Think losing weight will make you happier, more confident, and kick-ass at work? Well, it doesn’t really work like that…
That’s something Kelsey Miller, author of Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting And Got A Life, learned the hard way. “I used to tell myself, ‘You can do this when you’ve lost X pounds.’ That feeling was holding me back in my career and my friendships—it even stopped me from leaving the house,” she says.
“The message that weight loss will fix our problems surrounds us,” says clinical psychologist Terese Weinstein Katz, Ph.D., author of the ebook Eat Sanely: Get Off The Diet Roller Coaster For Good. “There’s a fantasy that thin people are ultimately happier.”
While losing weight might make you feel unstoppable at first (and possibly improve your overall health), there are a few issues that dropping pounds definitely won’t resolve. So before you set a goal weight, make it your mission to work out the kinks now—not post weight-loss success.
1. Your Love Life
Real talk: If your relationship isn’t working at your current weight, it’s not going to improve after you lose weight. In fact, it could get worse, says Katz.
“It’s common for a partner to become jealous and resentful when their significant other is changing how they eat and take care of themself,” says Katz. They think that once you lose weight and your appearance changes for the better, you’ll want to date someone who looks better, too.
The best way to minimize this reaction is to be transparent about your health goals before you start losing weight. Explain exactly why you’re changing your lifestyle. “Try to reassure your partner’s worries,” she says. But if his jealousy or insecurities are a problem already, you might find that you need to ditch the dude before you start changing your lifestyle, she says.
2. Your Job
Apply for your dream job now, not 20 pounds from now. “Some people feel that they can’t present themselves as a candidate if they don’t feel good about how they look,” says Katz. Instead, make the decision to switch companies or ask for a promotion, ASAP. Putting your life on hold will only rob you of opportunities, she says.
Easier said than done, right? To change your mindset, you’ll have to re-train your brain to accept how badass you are. Try using positive affirmations and mantras (we like these) and repeat them to yourself every day when self-doubt creeps in.
3. Depression or Anxiety Issues
Many people think that being depressed and overweight go hand-in-hand, says Katz. They assume that when they lose weight, they’ll automatically feel better. Not so much.
“Most of the time, depression is an intermittent issue that has nothing to do with weight,” she says. If you struggle with depression now, losing weight won’t change anything—and that can be pretty crushing to realize, says Katz. If you think you might be struggling with mood issues, visit a psychologist to come up with a plan of attack.
4. Your Self-Esteem
Sure, shedding pounds can give you a serious ego boost, but it won’t change your attitude towards yourself. So before you start meal prepping and tracking, it’s time to shift your self-talk.
“You have to bring the right attitude to the whole project of losing weight,” says Katz. “Think of it as making changes for a better you—not because you think you’ll look better after losing weight, but because you want to take better care of yourself,” she says.
Working toward your career or life goals, even when you’re feeling reluctant, can help to improve your self-esteem, says Katz. She also suggests making small changes to improve other areas of your life. Maybe that means decorating your apartment just the way you want it, or taking that vacation you’ve been planning in your head. Focusing on self-care and maybe even meditation can help take you from “I’ll do it when I lose weight,” to “I’m doing it right now.”
5. Your Relationship with Food
The truth: Losing weight is just the beginning of learning how to eat according to your body’s natural hunger cues, says Katz. Even if you’ve been following a diet and hitting the gym, binge eating, emotional eating, and yo-yo dieting will all interfere with long-term weight-loss success if you haven’t figured out how to overcome them.
“Focus on changing those habits, rather than dieting itself,” says Katz. Breaking these habits takes time, effort, and a certain degree of discomfort. It’s not easy, she says. If you’re struggling, find a therapist who can aid in your efforts.
For Miller, quitting diets for good helped her recalibrate her relationship with food, but she still has to work to ensure she’s eating mindfully. “With diets, there are rules that you have to follow and it’s that simple. Now, I use mindfulness when I eat, but I still have to ask myself: ‘Am I full? Should I stop eating now? Am I judging myself for eating this baked potato?’ You’re never going to avoid all of your thoughts and feelings about food.”
The bottom line: Reaching your life goals and taking care of yourself doesn’t have to start after you’ve set out to lose weight. All those positive changes can and should be made before you even step on the scale.