YOUR WEIGHT…..IS IT ALL IN YOUR HEAD??

 

 

A team of trainers and an empty calendar? 

A bag of baby carrots and the resolve of a living statue?  Good genes?  ……….Nope!!

 

The latest research says that the key to last weight loss is all in your head.  Here‘s how to unlock the slimmer, healthier you.

 

You know what to do to lose weight.  Eat a little less, move a little more, and figure out what works for your body.   But all the science in the world won’t help you lose weight if your head isn’t in the game.  It’s not enough to know what to do; the secret is to understand how to make you do it.  What desires are driving your weight-loss efforts?  How can you tweak your daily routine to make new, healthier habits feel easy?  Experts have discovered that shifting your mindset can give you an edge.  Dieting books focus almost exclusively on what and what not to eat, with the assumption that this is just a mechanical process.  That’s why people fail at diets.  They forget to account for moments of boredom, weakness, or sadness, or for any other perfectly normal situation that could get in the way.  Lifestyle shifts like joining a gym or stocking the fridge with fresh produce are good, but to really move the needle on the scale, you need to delve deeper.  Take a hard look at your past weight-loss attempts.  Think about what got in your way, and then find solutions to those issues now.  If you never went to the gym because it was too far away, consider taking brisk walks.  If you regained weight after a strict regimen of lettuce and nutrient shakes because you didn’t know what to eat once the diet was over, you’ll need a more livable plan from the start. And if you don’t want to be known as the ‘heavy sister’ anymore, reframe the goal so it speaks to the positive things you want for yourself.  It’s more enjoyable to run towards something wonderful than to run away from something awful.  

That’s all easier said than done.  To help, here are a few common pit-falls.  See which ones ring familiar, and learn to sidestep them once and for all!

If losing weight is an abstract goal, identify your specific reason for wanting to drop pounds.  It’s no news flash that maintaining a healthy weight is good for you.  Even a small loss can improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.  And a large, sustained weight loss can boost energy, mood, and self-confidence.  The trick is closing the gap between the knowledge and the plan, especially when there are French fries between the two.  To find your motivation, create a list of reasons why you want to lose the weight.  The more specific, the better.  Rather than saying, “I want to be healthy,” say, “I want to lose weight so I don’t have a heart attack like my sister.”  It’s a bit more salient.  This can help motivate you now and a few pounds down the line, when you lose steam.    Refresh your memory about why this is so important to you.  Seeing the reasons on paper is helpful.  Not a list maker?  Create a visual cue.  Post the “before” picture of yourself in a bathing suit or at a family gathering and look at it when you tempted to stay in for another Netflix marathon instead of heading to the gym.  If you reason is more internal (“I want to have energy for my kids.”) than external (“I want to fit into my old jeans again.”), you can still find ways to make it visual: a photo of your children running and playing, or of the ride they want you to take them on at Six Flags. 

If you swear off your favorite foods until you can’t resist, adopt a diet plan that includes your cravings.  If you ban doughnuts forever, eventually everything starts to look (and maybe even smell) like a doughnut.    This is one of the problems with dieting.  It frequently presents as an all-or-nothing mentality, but deprivation can set you up for a binge.  The moment your resolve is weakened, you’ll reach for the entire box of doughnuts.  So instead of never eating your favorite food again, think of it as dessert (even if it’s barbecued potato chips).  Follow these rules for dessert: Eat is only after a meal, when you’re already pretty full.  Eat a small portion, on a plate.  Don’t’ sneak it.  And enjoy it: eat it slowly and prolong the pleasure.  Beyond the happiness that comes with keeping these treats in your life, having a sense of agency over what you eat can actually help you eat less.  Knowing you could eat that cookie if you wanted to, you’re more likely to weigh the pros and cons, and maybe decide it’s not worth it.  When you don’t feel like somebody else is restricting you, you tend to make better decisions.

If you find yourself eating without even realizing it, set up your environment to make it easier to follow your plan.   The average person makes about 200 food-related decisions a day.  Because we’re unaware of many of these decisions, the environment can push us to eat more.  Faced with sugary cereal or bran flakes, you might choose the sugary cereal.  So change your environment to help you eat better.  One strategy is to straighten up your kitchen.   People in cluttered surroundings (dirty dishes, mail piles) eat many more snacks than those in a clean environment.  Out-of-control environments lead to out-of-control eating.  Clutter also raises stress levels, and that can lead to overeating.  Another idea: hide junk food.  People who keep fruit on their counters weigh 13 pounds less than their snack-displaying peers. 

If you snack when you’re bored (or stressed, or lonely), eat only when you’re actually hungry.  We eat for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with being hungry.  Weight loss comes easier when you understand your motivation.  Start by spending a week or two writing down everything you eat and how you were feeling when you ate it.  Pay special attention to the evening hours, which are particularly difficult for many people.  They think they’ve been ‘good all day’, so they allow themselves to indulge.  Or the gym workout that burned 800 calories makes them feel like they’re allowed to overeat.  Or someone may have had a stressful day and comes home to take comfort in food.  Then there is the classic mindless eating in front of the TV.  Next time you find yourself absent-mindedly poking around the kitchen for a snack, stop and ask whether your body really needs food.  If it happens often, tack a sticky note on the fridge that says, “Why am I doing this?” or “Am I hungry?” to the cupboard door or the fridge to stop you in your tracks.  Or ask yourself, “Am I so hungry that I would eat steamed broccoli?”  Emotional hunger is usually for something specific, such as a carbohydrate or a sweet.  When you’re physiologically hungry you’ll eat anything!  Maybe you’ve identified that you’re not feeling physical hunger.  In that case, come up with a list of three to five substitute behaviors for eating (brainstorm them now, when you aren’t hankering for a cookie).  Find alternatives that will remove you from the situation, distract you, and hopefully make you feel good or productive.  Call a friend, take a walk, do a load of laundry or work on a project with your child.

If you start out with great intentions, but in the moment, really want that cupcake…free yourself from the idea of willpower.  Willpower is an unreliable tool.  It’s a finite resource.  And that means you run out of it as the day progresses.   It’s easier to say yes to exercise or no to a hunk of cheese when you’re well-rested than after you’ve turned down dozens of temptations all day.  You don’t need willpower; you need a new thinking pattern that you can put on autopilot.  Cognitive behavioral therapy suggests that we can train our brains to make better decisions.  When it comes to weight loss, there is a thought between, “I’m tired.” and “Give me pizza.”  It’s the self-sabotage rationale.  You’re too tired to cook, or everyone else is eating pizza, why can’t I?  The key is to catch that thought and replace it.  In-the-moment decisions are hard, so plan in advance.  So right now, before you find yourself facing mushroom and pepperoni deliciousness, ask yourself what you were thinking the last time you ate something you later regretted.  What would you like to tell yourself before it happens again?  Maybe it’s that the extra slice will make you feel sick or you’re so close to your goals, and you don’t really like mushrooms, so it’s not worth it.  Then write down your reasons on paper or in your phone and read them daily.   It’s about building a skill, not about some magical ‘power’ you either have or you don’t.

If you stick to your diet, except when you’re out with friends, strategize before you leave the house.  You don’t have to cancel all social events to see progress on the scale; you just need to plan ahead.  Take the thinking out of the equation to make it easy for yourself when you’re in these situations.  Look at menus and decide what to order before you get to the restaurant, since by then, you’ll be hungry and possibly influenced by what others are ordering.  Placing your order first can help too.  You’ll be less likely to cave when your friend orders a bacon double cheeseburger.  Limit yourself to two ‘extras’ (like a beverage or side) over the course of the meal.  This way, you’re not depriving yourself, you’re making choices. 

If you’re prone to post-workout binges, focus on what fitness can do for your body rather than what it will allow you to eat later.  You might assume that a gym session gives you a free eating pass for the rest of the day.   For some, even thinking about exercise prompts more snacks!  But here’s a reality check: the average 155-pound person will burn about 300 calories during a 45 minutes of running, and a post-gym milkshake cancels that out fast.  Weight loss, after all, is about creating a calorie deficit.  Want one way to rewire your brain out of expecting a post-sweat binge?  Reframe your workout as a break.  When you think of your exercise as a scenic walk or a personal break, you won’t be so focused on food after.   Thinking of it as a positive indulgence makes you less likely to compensate by eating more later. 

If you abandon your diet as soon as you mess up, determine feel-good milestones that aren’t about the number on the scale.  A lot of factors go into weight: medication, hormones, genetics, and water retention, to name a few.  At times, despite your best intentions, the scale might not budge (and it might even go up a pound or 2!).  Don’t let it make you crazy, or make you quit trying.   Have goals that aren’t purely weight-related.  Perhaps you want to feel confident in a sleeveless top or do all the ‘push yourself’ variations in a kick-boxing class.  Ultimately, if you’re staying on track with eating and fitness, your weight will follow.  Accept, too, that sometimes you might eat out of your lane.  Stop beating yourself up about it.   Think of it as simply one of the 200 decisions you’ve made today, then move on.  Keep a list of small victories, like choosing the apple over the chips.   People focus on the one thing they did wrong this week and forget the 80 things they did well.  But it’s those 80 positive things that really make the difference over time!

Laura Schocker