Being in the weight loss community, over and over I see people struggling with reaching their weight loss goals but even more so, I see people struggling with unhelpful mindsets about weight loss. Let's be honest here, weight loss is a mental game. It's hard to change your eating and exercise habits. Really hard! And I know that typically I tend to focus more on the behavior side but this month we're going to dig into the mental side and really try to revamp your thinking so that you can keep going and keep seeing or start seeing success!
Little Words- Big Difference
How often do you find yourself saying or thinking "I can't eat that." Or "I should go to the gym." Or "I shouldn't eat dessert?" I know it's something I hear all the time and this kind of thinking is something we're going to change! Because, unless you have an allergy or other medical reason, you CAN eat whatever the hell you want. And shoulds and shouldn'ts? At best, meaningless, and at worst a form of a challenge.
Thinking in can'ts sets you up to feel deprived. I'll talk more later about deprivation, but it's important to remember- we're not punishing ourselves. And we are in control of what we do. It's time to replace "can't" with "not." Try it now! What is something you tell yourself you can't do while losing weight? Maybe "I can't eat a cupcake." Now let's try rephrasing it. "I'm not eating a cupcake today." Which one feels better to you? I know for me, the latter feels more empowering. It is a decision I made, not something being forced on me. I *can* eat that cupcake, but today I am choosing not to. Another helpful phrasing is "I don't." Are you trying a ketogenic diet? "I don't eat (many) carbs." Is so much more powerful that "I can't eat (many) carbs." You still CAN eat them. You are choosing not to.
Those same phrasing choices can be helpful for replacing shoulds and shouldn'ts, too. Be honest, when you hear or think "I should ..." or "I shouldn't ..." what is the next word that comes to mind? Is it "but?" For most of us it is. Rarely does anybody do something simply because they "should." They do it because of the consequence of doing or not doing it. Then adding that subconscious challenge, it's no help at all. And that's really how should and shouldn't can feel- like a challenge to do the opposite. So it's time to bring back those "not" and "don't" phrases and add some "am" and "do" phrases. Which is going to happen, "I should exercise today," or "I am going to exercise today?" I know I'm believing the person saying the latter!
When you start using the more powerful phrases with "I am" and "I'm not" you are putting your foot down. Stating facts. The decision has been made, and that makes the decision easier to stick to. Whether you are saying them in your head to yourself, or out loud to friends and family, the stronger phrasing is going to be harder to argue with. I encourage you to write down any can't, shouldn't, and should phrases you notice yourself thinking and saying and then write down a more effective phrasing. I'd also love to hear some of your examples, and how the changes in word choice makes you feel.
All or Nothing
I think this is one of the most detrimental mindsets people have when it comes to losing weight. We've been sold so many plans and ideas that are all about 100% and many of them are extremely restrictive. Somehow, we think we need to go to extremes and do things 100% to lose weight. But it's just not true! How often do you think that you've ruined everything because of one bad choice? How often has a small slip up led you to thinking you have failed completely? Binge eaters for one have a lot of trouble with this one.
Let's be real here- baby steps are OK! Be forgiving of yourself and have realistic expectations. Are you a binge eater? Don't expect yourself to quit binging cold turkey. It's not going to happen. It's ok for your goal to be binge eating less often and/or smaller amounts at once. If working out hasn't been your thing, you don't need to aim for going to the gym 6 days a week. Even once a week is a great start and you can build up from there, if you want to. If you are used to eating dessert all the time, eating half the portion is still success.
Which brings us to depriving yourself. You absolutely do not have to deprive yourself in order to see progress. In fact, I highly recommend you not do it. Depriving yourself can lead to burn out and binges- even for those of us who did not binge eat before attempting to lose weight. And that's no good! So remember it's OK to have some treats sometimes. It's not bad to do so- in fact, building them into your plan can help you stick to the plan long term. Allow yourself to eat whatever you want at that party, as long as it's not a common thing, it's not a big deal. You do not have to eat 100% healthy to BE healthy or to lose weight. Eating mostly healthy, 80%, is enough.
Focus on Progress
It's OK to give yourself credit! Even for the things you think you "should" be doing. Try not to dwell on slip ups. Focus instead on what you did well. Instead of beating yourself up mentally for missing a day at the gym, give yourself credit for the things you DID do. Maybe you skipped the gym, but you slept a full 8 hours for the first time in weeks. That's important! Or maybe you ate that cupcake, but ate healthy the entire rest of the day. Why focus on the one "unhealthy" food out of how many food choices in the day? Don't! Focus on all the healthy things you ate instead.
When we start focusing on and giving ourselves credit for the things we are doing right, we're more likely to do them more in the future. Recognize your mistakes and how to prevent them in the future IF they are often enough to derail your progress, but don't dwell on them. Dwell on the positives, even if you don't think they are a big deal. Even write them down! It may help you in practicing recognizing your accomplishments. Maybe at the end of the day write down as many things as you can think of that you did right that day, no matter how small! And tell yourself "good job." Chances are you are doing so many more things right than you even realize!
Recognize how far you have come instead of dwelling on how far you have left to go. It's not a race. And remember, even if you've only lost a few pounds and are stuck, losing just a few pounds has real positive effects on your health and well being and that is a WIN. Allow yourself to be proud of where you've made it along every step of the way. Maybe you have stalled out for a few weeks, and need to remind yourself that maintaining is still a win. And it is a win! Any tiny win deserves to be acknowledged.
It's Not Unfair
This will be a much shorter section because it is quite simple. Are you one of those people who gets frustrated at how unfair it is that others can eat whatever they want and not gain weight? Here's something you may find shocking- they can't and they don't. Remember that we don't observe most people's food and exercise choices the majority of the time. What we do see is hardly representative of how they eat on a regular basis. A lot of times when we are around others eating it's special events, times when people are more likely to splurge. What you see people eating at these times and what they typically eat during day to day life aren't likely the same. That super skinny friend that ate a whole large popcorn at the movies may have skipped lunch and may have a smaller dinner to compensate. They may be extremely physically active and burn off extra calories every day. Sure there's the chance they are biologically predisposed to not storing as much fat, but the vast majority of them aren't eating as poorly as you may think they are.
Maybe you are one of the people who has a medical condition that makes fat storage more likely. A thyroid condition, or PCOS, or a medication with weight gain as a side effect. And maybe for you the odds really aren't stacked in your favor. So maybe it's not "fair." But the playing field just may not be quite as uneven as you think.
Confusing Weight With Fat
This is a big one. We're not looking to lose just any weight, right? We're looking to lose FAT. But our weight is made up of so many other things in addition to fat! Water, blood, muscle, organs, waste. All of these things weigh something. None of these are things we want to get rid of (well, other than the waste, which is only temporary.) This is why it is so important to weigh yourself first thing in the morning after using the bathroom- otherwise you've put something into your body and that something isn't weightless.
Many people deal with this by weighing less frequently and avoiding the scale, but research repeatedly shows that people who weigh more often lose the most weight. It's a far better idea to change your mindset about weight versus fat than to ignore the scale entirely. Learn about your body and it's fluctuations. Weigh yourself often. Graph it! The visual of a downward trend helps you see the fluctuations more objectively and can help you realize that they aren't permanent.
Pay close attention to what is going on with your body when your weight is not going down as you'd like- did you not get enough sleep the night before? You just didn't have as much time to clear water and waste from your body. It's not fat, so it doesn't count. Are your muscles sore? They are holding on to water! Still not fat, still doesn't count. Did you eat a particularly salty or starchy meal before bed? Those both will add to your water weight. And water doesn't count- we only care about the fat. So graph that weight, pay attention to the fluctuations so you know when it's NOT fat, and desensitize yourself to them.
This is Not Temporary
This may be one of the harder ones to learn. As much as we hear "it's not a diet it's a lifestyle," That doesn't mean we don't slip into thinking the hard work and restriction will end. "Once I reach my goal weight I won't have to worry anymore." Unfortunately that's not true, and maintaining weight can take an entirely different plan than losing. You don't want temporary results so don't pick temporary plans. Which brings us back to depriving yourself. Restrictive diets simply aren't sustainable in the long term. And when you burn out from them it just brings feelings of failure and the return of the weight. That's why it's so important to pick a plan where you don't feel deprived. A flexible one that has room for even taking time off when other priorities arise, as long as there's a game plan to get back to what works. Temporary fixes lead to temporary results. You're in it for the long haul. It may feel good to try out some new, popular cleanse or whatever and see some weight drop off quickly, but those temporary results will not last and more importantly that weight is usually the kind that doesn't count (it's not fat!)
Practice Practice Practice
None of this is going to come easily at first. Changing how you think takes practice and patience. Even I get frustrated at times when the weight on the scale goes up even when I know it's not fat. I've had to adjust my goal and my plan for maintenance to allow room for foods I simply refuse to give up or I'd feel too deprived. Nobody is perfect, but we can improve and every baby step to your mindset is a step towards long term loss and maintenance. Keep practicing your new ways of thinking. Have a buddy or a coach that is on board who can listen to you vent when things are going wrong and can help remind you that things are still going in the right direction. Someone who can remind you of some more productive ways of thinking. Write down the things you really need help remembering. And as always, be patient with yourself while you change your thoughts. The old ways of thinking have a way of popping up when you least expect it. The best thing you can do is recognize them, correct them, and move forward.
Honestly if you only take one thing away from this it is to be patient with yourself and keep moving forward. As long as you can do that, you will be successful!!