A trip to New York City is always energizing, but the visit I recently returned from was an especially exciting adventure. I went with the four winners of our “Mommy Movement Challenge”, a weight loss/lifestyle competition in which moms throughout Southern California were encouraged to form teams and lose weight following our Lean for Life program. The winners were chosen based on their personal stories of transformation.
None of the four women had ever visited New York before, and they had an amazing time. In addition to sightseeing and taking in a Broadway show (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was terrific!), the women received beauty makeovers at Nadia Vassell Salon and were interviewed on “Fox & Friends” and by writers at Good Housekeeping and First for Women magazines.
One of the things I enjoy most about my work is that I’m always learning something new and seeing or hearing something from a fresh perspective. That’s exactly what happened as I was listening to the women being interviewed by a writer from Good Housekeeping. Vanessa Herron—who has lost 65 pounds—was asked about fully committing to the weight loss process. Vanessa admitted that, at first, she “kept looking for the cheat day!”
I couldn’t help but smile. In one short sentence, Vanessa expressed the challenge everyone experiences when starting a weight loss program. In fact, it’s a challenge most of us face whenever we set a goal. We want the results—but we would prefer they come with the least possible energy and effort! It’s human nature. Easy feels better. That’s why some diet programs build in “free days” or “cheat days” which lull you into believing it’s okay to eat a healthy diet six days a week and eat whatever you want on the seventh.
The problem is that “cheat days” only cheat one person: the person “cheating.” They contribute to a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern that can slow and even undermine our progress. They’re also a distraction, because they don’t allow us the opportunity to fully form new habits and to learn how to consistently integrate those new, healthy habits into our lives. If we spend two or three days before a weekend looking forward to all the “good food” we’ll “get to eat” on our “cheat day,” it’s much less likely we’re going to fully focus on our goal—and the healthy changes necessary to achieve it.
This isn’t to suggest that the goal is perfection. An occasional indulgence is fine, especially if it’s a mindful choice that you’ve made with a full appreciation of the consequences… and you savor it as you indulge! That’s very different than conditioning your brain to look forward to a predetermined “break” from a healthy pattern you haven’t yet fully established.
One of my favorite quotes is from psychologist Anne Kaiser Stearns, who said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” She’s right. Doing what we’ve always done—you know, those habits that caused us to gain weight in the first place-—only delays the gratification that comes from feeling better and being healthier.