Your Weight Loss Wake-Up Call

Experts and dieters offer insights on making the decision to diet - and sticking with it.

Medically Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD, PhD on April 28, 2006
5 min read

For artist and author Janice Taylor, making a decision to lose weight was easy -- she did it dozens of times.

But the decision that finally made her weight loss resolution stick began the day she got out of the shower and caught a surprise glimpse in the mirror. The moment, she says, was nothing short of an epiphany.

"Because I did not intentionally look, I didn't have a chance to set my mind to it, that it wouldn't be so bad," says Taylor. "So I caught the truth in my reflection, and it wasn't pretty.

"I realized for the first time that my fat rolls had fat rolls," says Taylor, who chronicles her experiences in the forthcoming book Our Lady of Weight Loss: Miraculous and Motivational Musings from the Patron Saint of Permanent Fat Removal.

Still, says Taylor, there was one more moment of truth to come before her weight loss journey could begin.

"I went to one of those weight loss meetings and I looked around, and what I saw was so depressing and demoralizing that I just started to cry and I said to myself 'I will NEVER do this,'" Taylor says. "And that's when the real life-changing experience started."

She says that a little voice inside her head -- one she now dubs "Our Lady of Weight Loss" -- told her: If you think you can't, you never will.

"It was in that moment that I realized the power of the thought," says Taylor. "If I thought I was defeated, I had no chance. If I believed I could do it, I would. It was all about turning my mindset around."

Ultimately she lost - and has kept off - more than 50 pounds. She now helps others do the same, via coaching, a web site, and a motivational newsletter titled The Kick in the Tush Club.

While Taylor's experiences were dramatic, experts say that not everyone who decides to lose weight has such an obvious turning point. For most of us, says health psychologist Lyssa Menard, PhD, it's not one moment of truth, but a series of changes that happen over time.

"The first stage is pre-contemplation -- the problem doesn't really bother you, or it's just a brief flutter through your mind -- but it seems to bother others more, like maybe a spouse or a parent or even your doctor, who all urge you to lose weight," says Menard, a clinical health psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute in Chicago.

The next stage, she says, is contemplation: You become aware of your weight problem, but in a general way, and you're not quite ready to take action.

"It's in this stage where people spend some time contemplating and seriously consider some options -- like what diet to go on, if they should get a checkup with their doctor, if they need to join a gym," says Menard.

The final step, she says, is the "action stage" -- the decision to actually commit to a weight loss plan.

"What a lot of people who have that epiphany, or the specific moment of truth, don't realize is that there is a lot of background processing going on before they get there," says Menard. "It seems like it's out of the blue, but it really isn't."

Such was the case for Dorothy, a member of the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic who goes by the nickname "diet4me" on the clinic's message boards.

"A whole series of things brought me to Weight Loss Center … not one big wake-up call, but a bunch of alarm bells," she writes on the Daily Journaling: Friends Talking message board.

Dorothy says she realized she needed help when she was "falling all the time and injuring myself, I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath, my blood pressure was out of control ... those were just a few of the bells that were going off."

"Most of all, I felt that I was running out of time ... if I didn't do something now, I probably never would."

Weight Loss Clinic member Mary ("TexasK") tells WebMD that for her, the decision to lose weight started -- as did Taylor's -- with a glimpse of her reflection. But thoughts that followed were what really propelled her forward.

"I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window -- didn't know it was me! Over the next week, I began to realize that I would get winded just walking across the room.

"I used to always eat in a healthy way, and walk 3 miles a day. Why did I stop? When did I get away from all that? Just slowly, and without really noticing, then suddenly I was 40 pounds overweight," she says.

In the process of helping to supply people with a motivational "kick in the tush," Taylor says one thing she's learned is that the motivation is different for everybody.

"You have to find out what's missing in your life -- what you personally need to succeed," she says.

While this can certainly come in the form of a "magic moment," experts say not to worry if it doesn't. You can create your own magic if you look to your personal value system as a guide.

"Just look towards what you want to accomplish in your life, and then ask yourself how your weight may be stopping or preventing that -- or how it will prevent it in the future," says Menard. "That's where you can find the motivation that really means something to you."

For some, she says, it will be vanity -- wanting to express a sense of style but being frustrated because weight gets in the way. For others, it will be family love: the desire to live long enough to see grandchildren get married, to be able to play ball with your kids, or to participate in a family ski trip. For still others it might be a doctor's warning about a health condition that does the trick.

"If people want to move themselves towards the magic moment they really should assess what their values are - and try to work within that framework to find their motivation," Menard says.

Another tip for getting and staying motivated, says Taylor, is to set out to discover the simple things that bring you happiness every day -- then do what you can to snatch a little piece of that for yourself every day.

She tells WebMD: "If other things are filling up your life with happiness, then food will have a smaller place to occupy in your mind and in your life."