Maintaining a Positive Attitude While Losing Weight
Sometimes we embrace a challenge with enthusiasm. Other times, embarking on a task feels like scaling a 30-foot brick wall, with negative thoughts running through our mind constantly. Changing those little thoughts can be the key to changing your whole life.
Changing Behavior: Easier Said Than Done
Most of us have a list of things we could do to become healthier; maybe it’s boosting fruit and vegetable intake, exercising, or starting a meditation practice. We know that making the change will probably make us look and feel better, and possibly live longer. So, why is it so hard to do?
It is hard because change is a complex process. Change is more than knowing what is good for you. Attitude is a critical component. The research on how people with a better attitude do at losing weight is compelling. A 1996 University of Maryland study that compared “believers” (those who thought they could lose weight), to “disbelievers” (those who did not believe they could follow a healthy program). After nine months, believers lost 30% more weight than those who lacked faith in themselves.
How Negative Thoughts Affect Health
How do negative thoughts impact health? The answer lies in biology. Your body responds to thoughts or signals that warn of danger with the “fight or flight” response. Your digestion slows, pupils dilate, heart rate increases, all to prepare for the upcoming battle or escape. “Fight or flight” kicks in whether the danger is real, potential or imagined.
Negative body image is a good example. If you are deeply dissatisfied with your body, there may be times when negative thoughts take over. The dissatisfaction reaches beyond the rational desire to lose a few pounds, lodging into a deeper dislike of yourself. When these negative thoughts escalate, your “flight or fight” response is triggered. Once the immediate alarm passes, your hormones orchestrate physical and psychological coping. One common response is a signal to eat, which can exacerbate negative feelings.
The Mind has a Mind of its Own: Developing a Positive Outlook
Negative automatic thoughts are powerful, and can stand in the way of living a full and healthy life, let alone losing weight. Increasing your awareness to thought patterns, and considering a new mindset can foster a more optimistic approach to healthy living.
Everyone has attitudes and beliefs that color our life experience, and trigger automatic thoughts. Do any of these negative automatic thoughts sound familiar?
- People will love me if I’m thin.
- I need to be perfect.
- Better to avoid than to face life’s difficulties.
- Some people are just happy, some are just miserable, no matter what they do.
- I feel inadequate therefore I am inadequate.
Automatic thoughts can be stubborn. They develop over the course of your lifetime, and are the result of your upbringing and your deepest held beliefs. By first noticing your automatic thoughts, you can begin to consider a different, more positive approach.
Begin to identify your own “mental blocks,” and try a “reality blast” instead.
Your Emotional Survival Kit
Positive attitude tools:
- Change your mindset. “I should/need to lose weight vs. I want to lose weight.”
- Make a list of non-food rewards. Reward yourself with a walk around the neighborhood while listening to your favorite music, or plan a lunch date with a friend. My client Patty T. schedules a massage when she has stuck to her exercise routine for one month.
- Practice positive self-talk. Take the exercise in identifying negative thoughts one step further, and give yourself a compliment every day. Client Amy R. says she has learned to encourage herself instead of beat herself up. When she walks out the door after every workout, she tells herself how strong and capable she is.
- Get moving. Study after study shows that being physically active lifts mood, fights depression, and relieves anxiety and stress. Client Mike W. says, “When I do my workouts I feel much more upbeat and happy”.
- Learn more about diet and nutrition. “For me knowledge was the key to my attitude change. I learned about portion control and serving sizes; I learned about calories and fiber; and I learned how important breakfast was.” Says client Jill W.
- Set realistic weight loss goals. The science shows that people who lose weight slowly, no more than one pound each week, are the most successful at permanent weight loss.
- Take setbacks as learning opportunities. “A different element of my approach this time was not beating myself up if I ate something I “shouldn’t,” says client Laurie B. “I absolutely refused to allow that inner voice (that we all have) to berate me for eating a cookie. What I learned was that the world won’t end if I eat a cookie and keeping a sense of perspective is a much more effective way to take care of yourself than focusing on the minutia.”
- Find connection, support and guidance. “I joined the local YMCA gym with real trepidation,” says client Jennifer C. “I found that there are young, middle aged and older members. We all give each other loads of support and tips on healthy eating and training. The gym is now part of my social life as well as getting me fit and healthy.”
- Notice all the changes. ClientCaroline B. says, “In past skiing years, have never had so much stamina as I do now. I never want to go back to feeling like skiing is hard!”
Making the commitment, then doing the work to follow a healthy lifestyle is a challenge for anyone. But, by exploring your unique mental stressors, and making a plan that bolsters your attitude, you can develop a lifestyle that is a joy and not a sacrifice, and one that will sustain you for life. Repeat this phrase: Yes I can.