This is your year, you tell yourself.
You’re going to start working out and eating right. Get in shape. Finally run that marathon. All of these are admirable goals. Unfortunately, the odds are very much against you.
Statistically, the majority of people who set weight-loss goals fail. There are various complicated reasons, but the simple fact is that change is hard.
Maybe you’re a couch potato who lacks the motivation to get moving. Or perhaps you can＊t find a rhythm and you’re alternately very dedicated to your workouts, then not. Even if you are someone who has managed to make healthy eating and exercise into a steady routine, you may find yourself trapped in that uncomfortable spot on a plateau, progress nowhere to be found.
But whether you’re a Monday Starter or a Weekend Warrior, we have all faced those times when we can’t manage to move forward. We know what we should do, but we just … don’t do it. What’s required to propel a person to take that next step? What factors, mindsets and influences determine whether we succeed … or fail?
With the help of sports psychologists and the stories of people just like you, in the following pages we attempt to answer the burning question: What’s stopping you?
Get Off the Couch
Courtney Hambell desperately wanted
to lose weight. Not yet 30, her weight had ballooned to nearly 250 pounds. Like so many people, Courtney knew she needed to do something. But she wasn’t sure what, or how.
Dr. Stephen Graef, a psychologist at The Ohio State University, said lack of knowledge is a common obstacle for someone just trying to get off the couch. “Individuals who are trying to get going don’t really have any idea where to start,” he said. “The importance placed on it makes it even more overwhelming.“
Hambell knew her mindset had to change as well. “I think honestly I wasn’t mentally ready,” she said.
The truth is our brains are actually hardwired against change. It’s human nature to avoid doing what’s difficult, said clinical and sports psychologist Dr. Chelsi Day. “Anytime we give something pleasant up for something more unpleasant, it makes success much harder.”
Other factors that hold people back, according to Day, are fear and high expectations. “We are afraid to fail so we don’t even try,” she said. “We assume we can’t do something so we avoid it.”
“After seeing how my workouts and being around positive people
all the time changed my mood, I just wanted to keep doing it.”
For Hambell, change meant understanding her relationship with food. “I would use food as something to make me happy,” she said, “Not being able to separate the two was a huge part of why I wasn’t successful before.”
Graef recommends taking small steps over time rather than trying to change everything overnight. He says checking accomplishments off your list gives your brain momentum to keep going. “For the new exerciser, it’s a very slow process.”
Hambell started with weekly exercise classes and focused on eating healthy as much as possible. Down more than 70 pounds, she said getting results gave her motivation.
“After seeing how my workouts and being around positive people all the time changed my mood, I just wanted to keep doing it.”
Making It Stick
Joe Codispoti could not believe what he was seeing. Staring down at the number on the scale, the Dublin native was looking at his heaviest weight ever. Although he grew up active in sports and made a point to work out when he had time, he lost sight of his health.
“I started working out and running here and there, but I was still eating the same comfort foods that I was so used to, and in large quantities,” the 31-year-old said. “Fast food, fried food, candy, monster energy drinks, soda, you name it.”
Codispoti admitted to being career-driven and letting long hours and work stress derail his focus. Time, or rather the lack thereof, is the single biggest reason most people give for not working out.
Dr. Graef said it’s a legitimate excuse for many people. “They may have the greatest intentions and may even know what they want to do, it is just finding the time to make it happen.”
Once a person gets motivated to change, making the habits stick long-term is often a difficult task. Life gets in the way.
“We can often get ourselves motivated enough to act in the short-term. It’s really changing those habits and making them stick that provides the biggest challenge.”
“Sustaining is the big thing. We can often get ourselves motivated enough to act in the short-term,” Graef said. “It’s really changing those habits and making them stick that provides the biggest challenge.” He stresses the importance of finding something you enjoy. If you hate your workout routine, you’re much less likely to stick with it.
Codispoti took up running as a way to drop the weight, and immediately fell in love. “One mile turned into three and three turned into six and so forth. It’s my time of the day to decompress. Some people choose happy hour after work …I choose the bike path now.”
And what if you do fall off the fitness wagon? Codispoti remembered a time about a year into his weight-loss journey when he abandoned his healthy eating habits for a few days.
“I went out for a routine jog in the middle of the week and noticed my mile-times were significantly slower, and I was cramping more,” he said. “I remember my last half-mile walking home and thinking the whole way, ‘OK, we can’t have this anymore, time to get back into eating right.’ I remember never wanting to feel that way again during a routine run.”
The Next Level
You’ve gotten off the couch. You’ve even managed to make it stick. But now you’re stuck – the dreaded “plateau.” Once a person has made eating healthy and exercising regularly a part of their everyday life, what happens next?
Trudi Fisher lost more than 80 pounds, but the 30-year-old found herself spinning her wheels once she reached her initial goal. The weight-loss stopped. She realized a poor diet was the reason she plateaued. “You cannot fuel your body with trash and expect working out alone to change the look and shape of your body.”
Having a routine can actually work against you at this stage, said Dr. Day. “We see that it works, we’re succeeding, and it’s pleasant, so we struggle to change it up.”
Dr. Graef suggests having a plan and a very specific goal to push yourself to the next level. He warns against setting goals that are too vague, such as I want to get strong. “Oftentimes we are tripped up by not setting goals that are measurable and realistic.”
To push past her own plateau, Fisher signed up for her first fitness competition. “I needed something to push myself,” she said. “After doing research on what training for a figure competition involved I decided it was something I wanted to do.”
Setting a new goal or trying a new workout is the best way to overcome stalling out, according to Graef. “If you keep doing the same thing it will become stale and boring.”
“I’ve learned one bad meal or skipped workout isn’t going to derail
everything. The important thing is getting back to it the following day.”
Achieving her goal not only helped Fisher get past her plateau but also find more balance. She’s been able to make healthy eating and exercise a way of life. “I’ve learned one bad meal or skipped workout isn’t going to derail everything,” she said. “The important thing is getting back to it the following day.”
If you’re facing your own struggle to get off the couch, make it stick or push past a plateau, Day said the first step toward overcoming your challenge is to cut yourself some slack. “We all screw up, we all drop the ball,” she said. “If we can say, ‘So what, move on,’ we are more likely to succeed in all of those things.”
Overcoming fears and breaking down obstacles is all that separates you from taking that next step, regardless of your current situation
What’s stopping you?