Weight loss is the number one concern of many of the women who come to see me. They often land in my office frustrated and feeling hopeless after trying everything they can think of to lose unwanted pounds. Their doctors keep telling them it’s all about diet and exercise, but they’ve tried that, and still nothing happens!
While it is true that a healthy, balanced diet and physical activity are key components to any good weight loss regimen, there’s another important factor that is often ignored by health care professionals. Mindset – the way we think about weight loss (and our lives in general) – can either help or hinder our progress.
Right now, the world is filled with uncertainty. We don’t know how long we’ll be asked to stay at home. Many have lost their jobs and may not know how they’ll continue to support their families. Others are still doing their best to work from home, while also supporting their children through the anxiety and confusion of what’s happening in the world.
With all that going on, it may seem like the least likely time to finally lose weight that’s been frustrating them for years. But I see this as a great opportunity to take charge of one of the few things completely within your own control – your health!
To do so, however, you need to be open to shifting your mindset and realizing that you have more power than you think.
Certified nutrition specialist and personal trainer Jay Nixon focused this key piece that’s too often missing in his 2017 book The Overweight Mind. He asserts that only about 20% of weight-loss success is mechanical (what you eat, how often you exercise) and the rest is mental.
I wholeheartedly agree that without addressing the emotional side of weight loss, and the mindset with which you approach your weight loss journey, success is hard to come by.
What Pieces Are You Missing for Losing Weight?
Let’s take a look at some shifts you can make in the way you think about your body, your weight, and your life to help you create long lasting change.
Recognize that you are in charge
Even if you are following a specific weight loss program, you know your own needs better than anyone else. You also know what will work – and what won’t work – for YOU. That’s why I offer information, support, and individualized plans to the women I work with. A generic eating plan won’t take into account your unique circumstances, genetics, and lifestyle. Nor will a “one size fits all” exercise plan.
It’s important that you understand how your circumstances impact your ability to follow through on a weight loss program. If your genetics, for instance, dictate that you (like me) need a low-fat diet and you’re doing a high-fat, low carb program, it’s very unlikely that you will succeed.
Similarly, if you hate to run, but have convinced yourself that’s the only way to stay in shape, you may not do any exercise at all. But remember, you are in control here, so find a form of physical activity that you truly enjoy rather than following someone else’s idea of what works. Anything that gets you moving will have a greater impact than doing no physical activity at all.
Harness your fear
If you let fear guide you, you might end up cowering in a corner unable to change a thing. Fear itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can be a great motivator. But you must think of fear differently in order to push through it.
Think of fear as information to be listened to, not something to be avoided. Try to determine what it is that is making you fearful. Is it fear of failure, and feeling even worse than you do now? Or are you afraid that you’ll finally lose the weight and still nothing will change?
Correctly identifying your fear is essential. You can’t fight against something you don’t recognize! Once you understand where your anxiety is coming from, you can seek the right support. Don’t feel like you need to hide your fears from everyone. Acknowledging what you are afraid of allows you to ask for help.
Don’t buy into the “more exercise is better” mindset
All too often I hear women tell me that they’re exercising constantly and don’t understand why they aren’t losing any weight. But too much exercise can be just as damaging as not getting any at all. If your hormones are imbalanced, working out too vigorously can cause your body to hang onto that extra weight. It’s a survival response!
Instead of spending hours each day exercising, try doing shorter workouts with higher intensity. Burst training is something I recommend to my clients, especially if they’ve been working too hard for too long. With burst training, a twenty-minute workout can be all you need.
Stop thinking of yourself as “broken”
One of the most important things you can do for your health is to stop seeing yourself as damaged or broken. You are worthy right now. You are special exactly as you are. Losing weight won’t add to your value. If your internal conversation is constantly focused on what is wrong with you, it’s hard to acknowledge anything you’re doing right. Give yourself more credit than that!
Flip your internal script
When you see yourself in a negative light, you set yourself up for health problems. Not only can negative self-talk (that voice you hear in your head, telling you that you failed, or you’re not good enough) drive you to the cupboards for comfort in the form of sugar and carbohydrates, but it can actually cause metabolic changes that make losing weight more difficult.
Research has shown that cortisol, which is secreted by your adrenal glands whenever you put yourself down or worry about your weight, can increase fat in the belly region– even in otherwise thin women. Research has also demonstrated that being dissatisfied with their bodies makes women more likely to avoid exercise. And some research has shown that just thinking that you weigh too much can predict future weight gain. So negative thoughts have real power and can lead to exactly the opposite of what you hope to achieve.
But here’s some good news…positive thoughts have power too! A small study in 1991demonstrated a correlation between positive expectations and weight loss. In a 2010 review of literature researchers concluded that positive thinking effects perceptions of stress, which determines coping strategies. This evidence supported the researcher’s conceptual model that positive thinking causes successful health outcomes by increasing the ability to deal with stressors effectively.
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare
Losing weight is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. I’m sure I’m not the first person you’ve heard say that but take some time to stop and think about what that really means. If you wanted to run a marathon, you wouldn’t simply sign up and show up – you’d train hard, for quite a long time. When it comes to weight loss, you need to do the same. Huge goals don’t come to fruition overnight. But you CAN get started right now. Small moves toward a goal will get you where you want to be eventually – and when you take the time to do it right, you’ll STAY there.
Make a list of some small steps you can take – and then choose one. Maybe it’s a walk around the block every night, or a healthy meal instead of fast food. Perhaps you can commit to snacking on fruits and vegetables only at night, instead of reaching for a bag of chips. Maybe you’ll have one glass of wine instead of two. Whatever it is, forget all the rest and focus on the one you choose. When that feels easier, then you can tackle another.
When it comes to weight loss, an all or nothing mindset simply doesn’t work. You are far more likely to succeed in making permanent changes if you change one habit at a time – big or small.
Understand that Fad Diets are NOT the answer
We’ve all heard about some crazy fads that pop up – eat nothing but cabbage soup; eat only grapefruit; drink only a lemon water and cayenne pepper concoction. I could go on and on – people have been coming up with zany ideas for losing weight quickly for decades.
Here’s the biggest problem with fad diets (aside from getting REALLY tired of eating/drinking only one thing). They’re unsustainable and often cause weight GAIN in the long run. Talk about defeating the purpose!
Short term behavior modification won’t result in long term weight loss. If you haven’t changed the habits that caused you to gain weight in the first place, it’s very likely that any pounds you drop will return quickly. That’s why my next point is so important.
Focus on good health and behavior, not numbers or looks
Checking the scale constantly can drive you crazy, especially if the numbers aren’t moving as quickly as you had hoped. And concentrating on how you look rather than how you feel can make things tough too.
If you’re doing a formal weight loss program, weighing in might be part of the plan – but do so ONLY at the suggested time, not several times throughout a day. Remember, the scale only measures that one moment in time. While that number can be a source of information, the way you feel tells you a whole lot more.
The media has lied to women for decades about what is realistic in terms of the way we look. Magazines photoshop pictures of already too thin models, and camera angles are manipulated to make people look their absolute best. Instead of striving for an unattainable “look”, focus on how your health is improving – can you play ball with your children longer without feeling out of breath? Are your aches and pains subsiding?
Behavioral goals are far more important than specific numbers. Remember – we’re all built differently, and an ideal weight for your best friend – even if she’s exactly the same height as you – may not be your ideal weight. When you focus on changing behaviors, you’re focusing on things easily in your own control. Set small goals like skipping the fast food, cooking at home instead of ordering out, passing on dessert, eating only when sitting at the table, or changing your snacking habits.
You should also know that just a 3% change in body weight can make a huge difference to your overall health. That includes improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes control. That’s why small shifts can be so impactful.
Quick shifts you can make to change your mindset and start losing weight
Big shifts in behavior and mindset take time, but there are some things you can do immediately to get yourself started on the right path. Here are 11 things to remind yourself of frequently that might just make a big difference!
- Good health matters more than numbers.
- Small steps can lead to big results – setting mini-goals is essential!
- With patience I can reach my big goals.
- Loving what I eat and how I exercise will keep me on the right path.
- There is no deadline for achieving good health.
- Think of solutions, not excuses.
- I can address stress with deep breathing instead of food.
- Food is fuel, not a reward or punishment.
- When I notice negative thoughts, I can stop them.
- I need to treat myself like I treat my best friend.
- When I meet my goals, I will finally be able to (run with my dog, play with my kids, dance all night, etc.)
Transforming your weight – and your entire life – is absolutely possible, if you’re willing and able to take control and realize you have the power to change within yourself. You have everything you need already – you just may need to learn to trust yourself more.
My weight loss program is different than many because I look at the complete picture – what you eat, how you exercise, and how you think. I am committed to helping you confront and address the emotional side of eating. My program is about empowering you to change your own life – and lose weight while you do so. For a risk-free consultation, call 1-207-846-6163.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD