This is really going to date me (and show my sappy love of musicals). I can still hear the soaring French horns in the opening scene of “The Sound of Music”, the camera’s sweeping movement over the Austrian Alps combined with glorious music burned into a 13-year old’s brain.
When Maria left the abbey singing, “What will this day be like? I wonder. What will my future be?“, I was whisked into her adventure and eventually knew the entire score and lyrics. That song ends with the amazingly uplifting statement: “I have confidence in confidence alone. Besides which you see I have confidence in me!”
From my parents and teachers and Julie Andrews, I developed a strong confidence in my ability to succeed in life. This became manifest in whatever I chose to “do”, meaning my work and when I was younger, my athletic endeavors into college. Somehow that same confidence just didn’t carry over to maintaining weight loss. Sure when I made up my mind to get started losing weight, it was full steam ahead, but staying there… nope.
What happened during all those regains? I lost my ability to resist temptation, and once I went over the edge – being an all or nothing kinda gal – I was gone; it was gone. Belief in my core self was shaken.
Fast forward 20 years from my last large weight loss (90 pounds) and regain (165). I have learned so much about behavior change through my transition from a family medicine doctor to a preventive medicine/public health physician and researcher. My career shift led me to work with one of the pioneering experts in the field of behavior change (Carlo DiClemente) and find a best friend and future colleague (Mary Marden Velasquez) who happens now to be an international expert in the research and teaching of Motivational Interviewing.
So what, Jan – you had an epiphany in your work life and met cool people. Why did it take so long for you to lose weight again? I became a chronic contemplator – my failures to keep weight off left me in a state of, “I’ll start dieting again some other day.” God knows I knew what to do. (Most fat people do.)
My story of getting going this time is chronicled elsewhere. Here I am 547 days later and 109 pounds less fat with 46 pounds and the rest of my life to go. According to the Transtheoretical Model, I have left the action stage and am in maintenance for eating healthy (more than 6 months of the new behavior and having made it part of my routine life), and my biggest task now is to work on my CONFIDENCE – cue Julie Andrews. Actually this type of confidence is called self-efficacy because it is more specific than confidence to stay on plan. Self-efficacy is my belief to stay on plan in various situations. Like when my mother-in-law leaves chocolate laying all over the house. When I pass one of my former binge foods in the grocery store. When grief for my mother hits unexpectedly. When I get bored late at night.
Since, self-efficacy is such a vital part of success for those in the later stages of change, how does one get or increase self-efficacy?
- One of the easiest ways is to review your successes: OMG I have lost 1/3 of me! If I can do that, how much power can a silly cookie hold? I made it through the hardest grieving, I can make it through a few moments of sadness without resorting to food to soothe my feelings. Success breeds success. Every day of staying on plan should be a little star in your brain to boost your self-efficacy. Pay special attention to when you overcame tough or tempting circumstances and remember your ability to do that!
- Another way is to look at others like yourself (NOT OPRAH – no one is like Oprah) or those who face even harder circumstances and see their successes: Gosh, if someone with 4 kids, a husband, and a job can lose 100 pounds and keep it off – so can I! That’s why I read so many maintenance blogs. I want to remind myself a 150-pound weight loss can be maintained for years. I read the medical literature and find blogs of docs who write about their patients who are maintaining. At this point, I don’t shy away from those who are having trouble, but if you are early in the process, I encourage you to put those blogs on hold and deal with your own plans, seek your own support.
- Don’t shy away from positive feedback. Embrace it! One reason I comment on blogs is to give others positive responses during their hard work to eat healthy. It’s amazing how much positive feedback can help bolster one’s new way of eating. (This is a double-edged sword for those of us who are sensitive about our bodies and get positive “body talk” from people.)
In summary, self-efficacy is not the same thing as self-confidence. Self-efficacy in the belief in one’s ability to do a given behavior under various situations. Self-efficacy is most important for those in the action and maintenance stages of change. Self-efficacy can be increased, in fact fairly easily (much more so than self-confidence), but it does take work. Two days ago I passed some cookies the grocery store that I hadn’t seen since my binge days. I gasped audibly then walked by without another thought. Last night when my in-laws were driving my crazy, those cookies started calling me like the Sirens of ancient mythology. I tied myself to the mast of my self-efficacy, refusing to let an 84-year old, crazy mother-in-law and my feelings of whatever-the-hell-they-were sabotage so much success. Today I could no more eat one of those cookies than I could eat liver. Another notch in the belt for my self-efficacy
How can you build your self-efficacy? How can you help others who are working hard to change or who are working hard to maintain?