The Key to Lifelong Fitness

the mind is the keyIt’s the end of week 22, and I’m confident that the scale will be down another two pounds when I weigh myself tomorrow.  I’m writing at my laptop; sitting at Bernice’s Bakery and enjoying a pastry filled with cream cheese and blueberries.  The pastry feels soft and silky in my mouth; like biting into a satin pillow.  Why am I so confident, even as I take another swig of robust coffee with 100% cream?

I think it’s because I’ve found a secret.  I’ve discovered a key to losing weight that goes beyond pounds and inches.  I’ve found a way to change my mind, as well as my dress size.  It’s this turn of the tumblers inside, more than food or exercise regiments, which has delivered the most results.

I’ve said this before.  In my post, “How to Get Started,” I admitted that my bad habits weren’t really about food or exercise.  They were about what was going on inside my head.  I snarfed McDonald’s because I was bored.  I gorged on doughnuts because I wanted a reward for pushing so hard.  I crashed on the couch because I was exhausted from the low-level barrage of negative, judgmental thoughts boiling in my brain.  My mind was my biggest barrier to improved health.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed among professionals, too.  When I asked Certified Personal Trainer, Lani Bolenbaugh (see “Interview with a Personal Trainer”), “What do you think are the biggest challenges facing people who want to lose weight?” she immediately answered, “Their minds.”

Unfortunately, most weight loss plans place the mind a distant third behind food or exercise.  Diets like “The Zone,” “Atkins,” and the recently-popular “HCG” target food as Enemy #1.  Workouts like “Insanity” and “P90X” promote extreme, killer exercise.  While I see benefits to these food and exercise programs, I notice that they rarely address the mind.  It’s the mind where all of our habits start.

I decided to bring my “mind revolution” to life with a visual concept.  It looks like this:

triangel hierarchy of weight loss approaches

As you can see, I’ve rebelliously turned the typical weight loss approach upside-down.  Mind becomes about 60% of the whole; exercise 30%; and food a small 10%.  How can this work?  Again, I believe it’s all because our daily routine stems from thought patterns in our heads.  To see our patterns clearly, we have to work backwards, like this:  The shape of our bodies comes from our habits.  Our habits come from our experiences.  Our experiences come from our thoughts.

For example, last Thanksgiving, I weighed 44 pounds more than I do today.  I constantly felt heavy, like I was moving through invisible sludge.  I developed a habit of eating McDonald’s drive-thru three to four times each week.  When I ate fast food, I experienced relief.  The food became a comfort to me.  In fact, it subconsciously spoke to me.  When I was tired of pushing all day, the fries said, Relax.  Be comfortable.  You deserve a break.  If I had to rev up for another event that evening, the Diet Coke would say, Take a sip.  Be energized.  You’re going to need this.  It’s no surprise that these thoughts led me to pack on the pounds

To make a difference in my life, I needed to start with those thoughts.  But, not in an attacking, “my mind is my enemy” kind of way.  Instead, I had to start with a positive thought.  The first thought is often the most important – and the hardest to authentically believe.  In her book, “Secrets of a Former Fat Girl,” Lisa Delaney puts it perfectly.  She explains that, to lose weight, we need to begin, not with judgment, rules, or programs, but with the idea that we can lose weight.  I’m a person who can be healthier is a powerful starting point.

How we get there, and however long it takes, is our own process and, really, nobody’s business.  For example, before I began my journey, I spent six months doing nothing but working and sleeping in bed.  But, I learned that I was of intrinsic value; no matter what I did.  I spent another six months being thankful for my belly because it literally saved my life.  After all, when I had become submerged in deep depression, eating was a safer option than suicide.  It was that real; that much “rubber hits the road.”  It needs to be.  Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels on the weight loss roller-coaster.

To get off the ride, we need to spend some time in our heads.  However, some people worry, If I spend so much effort on my mind, then I’ll become obsessed.  I won’t be moving.  I won’t be dieting.  How will I get real results?

In reality, when I was heavier, I was already obsessed.  I bet I thought about my size, or compared my body to another woman’s shape, at least once an hour.  Little things would constantly remind me of my weight:  the butt-squishing chairs in the movie theater, the painful rubbing of tight waistbands, and the “swishing” sound my inner-thighs made when I walked.  I was always thinking about my size all the time.

Today, I bet I spend at least half as much mental/emotional energy focusing on my weight, and I haven’t even lost the whole 100 pounds yet.  Sure, my thighs still swish when I walk, but it doesn’t bother me as much.  That’s because I’m doing something about it.  Action dispels fear.  So, my fear of forever being fat has diminished, just from paying attention.

Something magical began to unfold when I started paying attention to my mind.  That same, habit-forming pattern which caused me to gain weight began to work in reverse.  I considered the possibility that I could get healthy again.  I had that first thought.  So, I started moving.  I started reading about health.  I joined a support group to help me examine my thoughts.  Soon, I began having fresh experiences:  I felt lighter while doing water aerobics in the pool, I didn’t feel so alone in my struggle, and I cultivated a deep acceptance of who I already was.  It didn’t take long to notice a change in my habits.  Exercising in the water re-energized me, so I wasn’t as tired after work.  This meant fewer trips through the drive-thru.  Instead, I began to crave a crisp, green salad with dinner.  Eventually, I began to see how my thinking had kept me stuck for so long.

Today, I rarely visit McDonald’s.  I’m aware of my triggers, like stress and lack of sleep, and I actively anticipate ways to work around them.  I feel like I can affect my life again.  I feel like anything is possible.  It’s with that same enthusiasm that I look forward to stepping on the scale.  Even if the number hasn’t moved, I’ll still count this last week as a success.  After all, I’m more myself than I’ve been in a long time.

Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet:  to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year.  She began on Thanksgiving 2011.    Will she make it?  Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind.  Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.


Filed under Principles

18 responses to “The Key to Lifelong Fitness

  1. I love your focus on the psychological side of health and fitness! Great post!

    Also, I have to say that this is an extraordinary quote, “That’s because I’m doing something about it. Action dispels fear.” It’s so simple, but it’s extremely powerful.


  2. cardioswag

    WOW, you basically articulated every thought/fear I have had in the past couple of months! It really is all about psychology, and it’s crazy how just altering your mindset, even a little bit, can produce dramatic results. Ultimately, your post inspires me because you have shown that weight loss is possible, and does not require extreme change or sacrifice. Thanks for posting this.


  3. I love that you have such a great perspective. And I found this post so interesting!
    I am actually looking for people to write a guest post on my blog about how they stay healthy both with food, fitness, but also mental health. Do you thing you might be interested? I think you are an inpiration


  4. Awesome post! It’s always necessary that one takes care of their mind first so that way they won’t keep regaining. A huge part of weight loss is understanding why you were overweight to begin with. I continue to watch your success!


  5. You are truly inspirational! You have a wonderfully direct way of communicating that is honest without sounding cliche, and thoughtful without being overly emotional. I so appreciate your illumination of the thought process preceding the physical process; it would seem that you have hit the nail on the head.



  6. great post! i’m glad i came across your writing; it’s eloquent. your post is bringing me back to center and reminding me why i started my weight loss journey.

    continued success,


  7. Rosie

    You are such an inspiration!! The insight and wisdom you are gaining is absolutely regal. It all stems from the mind. Your honesty inspires me and helps me in many ways. Thanks for that!
    Have you read Depok Chopra’s Ageless Body, Timeless Mind ? It’s a great read and touches on many of the insights you are discovering for yourself.
    I really appreciate your authenticity and sincerity in sharing on your post. Thanks for your inspiring words!!
    Hugs, Rosie


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  11. infolcw

    Awesome post! I agree that the mind is definitely the KEY to losing weight! I love your passion and the way that you’re not afraid to share your truth. I can’t help but think that you would make a perfect health and fitness coach! It’s all about creating a positive and supportive environment to help people reach their goals. Message me if you want to chat about it: Either way, best of luck to you on your journey!!


  12. Thanks so much for reaching out, Leisha! I get to be inspired by and encourage women every day at the women’s-only gym I work at. I’m so grateful to be able to write about and experience these truths often.


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