Everyone I counsel has one goal in common: health. Beyond that the details vary a little, but for the most part, almost everyone wants to lose weight.
The goal seems simple on the surface: be healthy, lose weight (the goal), and it’s all good, right? In other words just follow the plan, whatever plan that is, and your success can be measured on the scale.
Not so fast! There’s one not-so-little detail to consider. Temporarily following a diet without actually changing the long-time habits that have driven eating in the past is bound to be a short-term venture.
Behavioral habits that lead to extra pounds are controlled by habits of thinking. Thoughts like “Oh, just one more won’t matter. They are so tasty, and I won’t be eating these again anytime soon, if ever!” Or maybe “I’m up 2 pounds today and I was PERFECT yesterday! I give up.”
There are endless habitual thoughts that play out like a well-worn tape, and the results we see in our behavior are predictable. Outwardly it may seem like you just lost control and someone else – an alien perhaps? – is driving your choices.
Binges often follow negative or unsupportive thoughts – maybe after taking a bite of the cookie you told yourself you would never eat again? If automatic thoughts were more neutral or positive, the binge would be much less likely. Positive thoughts create more desirable actions. Allowing thoughts to run wild without any awareness of them is simply not a good plan!
Changing habits of thinking is hard – really hard – but also really important. Because so many thoughts are unconscious, and because thoughts affect feelings, it is easy to feel bad without knowing why. When we notice the thoughts, it is possible to see how the feelings developed. Then there is an opportunity to really change – from the root of the feeling – the thought.
As it turns out, we are better off when we just observe thoughts without judging the fact that we are thinking them. We can then use a very useful tool – the brain – to work with us toward finding solutions to problems. The brain is not very creative when it is judging. It is too busy sending uncomfortable emotional messages that affect feelings.
With practice, different kinds of thoughts become more automatic. New habits of thinking can develop – how exciting! That means that healthier habits will play out in actions too, and the body will become healthier overall.
So let’s return to how we measure success. Even when weight loss is the goal, the scale does not have to be the main focus. The number is not entirely within our control day to day – too many opportunities for false conclusions and feelings of failure. It is true that regular weighing is one of the habits associated with people who keep weight off, but I would bet they don’t take the daily variations too seriously.
Drawing attention, without judgment, to thought patterns that drive actions gets to the root of the problem. The scale will take care of itself without a need to fixate on it. This may sound like a subtle difference in focus, but it is really the key to maintaining weight loss.
A long-time dieter I know has been working on this. She is still getting used to viewing progress with her thinking. Her comments illustrate how shaky it feels to change over to a new way of evaluating progress, but the progress is obvious upon a closer look (my comments in bold).
The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating. (Awareness of hunger – great! And not giving up – essential!)
Work has been stressful but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it. It was making me sick . . . . (Yes, other areas of life affect eating – good to realize that.)
I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this. (At least she is trying to understand.)
I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up. (Hooray!!)
Being able to see these glimmers of positive change are so important to moving forward. It would be easy – frankly easier for someone used to thinking negatively – to throw in the towel. That’s the old way of life that lines up with the old habit of thinking. Here is what would have stood out:
The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling
but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating.
Work has been stressful
but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it.It was making me sick . . . .
I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this.
I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up.
It is likely she would have at least temporarily given up.
Picture yourself with a new pair of glasses – perhaps rose-colored ones that notice more positive thoughts developing. Noticing them and giving yourself credit for that important progress is the first step toward long-lasting healthier eating habits.