In the study on drastic weight loss that I did with the contestants from NBC’s hit show The Biggest Loser, one of the most interesting things I uncovered was that the reason that you want to lose weight is actually a great predictor of how successful you will be in losing that weight. I call this reason the anchor for change, because just like the anchor for a ship, your motivation for losing weight will be what holds you steady during your turbulent weight loss journey.
What makes a strong anchor for change?
There are two questions that you must answer to determine your anchor for change:
- Why do you want to lose weight?
- What would it mean for you to achieve your weight loss goals?
If you’re like most people, two of the main reasons you’ll want to lose weight are to look better and feel better. There’s nothing wrong with those two things, but if that’s the only motivation you have for losing weight, my research indicates that it makes for a weak anchor. When you get to the difficult stages in your weight loss journey—especially the maintenance part of weight loss—you’ll have a tough time not getting overwhelmed if your anchor is based purely on looking and feeling better.
On the other hand, if your motivation to lose weight is connected to a desire to make a wholesale lifestyle change, your anchor will be much stronger. If you have a strong anchor, in addition to wanting to look better and feel better, you might be motivated by things such as:
- Living a life of greater balance or health
- Living a longer life to be there for your family
- Being able to do certain activities that you couldn’t do when you were overweight
It’s these type of motivations that will keep you strong during the most difficult parts of your weight loss journey.
A tale of two anchors
A perfect example of the difference having a strong anchor can make in the ultimate weight loss success or failure is the story of Jessica and Steve (names changed in research to protect identity), two contestants on The Biggest Loser. Jessica’s primary motivation for losing weight was to look better and improve her dating life, while Steve’s primary motivation was to be around for his family. He certainly wanted to look and feel better as well, but his primary motivation was not about him at all—it was about giving a gift to people he loved.
As with most people who go through a process of drastic weight loss, both Jessica and Steve ran into difficulty when it came time to transition from losing weight to maintaining their new, lower weight. When he struggled with this transition, Steve was able to remind himself that he was doing this for his family, and that kept him going.
Jessica, on the other hand, didn’t have such a strong anchor to rely on. When her overweight friends started giving her a hard time because she “made them look fat”—and even made deliberate attempts to sabotage her attempts to keep the weight off—her motivation of simply looking better was not enough to resist that pressure.
Strengthening your anchor
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that your anchor for change might not be strong enough, don’t worry—there are things you can do to strengthen it. Start by focusing on how you will engage in life differently moving forward. Don’t just make your weight loss about a number on a scale, make it about how you want your life to be different after you lose the weight. Also, if this is not your first attempt at losing weight, think about what has tripped you up in the past. Does your anchor for change address some of the problems you’ve had before?
If you need help strengthening your anchor, you might want to consider trying out my eight-week program on the stages of drastic weight loss. In the program, I have templates, tools, and exercises that I take you through to help you first identify what your anchor is, and if necessary strengthen it. That way, when the inevitable crisis occurs, you will be well-equipped to use your strong motivation to see them through.