Chances are you already know what you need to do to get in shape. Eat right, sweat often, drink enough water, get enough sleep. Not exactly classified info, right? It’s easy to think of weight loss as a simple math problem: Just burn more calories than you consume, and you’ll see results!
But here’s the thing. If we all know we need to eat healthier grub and get our workouts in, why is it still annoyingly hard to make it happen?
The missing link — and the secret to hitting your weight-loss goals — is accountability. “We can have intentions, but we need to act on them to achieve what we desire,” says Ariane Machin, Ph.D., a sports psychologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, and co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective. “You should be able to hold yourself accountable if you truly want to invite this type of behavioral change into your daily routine.”
While the calories-in, calories-out thing is technically true, it’s not foolproof — because it doesn’t account for the real-life mental obstacles we all deal with, like lazy days and comfort foods and stressful schedules and blah moods. No matter how gung-ho you are about getting into shape, eventually you’re going to have a day (or a week, or a month) where your motivation wanes and your excuses win out… unless you have a plan in place to overcome those psychological challenges.
That’s where accountability can swoop in and save the day. Think of it as a stopgap when your willpower comes up short. If you’re tempted to skip your workout and binge-watch Stranger Things, or a box of bacon donuts magically appears in the office break room, accountability can give you the extra push to stay on track. You may not know this yet, but accountability is the catalyst to creating the lifelong habits you’ll need to practice with consistency to achieve — and maintain — the ideal healthy weight for you.
Here are a few ways you can add accountability to your weight-loss arsenal so it’s there when you need it.
Set Small Goals
You may have heard this advice before: Break your big-picture goals into small, measurable steps. Not only will this give you a solid game plan and keep you from getting overwhelmed, but it’s also easier to hold yourself accountable to those short-term action items. “Accountability happens in the small steps,” says Allison Grupski, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, DC.
It’s hard to hold yourself accountable to a goal of losing 30 pounds, for example, because it takes a long time to get there. It’s much easier to hold yourself accountable to all the healthy choices you’ll need to make along the way. “Commit to exercising four days a week with a friend, schedule meal prep on your calendar, write down your eating patterns each day, or weigh yourself every few days,” Grupski adds. At the end of each day, take stock of whether you’re sticking to your mini-goals.
Make Note of Your Progress
It’s way too easy to let a rest day turn into a rest week if you’re not keeping a record of your efforts through a workout log, a bullet journal, or a fitness app. Tony Horton harps about writing down or tracking your reps and weights in P90X3 because it serves a distinct purpose. It’s so you can know where you started, how you’re progressing, and where you were in the program when you achieved certain milestones.
One study found that accountability apps were a common thread among people who successfully lost weight — especially if they included frequent weigh-ins. The key is to find an app that addresses your specific short-term goals, whether it’s meal planning, calorie counting, or tracking your workout schedule. “Pick an app that works for your goals rather than letting an app choose your goals for you,” Grupski says.
Recruit a Fitness Buddy
Studies (and lots of ’em) have shown that people are more likely to stick to a weight-loss program when they have social support. It makes sense — we’re all guilty of occasionally putting our own goals on the back burner, but it’s a lot harder to let a friend down. Use that to your advantage by finding a fitness buddy or weight-loss group who will hold you accountable when you slack off — and inspire you to get back on track.
“A fitness buddy is someone who will encourage, uplift, and motivate you to complete your workout intentions,” Machin says. That could mean signing up for a 10K with friends who’ll keep tabs on your training runs, or showing up for the same fitness class every week so your classmates actually notice if you aren’t there. It could also be as simple as inviting a friend over for a meal prep session — roast two chickens and a few sheet pans of veggies, or bust out the slow cookers and make two pots of chili, chicken fajitas, or turkey meatballs — followed by a living room sweat session.
Find an Online Tribe
If you’re having trouble finding a local support system, you might have better luck online. And file this under “pleasant surprises”: Research has found that participants in online weight-loss communities can provide mutual accountability based on shared experiences, which can spark encouragement and motivation to keep going. So join a group on Facebook, follow a workout-a-day channel on youtube, or ask for encouragement in a supportive forum (the Beachbody message boards are a great place to start!).
“You’re with a group of people who are working on similar goals, and working together to meet those goals,” Machin says. That sense of camaraderie can keep you motivated, because no one wants to be the person who posts about sitting on the couch all day. But if you do, your tribe can encourage you to get back on track ASAP.
Go Public with Your Progress
Sharing your goals — and your progress — through a blog or social media can be an effective strategy for accountability. After all, if having a fitness buddy helps, imagine the power of having a few hundred (or thousand) people keeping tabs on your progress. You may find yourself trying a new Shakeology recipe or hitting up an aerial yoga class just so you have something to post about — hey, whatever keeps you focused.
Just keep in mind that public posting isn’t for the faint of heart. Just ask… well, pretty much any fitblogger ever. Some people take pride in proving the trolls wrong, but for others, the negativity can be hard to tune out. “The key is to do what works,” Grupski says. “If you enjoy blogging, go for it. If the thought makes you cringe, it might backfire — you already have a lot on your plate!”
Return the Favor
We’re treading on cheesy-motivational-poster turf here, but if you want to have a good support system, you need to be a good support system. If your fitness buddy falls off the weight-loss wagon, she’s probably not going to do a great job of holding you accountable. To keep her on track, Grupski says, “Ask them what kind of support they need — ‘Is there anything I can do to help you with all of the changes you’re trying to make?’” Then follow up and follow through for your accountability buddy.
Be Your Own Cheerleader
No matter how strong your support system is, at the end of the day, you need to hold yourself accountable. Ultimately, you’re the one who decides what you eat for breakfast or whether you tackle FOCUS T25 tonight, so figure out what keeps you accountable — whether it’s peer pressure, gym selfies, a food diary, or a workout log — and use it to hold yourself to your healthy goals.
The 10-Second Takeaway
Accountability — that comes from within, from others, and from you giving to others — is the secret to successful weight loss. It drives you to practice all of the small daily choices, such as eating an apple instead of a cookie or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, that eventually add up to the consistent behaviors that result in a leaner, healthier you. Keep practicing these consistent habits until they stop feeling like conscious choices and start feeling like preferences, and you won’t be tempted to digress to the old ways that contributed to your weight gain in the first place.
Related: So, what’s the secret to maintaining weight loss? Find out!