The Richmond Register

October 19, 2013

Why sticking with diet or exercise plan is hard

By Dr. Jack Rutherford
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — Ask a smoker if it’s easy to quit smoking and his tongue-in-cheek response will be, “Sure, I’ve done it thousands of times.”

Exercising 30 minutes a day, eating healthy. It all sounds easy. So why is it so hard to follow? Science may have the answer.

A recent hospital study of more than 5,000 overweight people with Type 2 diabetes found that lifestyle modification with intensive coaching for six months was effective in losing weight and lowering cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

However, patients who received only education and support did not achieve those results.

A second study, conducted in the workplace at two companies, compared two weight-loss protocols and found that those overweight employees who met for weekly sessions with nutritionists during their lunch hour lost an average of 17 pounds over six months while overweight employees who received no counseling gained two pounds during the same period.

The take-away here is that support and education often isn’t enough for people to lose weight and keep it off.

Clearly, many people don’t want to change their eating or exercise behavior.

The attitude seems to be, “As long as I’m functioning and in no pain, I’m okay.” There is little motivation to change until someone like a physician or nutritionist shows them their health (and potentially their life) is at risk.

Even if they see the light and do want to change, there are plenty of roadblocks to making healthful lifestyle changes. Lack of time, the financial cost of joining a gym and accessibility to outdoor areas for exercise are all potential barriers to effective behavior change. A person has to really want to make the commitment to be successful.

Still, it can be done, and those who are successful say that having clear outcome and process goals are critical.

It’s not enough to say I will exercise more. You need to be more specific than that.

For example, you could say your outcome goal is to lose 10 pounds. To do that you need a process by which you can achieve your outcome goal.

The process might be to walk for 45 minutes at a moderate intensity 5 days a week. The process goal is therefore measurable and quantifiable. Think of the process goal as the steps you take to get to your final outcome goal.

Even with clearly defined outcome and process goals, success is not easy.

You need to structure the environment so that it is compatible with your goals.

For example, is there a safe and accessible area to walk nearby? If you have to drive a half hour to get to a walking track or park area, it will be more difficult to stick with the plan.

You also need a support system in place. This means telling your family, friends, work colleagues and others about your plan so that they can not only give you social support but also help hold you accountable for your new health behavior.

Logging your workouts on a chart or calendar is another important step to success. Unless you write down your goal and pathway to success, a goal is just a dream.

Planning how you will overcome the potential barriers to success is also important.

For example, on the days you don’t feel like exercising, plan how you will overcome that feeling. Perhaps you will exercise with a friend or family member and they will get you up and moving.

Developing one or two strategies you can use during those times will be critical to your success.

Finally, visualizing your success can help you accomplish your goals by keeping you motivated. Motivation is likely to wane as time goes on.

It is important to keep renewing it if success is to be achieved.