Regain After WLS

Regain After WLS: It’s Not About Willpower, It’s About Strategy

October 9, 2017

Regain After WLS: It's Not About Willpower, It's About Strategy
It’s the first day of your new job. You’re bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and excited to take on any challenge that comes your way. You set up your cubicle trinkets and notice a notepad on your desk with a message written on it. It’s a note from your new manager regarding your first assignment:

“Welcome to the team! I want you to complete a statistics report for your client by noon Friday. Please provide in-depth analysis using past and current data. The goal is to show our value. Good luck!”

The assignment is vague, but you’re confident in your ability to accomplish it. You look around and notice there’s no computer, telephone or paperwork at your desk. The manager didn’t leave any contact information. You peek into the neighboring cubicle and ask your coworker for help with the assignment. She looks confused, disinterested and slightly annoyed.

In a matter of an hour, you’ve gone from excited and motivated to hopeless and frustrated. This scenario sounds ridiculous, but this is exactly how many people approach their health goals. They come in with a vague goal and a ton of enthusiasm, only to be quickly derailed by a lack of tools, support, and clarity. They blame their failure to succeed on a lack of willpower, adding insult to injury.

Regain After WLS: It's Not About Willpower, It's About Strategy

While we tend to judge individuals based on their abundance or lack of willpower, we fail to understand the concept accurately. Research shows that willpower is much like a muscle. It can be fatigued over time.

It’s no wonder we tend to succumb to night-time cravings after an exhausting day at work, or binge on potato chips when we’ve had a stressful day with the kids or at work.

Instead of putting in endless amounts of energy trying to strengthen our ever-fluctuating willpower, why not put energy into setting up a solid foundation for our health goals instead?

This foundation is made up of three none-earth-shattering ideas: define your goal, make a commitment and create a conducive environment.

1. Define Your Goal

Setting an undefined health goal is like getting into a taxi and telling the driver to “drive somewhere so I can buy some stuff.” Uh, what? Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Many of us fear to make SMART goals. Some don’t want to obsess over the details. Others, like myself, avoid specifics because we’re afraid to fail.

Setting vague goals creates a moving target. This moving target allows us to vary our level of commitment based on our mood. For example, if your goal is simply “to lose weight,” with no measurables or timeliness, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s okay to try every food on a stick at the state fair this weekend. After all, you have no deadline and you can “get back on track when the fair is done.”

When you finally sit down to write a SMART health goal, you might find yourself struggling to put pen to paper. That’s just another indication that you’re either 1) not ready to make changes or 2) you don’t really know what you want. Until you clearly define and believe in your goal, it’ll be difficult to commit to it.

2. Make a Commitment

Once you define your goal, it’s time to commit. When you decide to purchase a car, you don’t simply announce to the world that you’re buying a car and one magically appears. You research car models and prices, reach out to friends or family for advice, save money and check your credit allowance and find a dealer you trust. With these actions, you shift your sails in the direction of your goal and have a “this is happening” mentality. This is a commitment.

So, what does commitment look like? It’s a combination of creating accountability, making an achievable timeline that includes subgoals and rewards and altering your environment, which we will cover in the last step.

If you’ve had a difficult time sticking to your health goals, adding the “commitment” piece of the puzzle can help you get there.

Let’s be clear, having to be accountable for your goals can make you feel very vulnerable. When I was morbidly obese, I hated announcing my weight-loss attempts. I had this absurd idea that I would quietly (and quickly) lose 150 pounds and surprise everyone with a big, “Tada! Look at me!” And if it didn’t work, no one would know I failed.

Maintaining my 150-pound weight loss strongly depends on accountability. I share my journey with the world by blogging, posting on social media, speaking at conferences and attending local support groups. I openly share my journey with my coworkers and fitness students. That’s what my accountability looks like.

Your form of accountability should be unique to your personality. While putting ourselves out there during a vulnerable time in our lives seems frightening, we are often rewarded with undying support. That support carries us through the ups and downs of our health journey.

3. Change Your Environment

I call this part of the process “pure strategy.” This is the smoke and mirrors behind the illusion of abundant willpower. I always tell people I’m too lazy to use willpower. Instead, I set up ridiculously simple environmental conditions that make it difficult to fail. When I don’t create a conducive environment, I inevitably fail.

Your environment has a lot to do with your ability to reach your goals.

The first step is to understand your weaknesses. For me, getting anything done in the morning is nearly impossible (no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise). Instead of trying to accomplish everything in the morning, I choose the path of least resistance. I pack my gym clothes into a backpack and put it in my car before I go to bed. I pack all my meals for the day the night before and try to use Sunday as a meal-prep day. I have a Post-It note on the door leading to the garage that says, “FOOD,” reminding me to grab my lunch and snacks.

I have a nine-to-five job, teach five fitness classes a week, play in a hockey league and take my 4-year-old swimming and soccer. If I don’t treat my workouts like doctor appointments, I won’t go. I schedule the classes I plan to attend (on top of the ones I teach) into my phone calendar. I list several options for each day to circumvent any excuses I may create. My ‘appointments’ are detailed: start time, finish time, date, address of the gym and which studio.

Every area of my physical environment has tools that support my goals. I keep protein powder, snacks, a shaker bottle and vitamins in my car and in my office. My before and after photos hang on my fridge and there’s a vision board in my bedroom. My goal is to be healthy and my environment supports it.

Bring Positive Momentum to Your Health Goals

Do these strategies take time and effort to implement? Initially, yes. But once you set them up, you’ve essentially set your goals on autopilot. From there, you can confidently make small tweaks as needed. Setting clear goals, committing to those goals and aligning your environment accordingly will bring positive momentum to your health goals. And when people marvel at your amazing willpower, you can tell them it’s all just smoke and mirrors.

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Yelena Kibasova


Yelena Kibasova is a 14-year bariatric post-op, certified fitness instructor and professional writer. She has spoken at numerous obesity-related conferences over the years, including ObesityHelp, Obesity Action Coalition and WLSFA. She is passionate about fitness for all levels and sustainable weight maintenance plans that combine physical, mental and social well-being. She coaches clients on habit transformation for weight loss and regain. Website: Read more articles by Yelena Kibasova!