Losing weight is 100 times easier if you are mentally prepared for it. This may sound elementary, but in my experience most dieters quit their weight loss plan not because they feel hungry or have difficulty with the menus, but because of psychological reasons. Either, they become bored, or dissatisfied with their rate of weight loss, suffer a momentary lapse and become overwhelmed by guilt, or feel too “deprived” to continue. And then, in an attempt to explain their failure, many of them blame their diet plan, their domestic situation, or their congenital inability to lose weight. This process often repeats itself, as a result, some dieters can spend years unsuccessfully trying to lose weight, without ever realizing the true cause of their difficulty. Here are three common psychological problems we encounter when trying to reduce weight, along with some tips for how to overcome them.
Problem 1. Not Knowing How Weight Loss Will Benefit You
Whether we want to lose 20 or 220 pounds, we need to change our eating habits and perhaps several other lifestyle habits as well. Making these changes may not be difficult on Day 1 of Week 1 of our weight loss diet, because our initial enthusiasm usually gives us sufficient motivation. But, typically within 2-3 weeks, our “new” eating pattern starts to interfere with our regular lifestyle and, unless we are prepared for this, our desire to continue dieting will start to fade. Instead of seeing our diet as a passport to a better weight and shape, we see it as an obstacle and a burden. It becomes something we are doing because we “must” rather than because we “want to”. This is the first big emotional problem we encounter when dieting.
To overcome this problem, we need to know exactly why we are trying to lose weight. We need a clear idea of how it will benefit us. Because only if we have a clear benefit to look forward to, will we be able to resist the temptation to revert to our previous bad habits. General benefits from having a leaner, lighter shape aren’t powerful enough. We need a selfish, specific benefit – something we can visualize – that commands our attention. Maybe a beach holiday, a dream outfit to wear for a specific occasion, or a new shape to show off at Thanksgiving. Whatever we choose, it must make noise inside our heads! Remember, the moment we start to feel that we “have to” do something, it becomes the enemy – like paying taxes, or cleaning out the basement – and our motivation flies out the window. In order to achieve lasting weight loss, we need to “want it”.
Problem 2. Trying To Be Perfect
During my 24 years or so as a weight-loss consultant and nutritionist, I’ve met perhaps 10,000 dieters in person, and communicated personally with another 100,000 over the Internet. But so far I haven’t met one single successful dieter who was perfect. On the contrary, most of my successful clients made tons of mistakes. They had bad days, bad weeks – even whole months – during which they went completely off the rails. But none of this stopped them from succeeding in the end. Why not? Because they learned from their mistakes. And let’s not forget: most of our self-knowledge comes from the mistakes we make, not our successes.
Unfortunately, many dieters insist on trying to be perfect. As a result, when they do fall off the wagon (as they always do), they find it impossible to tolerate their “failure”, and become overwhelmed by guilt. So even though their lapse might have been relatively trivial (a weekend binge), they go to pieces. Because, as usual, it’s the guilt that does the real damage, not the bingeing.
The lesson is this. When dieting, don’t waste time trying to be perfect. It only leads to increased guilt and failure. Instead, accept that you are going to make mistakes, and don’t let them distract you when they happen. See them as a learning experience. For example, if you drink too much alcohol when dining out, and massively overeat as a result, don’t wake up the next morning in a fit of depression. Instead, savor your experience, and appreciate that you have made an important discovery: that too much alcohol makes weight loss more difficult. By reacting like this, you will avoid guilt and find it much easier to return to your diet.
Problem 3. Treating Your Diet As Race
Another common problem concerns the speed of weight reduction. Many dieters expect to lose weight very fast, and are psychologically unprepared when their body refuses to behave in this fashion. If a week passes without any weight reduction, they become dispirited and start to lose interest. Unfortunately, like it or not, the human body is designed for survival not “appearance”. Therefore it has no interest in shedding body fat, which it sees as an important source of energy during times of famine. As a result, the maximum amount of fat we can lose in a week is about 3 pounds, while someone who is less than 30 pounds overweight may lose about 1 pound. Anything extra is likely to be a combination of water and muscle weight.
To overcome your impatience and maintain steady weight loss, stop thinking of your diet as a race. Instead, see it as a journey. This reduces anxiety and gives you more “breathing space” to settle into your new eating habits. I explain this in more detail on my wonderful weight loss forum, and most people find it a very beneficial approach. At the same time, avoid jumping on your bathroom scales every day – limit yourself to once a week. Checking your weight more often only encourages you to take a short-term view of things, which is not helpful.
I realize that “steady” weight loss may not sound terribly attractive, but in my experience the slower the weight loss, the longer it stays off. Furthermore, as stated above, if you lose more than 3 pounds a week it won’t be fat – it will be muscle or water. And while losing water is only temporary – and thus pointless – losing muscle will slow your metabolism and increase the risk of future weight gain.
So when you start your next diet journey, just remember: there’s no rush. Set yourself a realistic weight loss goal and let Nature take its course. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and are aiming for 150 pounds, allow yourself 6 months to reach your destination. And if it takes a little longer, so what? I mean, what do you lose?
These three psychological problems account for a huge number of diet failures. Mastering them will definitely enhance your chances of losing weight. So before you embark with all your customary enthusiasm on yet another “new” diet, set aside some time to think through these issues and then watch the pounds disappear!