How to Conquer Your Fear of Failing at Weight Loss

by Coach Stevo
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How to Conquer Your Fear of Failing at Weight Loss

You know what you need to do to drop those extra pounds and be healthier. You need to wake up a little earlier. Walk a little bit more. Eat a few more servings of vegetables, and skip a few glasses of wine. You need to decide to do it, right? You need to set that alarm (and actually get out of bed when it goes off). Buy those green beans. Ask for club soda.

But what’s stopping you? What are you afraid will happen?

In 1979, economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky discovered how important fear—or at least, the fear of possible loss versus the hope of possible gains—was to human behavior. They did a series of experiments that were published under the title “Prospect Theory.” This theory describes the way people choose between alternatives that involve risk. The reality: We’re irrational about loss—but predictably irrational.

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Take this thought experiment: Bet on a coin toss. If you win, you win $150. If you lose, you lose $100. The probability of either outcome is 50/50, but the potential gain is 50% higher than the potential loss. Do you take the bet?

Traditional economics predicts that 50% of people would take that bet. Kahneman and Tversky found that the overwhelming majority of people would not take that bet.

And this holds up with just about everything involving risk. As Dan Ariely describes in his book “Predictably Irrational,” “People hate losing much more than they enjoy winning.” About twice as much, in fact. In order for 50% of people to take the coin-toss bet, the researchers had to increase the payout to $200.

What does this mean for your weight-loss journey?

When I was in school for health psychology, I had to learn the right kinds of questions to ask my clients, and my supervisor gave me a clear heuristic to fall back on: Follow the fear.

At first, this seemed extreme. I mean, we’re talking about helping people with some pretty benign stuff. But every time I followed my supervisor’s advice, my client had a little epiphany. Then another. Then another. Most of what was holding people back was not rational. Of course, we all know we need to eat less and move more. But that’s not enough to get us moving. Because it’s too rational. It’s just the hope of gain. We need to weigh that against the very real, often unspoken fear that what we’re doing might not work.

So, to do that, I use my priority grid:

coach stevo print

Coach Stevo Priority Grid4

There are no wrong answers or minimum scores. In fact, the scores don’t even matter. I don’t even add them up. The only thing that matters to me in this initial assessment is that you take the time to think about and prioritize your answers. What matters is not the answers, but the thought that goes into them.

Most of what holds us back from getting the things we want is not that we don’t want them enough, but that we’re afraid that trying might not be worth it. So take the time to think about what you’re willing to risk, and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”


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About the Author

Coach Stevo

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngCoach Stevo is the nutrition and behavior change consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and an MA in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. He teaches habit-based coaching to wellness professionals all over the world and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 



9 responses to “How to Conquer Your Fear of Failing at Weight Loss”

  1. Avatar Kate Nkognito says:

    What about the fear of success? Being overweight is a great excuse. “I can’t do that because I am overweight.” “I will do it after I lose weight.” “That person doesn’t like me because I am overweight.” Fat can shield you from a lot of scary stuff.

  2. Avatar Anna says:

    Hello, great read – thank you.
    But there is no priority grid that is mentioned. It would be cool to see it if possible, thank-you!

  3. Avatar Maria says:

    Hi guys,
    I am on this site coz I want to lose weight….again. It is so discouraging when you lose weight then decide to binge eat and put back most of it on with six weeks. Scary and very unhealthy. I am seeking medical help for this as I know that this is a medical disorder and I need professional help. so I am reaching out .To professionals, to forums such as these to try to find the inspiration and strength I need to lose that weight until I reach my goal weight and keep it there and live a healthy lifestyle and live a long and full life, enjoy the grand kids(when they arrive), watch them grow up. So here I am starting all over again with this roller coaster ride. The binge has calmed. Its like I get this angry beast inside of me just waiting to devour everything in sight after I have restricted myself for so long. I will not allow this to happen ever again(famous last words) oh dear whats a gal to do??

    • Avatar Theresa Lynn says:

      Losing weight and keeping it off isnt about a 6 week diet , its about a lifestyle change and knowing you need to eat healthy and exercise for the rest of your life . its 24/7- 365 commitment . like the article says its about not being afraid of what will happen if you do this . you just have to decide whats more important to you that slice of pizza and bag of chips or living a healthy full life . i have decided i want the healthy full life 🙂 Good luck to you

    • Avatar Krista says:

      The thing that I realized after managing to keep off the 10kg I lost for a year and still going… is that people who are used to eating a lot will mostly continue to do so after a diet. There’s a reason why it’s called a diet… u DIE after Treatment. Meaning that because u look at it as a short term modification of ur daily behavior, after the diet, u revert back to previous behaviors like binging. To quite the cycle u must first know why u binge. Sometimes it’s as easy as realizing it’s due to stress… hard day? Eat anything that doesn’t move. Others it’s more complex and psychological. Some people fear to look attractive. It can be because some were sexually abused as children or as teens and they fear that if they become attractive it will perpetuate a repeat of the event. It is unconscious so u have to do a lot of soul searching. Weight loss is a tedious process. I admire the people who make it seem easy. But for the people like us… we all know the challenge. Try going healthy first. Replace processed foods with their unprocessed counterparts. Fries? Make them on ur own… in fact.. oven bake them. If u really want something… u will find ways… if u don’t want to do something… u will find reasons not to. Second, remove temptation… I find that parents with school age children tend to snack more… coz the snacks are available.. but before u dunk that large Lay’s bag into ur trolley… think: “is it for the kids or is it for u…?” Third, gather support… tell people ur going to lose weight… emphasis on “going” instead of “trying” it’s all about the commitment and the willingness to change. If they know ur serious… they’ll rally behind u. Fourth, cheat days do not exist… why? because u deprived yourself. Want cake? Have cake… have a slice… not the entire thing. It’s all about moderation and tiny steps.. don’t take on too much at the same time. Create achievable goals. Like for today: eat decent meals with no sugar additives.. and keep that up… after a week u can add an additional goal: walk 5000 steps per day…. and keep going and adding an additional 1000 steps weekly until u reach 10000 to 15000 per day…. next: do cardiovascular for 15 minutes… jumping Jack’s… skip rope… anything that can get ur heart rate up then increase it to another 5 minutes everyday, weekly… like I said… baby steps. And always remember: on the road to a healthier you, your only adversary and completion is yourself. No one else is part of this journey. It’s all about you.. coz u only have one you so take care of yourself

  4. Avatar AC says:

    So glad someone is finally addressing this!!! I have been very good at the art of self-sabotage over the years, and know I am not alone. Finally a way to wrap our brains around it, giving us the tools to release or move past it! Thanks Coach Stevo!!

  5. Great write-up! The best way to reduce fear is to stay focused, control diet, exercise in the morning and evening, schedule meals or don’t skip meals. It actually helps in reducing weight.

  6. Avatar lex says:

    I’m working on getting fit physically and financially simultaneously. My biggest fear is buying new clothes for my new body lol.
    This is a great article. Fears are just excuses. This has inspired me to look into my fears and work with them instead of trying to ignore them

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