Michael Mantell by Michael Mantell

Food temptationIn a recent interview I did for ACE's 15 Minutes to Wellness podcast, the wonderful "edutainer" Pamela Peeke, M.D., shared her 3M theory as it relates to weight loss. "It's all about the mind, the mouth and the muscles," she said. "Unless you have the mind straight, you won't be able to engage your mouth and muscles properly." It's how I've boiled down decades of the best of psychology during my nearly 40-year career in the behavioral sciences into one mantra: "The link is what you think."

Perhaps there's no more challenging time of the year to test this out than during the holiday season. Equipped with the best ways to think about your mouth and your muscles, eating and exercising, you'll enter January feeling better than you could ever imagine—guilt-free, healthy, fit and happy. Sound impossible? Maybe that's the first place to begin changing your thinking.

Psychologists, particularly cognitive psychologists, help clients identify three "musts" that are especially hazardous when it comes to improving one's lifestyle. These are:

1. I must be different. (I must be able to eat what I want.)
2. Others must treat me the way I demand. (You must not restrict my eating.)
3. My life must be fair. (It's not fair that I cannot eat this and they can.)

So let's begin by noting three keys:

1. If you change your thoughts you will change your feelings, regardless of how unfairly and unpleasurably the world may be treating you. It's not WHAT happens, but rather what you THINK about what happens that creates upset feelings. Remember, we don't GET upset, we upset ourselves by holding inflexible beliefs. ?
2. Demands and exaggerations are significant obstacles to happiness and well-being. Demanding, insisting and expecting that you can eat everything you want and not gain weight is both inflexible and self-defeating.
3. It's time to get rid of the "musts." Ask yourself for the proof or evidence behind your exaggerated demands. Do you have any shred of evidence that you can't stand your current situation? Do you have even the slightest proof that your circumstance is awful and not merely unfortunate? Do you have one iota of data that your world is actually ending if you can't eat what you want? Where is it written that life MUST be fair and you MUST be able to eat the way others do?

So you are invited to a party, going to your office holiday event, the gym is having a holiday celebration or you are having a family get-together. These events are filled with social, environmental, biological, emotional and mental thought triggers. Overweight thinkers confuse hunger with a desire to eat. They may have a low tolerance for hunger and cravings, or enjoy the feeling of being full and fool themselves about how much they've actually eaten. Of course, these types of thinkers comfort themselves with food, feel helpless and hopeless when they gain weight, and focus on the unfairness of it all.

Replacing these types of thoughts with rational thoughts is the key to gaining control of the mind:

Instead of: Yes, I know I ate a little while ago, but I'm starving.
Say: I'm having a craving but that doesn't mean I MUST eat.

Instead of: That cupcake is calling my name and I MUST eat it.
Say: Cupcakes can't speak.

Instead of: I can't stand the feeling of being hungry, it's awful and horrible.
Say: It's only uncomfortable but I can tolerate it. I may not like it and would prefer to eat but I don't have to, since the feeling will go away.

Instead of: What's the big deal? It's only one extra cookie. It's not fair that I can't eat it.
Say: If I have that cookie, I'm only going to strengthen the habit of giving in and fairness has nothing to do with it.

Here are several more rational responses you can use to replace other irrational thoughts, which will help keep your mouth and muscles operating in a healthy way:

  • I MUST not feel deprived, BUT I'd rather tolerate deprivation and get thinner.
  • I MUST not have to tolerate the unfairness of being hungry, BUT I can tolerate hunger in order to lose weight and get healthier.
  • I MUST not have to eat differently than others, BUT what's the big deal? It's worth it to become healthy.
  • I MUST not have to write down eating plans and SHOULD be able to be spontaneous in my eating like everyone else, BUT I can either NOT write down my eating plan before I go to the party and be spontaneous like everyone else, or I can manage my weight properly—but not both.

So, you have choice: rational thinking and health, OR irrational thinking, illness and unhappiness. It's all up to you.

Looking for more advice? Check out Dr. Mantell's top four tips for changing your mindset about the holiday season.