The Weight Loss Mistake You’re Making (Over and Over Again)

I read this today (as recommended by my brother Ewen 😀 ); I think it makes a lot of sense and is a good read … I’ve taken it from this source over on Livestrong:

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from renowned fitness expert John Romaniello. In addition to his reputation as a fat-loss specialist, Romaniello is my co-author on an upcoming book that will be published in 2013. Today, he discusses the one mistake you’re probably making over (and over) again–and provides the solution. Having experienced this very frustrating phenomenon, his advice is invaluable for anyone trying improve their health. –Adam Bornstein

Here’s a scenario that might seem familiar to you: You’re on a diet and doing fairly well. One day you go to lunch with a friend, and while they are chowing down on a tasty burger you’re dutifully eating your spinach salad topped with grilled chicken and olive oil. You’re following your plan even better than expected. You’ve got the fiber and antioxidants from the spinach, protein from the chicken, and even some healthy monounsaturated the olive oil. You should be proud of the decision you’ve made, the steps you’re taking towards your goal. But you’re not proud; you’re grumpy–because you want that burger.

Now, you’re in a state of extreme emotional dissonance: What you are doing is fundamentally antithetical to what you want to be doing; and you can only exist in this dissonant state for so long. It’s a psychological fact. Something has to give and usually it’s you.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been in that situation, and you can literally feel your resolve crumble. You want to stay strong, but at the end of the meal, you decide to split a dessert.

Oh, yeah. We’ve all been there.

Now, eating half of a restaurant brownie isn’t going to help you drop the body fat you want, but it won’t completely sabotage your efforts, either. The problem is, the brownie is usually just the start.

And this is the problem. Having worked with clients for more than 10 years, most people suffer from an extreme inability to fail on a small scale. When they screw-up, that’s it for them–they have screwed up permanently, and so they keep going.

Conventional wisdom tells us that if you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging–that’s the logical thing to do. However, when it comes to nutrition, we aren’t logical or conventionally wise. When clients have a dietary faux pas, their impulse, paradoxically, is to make it worse; after they eat the brownie, they think, “Well, I’ve ruined today. I may as well just eat whatever I want and then be good tomorrow.”

That would be bad enough by itself; however, for many people, they carry the failure over to the next day, and the day after, and finally, “I’ll be good tomorrow” becomes “I’ll start again on Monday.”

The Monday Mindset

Historically, Monday is the busiest day at gyms. (In my facility, attendance is 30% higher than any other day of the week, and that is not unique.) A decade of looking at clients’ food logs makes it clear that Monday is also the day with the highest level of dietary compliance.

Which is ironic, considering this: In my view, Monday is the most dangerous day of the week. Not Monday, but the idea of Monday–a fresh start, always available, never more than a week away.

All of this is part of what I call the Monday Mindset. When you’re thinking about getting started on an exercise or nutrition plan, the Mindset manifests itself with items like these:

  • “I’ll go to the gym on Monday.”
  • “Starting Monday, I’m going to do cardio every day.”
  • “New diet on Monday! This is going to be my last ‘bad’ meal, so I’m going to enjoy it!”

Familiar, right?

When you’re already on a plan of some kind, the Mindset excuses look these:

  • I’ve missed two workouts–this was a really busy week. I’m talking the week off. I’ll start again on Monday.
  • Well, I had that brownie. The day weekend is shot to hell. I’ll just start again on Monday.
  • I’ll have a few beers during the game. But starting Monday, I’m taking things more seriously. No more drinking.

In either case, this type of self-delusion self-talk is the number on thing inhibiting your progress: It keeps you from progressing because it encourages a limiting belief that you can’t course-correct during the week. It encourages you to give up close to the finish line because of the incorrect thought that you can start over.

We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and yet we all fall victim to the trap of Monday over and over and over again.

So, how to we fix it? There are two big steps to take.

1) Remove the refresh button from the equation.

What we all need to realize is that there is nothing inherently special about Monday. There are no magical properties about that day that make it any more or less effective in terms of achieving results. The fact that the calendar says it’s the beginning of the week doesn’t mean that you can lift more weight or that you’ll burn more fat on Monday than on Tuesday or any other day.

What you need to do is just take five to ten minutes and really think about that. Monday is just a day. Just because it’s in the beginning of the workweek doesn’t mean it has to be the beginning of everything else. Once you realize this, you will immediately take ownership of the fact that you can start–or re-start–your program on any day; and that makes it much easier to get back on the wagon.

To help my clients with this, I just rearrange programming to avoid the issue. Monday is no longer the starting point. Instead, each new program begins on Thursday. The motivation of the new workout carries them through the weekend–where screw-ups are most likely to happen–with little trouble, and they are able to focus and execute.

In fact, for some clients, Monday is an “off” day and there is no gym time at all. I have found that since Monday is generally a busy work day, removing the idea that you “have to” go to the gym after your longest and hardest work day actually increases compliance for the rest of the week.

2) Learn to fail small. 

If you find that the thing holding your success back is “cheating” on your diet, mastering small failures is probably the number one thing you can do to minimize the impact of stepping outside your diet.

Mastering small failures means that you become comfortable with the fact that sometimes you will slip up. This happens to everyone. None of us are perfect, especially when comes to dietary habits, and eating half a brownie isn’t some cardinal sin that immediately negates the impact of your previous successes, or devalues or invalidates your future ones.

If you can wrap your head around these things, then you will find it exponentially easier to hit the breaks–instead of the gas–when you eat something you’re not supposed to.


Consider the following situation: Say you took a trip to Vegas and immediately lost $500. If you’re like most people, your response wouldn’t be to spend the rest of your cash. Instead, you would dial back your spending and get back on track. Your diet is no different. I suggest keeping a “play money” account of calories each week. You can easily do this by setting a calorie goal on My Plate. If you do slip up, think of it as “spending” these calories on something frivolous–just don’t go over your budget, and you’ll be fine. Once you have spent your allotment, do everything in your power to STOP spending. Begin your budget with 300 to 400 calories (per week, not per day), and try to work your way down.

Eventually, you’ll start to develop both discipline, and a completely different attitude towards food and cheating. Of course, this can take some time, and mastering small failures and discarding the Monday Mindset is pitting you against two habits that are arguably the most difficult to discard. But your first step is awareness, and in some way, just reading this article will be of tremendous value and help you make changes that will help your efforts.

Whether it’s removing the temptation of an ever-present fresh start or learning to master the all-in attitude such temptation fosters, your best bet towards fixing the problem is cutting yourself some slack. Realize that messing up on one meal out of three isn’t the end of the world–nor is messing up one day out of seven.

Developing a real understanding and mastery of these concepts is the key to keeping these failures in check, and giving yourself the best chance for success. Once that occurs, you should feel confident that the rest will fall into place.



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