Before and After: Use the Accountability of Weight Watchers and a Personal Trainer.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from someone who wants to stay anonymous.

As I was staring down the barrel of turning 50, I decided it was time to get up off the couch and get in shape. It had been years since I had exercised and truly watched what I ate. I just couldn’t be fat and fifty. Since there was nothing to do about turning 50, I decided to tackle the fat. For my 48th birthday I gave myself two gifts: a membership to Weight Watchers and a personal trainer at the gym. I need accountability, so having to answer to someone else was the push I needed to keep me headed in the right direction. Six years later, I still work out with a trainer and am probably the “fittest” I have ever been. Now, if only I could break the Diet Coke habit.

The Strategy of Accountability is one of the most effective strategies for habit-formation, and for Obligers, of course, external accountability is absolutely crucial.

But even for people who are Upholders, Questioners, or Rebels, accountability makes a big difference. We behave differently when we know that other people will know what we did, and if we know that there will be consequences.

Also, this reader drew on the Strategy of Thinking — when an idea, such as the idea of turning fifty, acts as a catalyst for change.

Have you found ways to hold yourself accountable? Have you ever been inspired to change a big habit because of an idea such as reaching a milestone birthday?

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  • Goodieb

    This is great!

    For me I made exercise a consistent habit in my life. Since I was younger I would, like a lot of people, exercise sporadically and go long stretches with working out a few times a week, playing sports, and running. I even completed a half marathon this way. But I was never really happy and fulfilled by it nor did I see it as anything other than trying to lose weight. It was a chore not really a choice. Then back in January 2009 I decided to make it all a habit that would be part of the rest of my life. I remember reading somewhere that a new habit can be formed by doing an activity 30 days in a row. So I decided to aim for that with exercise. I started by saying any type of physical activity for thirty minutes a day would fulfill my requirement. I started walking at lunch, taking classes at the gym, running, etc. and found a whole bunch of activities that made me feel good. I never did make it to the full 30 days but in that pursuit I have made it to almost five years of working out/exercising 5-6 days a week. I feel good, I feel happy, and I feel like I am doing it all for the right reasons. Once I re-framed how I looked at exercise and my motivations I made a lifestyle change that I am confident will last a lifetime.

  • peninith1

    I am a ‘questioner’ and working on weight loss. I definitely do best with a program that gives me clear guidelines, but leaves me a lot of decisions, choices, and ability to play in the kitchen. I love to cook (and fortunately, I don’t love to BAKE). I prefer walking by myself as exercise. Yet I do want some sense of accountability.

    I chose a diet program (South Beach Diet) that my research and experimentation tells me helps me to lose weight more quickly, by minimizing the carbohydrates my body has such a hard time processing properly, as I’m a borderline Type 2 diabetic.

    I have signed up for it on line, and added in the accountability factor of a six-days-a-week email exchange with a dietitian. Does she know a lot more than me about food, dieting and the like? Well, maybe more than I know about exercise and fitness. What she offers me is a private way to discuss my progress and problems, celebrate my achievements, and work my program without the entire world knowing what I am doing. This seems to work better for me than making myself accountable to everyone and no one.

    Since the beginning of October I have lost 17 pounds and got my walking program up to 60 minutes a day. I can feel a difference and others are beginning to see a difference. This is working for me, and I aim to keep it up.

    I am currently researching mental activities and exercises I can do to train my mind so that I can successfully move through those inevitable moments of overeating without surrendering my successes and turning back into a chain eater.

  • Dudley Evenson

    My husband’s mother was a very religious person. She read the Bible every day. I noticed that her daily habit was something she did religiously. Her daily reading was a habit she cultivated and enjoyed. When we hear about someone doing something ‘religiously’ it is simply that they do it with regularity and commitment. That can of course apply to eating habits, exercise habits and mental habits. So, apply this principle of living a healthy life ‘religiously’ and you will be pleased with the results.

  • rivers2

    I think that what is most illuminating about this story is that rather than simply starting a diet or promising herself that she would begin an exercise program, “Anonymous” took two actions at the moment of her decision that would help her reach her goals — signing up with Weight Watchers and a personal trainer. I think this is key — to take action as soon as you commit to a goal and for that action to be something that will keep you on track.
    I did something similar when I finished my cancer treatments seven years ago — my goal was to become strong again, and so I signed up with a trainer. The only problem with these solutions is that they cost money, and I feel very grateful that I was able to afford them. In your book perhaps you can suggest ways that people can find external accountability that doesn’t necessarily involve expense.

  • BKF

    Congrats to anonymous for this success. Well-done.

    Dear Gretchen, a very happy birthday to you! Hope you have a lovely day.

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww, thanks!

  • Jenny

    I have a horrible binging habit. I just can’t resist my temptation foods.
    However, each New Year’s eve, since middle school, I promise to give up one food for the year (pizza, potato chips, ice cream) and I have always been surprisingly successful (considering my usual eating fallouts). What type of accountability would you categorize this as? And does this make me an obliger, upholder, or what?

    • gretchenrubin

      I write SO MUCH about these issues in Before and After.

      It’s hard to know where to start.

      Stay tuned!

  • Agnes

    You do realize that Weight Watchers doesn’t actually work, right? The average sustained weight loss is something like 3 pounds.

    • gretchenrubin

      Sadly, that’s the track record of ALL DIETS. There is no evidence that any calorie-restrictive “diet” helps people to lose weight over the long term.

      In my book Before and After, I talk about why I think this is, and how we can deal with it through our habits.

      • Agnes

        Yes, absolutely, and I’m glad you’re aware of this. I’ve started to get a little worried that your book is going to be a diet book in disguise. If you can divorce healthy eating from weight loss, I think there is a lot of room to be successful. In terms of major weight loss, it’s really unlikely that any sort of “habit” is likely to make any major difference to weight (to health, sure. But not for weight).