The Weight Loss Mindset

When people ask me, "how do you lose weight?", I have a simple answer: eat less and exercise more. True, but not very helpful. When people ask me as a psychologist, "how do you lose weight?", I expand on the answer. I explain that you need to change the psychological association you have with your eating and physical activity. A heavier person will be conditioned to associate pain to healthy diet and exercise and pleasure to poor eating habits and laziness. They might say things like, "I hate to exercise", or "I love chocolate". Hence, weight loss becomes a futile exercise in will power, frustration, and eventual failure.


The Weight Loss Mindset

The Pain of Fat


On the other hand, when people make their mental associations with healthy eating and exercising towards more positive, the healthier choices become much easier and the weight comes off. For instance, a person associating pleasure with healthy choices might tell themselves: "I have energy when I eat well" or "exercise makes me thin".


So, to begin improving the psychological associations you have with healthy weight loss choices, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the top left side, put a title that says, "the pleasure/good things I'll enjoy when I _____ (eat better, exercise more, etc.)". On the right side, put a title that says "the pain/problems that will happen if I don't _____ (eat better, exercise more, etc.). Then create an ever growing list of these polar opposites, study them, visualize them, and make them important themes in your life.


Another helpful suggestion: get some hypnosis. It's a quick and powerful way to quickly change how you'll think and feel about your weight loss journey. In sum, make your weight loss associations healthy, positive, and productive and watch the pounds come off.


Peer Pressure to Stay Overweight


There are many potential hurdles to losing weight: hunger, laziness, emotional eating, procrastination, etc. However, an unexpected challenge often comes in the form of unsupportive peers: family, friends, and even coworkers. Even though these are ordinarily the people you’d expect to support you in your weight loss efforts, the opposite is often the case.


So, why would those who are supposed to be closest to us try to sabotage our diets and keep us heavy? Here are several possible reasons:


1) If you successfully lose weight, that might remind them of their own unsuccessful weight loss efforts. In other words, if you succeed and get thinner, it reminds them that they’ve failed and have continued to fail. However, if they can somehow sabotage your efforts to succeed, they won’t have to feel so bad. When it comes to weight loss, “misery loves miserable company”. If everyone feels unsuccessful together, the shared pain doesn’t feel so bad. Sad, but very common.


2) If you lose weight, your peers might suddenly feel like they need to lose weight as well—which they might not feel ready to try (again). Therefore, if they can somehow persuade you off of your diet, it buys them more time before they have to change their own habits.


3) If you became thinner, this would attract more attention, compliments, and acceptance towards you. This, of course, would mean less attention, compliments, and acceptance for them. Hence, some selfishly might try to limit your success because your gain would mean their loss.


4) You changing your diet and exercise habits might interrupt some of your old peer-bonding activities together that your friends don’t want to lose/cut back on. Often, this involves eating out at high calorie restaurants, having parties with fatty snacks, and spending time in more sedentary activities like hanging out and watching TV and movies.


Does all of this mean that your friends and family don’t want the best for you? Well, that depends. The more selfish, jealous, insecure, and superficial they are, the more of they’ll try to sabotage your healthy eating and exercise habits. Conversely, the more service-oriented, gracious, secure, and principles/values-oriented they are, the more that they will support, celebrate, and emulate your efforts.


If you find that your peers are of the more selfish/insecure variety, you may wish to limit your time around them and/or tactfully encourage them to make the same changes you’re making. If they choose to reject you and isolate you because of your weight loss success, you might be better off spending less time around them anyway. Staying overweight should not be a requirement to maintain a relationship. Think about it! You’re not doing either of you any favors. The price of health is sometimes high, but is always worth it. As the saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.


Having An Attractive Attitude


Is getting down to your ideal weight the most important component to looking good? What about muscle tone, a skin tan, and being fashionable and trendy? Although all of these factors can contribute to a person “looking good”, they’re all just a part of the whole attraction package. There is still a large, key factor remaining in the equation.


My simply point is this: as you are losing weight and working on your looks, work on creating a positive attitude as well. The entire package of looks and attitude go far in attracting a potential life partner (and/or to nourish a present one).


I remember talking to a client of mine in my private practice about this issue of attraction and attitude. He said to me: for every unhappy Brazilian supermodel out there, there’s some guy tired of (making love to) her—although he used a much more colorful term. He further explained that “if she’s angry or depressed she becomes instantly unattractive”. Fair enough. He also said that “no man likes an unhappy woman”. I’m sure this is basically true for women’s attraction to men as well. A positive attitude counts.


Here are 5 ideas to cultivate a more positive attitude:


1) Become aware of your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Practice radiating a more positive, endearing countenance as much as possible. Often, acting the part will help you eventually feel and be the part. If nothing else, this will help others want to be around you more.


2) Remember the rule of thumb: do I present myself in such a way that I would want to be around me? If not, change yourself accordingly. It’s like the Golden Rule from the Bible: do unto others (that is, maintain a positive countenance and attitude) as you would have them do unto you.


3) Learn how to think more positively and challenge old, self-defeating beliefs—including letting go of “emotional baggage”. This may be challenging to do by yourself, so you may wish to seek out a qualified and licensed psychotherapist to assist. In addition, you may wish to look into the following self-help cognitive therapy workbook: Mind Over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky.


4) Learn social skills and build up your relationships with others. As you reach out and connect more, your mood and attitude will naturally improve. A suggested book on the subject: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.


5) View happiness and positivity as a choice in your life and a skill you can learn and improve, rather than a personality attribute that some fortunate few are blessed with (and others not).


Finally, remember that improving your attitude takes work just like weight loss, fashion, etc. I leave you with thought by Samuel Goldwyn: “I’m a big believer in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get”.


The Media’s Role in Making Us Fat


Yes, the media has a role in prompting us to eat large portions of high calorie fatty and sugary foods. These include fast-foods, sugary deserts, fatty meats and dairy, processed foods, and other “nutritional offenders”. So, how is the media doing this and why?


The “how” part is simple: the media bombards most of the western world with endless television commercials, magazine ads, billboards and signs, internet ads, and so on. These ads show delicious-looking foods, along with hungry, ecstatic people eating that food. Included with these ads are often catchy statements and slogans of how wonderful it would be for you to eat these foods. Examples: “you deserve ____”, “mmmmmm, ____”, “follow your taste buds”, etc.


The “why” part is also simple: the companies putting out this advertising do so because they want to sell you a lot of their food products and MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. They don’t care about your health and your weight. They are businesses, not health care establishments.


The results of all of this advertising? We consumers make poor food choices and buy larger proportions than needed. The foods we buy are often the ones with the best marketing, rather than those best for our health, our energy, and our waistlines.


Several suggestions to minimize the effects of food advertising:


1) Plan you meals and snacks ahead of time in writing. Make these choices as healthy as possible. Then, resist buying and eating emotionally outside of your plan.


2) When encountering food ads, focus on the fat, sugar, or calorie levels in the food, versus the ecstatic person eating the food.


3) When encountering food ads, restate their positive slogan with something negative. For example, change “you deserve this” to “I don’t deserve to be fat”.


I wish you health and happiness!

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