately curious, you open yourself up to even deeper understanding.
Now you may think that anytime you are asking questions, you are being curious. Not so, my friends. It is not the question in and of itself that signals curiosity, it is the nature and quality of the question.
If you are asking “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I do anything right?” you are in essence saying, “Something is wrong with me,” and “I can’t do anything right.” That is judgment disguised as a question.
But if you ask, “What worked in this situation?” Or “What happened?” your curiosity will lead you to learning.
I want you to get specific, get curious, and get on with your life.
We have a tendency to catastrophize what happened: we were out of control, we binged on everything in sight, we threw it all away, we totally screwed up, we fell off the wagon completely.
When your brain does this, get specific: what EXACTLY did you eat?
Then you can get curious about it.
- Why did you eat it?
- What did it provide you in the moment? (joy, fun, relief from boredom or stress)
- What will you learn?
- What will you do differently next time?
- How do you want to feel about it going forward?
- How will you let it go?
The most important question is this: What now?
That is totally up to you.