Why your resolution shouldn't be to lose the last ten pounds

Resolving to lose weight isn't always a good idea — find out when it's most likely to be successful and the key to doing it right

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It seems like everyone wants to lose weight, especially at this time of year. We also want greener grass, a nicer car, better behaved kids, and a cleaner house. I’d settle for my kids behaving well enough to do some more cleaning around the house.

Plenty of women at very healthy body fat levels still want to lose more. There is even a Canadian TV show about losing those last ten pounds. The question is: is trying a good idea?

The answer to that question is: that depends on your motivation.

When you shouldn’t try to lose weight

If your motivation is to fit into a wedding dress, a bikini, or a micro-crowd of slim people at a high school reunion, then don’t bother. Obesity researcher Dr. Arya Sharma often makes the joke that the easiest way to gain 25 pounds is to lose 20. Dr. Sharma warns against “cosmetic” weight loss because it can significantly increase your chance of gaining that weight back — and then some — in the future.

And he’s right, because when it comes to weight loss, most people are doing it wrong. They’re doing it in a way that isn’t sustainable. To me, there is no point in losing weight if all you’re going to do is gain it right back, especially if you gain back more.

Does this mean you shouldn’t try to be as a fit as you can? Hell no!

I’m a big fan of chasing ambitious goals. Not just fitness goals, but life goals. Interestingly, I’ve found that working hard to sustain a high level of fitness gave me the drive to succeed in other areas of life.

When you should try to lose weight

So let’s take a look at that motivation question to see if you should attempt losing those last ten pounds. I believe it is okay to use vanity as a partial motivator, but far more important is that you be motivated to embrace the lifestyle required to lose those ten pounds and keep them off. Without the latter, the former simply won’t cut it.

I’ll admit to being vain and liking seeing those little lines on my abdomen. I also like it when I bust my wife checking me out. It’s a good feeling. However, those feelings come in little bits and won’t drive you to run outside through cold and snow, kick butt at a cycling class, lift weights hard, Pilate your face off, or swim like a shark is chasing you. More importantly, it won’t be enough to keep you from focusing on eating mostly healthy food and continuously resisting the ample piles of high-calorie crap that permeate modern society.

The right way to get there

If you want to lose those ten pounds you will have to exercise harder, more frequently, and for longer durations. You will also need to eat healthier and consume fewer calories.  

If you want to keep those ten pounds off you must learn to love what’s going on in the above paragraph.

Think of Jack LaLanne. He stayed amazingly fit and lean right up until the end because he loved being able to do forty-eleven-million push ups. He loved being able to tow a string of row boats full of people while swimming shackled. He loved eschewing junk food and embracing healthy eating. I’m not saying you should mimic his physical feats, but that love is part of what kept him going into his late 90s.

So, if you have decided that there is some last bit of flab you want gone, know that losing the flab itself isn’t going to make one bit of difference to your overall health. However, the steps you take to lose this body fat (as long as you don’t do something stupid like starve yourself or pop dangerous weight-loss drugs) are going to make you healthier. It can be good for the psyche too, as long as you’ve got the right attitude.

If this sounds like an impossible task, know that I see women accomplish it all the time. I know many women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are diet-conscious workout warriors who have succeeded in loving the lifestyle. Most of them have children and used to be overweight, but something clicked in them that got them into pushing themselves physically and adopting healthier eating habits.

What was it that clicked? I don’t know. It’s likely different for everyone, and this brings me to my last bit of advice: don’t do this on a time schedule. When you’ve got a deadline, you forget about learning to love the journey. Just work on gradually integrating the new behaviours and ignore those ten pounds. Don’t weigh yourself, but instead consider the positive changes in body composition to be a fortunate by-product of your new, righteously awesome lifestyle.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for The Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get a free metabolism report at Body For Wife. Email James at