September 26, 2012
It's all about mind over fatter. Forgive me for using the "F" word, but I couldn't resist. After all, the mind is the central tool to healthy, sustainable weight loss. Everything else follows. Weight loss begins, and ends, in the mind.
With the proper mindset, nearly any weight-loss program can be effective. Unfortunately, the unifying trait of the more than 65 percent of dieters who regain weight within the first year and the 85 percent of dieters who regain weight within three years is an unhealthy, self-sabotaging psychological mindset. That means that most dieters do not know how to think like a thin person, and are instead filled with irrational self-talk that serves as hindrances to effective lifestyle change.
To better understand the psychology of weight loss, we begin naturally with assessing our emotional readiness for change. From those who are most apprehensive to those actually ready and able to make meaningful and lasting lifestyle changes, understanding and recognizing our own self-talk is critical. Our deepest, most heartfelt core values determine the choices we will make, and in unlocking those we’ll be on our way to a healthier, fitter and happier life. Working on the body, a number on a scale or even how one’s jeans fit, before working on the mind, is useless.
Self-monitoring behavior is another essential step in understanding the role psychology plays in weight loss. This begins with keeping at least a three-day food log to help you become more aware of triggers to eating, food choices, portions, package labels and so on. Self-monitoring your thoughts, mood, sleep, general appetite and activity while eating are also essential.
To successfully lose weight and establish healthy motivation and adherence, you must take the time to understand and repair the unhealthy psychological steps that lead from a trigger to inappropriate eating choices:
- Activating event: Seeing a delicious piece of cake on the buffet line
- Belief: "It's only one piece of cake, not a big deal. Besides, I had a tough day and I deserve it," or some other erroneous, inaccurate and unhelpful thought(s)
- Consequence: Feeling guilty and anxiety ridden after eating the cake
Strengthening the "resistance muscle" or the "giving-in muscle" is largely determined by one's thoughts. A healthy weight-loss process principally involves responding to self-sabotaging thoughts with accurate, logical, rational and empowering thoughts. For example:
Sabotaging thoughts: "Being full is good and hunger is bad." "I'm good if I don't eat this and I'm bad if I do." "I'm either completely in control or totally out of control." "Yes, I know I ate a little while ago, but I'm starving." Replace these with, "I'm having a craving, but that doesn't mean I HAVE to eat."
Sabotaging thought: "I can"t stand feeling hungry, it's awful." Replace this with, "It's only uncomfortable but I can tolerate it…it'll go away."
The ultimate cognitive distortion that prevents weight loss is, "I demand that I should be able to eat what and when I want."
Psychologically correct weight loss requires thinking like a person of healthy weight, which leads to making healthier lifestyle choices. This involves learning how to:
- distinguish between hunger and a desire to eat
- develop the ability to tolerate hunger and cravings
- feel satisfied with not being completely full
- have a proper monitor on how much one eats
- have methods other than eating to feel calm
- be confident in the face of a lapse
- not be troubled over the fairness of restricting what and how much they eat
- be comfortable using appropriate lifestyle change habits and healthy thinking for the rest of their lives.
Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the greatest.com 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”