“I want to lose weight. I’ll start working out and change my nutrition when things settle down.”
As a coach and dietitian, I’ve heard the sentiment above countless times. In some cases, I’ve heard it from the same person every couple of months over the span of a year or two — or more.
I think I speak for most coaches and trainers when I say that I get it. Life is busy, schedules are packed, and making changes to prioritize our health can truly feel like a daunting task to take on.
However, the sobering reality is that timing is rarely perfect and continuing to push off healthy way of life changes for another day is likely causing more harm than good. And if you’re looking for body composition changes, that procrastination might just be sabotaging your weight-loss goals.
Why Procrastination Happens
Procrastinating health goals, especially when it comes to weight loss, is common. Here are a few of the drivers behind it that I see most often as a coach:
You have an all-or-nothing mindset.
From my experience with clients, many resonate with an all-or-nothing mentality. Common terminology surrounding healthy eating and exercise patterns suggests that people are like a light switch: you’re either on or off your plan with no in-between. For example, when someone says they’re “off the wagon,” it underscores this type of thought process.
Herein lies the problem: An all-or-nothing approach is a form of perfectionism, and when it comes to nutrition and exercise, perfection is unrealistic. So instead, it can feel easier (in the short term) to not get started at all.
There’s a fear of failure.
For those with weight-loss goals, there’s often a strange (yet common) dichotomy of wanting a plan that’s simple but feeling like we have to do something extreme to see results.
The pressure we put on ourselves to commit to a program with little-to-no wiggle room — or when we tell ourselves that the effort needs to be full blast for it to be worth doing — can make weight loss feel unattainable unless our lives revolve around our eating plan or fitness regimens.
If in our minds we’ve decided that weight loss is a herculean effort, then success feels far away — and we already feel like we’re failing, even before getting started.
You’re expecting rapid results.
There’s no magic button for weight loss, yet so many of us have a history of short-term fixes and various diets we’ve tried in an effort to get to our end goal as quickly as possible.
Lasting success with body composition changes (done in a healthy way) takes time. It requires simple habits completed consistently. It may not always seem fun or flashy, but it’s effective.
Since we live in an instant-gratification society, most people — when they’re honest — are looking for a shortcut. So even though someone may know there’s no quick fix, they often are still slow to get going on the program they actually need sheerly due to the time and consistency it will take.
The Impact of Procrastination
It may sound obvious, but the more you delay getting started with healthy eating and exercise, the longer it will be before you reach your goal.
If you’re dreading the time it will take, a great quote I’ve read that helps bring perspective is this:
“Whether you do it or do not do it, the time will pass anyway.”
Every day that goes by without your health being addressed is a missed opportunity to be your thriving self. Not only that, but it can also make us more prone to negative self-talk, and any underlying health concerns that may be tied to weight (such as blood-sugar imbalances or blood pressure) have the opportunity to wreak more havoc on our metabolism.
Remember, even small changes in body composition (such as losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight) can make a positive impact on underlying health conditions — even before you might see changes on the outside.
5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating
1. Accept that there’s never a perfect time — ever.
With processed foods readily available and modern conveniences making our lifestyle more sedentary, know that changing nutrition, sleeping well, managing stress, and incorporating regular exercise will always take purposeful effort.
Additionally, family responsibilities, work obligations, and special occasions such as holidays, vacations, and anniversaries will always be on your calendar year-round. It’s essential to figure out how to get healthy in a way that fits within your life, not around it.
2. Stop saying you’ll start tomorrow.
Truly putting an end to procrastination takes action — now. It doesn’t have to be complicated or complex, but the ball does need to get rolling in order to gain some steam.
Try making one healthy swap today. Perhaps you’ll choose to sip water over soda while reading this article. Or maybe you’re reading it in bed and need to put your phone away to get some shut eye. Or if you’re heading out soon to run an errand, park at the back of the parking lot to get in some extra movement.
The beauty is that living a healthy way of life can actually be pretty simple — and you can start at any time.
3. Write down your wins.
In my experience in coaching clients for more than a decade, I’ve learned that most people are quick to tell me where they think they’ve failed in a given week, though are hesitant to celebrate what’s going well. Yet, to make progress and keep motivation high, it’s critical to continuously acknowledge small wins.
As you get started, get in the habit of keeping a list (either mentally, physically written down, or even as a note in your phone) of positive changes you’re making, no matter how small. If you got in 20 extra steps that day, write it down. If you drank an extra glass of water, write it down. You’ll quickly see that they add up in time and drive to keep you going.
4. Prioritize finding accountability partners.
Studies have shown that our behavior and habits reflect those around us.
Consider hiring a coach, enlisting a workout buddy, or joining a group of people going after similar goals. It’s important to have someone there to give you a high-five when you try a new healthy recipe or hit a personal best in a workout. It’s also key to have someone follow up with you if you missed a workout or a nutrition goal you set.
There’s a lot of power in accountability. When others are counting on us, we’re more likely to show up.
5. Sign up for a program.
When it comes to weight loss, the habits to implement can feel a bit ambiguous. If we keep telling ourselves to just “eat better” and “exercise more” what does that mean, exactly? Those goals are loose, moving targets, and it’s not always clear if we achieved them on a given day.
In order to get started, specificity helps. When you have set instructions, there’s a more concrete and satisfying to-do list you can check off. Pre-built programs can provide the structure needed to move from inaction to action. Perhaps it includes daily habits to mark done, specific recipes to make, or targeted workouts to complete. When you know exactly what to do, you’re more likely to do it.
No matter what the reason is for procrastinating, remember that your health and well-being always deserve to be a priority. Each day presents itself with the opportunity to make choices around your nutrition, mindset, movement, and lifestyle — and even if you don’t choose perfectly, you can always choose better than yesterday.