Eating Right and Exercising—How to Overcome the Challenge of Motivation

From the lecture series: The Mayo Clinic Diet — The Healthy Approach to Weightloss

By Donald D. Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H., Mayo Clinic

Eating right, exercising, and having energy are classic staples of healthy living. Unfortunately, they can seem like very high hurdles to jump. The Mayo Clinic takes a new look at how to get back on track.

Fitness woman in sneakers and sportswear is resting and eating a healthy, fresh salad after a workout.

When we’re trying to make changes in the way we eat and in how much physical activity we get, we all experience obstacles. Overcoming these challenges comes down to planning for them. But sometimes we need ideas for how to deal with them.

Learn more about starting your diet


Cook healthy
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Some people just don’t like to cook. Here are several ways you can overcome the challenge of not liking to cook.

  • Try out a variety of cooking techniques. You might not like baking, but micro­waving or grilling may be your thing.
  • Be creative. Use shortcuts such as prepackaged salad greens or raw veg­etables, or precooked lean meats.
  • If you don’t enjoy cooking but want to try, start by purchasing a cookbook that offers quick and easy healthy meals, or check one out at your local library.
  • Develop a collection of quick and easy recipes, such as burritos, pasta with vegetables and healthy, bottled tomato sauce; brown minute rice with frozen vegetables and spices such as curry powder; and quick salads, such as a Greek salad.
  • Base your meals on fresh fruits and vegetables, none of which takes much preparation or cooking time.

This is a transcript from the video series The Mayo Clinic Diet — The Healthy Approach to Weight Loss. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.


walking up the stairs
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One of the most common obstacles I hear with physical activity is, “I don’t have time to exercise.” I would suggest that everybody’s busy. I don’t know too many people who have too much time—most people don’t have extra time. Much of the time, it’s a matter of priorities rather than time.

  • Even if you don’t like to exercise, you can work physical activity into your daily schedule.
  • You can take a walk at different times.
  • You can take the stairs during your normal day instead of taking the elevator.
  • Take activity breaks if you have a desk job.
  • Have a walking meeting with a colleague. Usually, this works well with just a couple of people – a group walking meeting is more challenging. Instead of sitting down and talking with a colleague, go for a walk. When you’re talking on the telephone, you can walk around. If you sit during a 30-minute meeting, you’ll burn around 75 calories. However, if you walk briskly during your meeting at 3 and a half miles per hour, you’ll burn more than 300 calories!
  • Try looking for hidden time-sinks in your schedule. For example, the average American watches more than four hours of television each day, and more than 10 hours of total screen time daily. Although some of that may be for productive activities, most people may not have to look hard to find a lot of extra time for physical activity.

    Learn more about the science of weight and weight loss

    Being Tired

    Finally, you may be a person who says you don’t exercise because you’re too tired to exercise. Believe it or not, that may be because you’re not exercising enough.

    Many people find they’re less tired once they’re involved with a regular exercise program. That’s because regular physical activity gives you more energy and because fatigue is more often mental than it is physical. If you’re fatigued due to stress, exercise is a great stress-reliever. Here are several other tips that can help you overcome this obstacle.

    • If you are tired, start short and slow. Begin with just five to 10 minutes of activity. Keep in mind that a little activity is better than none. And once you start, you might keep going longer.
    • Another option is to exercise in the morning. This may give you more energy throughout the day.
    • When you get home from work, don’t sit down to watch television or use the computer. Instead, put on your walking shoes as soon as you arrive home and go for a walk.

    Learn more about the best ways to keep negative self-talk at bay

    Common Questions About Weight Loss Motivation

    Q: What are some ways to get motivated to lose weight?

    There are several methods or ways to get motivated to lose weight. Motivation begins with determination. Begin by visualizing your ideal weight and a body look that is realistic for your height and build. Make a plan that involves measuring yourself weekly. Weight loss takes time and isn’t immediately apparent even when it’s happening. When you see the measurements change, it will motivate you to stick to your plan.

    Q: How can your mind be disciplined to maintain a weight loss plan?

    Anything that disciplines the mind such as sudoku or math games are good for mentally “working out.” There are some immediate tactics such as removing any possible temptations from the kitchen. If it’s in your kitchen, you will consume it. Also, keeping a strict day to weigh and measure your progress will help form the habit in your mind.

    Q: How do I stick to losing weight?

    Two things are crucial to sticking with a weight loss plan. You must visualize some desired outcome such as a romantic partner or a swimsuit or a pool party with which to provide active motivation. Additionally, you must constantly remind yourself that even though it’s working, you will not see huge results for at least a month. This is a form of investment in the future of your health.

    Q: How can I find willpower to lose weight?

    You can get willpower to lose weight by creating it. If you do small, effective things regularly, you will develop willpower. Remove your temptations one-by-one. Write in your journal the last time you indulged in one of your temptations. Every week, make your measurements and take small steps to make them shrink. Learn to embrace the repetition of exercising in some form: walking, treadmill, etc. Stay on schedule, and that schedule will become your first steps toward developing willpower.

    This article was updated on 8/3/2019

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