Let’s Talk Willpower and Motivation

One of the most common questions I get from readers is “How do you have such strong willpower?”

I wonder: is it really a matter of willpower?

I have my slip ups.  Once in awhile the old “demons” return in terms of not being able to resist temptations. I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my weight loss journey is that IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. Sure, I slip up; sometimes my weight fluctuates because of the extra indulgences. But I remind myself that each day is a new day to try harder.

Lori over at Finding Radiance mentioned something on her blog yesterday about how she was reducing her exercise in order to lose weight. She stated that she loses weight better when she exercises less because she in turn EATS less.

I can understand that logic. When I was running a lot I was so hungry all the time. It felt like I was always eating. I ate a lot of calories too. If I burned 700 calories with exercise during the day I ate all of those 700 calories back. Because I was eating those calories I didn’t really lose much weight. It wasn’t until I stopped running, started weight lifting and eating less that I started losing weight. In fact I lost about 4 pounds that first month!

Christmas 2010

It didn’t really last long though. Once I got over the initial injury and started running again my appetite came back. I’m back to eating the calories I burned.

Currently I weigh 147 pounds. I am 3 pounds under my original goal weight and I am really happy about that. I got through the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s holiday without gaining a lot of weight PLUS I enjoyed lots of treats and good food.

Christmas 2010

I would like to weigh 140 pounds. There’s no specific reason I want to reach 140 but somewhere along the journey my mind got fixated on that number. Part of it is that I would like to have more of a “buffer” between my current weight and my old goal weight (150).

I know that doesn’t seem like very far away but for some reason I cannot reach that goal. Yet I’m having a hard time finding the motivation to lose 7 pounds. I  don’t really need to lose that 7 pounds. I am pretty happy with my body and how it looks and feels right now.

All the photos in this post are recent. They are from the September photo shoot, the October magazine debut and Christmas. Seeing photos of myself and feeling good about what I see is HARDLY a motivator to lose more weight.

That’s where I struggle.

When I was obese all I thought about was losing the weight. That was my motivation. I was focused, I was determined and because I saw results immediately I had Iron Willpower.

So how does someone find the willpower to lose weight when health is NOT a factor? When it’s solely about vanity?

So back to Lori…does her plan make sense? Does it make sense for ME? Should I start limiting my calories again and NOT eating the calories I burn at the gym?

If I do that, that means I eat 1600 calories a day. Period. If I burn 600 at the gym, doesn’t matter because I’m not eating anymore calories beyond 1600.

It seems drastic but it works. That’s how I lost my 100 pounds. But can I do it now? Now that I don’t have the “motivation” of health concerns pushing me?

Howard Stern recently interviewed the figure skater Johnny Weir. It was a great interview but what I remember the most is that Johnny says he eats a salad with steamed chicken and that’s about it. He is an Olympic Athlete and he only eats 400 calories a day?!

In the interview Johnny Weir mentioned Michael Phelps (my hero) and said that Michael Phelps eats whatever isn’t nailed down. True. He’s rumored to eat 12,000 calories a day when in training. I can totally buy this too because swimming burns an insane amount of calories.

Both ends of the spectrum are pretty drastic. 400 calories is not enough for anyone. 12,000 calories is too much for everyone!

I’m conflicted. I honestly don’t know if I have the motivation to lose 7 pounds by restricting my calories in a drastic way. How do I find that motivation?

Maybe the Portland Century should be my motivating push? Training on the bike doing 50+ miles a weekend will increase my hunger immensely. Maybe my goal for the next 3 months should be to restrict my caloric intake to 1600 calories in order to lose those last 7 pounds. If I lose the 7 pounds now, then when the intense training begins I can eat more calories without seeing much difference in the scale.

Thanks for reading my internal debate I’ve been having with myself for a few weeks now. Any insight is welcome. 🙂

QUESTION: What is your opinion on this topic?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

36 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Willpower and Motivation”

  1. I’m super conflicted about this. On one hand, I want to shake you and say, “Why is 140 so important? Look at how far you have come! You don’t need to restrict and train hard to lose 7 vanity pounds!” and on the otherhand, as a woman, I understand the desire to be 140 vs 147. But really? I’m sure anyone will hardly notice the difference the 7lbs will make. Only you will know. And will it be worth a ton of hard work and being more challenging to maintain? I’m a firm believer in “happy weights” and you really have to push to go beyond that but is it worth it? I don’t think so. I like beer and chips and chocolate. I want to live my life and if that means being 7 lbs heavier, dammit I’m going to do it. You look great, you are at a healthy weight, you are a rockstar. Why not create other measurable goals like a push-up challenge or something else? Sorry for the rambles.

    1. Leah- thanks for commenting. I’ve been going back and forth for weeks in my mind about this topic! I tell myself I am happy at my weight, and I too love chocolate and wine and beer and pizza…then I flip back over to the other side and think “But it’s only 7 pounds…that should be easy to lose.”

      I think you are spot on about “happy weights” though!

  2. You know, I think motivation is overrated. I do a ton of stuff every day I don’t love simply because the negative consequences of NOT doing it suck worse than the temporary annoyance of doing it. This is why I work out every day. It’s just another damn thing I do every day to be a healthy adult. I don’t LOVE brushing my teeth, but I do it because doing it and being a toothless freak would suck worse, you know? I don’t have to love it, I just have to do it.

    Weight loss is kind of a different animal. For me, it’s just a mental place I have to be in, and I can’t control where or when or why. It clicked for me once, and recently clicked for me again. I can’t force it, it just has to come, I guess.

    1. Very true…my exercise routine is part of something I do as a healthy adult who wants to keep the weight off. I do LOVE a lot of the activities I do to maintain that…but I wouldn’t say I LOVE weight lifting. Or running on a treadmill…

  3. As part of the 100# loser club, I know exactly how you feel. My motto last week was ,”Don’t think about it, just do it.” But that’s not working this week. It’s always going to be a struggle, I think.

  4. Good blog entry..thinking out loud. I think this…only you can answer the question as to whether you are going to do whatever it takes to lose another 7lbs. Because I am fortunate enough to see you daily , I can concur you look wonderful!
    At some point we have to make peace with ourselves. I think at this point another 7lbs will be noticed more by you than others. Is it really that important to you to do all the work to lose it only to have to work just as hard to keep it off or is it more important to be happy and having arrived at where you are to just keep the life style you have created?
    Being a bit older than you and having reached so many goals in the past only to fail at them after an extended period of time, I can say my goal at 58 is to just be healthy, I could care less if the world sees me in a size 6 pair of pants. I would rather eat the cookie.
    The most important muscle you have is your heart and I am not talking about the beating of it, I am talking about the love that it gives on any given day. Keeping your spirit in shape is more important than all the weight that comes off. In other words, you are who you are all ready!
    Find your center…for there is your answer. We sometimes work so hard to get the to the destination we forget to enjoy it once we are there!
    You rock Lisa….whether you lose 7lbs or maintain where you are at.
    Swim an extra lap for me..=-)

    1. Aw Anita….thanks! I knew you’d give me some WISDOM! I guess I have to decide if I am ready to be happy at my destination or if I really do think I’m not at my destination yet. Most of me thinks I’ve already arrived and should just keep doin’ what I’m doin’. 🙂

  5. I have never been overweight so I can only speak as someone who has struggled with vanity weight. It does take will power because you know your health is not depending on it, no one else besides you (except maybe your partner) will notice, and that is is on some level irrational. Basically a pound equals 3,500 calories. To lose weight you need a deficit of calories. You know all this. There is nothing magical about losing weight with 1600 cal/intake unless that’s the most you can eat and achieve a deficit. Since New Year’s I have been using the BodyBugg (again) to measure how many calories I burn in a day. I aim for an average deficit of 500 calories per day to equal 3,500 per week for a pound a week. This means after a hard workout I can eat a bit more to replenish my body…just not ALL the calories I burned.

    I have struggled in the past with maintaining my weight loss. I stop counting calories and make less healthy portion choices (since I usually eat pretty healthfully). The other struggle too is that one needs fewer calories to maintain a lower weight…so when you (or I) reach my goal weight I will always have to eat fewer calories than I was at my higher weight.

    I also recently changed my goal weight from something that I have come to realize is unrealistic to a higher weight that should be easier to maintain.

    I hope this helps!

    1. AJ you’re right…it’s harder when my health is not an issue. I talked to a coworker who is on the new WW pointsplus plan. I might go to a meeting just so I can compare it to what I already do…

  6. Thanks for mentioning me 😀

    I have struggled with this over the past year. There is part of me that has a magical number that I want to hit. I have not made it there. Once I get the Christmas weight off, there is always that thought to go for a little more.

    However, in the past 2 years of maintaining my weight – I just really enjoy my food and the amount of exercise I need to do to maintain. I exercise a lot and I eat a lot normally.

    Now I am trying to lose that bit of Christmas weight, so I have scaled back on both. That is just what works for me.

    I ask myself if I am *really* willing to do what it takes to get to the magic number and then am I willing to do what it will take to stay there. If that means giving up the cupcakes on a big ride, no thanks. And it might. I just don’t know. I also have to face the fact that I am in my 40s, and each year will make the magic number a little less realistic.

    Do what makes you happy. If you end up at 140 and are not happy, you certainly could just put those 7 pounds back on 😀

    1. And if I have to put those 7 pounds back on I’m eating CUPCAKES!

      No problem about the mention, Lori. Your post really spoke to me because I’d been already thinking about reducing my calories for a bit. I’m conflicted because I’m pretty comfortable where I am. I am happy to be maintaining and I do eat a lot. I also workout a lot so I CAN eat a lot…

  7. I definitely know where you are coming from! I originally thought my goal would be to get to 150, but once I got there, I still thought I could lose more (and trust me, my muffintop agrees!). I think you look great in the photos you’ve posted!

    What if you did a compromise plan? What if you limit your calories and then allow yourself to eat half of what you burn via exercise? Or as you mentioned in the comments above, you could try Weight Watchers PointsPlus – the best thing about that plan is that you can eat as many veggies and fruits as you want for Zero Points! (there are a few items that don’t count, like potatoes, though)

  8. I think that motivation/willpower is an easy way for people to cop out honestly. That used to be me – I remember saying over and over and over and over that “moderation just isn’t my thing”. What does that even mean? Everyone wants to eat as much ice cream, nachos, pizza, and chips and salsa as they want and not gain weight. The difference is, healthy people plan for those treats, exercise regularly, and do eat them but in moderation.

    In terms of your last 7 pounds, I don’t know what to say. Personally it doesn’t look to me like you need to lose 7 more pounds, but weight is such a personal thing. I think you should ask yourself whether your habits will be sustainable. Burning 600+ calories a day and not eating any of them can be tough on the body for recovery. Figure out whether training or the weight is a higher priority for you. I’m running my second half in March, and i’ve decided that the half is more important to me than the weight loss for right now. I’d love it if the weight loss continues, but I’m going to listen to my body and eat accordingly.

  9. I’m a little confused about how many calories you are eating now – 1600 + whatever you earn at the gym? I guess my biggest question is How easy is it for you to stick to 1600? If it’s pretty easy then do that and dont eat what you burn. See how that works I guess. I’m totally sticking with Weight Watchers but it’s slow bc I’m only working out if it’s fun (and will start biking soon). I’m just feeling bratty about exercise at the moment but I’m pretty sure that a few weeks of slow losing will motivate me. 🙂

    My overall feeling (and I know you’re the perfect illustration) is that losing weight with exercise results in a better looking body. So maybe a little hunger is worth it?

    My 2 cents. 🙂

  10. Hey! 🙂 First of all congratulations on the success you already have! That’s AMAZING! 😀 In regards to your debate, why don’t you focus on trying different foods that in turn could also help you lose weight. It will not only focus you on a new food and how it is helpful, but it’ll shake things up with your body/metabolism and maybe even your weight. For example, when I swapped out cereal for oats I noticed my belly was flatter and I processed the oats better than the cereal. When I chose more nutritious veggies (spinach, squash, fiber rich beans vs peas, carrots, other starches) I also felt like pounds were lifted easier. I know you eat really well already, but perhaps doing 1 new thing could make a difference in your mindframe and help you not only try something new which would in turn also refocus you a little but decide if you really do want to lose the 7 lbs or if maybe 147 is ok. 🙂 One last thing to remember is you have all the time in the world to lose those 7lbs. Now that you don’t NEED to lose weight and you’re happy there is no rush. So maybe on year you work on 2-4lbs and then the next 3…it’s up to you 🙂

    Hope you can figure it out! 🙂


  11. First off, I think you look amazing and don’t need to lose anymore.

    Second, I’ve never been overweight as such (not more than 5kgs) and have recently been struggling with vanity weight.

    I weight lift far more than I do cardio. Partly to build muscle (which in turn burns more fat) and in part because I hate it and like you said, get ravenous!

    I’m working on “recomping” (in case you wish to google). Basically you eat only 100 or so calories less than your maintenance calories (which are often higher than you imagine they are, yours are likely higher than the 1600). It takes much much longer, but with weight lifting as well, you can basically recomposition your body to lose fat and gain muscle and change your shape, rather than lose weight (for me, this is really all I need to do rather than “lose”).

    I’ll leave it at that because if you’re like me you’ll be off googling to see what it’s all about anyway and I don’t want to take up your whole comments page 😛

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do though 🙂

  12. This is quite a topic and in my opinion, no matter what we as your readers say, the choice is still yours. You have to decide if this 7 pounds is really so important to restrict calories and exercise harder.
    My husband is doing the way where he only lift weights and eat less = him losing weight. But me. I like running and yes, it have made me lose weight thus far but that is not the main reason why i NOW run. I now run more for the fact because I like it and not necessarily for the weight loss.

  13. Lisa, I understand exactly what your going through ! I struggled for quite awhile on the debate of losing more weight to achieve a particular number. However, I knew I couldn’t maintain that number it was too low for me.

    I tried to maintain eating 1500 calories a day, but found I started cheating too much so I up it to 1800. Well, now I’ve gained weight and I have to move back down.

    Anyways, motivation to me is knowing what I am doing for myself keeps me away from where I was wheel chair and possibly limb loss.

  14. I love your blog, you are such a motivation. I was so glad to hear someone else talk about the same thing I have been struggling with, if I try and explain this to someone in my daily life they look at me with a bland stare and change the subject. (After losing 75lbs) I am currently training for my first full marathon, after 4 halfs, and I cannot lose weight while doing this. I tried 1800 aday (definitely a deficiet) and could not lose, moved to 2300 and lost a little (before the holidays). For now I have decided to eat what my body needs while I train, but have plans to back down running and do more wieght training and less calories, to lose weight after the race. But we have to find a place we can be happy for the long run. I know that I want to eat more than 1600 daily and I know that I love working out and running. My original goal weight was 160 and I also have my eye on 140, but don’t know if I can be happy eating that restrictive? Best of luck, thank you for your blog.

    1. Thank you for reading Kristie. Congrats on losing 75 pounds and good luck with your marathon!

      Training and losing weight just DON’T go well together. I struggled last year to lose weight while I was training for Hood to Coast.

  15. I want to start by saying how absolutely amazing you are for accomplishing all that you have already!! I say if you want to be 140, it is possible and there is no reason for you not to do it! As far as the motivation goes, maybe you can buy yourself something that you know will only fit when you are 140?

  16. This is a great post! And really has me thinking. I started my weight-loss journey eating 1,700 calories a day, and not adding any on for what I burned off running or at the gym. Now I’m reducing that to 1,600 to try and jump start more weight loss, since I seem to be stuck at 230 (from 275). I had been debating the whole adding calories I’ve burned thing but for me, it just doesn’t work. I need those calories I’ve burned to build up throughout the week so I can have a treat or two on the weekends. If I don’t do that, I get stuck or gain weight. But if you can add only half of what you burn every day, and lose a pound or half a pound a week, I’d say, do that! No need to deprive yourself completely — it’s no way to live! I honestly think that’s why I’ve made the progress I’ve made so far, by allowing myself a treat now and then, but killing it in the gym each time I go!

    1. I have treats every day! Instead of a “Cheat Day” I have a treat for dessert almost every day. I just have something small and lower in calories. Like the ice cream I had last night was 150 calories or so. That’s not the end of the world and it keeps me sane!

  17. That’s a tough one. It seems like you just need to find that A-HA kick in the butt motivator if you REALLY want that 140. But is 140 neccessary? It’s not. You’re happy with all that you’ve accomplished, you’re happy with how you look and feel. There’s really no reason other than to prove to yourself that you can do it.
    I know you’ve followed my blog a bit, but remember how a silly # drove me to a long lasting injury? I HAD to finish a marathon under 5 hours. I finished that 2nd one 4:51, YAY A HAPPY #, but now look at how unhappy I am after. Numbers can be stupid. Don’t let that 140 number make you unhappy. If you’re happy, stay happy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge