By Katryna Starks
I hear many people who have gone through the hardships of losing weight and getting healthy. They’re ecstatic. They’re helpful. They’re full of advice about how to be healthy. They’re encouraging. They’re enthusiastic. And they’re judgemental. It’s this last adjective that I’m going to address today.
Losing weight successfully is a laudable achievement, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to become a boot camp instructor. New weight loss advocates walk around, chest proud, saying things like “No excuses! If you want to get healthy, just do it! NOW!” or “You really don’t want health because you keep putting it off.” or “One or two mistakes is ok, but if you make more, you’re just not committed.” But is that true? Not at all.
It takes a lot of mental changes before someone makes any physical ones. This is best describes as the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, originated by James Prochaska and Carl DiClimente. In this model, there are 5 stages of behavior change:
Precontemplation: In this stage, you don’t know there’s a problem, so you don’t care. You aren’t thinking of changing anything.
Contemplation: In this stage, you’re aware of a problem and want to change, but you’re just thinking about it. This mental process is a necessary part of the change. It is not procrastinating, it is processing. In this stage, you’re weighing the pros and cons, counting the costs, and setting priorities. You aren’t yet committed to changing, but you’re thinking seriously about it.
Preparation: Now, you’re committed. But it’s still on the inside. This is the planning stage. You weighed your options in the contemplation stage, but now you’ve sorted out the most realistic path and you have a plan – and a date – to start taking action. Sometimes the plans you make aren’t as realistic as you thought. At that point, you may not start the action, but go back to the preparation stage or even back to the contemplation stage because you need a different plan or something in your life changed. Do not get discouraged and give up or feel guilty because you “haven’t started yet.” You HAVE started. This is part of the process.
Action: Now, you’re doing something. It’s on the outside. Everyone can see it. In the action stage, you’re making the changes you need to make. You’re making different food choices. You’re exercising. You’re logging your changes (or at least performing actions that can be logged). Again, this stage is not permanent. You may find that your actions are ineffective or life changes and you have to change with it. That can put you back into the preparation phase. You may switch between preparation and action stages until you reach your goal.
An example of this is if you decide to exercise at 6am every morning. Then your work schedule changes or you get a job farther away. Now, you have to exercise at 5am in order to get to work on time. You try, but you can’t get up that early. You fail. Then you realize there is a gym near the place you work. It’s too expensive. You don’t go. Then you realize there is a park about 3 blocks away from your job. You walk or run after work instead of working out before. You only have 30 minutes of daylight after work in the winter, so you do 30 minutes. Meanwhile, you realize you can get up consistently at 5:30am but not at 5am, so you do. Now you have 30 minutes of exercise before work and 30 minutes after. It might take a month to work out your new schedule, but the point is that you are committed to exercising and you’re working out how that is going to become real in your life. Once the new plan is worked out, you’re back in action!
Maintenance: This is the last stage of behavior change. You’ve seen the results that you wanted to see. Now, you just need to maintain the change. When life changes again, you recalculate your plans and then commit once again to the proper actions.
So, who’s goal is it anyway? That’s in part 2.