January 04, 2012
The Psychology of Successful Weight Loss -- Tips for Avoiding the Emotional Pitfalls which Sabotage
The start of the new year is a time for hope and for making resolutions. At the top of the list for many is the desire to lose weight. Unfortunately, significant weight reduction is very difficult. Eating is something you have to do. You can't just give it up completely like cigarettes. Unfortunately, much of the emphasis regarding weight loss, which centers around exercise programs and diets, overlooks an important component - our emotions and attitudes. Today, however, we are going to talk about the psychology of successful weight loss and offer some tips on how to avoid some of the common emotional pitfalls which can sabotage your efforts.
Why Losing Weight is So Hard: The Emotional Pitfalls
In addition to discouragement which is the result of setting unrealistic goals, there are several other psychological factors which make the simple formula of eating less and exercising more so difficult to do. Here are three deadly feelings:
1. Resentment Many folks who try to lose weight have ambivalent feelings about doing so. Although part of us may genuinely want to lose weight, other parts may have reservations. Ignoring these reluctant feelings or trying to force a change can result in anger and resentment which, in turn, winds up in self sabotage and failure.
2. Desperation. For those who stress eat ( and that is a lot of folks) dieting can feel like the most important way of coping has been taken away. Without a substitute for eating, folks can feel desperate and resort to sneaking or binging.
3. Deprivation. When food and eating are seen as a primary source of comfort and employed for stress relief, dieting will be experienced as deprivation. Fortunately, there is another way.
Tips to Avoiding the Emotional Pitfalls
The deadly, sabotaging emotions are caused by distorted or erroneous thinking, namely:
1) You can force major life changes against your will,
2) You can avoid stress by eating and
3) Major change comes from "all or nothing" decisions.
Here are three alternative ways of thinking*:
1. Be Honest With Yourself. Making a change involves dealing with ambivalent and conflicted feelings. Successful weight loss requires that you acknowledge and address conflicted feelings that you have about dieting, e.g. Do you really want to lose weight and are you ready to make the needed changes in your life style ? Meaningful change rarely occurs if it is forced. If you really don't want to lose weight, even though you "should", attempts are unlikely to succeed.
2. Stop Eating when Stressed. Successful weight loss requires redefining the meaning of food and the purpose of eating. Eating (like consuming alcohol) should not be done to reduce stress or comfort oneself. If eating is your primary way of soothing yourself, you'll need to learn more effective ways to handle stress and better ways to cope.
3. Don't Deprive Yourself, Make Deals with yourself. The best way to resolve ambivalent feelings, as well as to address having a sense of deprivation or resentment, is to realize that your sacrifices are worth it, i.e. for every pleasure you forgo, you will receive something more important in return. Deals can turn resentment into gratitude. Rewards for changed behavior need to ongoing through out the process not simply the end result. For example, instead of "giving up" chocolate altogether, you might agree to simply eat smaller portions less frequently. You may not get as much as you'd like, but keeping the deal will mean that you get the reward of fitting into those jeans.
The Rev. Michael Heath prepared these remarks for Bridge Street 1 4 2012
* If these tips don't help and you seem unable to make simple trade-offs with yourself, you may want to consult a therapist to explore why the feelings of resentment, desperation or deprivation are so overpowering.