When clients ask me for help with weight loss my goal is to help them find healthy, sustainable changes that work in their life. There is no cookie-cutter approach despite what producers of weight loss products or promoters of fad diets would have you believe.
I have spent a number of the Wildly Better chats focused on what to eat for optimal health (and I coach people with that too). But, here’s the thing...many people know what to eat (and there are lots of healthy diets) but what is getting in their way is their thoughts about themselves, their thoughts about food, and their beliefs about what they can (or cannot) do.
The challenges with weight often lie more in how we use food in our life. Specifically, many people are using food not as fuel but for pleasure and to manage their emotions.
Too many people jump into fad diets, obsessed with results (number on the scale), thinking this will solve their challenges. People want a quick fix and lose sight of what is sustainable or healthy. I like to work with people on not just knowing what to eat, but on developing a healthy mindset so that they can experience long-term, sustainable healthy weight.
What is our mindset? What does this mean?
Our mindset is the set of beliefs that we have that guide how we handle certain situations. Our mindset orients our reactions and tendencies. The term was popularized by a Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, author of the book, MINDSET. In her book, she speaks of fixed mindset vs. growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is a mindset focused on our abilities being innate, it will inhibit progress.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is a mindset based on us being able to improve and learn through failing. This type of mindset allows us to focus on making discoveries about ourselves and problem-solving. We believe we can learn new skills.
This applies to developing the right mindset for a healthy weight loss plan! Here are some of the key things I work with clients on as they shift the mindset around weight loss.
1) Know your vision, your why, and what you value.
There is a great quote from Marie Forleo, “Wishy washy goals get wishy washy results”. This holds true for your weight goals. Be as detailed as possible, know exactly what you are working towards --how you want to look, feel, move. You want this vision so vivid in your mind that when things feel tough you have this vision as a go-to.
And is that vision really an exact number on the scale? What I find more commonly in my patients and clients is they want to feel better, have more energy, feel healthy, move more easily.You need to define that. For example, recently a client who came to me for weight loss mentioned during our discussion that she wanted to lose weight so she would ‘feel better about herself’. Well, these are actually two very different things to work on! We were able to focus on the feeling better about herself -- and weight loss has been a side effect!
2) Understand the story you are telling yourself. How you view yourself predicts your success!
Self-Love / Self-compassion / Self-care are key. Healthy choices are the most beautiful self-care. Healthy choices are not a punishment. If we are constantly beating ourselves up with our thoughts, this does not produce the feelings and actions which result in successful weight loss.
Self -talk is the voice in our head. We don’t know exactly where the tone our inner dialogue comes from but there are theories that the way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice (many of my patients that battle a harsh self critic agree). We use our minds to create the story of our lives with us as the main character. According to one study (in Chatter) - we talk to ourselves at 4000 words / minute (to get an idea of what this looks like - the average presidential state of the union address is 6000 words and lasts over an hour). In other words, our minds are extremely fast talkers and can be our best coach or our worst critic!
If it’s acting as our best coach it plays a crucial role in helping us as we strive for goals! Our inner voice gets involved in making sure we are paying attention to the objective.
We must keep it in check though. There is also a negative inner dialogue that pops up. When our inner voice becomes a critic instead of a coach, we must silence it! Here are some strategies:
What we focus on expands. If you focus on what is wrong, that expands. If you focus on what you want to be, that will grow!
3) Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good!
All or none mentality in diet culture is very common. The focus on perfection leads to yo-yo dieting. It also leads to procrastination with starting a healthier lifestyle (people develop that analysis paralysis - can’t figure out the healthiest way to eat so don’t change anything).
Here’s the truth. There are many healthier ways to eat than the standard american diet. You can eat WFPB, Plant predominant, Mediterranean, Eliminate processed sugar, highly processed foods, fast foods, junk food - and focusing on whole foods is a huge step in the right direction.
I tell clients to create a focus on ‘What are the best decisions I can make today?’ If you are doing well and then are met with a challenge and make a poor choice (this happens with social events, etc.) don’t make it mean something huge! Avoid negative self talk and understand that your lifestyle is still healthy. Balance is a long-term and sustainable goal.
Oftentimes just knowing that it doesn’t have to be 100% is enough to help you have a better mindset and more realistic expectations!
4) Design an environment for success.
Designing an environment for success is critical in making a long term change. What you want to do is make it a routine and a practice that becomes your way of life. This is an Atomic habit. And it’s not as much about setting the right goal, as it is about how you design your environment to support your goal. Don’t rely on motivation or willpower - both of those are inconsistent. That is why your environment is KEY.
This includes who you surround yourself with. Social influences on our weight are huge, studies show this. In fact, our friends have the greatest influence - more so than family
We change our ideas of acceptable body type based on those around us. Knowing this, try the following:
Part of creating an environment for success is also focusing on attainable goals. Losing weight may be the end result but set small sustainable goals focused on health.
People sometimes create big, lofty, sexy goals and then feel that ‘goals don’t work for them’. Take time to really think about goals that will be reachable and add up to a long term sustainable health plan. As you reach smaller, attainable goals -- you will experience positive changes and find it easier to keep going!
5) Anticipate the brain drama and develop a curiosity around it.
Our habits and reflexive actions have very clear and well developed neural pathways. We can use this knowledge to our advantage. If you want the result of weight loss then the key is choosing thoughts that empower this result and anticipating the drama your mind will create.
Often this means drama around committing to a plan or a change, around the number on the scale, and around habits that you’ve used as an emotional eater (emotional eating is a topic which really deserves its own discussion).
Commitment to anything new will cause brain drama. The uncomfortable feelings typically set in soon after we commit. We make these feelings mean something like, ‘this is a terrible idea’ or ‘this program is terrible’. Some people may consider quitting at this point. BUT -- courage to feel these feelings and keep on going builds confidence! If you understand that this is happening because of our neural pathways and that it doesn’t mean we should give up -- you can instead embrace the fact that it’s normal. Breathe through these feelings. You can build new neural pathways that actually set us up for success! Setting goals and then doing them builds confidence and trust in yourself - you start realizing that if you say you are going to do something then you trust yourself to do it - BECAUSE YOU DO HARD THINGS!
Ultimately, for anyone trying to lose weight, acknowledge that the process is much more complex than people give it credit for! Work to develop that growth mindset, focus on the journey and view it as an experiment. Take time to find what works for you. Recognize the endpoint isn’t where we find happiness. Happiness is found in the journey, the challenge, the courage it takes to do hard things.