How many people do you know who have tried…and tried…and tried to lose weight but just can’t do it?

It just might be that you are one of them—and if so, you have plenty of company. Just last year more than 50 million Americans went on diets—and the vast majority (95%) of those men and women are in no better shape today. As anyone who has tried losing weight knows, it requires lots of planning and attitude adjustment if you want to succeed. Happily I had an opportunity to speak recently with Bill Phillips, author of the perennial best seller Body for LIFE and the new book Transformation: The Mindset You Need, The Body You Want, The Life You Deserve. I asked him to share his proven techniques for getting past the traps that catch people when they’re trying to shed pounds and gain better health.


Phillips said that if you want to lose weight, the first thing you need to do is reframe the idea. Instead of thinking about dieting, realize that you are about to transform your life for the better. Since losing weight benefits your entire life on many levels—not just when you get on the scale—he encourages people to come up with a holistic plan that encompasses changes for your mind, body and soul. And this is not as hard as it sounds! Phillips said he has found three factors critical to success:

  • Maintain a positive perspective.
  • Stay motivated.
  • Stay focused.

These concepts can seem so basic, and yet so big at the same time, that it is easy to stop before you start. But Phillips knows how you can avoid that…

The Trap: Fad diets and other restrictive plans. Whether it’s eating mostly protein or only cabbage soup, fad and crash diets are nutritionally unsound and totally lacking in enjoyment, making them ultimately doomed to failure—few people can live long-term with so many restrictions.

Instead: Plan for a new way of life. “Transformation is a process of changing the whole person to become healthier, happier, lighter, more energized and aware,” Phillips said, suggesting you figure out what dietary changes you need to make for your new life rather than putting yourself on a “diet.” Instead of trying to eat foods that you don’t like, learn how to make healthy versions of the meals that you do like. He explains, “My favorite dinner foods are chicken enchiladas, spaghetti and meatballs and homemade thin crust pizza. The key is I’ve learned how to make these meals so they’re high in nutrients, low in calories and as delicious as ever.” (These and other recipes can be found for free on Phillips’ Web site,

The Trap: Lacking focus and a goal. Without a specific focus—a clearly defined goal—most everyone will have trouble staying on the straight and narrow path. Phillips said, “The mind seems to work somewhat like a GPS system in the modern car. If you don’t program in the specific coordinates of where you want to go, it can’t help you get there.”

Instead: Be clear about where you’re starting and where you’re going. As soon as you identify a target that can be objectively measured—such as becoming 30 pounds lighter in 18 weeks—it’s like you turn the headlights on after driving all night in the dark. Think about that GPS system again and how it’s akin to the human mind—when we are crystal clear about where we are going, it’s remarkable how it will help us get there.

The Trap: Excuses, excuses. If you’re carrying around a mental list of reasons why your plan won’t work—such as I don’t have time to exercise or cook healthy foods or I’m too old for this—you can be sure that you’ll fail.

Instead: Focus on the true reward. Phillips encourages people trying to lose weight to look inward for the reasons why. “One deeply purposeful reason will override 100 excuses,” states Phillips. Superficial reasons, such as, I don’t want to be embarrassed at the reunion next month, or wanting to look better than someone else, may not have the power to inspire over the long term. Phillips finds that when people connect with the deeper reasons for transforming their health, it can be like flipping a switch…where they go from struggling to maintaining new, positive habits to an almost instant and somewhat effortless compliance. Many people who have a health crisis experience this jolt instantly—they realize that if they don’t nurture their well-being and cut out the unhealthy patterns of action, they’re not going to be there for their kids, grandkids, friends or coworkers. “The more ‘other-centered’ people’s reasons for making the decision to change, the more power in the near and long-term they have,” Phillips finds. Tip: Write your reasons for wanting to lose weight on an index card, and keep it with you. The next time you are tempted to dip a chip at a party or skip your morning workout, take a look at your note to remind yourself why it’s better to just say no.

The Trap: Constantly weighing yourself. Amazingly, your body weight can fluctuate up to several pounds over the course of one day—and most of that is water weight. Not losing as you expect or, worse, gaining weight one day can throw you off …some people think, why bother? and immediately sabotage their success.

Instead: Step off the scale. Weigh yourself only once a week—preferably on the same day at the same time each week. In the interim, pay attention to how you feel (lighter? more energetic?) and how your clothes fit.

The Trap: Everyone else is indulging! Without a strong and supportive group of people around you, it’s way too easy to get off track—bad habits are contagious!

Instead: Enlist help from friends and family. Tell people you love what you are trying to do and ask for support, encouragement and help. Invite an upbeat friend or neighbor to join you in regular walks or bike rides—it’ll be more fun and will motivate you to stick with the program. Join a community weight-loss support group or take part in free support groups at “You don’t have to completely disconnect from friends who haven’t yet made the decision to be healthy, but it’s important to have contact with at least one other person each day who’s making the kind of positive, challenging changes that you are making.”

The Trap: Getting discouraged. If you measure your progress by what hasn’t happened (you’re not thin yet!) rather than what has (your eating habits are getting healthier, your jeans are loose), you are at risk for falling into what Phillips calls “The Void.” In this frame of mind, you may convince yourself that you have failed and abandon your transformation journey altogether.

Instead: Invent a game you can win. Forget about pursuing perfection, and focus on making progress. List very specific steps you can take today or this week that move you in the direction of your meaningful and specific goals. Example: “Today I will eat six nutrient-rich, calorie-sparse meals and work out for 30 minutes.”

The big secret to weight-loss success is sustainability, says Phillips. Take joy in your small improvements each day and week—such as your new ways of eating and exercising and the energy, self-confidence and sense of well-being that comes with them. There’s only one real way to fail, he adds—and that’s to stop trying.