Diet and exercise? Not the key.

Protein and carbs (or no carbs)? Running and yoga? This routine? That diet?


You can’t watch TV or scroll Facebook without an ad for a diet or exercise plan or product right now. Marketers are no dummies. At this time of year, losing weight is the #1 new year’s resolution. It’s also the #1 broken new year’s resolution.

So before you make it, or break it, read this.

From 2008 to 2009, I lost over 90 pounds. I went on to maintain that weight loss for two years. I felt healthy and strong, agile and athletic.

Then over the next five years, I would gain it all back and more. But I’m now more than 30 pounds into my current weight loss, something I’ve not shared publicly or with more than a few friends.

And I’m not writing to talk about all the reasons I gained it back. We all have our stories. It’s important to acknowledge and honor them or we won’t learn from them. And frankly, sometimes there are times in our lives where it is just stinking hard to be healthy.

But whatever our individual reason for gaining weight (back) or never losing it, we need to understand it, honor it, then release it.

Instead of focusing on why I gained back the weight, and why I did nothing about it for five years, I’d like to challenge an often-held assumption.

Right now, you may be feeling unhappy about your body, what the scale is telling you, or what your abilities are.

And you may be assuming that that feeling of discontent is the first step in motivating you to lose weight.

But stop.right.there.

Effective and long-term weight loss doesn’t happen because we’re disgusted with ourselves, it happens when we are happy with ourselves.

Let me say that again.

Healthy weight loss happens because we are content with who we are.

You might be thinking of all the yo-yo diets (especially around this time of the year), that sometimes do help people lose weight. But does that last more than a month or two? Has it ever for you?

I may not be an expert in weight loss or exercise, but I am an expert in being a busy working/stay-at-home mom trying to balance life and health. Having lost substantial amounts of weight (sadly) a few times in my life, I hope I’ve learned a thing or two that might help you (and me!) start or continue on a path of good health.

I believe these Four Factors of Healthy Weight Loss are crucial to understanding when we are ready to lose weight and creating the best environment for our individual weight loss:

1. Contentment and confidence. Many (mistakenly) look to weight loss as a way to make ourselves feel better and more confident, and when we find that it doesn’t achieve that, or not in the way or amount we’d hoped, we relapse. But healthy weight loss comes when we are content with who we are on the inside and we find that it’s time for our outside to reflect that.

Are you happy with who you are? Not your weight necessarily, but you, your person? Do you feel confident in yourself whether or not you lose weight? Maybe you have some emotional, spiritual, or psychological work to do before you are ready to begin losing weight. I’ve been there. It would be a mistake to view weight loss as a source of new happiness, self-esteem, or worth. Find and identify your sources for those, then consider losing weight.

I’ve found that I’ve bought beautiful and flattering clothes each time before I lost weight. It wasn’t because I was wasting money, and it certainly wasn’t that I was expecting to begin losing weight and size out of those (not cheap) clothes. But buying those clothes was a sign that I was content and confident at the time, and the weight loss naturally flowed from that (and the three other factors below).

2. Precipitating Event. Most recently, my precipitating event was my younger brother reaching a weight loss of 100 pounds. It said to me – “Well Melissa, what are you waiting for?” as well as “You have someone to encourage you, someone to model, and ask questions of, you don’t have to do this alone!”

Your event could be something manufactured (like looking at old pictures, going shopping, etc.) or something that happens to you or someone you love, but this is usually an event that stands out in your mind as both awakening and encouraging, sparking in you a desire to lose weight.

3. Actionable Plan. This is where some begin to stumble. We might all want to lose weight, but can we do it, and how? There are so many “diets” (NO!) or eating plans (mmm, better) out there, what to choose? Frankly, I really don’t care. I’ve tried and succeeded at different plans, it is really an individual decision about what might work for you. The important thing is to have.a.plan. Your personality and habits also dictate how strict that plan may need to be.

The first time I lost 90 pounds, I focused on portion control. Literally – that was the focus. I looked at the quantity of food I’d been consuming, and sought to cut it in half, most of the time, then added in vegetables. This go round, I am focusing on cutting carbs. I’m a cheese addict at this stage of my life (and who doesn’t like bacon every day?), so that focus is easier for me. Am I exercising? Yes, but not putting a lot of pressure on myself about it, just being more active and adding it in where my schedule allows.

Also, finding someone to share the journey, whether through a program like Jenny Craig, Nutri-system, Beachbody or the like, or a friend or family member can help with both knowledge and accountability on a plan.

4. Functional Goal. This is the money shot – what is the point of your weight loss? What do you want to be able to do, wear, etc? Is there a big event next year? A vacation? While looking forward to an event is nice, an activity is the best functional goal. An activity will be an ongoing goal into the future, not passed over like a 25th reunion.

Do you want to walk a flight of stairs without being winded? Cross your legs? Play basketball with your kids or move easily in a seat on a plane? Finding that functional and real goal is what keeps you focused when you’re having a bad day or see that plate of cookies after dinner.

For me, I have a ski trip this coming spring and I want to fly down the mountain without falling off of it. I want to be able to adjust my ski boots without sweating and buy cute clothes from the ski shop. So my goal is both event and activity. That’s not to say I won’t continue with my weight loss after that trip, but by then, I’ll have lots of momentum and will likely be training for my next (and 5th!) half marathon.

Why Did I Regain That 90 Pounds?
In attempting to learn from my own story, I identified why I regained the weight I lost. For me, an injury grew into a chronic pain condition that prevented the activities I had used to lose and maintain my weight. Physical therapy, hand therapy, nerve blocks and more, also ate up lots of time. My son also entered a clinical trial that occupied 10-15 days/month in travel, hospitals, and surgeries. Stress and emotional eating became my reward and solace as we sat in hospitals and hotels. That’s the story. What did I learn? Check out bonus factor #5.

5. BONUS FACTOR —–>Adaptability. This is the factor that I was missing in maintaining my earlier significant weight loss. I had contentment and confidence, a great plan, goals, and was running half marathons each year. But when my life was hit by complications from all sides, I could not adapt. I couldn’t adapt eating habits, exercise habits, time constraints, and emotional stress to the pressures that came to bear at that stage in my life.

And so I gave myself a pass… for five years. And sometimes, that’s okay.

But we have to be prepared that such events may happen and not be blown out of the water by them, like I was. How will we change our eating habits if we’re all of a sudden eating out all the time? How will we change our physical activity (and eating) if we’re injured? How will we handle a devastating emotional event?

You might be in a “taking a pass” stage of your life. Or, you might realize you need to work on one or more of the above factors in preparation for future weight loss. Or, you may say, “Hey, I think I’m ready to do this.” If you’re ready, I’d love if you’d join me in my healthy 2017. I’ve outed myself now, so hold me to it.

Comment below: What are your biggest struggles with weight loss? With the factors above? Who’s with me in 2017?








Last modified: December 31, 2017

3 Responses to " The Key to Losing Weight Isn’t What You Think "

  1. Eliza Grimes says:

    Love this! Will be re-reading this in the days ahead. I’ve recently got a plan ( AIP) and joined the gym 1mile from my house. Consistency has helped me lose before, but when circumstances changed, I didn’t adapt. You just now helped me see this-Thanks!!!

  2. Kim Porter says:

    Melissa Number 5 was me. A good change came into my life but I couldn’t figure out how to keep exercise in my schedule. So I gave myself a pass until I could. Two years later and tighter clothes I was done giving myself an excuse. I joined a new gym 2 months ago which does fit my schedule and fits how I view eating – not dieting! Thanks for outing yourself – I choose to join you this year in settting realistic goals. Mine are more flexibility, core strength and losing inches- not pounds.

  3. Danielle OConnor says:

    Thanks for showing this to me! I’m ready! I was an overweight child/teen but lost over 100lbs and kept it off my entire adult life….up until a major back surgery, my mom’s death, and Emily’s terminal diagnosis. I have given myself a pass for 7yrs now and I am back up to my starting point. I can’t lie, food is the easiest go to and sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve done it until it’s happened. I do have my oldest daughter’s wedding next October to look forward to in addition to just physically being able to care for a full need dying child who is the size of an adult. I have RA, I am in desperate need of a knee replacement but we’re trying to buy time with gel shots, and a slew of other off the wall health stuff. I’m not helping any of that by being out of shape. I am taking a deep breath, collecting my thoughts, and getting my plan in order. I’m going to think this through to try to decide the best route for me. It might start out one thing and lead into another. Time will tell. Thank you for sharing your story.

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