And why your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight will fail
If you have tried to lose weight in the past, you have undoubtedly made a New Year's Resolution. But has it worked? Of course not! Like most people who try and lose weight, it almost never works, and it does not matter if your resolution was made on New Years, on your birthday, when the weather starts getting warmer, or on doctor's orders. And when it does work, the people who actually successfully lose weight (the .001% of the population who are able to successfully fulfill their resolutions) often do not even know why they were able to succeed where so many others fail.
When you ask them, what did they do to lose weight? They will just say, "I stuck with it," "I stopped making excuses," "Rain or shine, I went to the gym." What you will never hear them say is that, "I changed my mindset," "I changed my relationship with food and exercise," or "I changed my self-image," even though that is exactly what they did. Because it is only by changing your mindset that you will ever be able take new actions that will develop into new habits to lose weight (and keep it off).
Every habit has three components: a cue, an action, and a reward. The cue signals the action, and the action is intended to produce the reward. Let us look at your eating habit. The cue to the habit is when you feel hungry. The action is getting something to eat. The reward is no longer feeling hungry or having your craving satisfied.
If you are overweight, that means you have poor eating habits. A poor eating habit means that you crave as a reward food that is unhealthy or fattening. For example, the cue is the same. You feel hungry. The action is the same, you get something to eat. The only difference between a healthy eating habit and an unhealthy eating habit is - what type of foods do you consider rewarding or satisfying? If you are overweight, you may crave something unhealthy like hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, soda, French fries, or potato chips. Your action is then going to be directed to getting some type of food that is going to satisfy your craving. The reward is you feeling satisfied.
Now when you are trying to lose weight, by following some fad diet or meal plan, you are focusing on changing the action. The cue remains the same: you feel hungry and you want to eat something you find satisfying, one of the same unhealthy foods you are accustomed to eating. Your first instinct is to get yourself the slice of pizza, hamburger, or doughnut you are craving as the reward. But then, using your willpower, you consciously stop yourself from taking that action because you are trying to lose weight.
Instead of eating whatever it was that would satisfy your craving, you grab something "healthy" instead, maybe a salad. But what happens? You have essentially eliminated the reward, because you do not find the salad satisfying, or at least not satisfying enough to ease your craving. So what happens then? The cue does not go away. You may not be "hungry" but you do not feel satisfied, you acted but received no reward.
So then when meal time comes around again, what happens? You have a new cue that builds on the latent dissatisfaction from the previous cue to which you responded with a salad instead of pizza. So this time your craving for something unhealthy (but satisfying) becomes even stronger, and you have to exert even more willpower or self-control to fight it and eat something healthy and unsatisfying instead.
And it is only a matter of time, usually a day or two, at most a couple of weeks, before your cravings overpower your willpower, you give in, and you quit your diet. You gain whatever weight you may have lost back, and even though you may feel bad about that, internally your craving finally feels satisfied. And then you think to yourself think "I am fat" or "I can't lose weight."
The problem is not that you can't lose weight, the problem is the approach you were taking to lose weight was wrong. Rather than trying to quit unhealthy foods overnight, just because you made some resolution, the key is to phase them out of your life while you phase in new, healthier alternatives, focusing on what you enjoy about the new foods. This way you can both satisfy your craving and rewire your mind to associate satisfaction with the new healthier foods you want to be eating instead.
And that my friends is how you can lose weight in the new year.
If you are interested in reading more about habits and new years resolutions, you can read this article about changing habits and new years resolutions published in The Guardian. I don't necessarily agree with everything described in the article, but it raises some interesting points if you are interested in the subject.