Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The "If" Word and Weight Loss

“If I can lose 40 pounds by next year, I would be really proud of that huge weight loss and would buy a pretty and flattering dress that I never could have worn at my higher weight.” 

“If I lose this weight, I’m going to buy a sexy bathing suit and wear it with confidence.”

“If I don’t have too much stress from switching jobs, I will start going to the gym three times a week.”

These are all things I’ve heard other people say fairly frequently, in Weight Watchers meetings, weight loss forums, or just average conversations about dieting. I'm sure I've said them myself. There’s nothing inherently horrible about these statements, of course, but I think there’s something to be said for the constant use of “if."

Similarly, I’ve found myself speaking with qualifiers when referring to weight loss, using words like "if," "hopefully," "maybe," or "perhaps." But I’ve realized that this is, in in a minor but real way, negatively influencing the attitudes I have about my own ability to accomplish things. Why if? All of this weight stuff is in my control; whether I weigh fifty pounds less or ten pounds more next year, it will all have been my doing.

My old Plan B.

Saying “if” (and similar words) can work as a safety net or a form of self-deprecation. 

Sometimes it stems from simple doubt. When I’m uncertain about or don’t trust my own chances of success, when the idea of a fifty-pound loss feels more like a fantasy than a possibility, I’m not going to speak confidently about my plans. I’ll say things like, “I hope that next year I’ll have lost 50 pounds,” or, “if this works, I’ll make sure to keep on the program.” I won’t say, “when I lose this weight,” because deep down I am not sure it will really happen.

Using qualifiers like “if” is also a safety net because if I don’t lose the forty pounds, or whatever the goal is, then I didn’t really fail because I never really said I could do it anyway. The "I never care about it anyway" defense, introduced in school playgrounds everywhere. The more heart I put into something, the more disappointing the failure. 

Thus I’ll avoid that whole hypothetical scenario by never really believing I can do it in the first place, and expressing that doubt through statements that begin with “if” and, “I wish” or, “I hope.” So nobody needs to remember my grand declarations about working out at 5 am each day or only eating sweets on Thursdays, because there won’t be any.

It also works as self-deprecation when speaking to others. I don’t want to sound full of myself, like I’m so sure of my success that I’m buying smaller clothes or planning a post-goal weight vacation. Weight loss is a huge and difficult accomplishment, but it’s something at which most people fail. Therefore, I say “if” to avoid sounding conceited - like someone who is so sure they can succeed where most don't.

But it’s so unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong with speaking confidently about something that, while difficult, is completely attainable and utterly in my control. I’m probably not going to start filling a “goal weight” closet, but I can do this small thing; I can be positive and try to get into a better mindset, one in which I’m confident about my capability.

A study or two has shown that optimism can actually help with weight loss - people who set higher weight loss goals and declared higher confidence in those goals lost more weight. The researchers hypothesized that the attitude helped people to see the weight loss as attainable, even inevitable.

From now on, for things like this - things completely possible and totally in my control - I will start saying “when.” If (when?) I slip up on this, feel free to let me know. But it’s a habit I want to form.

When I get to goal, when I weigh less than 150, when I lose all the weight, when I'm in maintenance mode, when, when, when. Why not? The only thing stopping me is me.

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