The Psychology of Losing Weight
The perspective that we have regarding any situation we may find ourselves in determines how we feel about it. For example, let’s say you are standing beside your pool in early March, trying to muster up the courage to jump in. The water is freezing, but you want to try a polar plunge. Now, let’s think of 2 scenarios. In scenario one, your spouse sneaks up behind you and pushes you in. In the other, you finally get the courage to jump in by yourself. In both scenarios, the same physical act happened. You went into a cold-ass pool. Your experience of each, however, may be completely different. In scenario one, you may be angry or even feel betrayed that you went in against your will. In the other, you may be exhilarated and even proud of yourself for doing something difficult.
The perspective we have regarding self-change is no different. Whether it is quitting smoking, eating healthier, or starting an exercise program, our perspective of the process is the most important. Any change that we embark upon has to be approached psychologically first to guarantee success. Motivation is fleeting, so instead, we have to develop a system that works individually. We have to find the triggers and habits surrounding why and when we eat. This strategy will be different for each person. In this article, I will outline different strategies that can be employed when losing weight.
Losing Weight should not be Miserable
I’ll always refer back to my Master Rule when losing weight. You have to consistently eat in a caloric deficit to lose weight over time. This is easier said than done, of course, which is the point of this article. If it was as easy as telling somebody to eat less and they would lose weight, we would all be a healthy weight. Clearly, knowing how to lose weight is not the problem. It is the mindset and habits we create that keep us from attaining our goals. If you are interested in learning how to lose weight through a caloric deficit correctly, head over to my article The Only “Diet” YOU will EVER Need.
Weight loss has to feel effortless to be done sustainably to reach your goals. If you constantly feel like you are torturing yourself or are miserable, you will not last very long. Do not try to lose too much weight too fast. This will lead to burnout quickly. Instead, shoot for no more than a 500 calorie deficit per day. I find this number to be sustainable because you will not feel starving all the time. You also have to find foods that you genuinely enjoy eating. There is no way I will be able to eat food that I find gross for very long. This is a good way to self-sabotage. Start with some healthy whole foods that you enjoy.
Reframe your Perspective on Losing Weight
You also have to reframe the perspective on why you are actually losing weight. My clients that have the best success long term focus on health over vanity. We never look as good as we think we should, and this can kill motivation. At first, when you start a diet, the weight comes flying off. After a few weeks, however, it slows, and the process can become discouraging. This is often when people quit because it’s too hard. Don’t let this happen to you. Reframe your perspective around losing weight to one of health and function. Do you want to play with your grandchildren, go for walks, or even play tennis when you’re older? You won’t be able to participate in those activities if you’re 50+ pounds overweight.
The feeling of deprivation or melancholy surrounding losing weight should also be avoided. Please take a moment, identify any negative feelings you have about the process, and reframe them to positive ones. If you subconsciously feel good about what you are doing, it will be easier to sustain in the long run. Losing weight should also be about yourself and nobody else. Comparison is the thief of joy. Your journey is yours alone, and everyone’s progress will differ. Comparing yourself to others can only be negative.
Track, Track, Track. For some, tracking what you eat and then hitting a certain calorie count every day can be fun. You are essentially creating a game out of what you eat every day. This method can be very rewarding and will improve success rates for those that enjoy games. A calorie counting app is essential and must be done religiously, especially at first. Check out these calorie counting apps, one for Android, the other for Apple. Make sure you are 500 calories under those daily needs to lose a pound a week. If you do not know what your daily caloric needs are, you can find out by going to this calculator (BMR + Activity)
Change your Habits to Change your Life
Take a moment to identify what situations trigger an eating or drinking response. Is it watching TV? Maybe when you’re driving you like to snack. Whatever it is, identify the trigger and come up with an alternate response ahead of time. Another alternative is to eliminate the trigger entirely if possible. So for instance, if you know you like to grab a bag of chips when watching TV, either eliminate watching TV or find an alternative low calorie food that you enjoy. In this way you are modifying the response to the trigger. If you do this enough over time you will no longer be triggered to eat the bullshit during said activity.
Lizard Brain vs Thinking brain
There is a constant battle between our subconscious (lizard) and conscious (thinking) mind. Our conscious mind tells us not to eat the cake when losing weight, but our subconscious mind is pinging us with desire every time we walk by it. The only way we win is by our conscious mind overcoming the instinctual desire of our subconscious. As you know, this is often a losing battle. Motivation has a gas tank, and when it runs out, say goodbye to the cake.
Instead of trying to win the battle with discipline, win the war by avoiding the choice completely. My clients have great success with keeping the tempting junk foods out of the house instead of trying to deny themselves dozens of times a day. Get in the habit of sticking to the perimeter when grocery shopping and avoid bringing junk food into your house. In this way, you will be making the right choice ahead of time and not have to rely on discipline at the moment.
Time is Your Friend
Our bodies often fluctuate day to day and even week to week. While losing weight, it is hard to see progress within these short time frames. The motivation to stick with the process of losing weight when results are nonexistent is almost impossible. That’s why I preach reframing the perspective of success to a time frame of months and years. The process of losing weight or gaining muscle, for that matter, is a long one. You cannot undo years of neglect and poor choices in a few weeks or a month. My clients stick to their programs longer when they begin to think about diet and exercise as a lifelong journey instead of something they need to do to look good in a bathing suit.
- Perspective is everything. Find the good in all circumstances.
- You cannot feel like you are depriving yourself when losing weight. Do not eat less than 500 calories per day below maintenance.
- Make a game out of losing weight. Track your calories daily and hit those numbers. Don’t let the app win!!
- Override your lizard brain by not allowing junk food into the house. Discipline has a small gas tank.
- Reframe your weight loss journey from the perspective of months and years instead of days and weeks to stick with it long term.
Please comment and share any weight loss strategies you may have that have been successful.