Starting and sticking to a healthy weight loss plan can sometimes seem impossible.
Often, people simply lack the motivation to get started or lose their motivation to keep going. Luckily, motivation is something you can work to increase.
This article discusses 16 ways to motivate yourself to lose weight.
1. Determine Why You Want to Lose Weight
Clearly define all the reasons you want to lose weight and write them down. This will help you stay committed and motivated to reach your weight loss goals.
Try to read through them daily and use them as a reminder when tempted to stray from your weight loss plans.
Your reasons could include preventing diabetes, keeping up with grandchildren, looking your best for an event, improving your self-confidence or fitting into a certain pair of jeans.
Many people start losing weight because their doctor suggested it, but research shows that people are more successful if their weight loss motivation comes from within (1).
Summary: Clearly define your weight loss goals and write them down. Make sure your motivation is driven from within for long-term success.
2. Have Realistic Expectations
Many diets and diet products claim quick and easy weight loss. However, most practitioners recommend only losing 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) per week (2).
Setting unattainable goals can lead to feelings of frustration and cause you to give up. On the contrary, setting and accomplishing achievable goals leads to feelings of accomplishment.
A study using data from several weight loss centers found that women who expected to lose the most weight were the most likely to drop out of the program (5).
The good news is that just a little weight loss of 5–10% of your body weight can have a large impact on your health. If you are 180 pounds (82 kg), that is just 9–18 pounds (4–8 kg). If you are 250 pounds (113 kg), it’s 13–25 pounds (6–11 kg) (6).
In fact, losing 5–10% of your body weight can (7):
- Improve blood sugar control
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Reduce joint pain
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers
Summary: Set realistic weight loss expectations to boost feelings of achievement and prevent burn out. Just a moderate amount of weight loss of 5–10% can have a major impact on your health.
3. Focus on Process Goals
Many people trying to lose weight only set outcome goals, or goals they want to accomplish at the end.
Typically, an outcome goal will be your final target weight.
However, focusing only on outcome goals can derail your motivation. They can often feel too distant and leave you feeling overwhelmed (1).
Instead, you should set process goals, or what actions you’re going to take to reach your desired outcome. An example of a process goal is exercising four times a week.
A study in 126 overweight women participating in a weight loss program found those who were process focused were more likely to lose weight and less likely to deviate from their diets, compared to those who focused on weight loss outcomes alone (1).
Consider setting SMART goals to set strong goals. SMART stands for (1):
Some examples of SMART goals include:
- I will walk briskly for 30 minutes five days next week.
- I will eat four servings of vegetables every day this week.
- I will only drink one soda this week.
Summary: Setting SMART process goals will help you stay motivated, while focusing only on outcome goals can lead to disappointment and decrease your motivation.
4. Pick a Plan That Fits Your Lifestyle
Find a weight loss plan that you can stick to, and avoid plans that would be nearly impossible to follow in the long term.
While there are hundreds of different diets, most are based on cutting calories (8).
Therefore, avoid strict diets that completely eliminate certain foods. Research has found that those with an “all or nothing” mindset are less likely to lose weight (10).
Instead, consider creating your own custom plan. The following dietary habits have been proven to help you lose weight (11):
- Decreasing calorie intake
- Reducing portion sizes
- Reducing frequency of snacks
- Reducing fried food and desserts
- Including fruits and vegetables
Summary: Pick an eating plan that you can stick to long term and avoid extreme or quick-fix diets.
5. Keep a Weight Loss Journal
Self-monitoring is crucial to weight loss motivation and success.
Research has found that people who track their food intake are more likely to lose weight and maintain their weight loss (12).
However, to keep a food journal correctly, you must write down everything you eat. This includes meals, snacks and the piece of candy you ate off your coworker’s desk.
You can also record your emotions in your food journal. This can help you identify certain triggers for overeating and help you find healthier ways to cope.
Summary: Keeping a food journal can help you measure progress, identify triggers and hold yourself accountable. You can use a website or app as a tool for tracking as well.
6. Celebrate Your Successes
Losing weight is hard, so celebrate all your successes to keep yourself motivated.
Give yourself some credit when you accomplish a goal. Social media or weight loss sites with community pages are great places to share your successes and get support. When you feel pride in yourself, you will increase your motivation (1).
Moreover, remember to celebrate behavior changes and not just reaching a certain number on the scale.
For example, if you met your goal of exercising four days a week, take a bubble bath or plan a fun night with friends.
Additionally, you can further improve your motivation by rewarding yourself (1).
However, it’s important to pick appropriate rewards. Avoid rewarding yourself with food. Also, avoid rewards that are so expensive you would never buy it, or so insignificant that you would allow yourself to have it anyway.
The following are some good examples of rewards:
- Getting a manicure
- Going to a movie
- Buying a new running top
- Taking a cooking class
Summary: Celebrate all your successes throughout your weight loss journey. Consider rewarding yourself to further boost your motivation.
7. Find Social Support
People need regular support and positive feedback to stay motivated (1).
Tell your close family and friends about your weight loss goals so they can help support you on your journey.
Many people also find it helpful to find a weight loss buddy. You can work out together, hold each other accountable and encourage each other throughout the process.
Additionally, it can be helpful to involve your partner, but make sure to get support from other people too, such as your friends (11).
Furthermore, consider joining a support group. Both in-person and online support groups have been proven to be beneficial (1).
Summary: Having strong social support will help hold you accountable and keep you motivated to lose weight. Consider joining a support group to help boost your motivation along the way.
8. Make a Commitment
Research shows that those who make a public commitment are more likely to follow through with their goals (14).
Telling others about your weight loss goals will help you stay accountable. Tell your close family and friends, and even consider sharing them on social media. The more people you share your goals with, the greater the accountability.
Moreover, consider investing in a gym membership, package of exercise classes or paying for a 5K in advance. You are more likely to follow through if you have already made an investment.
Summary: Making a public commitment to lose weight will help you stay motivated and hold you accountable.
9. Think and Talk Positively
People who have positive expectations and feel confident in their ability to achieve their goals tend to lose more weight (15).
Also, people who use “change talk” are more likely to follow through with plans.
Change talk is making statements about commitment to behavioral changes, the reasons behind them and the steps you will take or are taking to reach your goals (16).
Therefore, start talking positively about your weight loss. Also, talk about the steps you are going to take and commit your thoughts out loud.
On the other hand, research shows that people who spend a lot of time only fantasizing about their dream weight are less likely to reach their goal. This is called mentally indulging.
Instead, you should mentally contrast. To mentally contrast, spend a few minutes imagining reaching your goal weight and then spend another few minutes imagining any possible obstacles that may get in the way.
A study in 134 students had them mentally indulge or mentally contrast their dieting goals. Those who mentally contrasted were more likely to take action. They ate fewer calories, exercised more and ate fewer high-calorie foods (15).
As seen in this study, mentally contrasting is more motivating and leads to more action than mentally indulging, which can trick your brain into thinking you have already succeeded and cause you to never take any action to reach your goals.
Summary: Think and talk positively about your weight loss goals, but make sure you are realistic and focus on the steps you must take to reach them.
10. Plan for Challenges and Setbacks
Everyday stressors will always pop up. Finding ways to plan for them and developing proper coping skills will help you stay motivated no matter what life throws your way.
There will always be holidays, birthdays or parties to attend. And there will always be stressors at work or with family.
It’s important to start problem solving and brainstorming about these possible weight loss challenges and setbacks. This will keep you from getting off track and losing motivation (2).
Many people turn to food for comfort. This can quickly lead to them abandoning their weight loss goals. Creating appropriate coping skills will prevent this from happening to you.
In fact, studies have shown that people who are better at handling stress and have better coping strategies will lose more weight and keep it off longer (11).
Consider using some of these methods to cope with stress:
- Practice square breathing
- Take a bath
- Go outside and get some fresh air
- Call a friend
- Ask for help
Remember to also plan for holidays, social events and eating out. You can research restaurant menus in advance and find a healthy option. At parties, you can bring a healthy dish or eat smaller portions.
Summary: It is crucial to plan for setbacks and have good coping practices. If you use food as a coping mechanism, start practicing other ways to cope.
11. Don’t Aim for Perfection and Forgive Yourself
You do not have to be perfect to lose weight.
If you have an “all or nothing” approach, you’re less likely to achieve your goals (10).
When you are too restrictive, you may find yourself saying “I had a hamburger and fries for lunch, so I might as well have pizza for dinner.” Instead, try to say, “I had a big lunch, so I should aim for a healthier dinner” (2).
And avoid beating yourself up when you make a mistake. Self-defeating thoughts will just hinder your motivation.
Instead, forgive yourself. Remember that one mistake is not going to ruin your progress.
Summary: When you aim for perfection, you will quickly lose your motivation. By allowing yourself flexibility and forgiving yourself, you can stay motivated throughout your weight loss journey.
12. Learn to Love and Appreciate Your Body
Taking steps to improve your body image can help you lose more weight and maintain your weight loss.
Furthermore, people who have a better body image are more likely to pick a diet they can sustain and try new activities that will help them reach their goals (18).
The following activities can help boost your body image:
- Appreciate what your body can do
- Do something for yourself, such as getting a massage or manicure
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Stop comparing yourself to others, especially models
- Wear clothes you like and that fit you well
- Look in the mirror and say the things you like about yourself out loud
Summary: Boosting your body image can help you stay motivated to lose weight. Try the activities mentioned above to improve your body image.
13. Find an Exercise You Enjoy
The best kind is exercise you enjoy and can stick to.
There are many different types and ways to exercise, and it’s important to explore different options to find one you enjoy.
Consider where you want to exercise. Do you prefer to be inside or outside? Would you rather work out at a gym or in the comfort of your own home?
Also, figure out if you prefer to exercise alone or with a group. Group classes are very popular, and they help many people stay motivated. However, if you don’t enjoy group classes, working out on your own is just as good.
Lastly, listen to music while you work out, as doing so can increase motivation. People also tend to exercise longer when listening to music (19).
Summary: Exercise not only helps you burn calories, it also makes you feel better. Find an exercise you enjoy, so it can easily become part of your routine.
14. Find a Role Model
Having a role model can help you stay motivated to lose weight. However, you need to pick the right kind of role model to keep yourself motivated.
Hanging a picture of a supermodel on your fridge will not motivate you over time. Instead, find a role model that you can easily relate to.
Having a relatable and positive role model may help keep you motivated (20).
Maybe you know a friend who has lost a lot of weight and can be your inspiration. You can also look for inspirational blogs or stories about people who have successfully lost weight.
Summary: Finding a role model will help keep you motivated. It is important to find a role model that you can relate to.
15. Get a Dog
Dogs can be the perfect weight loss companions. In fact, studies show that owning a dog can help you lose weight (21).
First, dogs can increase your physical activity.
A Canadian study in dog owners found that people who had dogs walked an average of 300 minutes per week, while people who did not have dogs only walked an average of 168 minutes per week (22).
Second, dogs are great social support. Unlike your human work out buddy, dogs are almost always excited to get some physical activity.
As an added bonus, pet ownership is proven to improve overall health and well-being. It has been linked to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduced feelings of loneliness and depression (23).
Summary: Dogs ownership can help you lose weight by increasing your physical activity and providing great social support along the way.
16. Get Professional Help When Needed
Don’t hesitate to consult professional help to aid your weight loss efforts when needed.
People who feel more confident in their knowledge and abilities will lose more weight. This may mean finding a registered dietitian who can teach you about certain foods or an exercise physiologist to teach you how to exercise properly (11).
Many people also enjoy the accountability that seeing a professional provides them.
If you are still struggling to get motivated, consider finding a psychologist or dietitian who is trained in motivational interviewing, which has been proven to help people achieve their goals (16).
Summary: Professionals such as dietitians, exercise physiologists and psychologists can help boost your motivation and knowledge to help you reach your weight loss goals.
The Bottom Line
Being motivated to lose weight is important for long-term weight loss success.
People find different factors motivating, so it’s important to find out what helps motivate you, specifically.
Remember to give yourself flexibility and celebrate the little successes along your weight loss journey. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.
With the proper tools and support, you can find and stay motivated to reach your weight loss goals.