People magazine's latest issue, "They Lost Half Their Size" is on magazine racks now. It features everyday people who have lost 100 plus pounds without weight loss drugs or surgery. 

It's hard not to be drawn in by these incredible "before" and "after" pictures. What is the allure? Perhaps, in part, as always, we are searching for the "secret" to dramatic weight loss. We want to know how these individuals found the motivation and the tools to make such incredible changes in their lives.

We can't help but be inspired. These people aren't celebrities with personal trainers or money to burn. They have challenging jobs, kids and budgets. Some of the people credited free or inexpensive, reputable programs on the internet rather than expensive products.

Three things seem to be common among their stories. While not a "secret" per say, it seems to reflect these ideas.

1) A commitment to change. The first essential step? A belief that they could do it. This part is often difficult. Half the battle is not letting your doubt and fears become a road block. If you don't think you can do it, your behavior will create a "self-filling prophecy." In other words you will do things unconsciously that support the notion that it just won't work. Step One: Believe.

2) A mindful way of eating. The participants, in general, talked about a new attention to the content and the way they ate. Many people were not aware of just how much they were eating nor had they been attentive to the nutritional content. Some people learned to write down what they ate, buy new foods, or used "point" like systems to help them keep track of what they ate. Others were just more "mindful" of their food choices. Step Two: Be Mindfully Aware.

3) Addressing the emotional eating. This is one of the reasons most diets fail. You can change what you eat, but if you don't address the emotions driving mindless eating, it isn't likely to go anywhere. Some of the participants called themselves "closet eaters" or "emotional eaters." They had to substitute emotional eating with healthy alternatives and outlets. Step Three: Replace Emotional Eating

Change is a process, particularly with weight loss. You don't just decide to change one day and it happens like turning on a light switch. The Stages of Change model describes the process well (Prochaska, J.O., & DiClemente, C.C.,1983).

Stage One: Precontemplation: At this stage, you don't think your weight, eating or health is a problem. Perhaps you may be in denial about the health risks of your weight. Your doctor or spouse may be more concerned than you are.

Stage Two: Contemplation: You are thinking about changing your eating habits. But, you aren't quite ready. However, you want to eat more mindfully.

Stage Three: Preparation: You are getting ready to make some changes. Perhaps you bought a treadmill or ordered a new book about nutrition. You are starting to make some small changes.

Stage Four: Action: Ready to take action. You begin to change your eating habits and exercise. You are being more mindfully aware of how much and what you eat.

Stage Five: Maintenance: The new ways of eating mindfully become easier and a habit.

Stage Six: Relapse: When you slip back into your old ways, you work to get back on track.

It is helpful to consider this model in the context of the People magazine article. In the article, we see the "before" picture. This is when people are in the Precontemplative stage. In other words, they aren't even thinking about changing their behavior or had not taken any action at the time the photo was snapped. Then, poof! We skip over the other stages to the last phase in which people have transitioned into the Maintenance stage. We can't forget that these individuals also went through all the Stages of Change to get there.

Maybe the next People article could show a few stages along the way? This may help give us a wider lens of the process. It would take out the "poof" effect that magically seems to happen between the before and after photos. It would also be interesting to balance out the weight/appearance benefits with the health rewards. Perhaps include "stats" on each participant such as improvements in their blood pressure, reduction in medications, cholesterol and a variety of other things we can't see with the naked eye.

If improving your health this year is at the top of your New Year's Resolutions, that is great! As you can see from this inspiring article, change is possible. Congratulations to the individuals in the article. Fantastic work!  We appreciate you sharing your stories with us.

By Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and Eat, Drink & Be Mindful and Eating Mindfully

About the Author

Susan Albers, Psy.D.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a psychologist who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. 

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