Tag Archives: behavior change

Can you notice deeper changes?

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 stressfulbut 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.

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Is holiday time a bad time to start making lifestyle changes?

What do you think? I hear a lot of people making statements like “I know the holidays are a bad time to start anything . . . .”, “I might as well wait until January . . . .” . . . . . etc., etc. Is this a bad time to try making any changes at all?

If you are one of the many who wait . . . and wait . . . and WAIT for the perfect time to start making changes, I have a different point of view on the subject. I think any time, any day, is a perfect time – THE perfect time to start if that moment is now. Why? Because this very moment is the only one any of us has to make changes.

This is your moment to do something different, whether it is July, or September, or Thanksgiving Day. Keep putting it off, and the postponement becomes part of the plan. “I will start (again) tomorrow (Monday, in January . . . ).”

The avoidance of looking at change is often rooted in the belief that change needs to be dramatic and sudden. In reality, I believe that lasting changes are built from little adjustments created by changes in thinking. If you believe that this is a horrible time to start, how can positive energy toward new actions arise? Most likely no change will happen, and your usual holiday lifestyle will be sustained through your thinking.

What if you adopted a new belief this year, one that did not assume that change has to shake up your world? What if that belief allowed you to gently ease toward a more healthy holiday season – and you could give yourself credit for those little changes?

In the spirit of possibilities, remember that this very moment is the perfect one to start. Planning for minor improvements is a real opportunity for a healthy dose of comfort and joy!

Remember . . . It gets easier.

I went for a run this morning, my usual 3 miler.  I have been enjoying this lately, as long as I keep the distance short and the frequency low (about once a week).  It feels like a celebration of my no-longer-strained hamstring muscle.

This morning, however, I just wasn’t feeling the good “mojo” as I headed out.  I was just dragging a little.  After a few blocks, I overheard myself (the automatic voice):  “This is HARD!  If it’s this hard already, it will only get worse as you keep going.  You think you are tired NOW . . .  may as well just walk . . . or go home and drink coffee while you read e-mails.”

Not to sound TOO psychotic, but there actually was a response to this nonsense.  Call it a conversation between my internal devil and angel, or maybe my powerful self vs. her wimpy sister.

In the end, the wimp was no match for POWERFUL ME.  “This is b.s., you wimp!   It has been a while since you felt like this, and remember what happened last time?  . . . Yep, you noticed that it actually got easier, not harder, as you kept going.  Remember how you got into a rhythm of steady breathing and it seemed easier, almost like the way a car glides once it revs up to speed and steadies out?”

What a great reminder this was for me today!  “Getting up to speed” is even a phrase we use to describe the labor intensive, harder segment of a learning curve.  It applies to anything new.

Changing eating habits is very hard at first for many people.  Why?  Because it is new.  It takes some time to get into a rhythm that feels more effortless.  In the meantime, it can feel very deliberate and . . . well, HARD.  This does not necessarily mean that the plan is bad.   It may just be new.

When running was new for me, I did not realize that starting with slightly low energy did not always mean it would be a low energy run from start to finish.  Time and experience have shown me that this is almost never the case.  Putting my focus on rhythmic breathing has almost always made it seem easier, but it always takes a few minutes to find that feeling.

After years of running, I now have the experience to let me remember that.  It is what helps me to tune out the “wimp” and hear the wisdom of what I have learned.

The equivalent of rhythmic running is consistent eating habits.  With time and experience, confidence grows when there is a “groove” that feels right.  Being in the groove of healthy eating just feels like settling in and being more comfortable . . . struggling less.  Up and down eating patterns are the equivalent of unsteady gasps of air.  Eating too little is like holding your breath, while overeating is like gasping to get enough air (after holding your breath!).  Breath holding (not eating enough) creates the gasps (overeating).

It all comes back to being open to learning – not assuming that we know what will happen.  Staying present enough to know what it enough – air, food, . . . – helps to find the right rhythm.

Maintaining Weight May Help You Lose It

It is really hard to make lifestyle changes!  True behavior changes do not happen at light speed.  The reality is that most people change at a snail’s pace, and the process of moving forward is regularly interrupted by little “side trips” or even backtracking adventures.

I also see people reach a weight goal, and then the mystery becomes, “How the heck do I maintain?!”  Without learning this crucial skill, re-gaining is inevitable.

A recent study looked at the weight loss journey in an out-of-the-box way, and I believe it makes a lot of sense behaviorally.  Why not practice a few healthy habits while maintaining (without the pressure of losing weight), get the hang of that, and then make small changes to create weight loss?

The study looked at 267 mostly obese women.  Half were told to maintain their weight for 8 weeks while they worked on learning skills toward a healthier lifestyle.  Then they followed a 20 week weight loss plan.  The other group just followed the weight loss plan.  Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, but the group that practiced maintaining kept twice as much weight off.

You may ask, “Why would I want to learn to maintain?  I do that all too well.  I have that mastered.”  Well, if you truly do have that mastered – in other works, you are fairly consistent with your habits, without big highs and lows of food and/or exercise, and your weight does not vary much – then you probably don’t need to learn it.  You already have a sense of cause and effect.  You know that if you change that established pattern significantly, you will change your body.  You know that your weight will go up and down a couple of pounds as part of normal life.
Great!  You are in a good position to make well planned changes to your lifestyle that are realistic.  You will have some degree of logic about the process – what you must do and what you will get if you follow through.

But what if you are like so many people who deprive and binge cyclically, or work out like a madman/madwoman and then quit altogether?  In that case, there is little logic.  You may be maintaining over time, but it feels chaotic.  Habits are not stabilized, so weight will yo-yo up and down, even if average weight does not change much.  That is a very powerless position to begin making changes.  There is chaos in the process, so there will be no logical formula for maintaining weight.

Although it was a short study, it just makes sense.  If change is hard – IT IS – and if it takes a while to make new habits stick – WHICH IT DOES – then this may be a new approach that works for some people.  I would be willing to bet that it will be most effective for individuals who feel most confused about the process in general.  It’s certainly worth a shot if you are frustrated and confused, because it takes a little of the pressure off when there is no urgency to see the scale number go down.

Attitude is Key for Maintaining Weight Loss: Do Ya Think?!

There is no substitute for a positive attitude and confidence!

While leafing through my latest professional journal, I was happy to see research support for what I think is so important – the attitudes and behavior skill-building needed to maintain weight loss.  Let’s not forget how easy it is to lose weight relative to how hard it can be for many people to maintain the loss.  If long-term strategies are viewed as optional (“I’ll figure that out once I lose the weight”),  aggressive short-term efforts usually end in weight regain. Continue reading