Table of Contents
Why is it so hard to lose weight?
How to get intrinsically motivated to lose weight
Set realistic goals
Record your food intake and exercise
Engage in positive self-talk
Make a checklist or calendar
Keep a weight-loss journal
Do activities—and eat food—you enjoy
Fight workout boredom
Find a weight-loss or workout partner
Get support
How Forward helps you stay motivated to lose weight

Exercise and diet are key components for weight loss. But one without the other will only get you so far, because in order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. While you can lose weight without exercise by reducing your daily calories, you’ll eventually reach the dreaded weight-loss plateau. And no matter how you slice it, you won’t lose weight very fast—if at all—if you exercise daily but don’t reduce your calorie intake.

Losing weight isn’t easy. If it was, America wouldn’t have an adult obesity rate of 42.4 percent—not including the 30 percent of adults who are overweight—and the American diet industry wouldn’t be raking in a profit to the tune of $72 billion annually.

Losing weight—and keeping it off—requires important, long-term lifestyle changes, and these changes are more difficult for some than they are for others. A lack of motivation is the biggest obstacle to weight loss for many people — and if you’re one of them, you’re not alone. 

Why is it so hard to lose weight?

We get asked that a lot at Forward. Over and over again, our members ask questions like:

  • Why is it so hard for me to stick to my diet?
  • How can I make myself like vegetables?
  • Will I ever learn to enjoy exercising?
  • Why do I keep losing control of my willpower?
  • Why isn’t maintaining my disease motivation enough to keep me on track?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question. A lack of motivation is one of the most commonly cited barriers to weight loss. How motivated you are to lose weight depends on numerous factors, including where your motivation comes from:

Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside, in the form of monetary or other tangible rewards, pressure from others, the desire for approval, or negative feelings like guilt or shame.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within—you’re motivated by the inherent, personal satisfaction you get from doing an activity or seeing its results. 

Researchers looked into how these two types of motivation affected how well participants adhered to a 16-week Internet weight loss program—and how much weight they lost. While most participants experienced increased intrinsic and extrinsic motivation at the beginning of the program, those who achieved a five percent reduction in body weight at 16 weeks were the ones who maintained their intrinsic motivation between week 4 and week 16 of the study. The less-successful group experienced a significant decrease in both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as time went on.

The really interesting thing the researchers found was that an increase in self-monitoring during the first four weeks of the program seemed to predict an increase in the intrinsic motivation that contributed to participants’ success.

A later study concurred. Specifically, researchers found that the frequency, consistency, and level of detail in self-monitoring and reporting improved their level of intrinsic motivation—and their weight loss. 

How to get intrinsically motivated to lose weight

Your motivations for wanting to lose weight matter. If you want to lose weight only to improve your appearance, you’re not alone. But it’s important to develop your intrinsic motivation for long-term success.

A 2018 study found that people who were motivated to lose weight by their appearance gained weight over the course of a 30-month online intervention, while those motivated intrinsically lost and maintained their weight. Extrinsic motivations, like looking great for an upcoming event or wanting the approval of others, the study explains, are associated with binge eating and other negative factors for weight loss. 

What intrinsic motivation all boils down to, according to the study, is self-monitoring and mindfulness. Becoming aware of your thoughts and behaviors—and mindfully monitoring and recording them—are key to developing the inner motivation that will help you not only lose weight but sustain a healthy weight for the long-term.

Here are 9 ways to increase your mindfulness and self-monitoring to help develop the intrinsic motivation you need to lose weight for good.

1. Set realistic goals

Setting realistic goals—and writing them down—helps you achieve them, and it can lead to better health later in life. There’s a bit of an art to goal-setting, and SMART goals help you do it right. SMART goals are:

Specific: Instead of “lose weight,” make your goal something like “lose 15 pounds by eating healthier food and working out five times a week.”

Measurable: How will you measure your progress? Daily or weekly weigh-ins? Recording your food intake and activity?

Attainable: Set goals that are slightly outside your comfort zone but not difficult to achieve. If you know you don’t have time to exercise for an hour a day, seven days a week, don’t set that as a goal. 

Realistic: Realistic goals are goals you can stick to for the long-term. Losing 30 pounds in a month is not a realistic goal. Losing one to two pounds per week is realistic—and attainable. 

Timely: Set a completion date for your goals—break down your main goal (lose 15 pounds) to smaller goals with an achieve-by date: Lose five pounds each month for three months.

Be flexible with your goals. If you find that you won’t achieve your goal by the time you set out to do it, it’s okay to extend the timeline—or even change your goals.

2. Record your food intake and exercise

Diligently recording what you eat and how much you exercise increases your mindfulness and helps you stay on track with your goals. It helps you evaluate what’s working best and what might not be working. Knowing you’re going to write down what you eat and when you exercise helps you make healthier choices in the moment. You will also learn a lot about the nutritional content of the foods you eat, which will help you make more informed decisions. You can record your food and exercise in a variety of ways:

  • Use old-fashioned pen and paper 
  • Add the information to a text-editing or note-keeping app. 
  • Use a goal-tracking or food-tracking app.
  • Wear a personal fitness tracker, and download the tracker’s app to set and monitor your goals, record your food intake and water consumption, and set reminders.

3. Engage in positive self-talk

Nobody can motivate you like you can. Your thoughts matter—the way you talk to yourself matters. Be gentle and compassionate. If you miss a workout, don’t berate yourself. Instead, say, “It’s okay—things come up. I will commit to exercising tomorrow instead.”  If you eat a doughnut, be kind about it: “I can enjoy unhealthy food now and then, because I’m playing a long game.” Turn thoughts like “this is too hard” into “this is so challenging, but I know I’m up for the task.” Avoid saying things like “I should work out today” and “I need to eat better today.” Instead, say, “I want to work out (or eat healthy food) today so I can reach my goals.”

4. Make a checklist or calendar

If you’re motivated by lists, checklists, and calendars, set up a physical or virtual calendar or a daily or weekly checklist that corresponds with your SMART goals. Use specific language on your calendar and/or checklist. Instead of “Walk,” write: “Walk for 30 minutes at 3:00 PM” Knowing how great it feels to check it off the list may be all the motivation you need on rough days.

5. Keep a weight-loss journal

Writing in a journal helps you stay connected to your thoughts and emotions around weight loss. You can use a journal to record your food intake and exercise, but the important thing is to write in the journal and reflect on the day to help you move cluttered thoughts, ideas, and emotions from your brain to a physical place to help you clear your mind. A journal is a great way to help you see patterns in your life—maybe you notice that when you get poor sleep, you’re less motivated to work out, or you begin to recognize that when you feel stress, you’re particularly susceptible to binge eating. Keeping a journal helps you stay mindful and motivated.

6. Do activities—and eat food—that you enjoy

Physical activity doesn’t have to be all walking, running, and lifting weights. When it comes to exercise, you have numerous options to choose from—many of which don’t even feel like exercise. Find activities you enjoy, and you’ll be more likely to feel motivated to engage in them. Same with eating food—don’t go on a “diet” where you have to limit yourself to melba toast and salad. Start with a list of foods you like to eat, and then go down the list and make notes about how you can fit them into your diet. For example, if you love rich, creamy pasta dishes, make substitutions that make the dish lower in calories, or have your favorite pasta as a side dish so you’re eating a smaller serving.

7. Fight workout boredom

If you feel like you have to drag yourself to the gym, outside for a walk, or to the basement treadmill, make it more enticing by giving yourself something to look forward to during the workout. For example, only allow yourself to watch your favorite show while you’re on the treadmill, or create a playlist of songs to listen to during your workout that make you feel fabulous and energetic. Get engaged in an audiobook or podcast that you only listen to while you work out. Play a guided meditation during your daily walk, or use your exercise time to think about and plan your next vacation, outline your novel, or brainstorm ideas to redo the house or create a backyard oasis.

8. Find a weight-loss or workout buddy

A friend or family member who is also on a weight-loss journey can be one of your biggest allies—and best motivators. Working out with a partner makes it more fun, makes the time go faster, and makes you feel less alone in your quest to lose weight. You and your workout partner can help motivate each other when you’re not feeling it, and you can hold each other accountable, making you more likely to stick to your workout schedule and healthy eating plan.

9. Get support

Reach out for support. If you have depression or anxiety that makes it hard to stick with a weight-loss plan, talk to a therapist, who can provide you with coping tools and help you change negative thought patterns that keep you mired in negative feelings. If you need help figuring out what to eat, visit with a registered dietitian. If you don’t know where to start working out, hire a personal trainer to get you started with a plan that works for you.

How Forward helps you stay motivated to lose weight

As your primary care provider, Forward emphasizes prevention. Losing just five percent of your body weight can improve your health and help prevent diseases. Our Weight Management Program is a 12-week, doctor-led program that includes assessments and medical testing, goal-setting, motivational programming, and ongoing monitoring. 

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

Fed up with a soul-sucking healthcare system? Same. With unlimited visits, personalized insights and real, actionable results, find out what it’s like to actually enjoy seeing your doctor.