Decisions Decisions: How to use decision balancing to start your weight loss goal

man lost in woods
Simon Long

Simon Long

Simon is a highly experienced personal trainer and behavioural psychology expert
View My LinkedIn Profile

Many people who are overweight want to lower their body mass. But the decision to take constructive steps to do so can often be quite difficult. There is no two ways about it. A weight loss goal takes some effort. A long term weight loss goal requires big lifestyle changes.

This is where many people will fall down, as their decision to take the easy route prevails. There is no shame in this. Our bodies and brains are wired to take the easy option. But it doesn’t have to be like this. This is where the decision balance process comes in.

What is the decision balance process?

It’s a neat little trick that comes from exercise psychology. It also has deep roots in CBT techniques. The beauty of it is that it allows you to simply weigh up the costs and benefits of changing your behaviour.

Most of the time we make our choices without really considering how they actually affect our goals in the long term. We eat bad foods because we think of the short term benefit. Like it will taste good (and it will). We skip workouts because we think of the short term gain. Such as we would rather watch some TV because its easier (and it is).

To combat this, we have to bring to the front of our minds what our long term goals are. We can then decide whether our choices, good or bad, are useful steps towards that goal.

Deciding what you want to achieve

Step number one is to have a clear definition of what your goal is. And you need to have them defined. Saying ‘Weigh less’ just isn’t going to cut it Pedro! Use SMART goal setting techniques. Its far better to know you are aiming to ‘Lose Xkgs in X number of weeks which I will monitor once per week using my bathroom scales’ then it is to just generally say ‘I’ll lose a stone, at some point. I’ll just see if the sofa cushion is less dented to work out if I’m on track’.

I don’t want to digressing too much from the point of this article. But having your goal be realistic is vital!

If you’re never going to reach your goal within the set time, then it’s only going to hurt your motivation. So the chance of you sticking to your plan drops through the floor. Most people should aim to lose 1 pound per week. If you are starting from a larger frame, then a reduction of 2 pounds per week is fine.

You can lose more. And faster. There is nothing stopping you. The video below talks about how. But keep in mind that the faster you are losing weight the more restrictive you have to be on your diet and the more exercise you’ll have to do. This can become hard to find time for and it will be more difficult to keep motivated.

How do I use the decision process to help with decision management?

Grab a piece of paper. Then draw a table with 2 columns and 4 rows (top tip. You should now have 8 boxes =]). Label the boxes:

Row 1: Gains to self. Gains to others.

Row 2: Losses to self. Losses to others.

Row 3: Self approval. Self disapproval.

Row 4: Approval of others. Disapproval of others.

Easy hey! Now comes the part where you need to think. I know, I know. Your saying ‘Wow. Again with the thinking. Simon loves to make us think!’. And it’s true. I do. But it’s because everything I do is based on being self-sufficient. It’s the only true path to long term weight loss. The reason long term weight loss (i.e. keeping weight off for longer than 3 to 5 years) is so rare is because the industry focuses on reliance. They just tell you what to do. But the issue is once the support is removed you just fall back into your old habits. My methods teach you how to be in control of your own destiny! =]

Ok. So let’s take a look at each box and how you would fill it in. In this example I’m going to look at the decision to eat processed foods. It is wise to create multiple decision balances and look at each part of your plan separately. For example, eating vegetables, skipping training, taking the lift instead of the stairs etc etc. And remember, you can use the process for making positive and negative choices.

Right. So. Filling the boxes. The following would be my thoughts about me personally eating processed foods.


Gains to self: I like to eat things like crisps and pasties. It’s faster so I would have more free time.

Gains to others: I would have a very small amount of extra free time to spend with others.

Losses to self: I would find it harder to stick to my calorie intake. My blood sugar would drop quickly making it more likely that I would over eat. Processed food usually costs more.

Losses to others: My significant others would have me acting unhappy because I’ve gained weight. I would also be less happy because I know I’m making bad choices. I would be less able to do fun and active things with them. They would have me for less time in the long run as my life would be shorter.

Self-approval: I would not have any self-approval if I was eating processed foods.

Self-disapproval: I would be very disappointed in myself if I went back to eating processed foods just for the short term pleasure.

Approval of others: I can’t think of anyone who would approve.

Disapproval of others: Those that I care about would be disappointed that I had let me progress slip. They would also worry about my happiness and health.


For balance I’ll do another one for a positive behaviour. This time I’m going to look at my goal of jogging 5km four times a week.


Gains to self: I would continue to lose weight. My fitness would improve. My skin would be clearer.

Gains to others: Some of the people I care about like to jog. So we could spend more quality time together.

Losses to self: I would lose about 2 hours a week in free time which I could spend doing other things.

Losses to others: Some people that I care about do not like to jog and so I could have reduced availability to spend time with them.

Self-approval: I would be proud of myself for sticking to my plan and doing something difficult.

Self-disapproval: I would be unhappy with myself if the people I care about who don’t like to jog got very little time with me due to my jogging.

Approval of others: Everyone who I care about would be proud that I have stuck to my plan, even those who don’t like to jog.

Disapproval of others: I cannot think of anybody who I care about being disapproving of my decision to jog.


Once you’ve completed your tables, have a look through them. This will allow you to make the wise choice.

Let’s take a look at the first decision balance. We can see that my only advantages to eating processed foods are that I get short term pleasure. But the disadvantages are my own feeling of shame, as well as the disapproval and worrying of those that I care about. I would have a very short amount of extra time to spend doing other things in the short term, but vastly less in the long term (Because I’d die earlier… Sorry to be depressing). My mood would also suffer. So my choice here seems clear. Drop the processed foods.

The second is still leaning heavily towards doing the positive behaviour of jogging. But its slightly less clear cut. There is nothing but benefits to me, apart from a very small loss of free time each week. However, although some people I care about would see more of me, other would get less of my time.

But in this case the majority of the choices seem to be towards doing the jogging. So I could employ coping strategies (Like my apps Facebook page to see my article on coping strategies next week) to allot time for them each week. Boom! Problem solved. For example, the jogging only takes up 30 minutes of my time a few days each week. So if I dedicate an hour to relax with my whole family after each jog then everybody gets what they want.

You may look at your balance and decide that the ‘wrong’ choice is the choice that actually has the most benefit to you and your significant others. And that’s fine! That’s the whole point of this exercise. To find what’s the right choice for you.

Although for these types of lifestyle changes the poor choice rarely comes out as the one to go for. If it does though then look at other options. For instance, instead of jogging I could look at doing workout DVDs. This would allow people who don’t want to jog to still spend time with me as they could be in the room (probably laughing at my attempts to move with rhythm).

Finally, don’t forget this is a really powerful technique to use in any life choice. Maybe your trying to decide whether to move job. Or if you should pay for an extension or a new car. Or if you’re happy in your relationship (I hope you are =] life’s too short!). If there is any decision in life that you are not 100% on, then just apply the technique. It will provide clarity.

So there we go. That’s your guide on how to use decisional balancing to help modify your behaviour and make choices. I’ve applied this with my personal training clients for years and it has been massively successful. I’ll be doing the same with my clients that use the Body Vision app. As its techniques like these that allow you to learn how to make the correct choices that will get you to your goals.

I hope it’s been useful. If it has then I’d advise jumping onto my Facebook page and pressing the like button. That way you can be at the front of the que for all my future articles. I write about 3 a week so there will be plenty to get your head around.

I alos do videos every single day. You can get all of them, plus the new ones as they are released, by subscribing to my Body Vision Youtube channel.

As always. I hope your having a great day. And Ill see you next time.

Simon =]