When you're overweight, losing weight can feel like a challenge, no matter how much you want it. Sometimes it might seem like our minds are working against us, making up excuses and ways to get us off the hook.
How Our Minds Influence Weight Loss
Why is it so hard to stick with a healthy eating or exercise plan? Why do we slip up or go back to our old ways? A lot of it has to do with the habits we've developed over time.
We humans are creatures of habit. We tend to get settled into established, fixed ways of doing or thinking about things. Old habits can be hard to break. Because losing weight can mean changing quite a few habits at once, it can take more than just willpower to stick with a weight-loss plan.
Here's an example of a situation you've probably been in: You're out with friends. Everyone's eating pizza. Before you sat down at the table, you were feeling motivated to stick to your healthy eating plan. You knew your goals, and you planned to have one small slice of pizza and fill up on a healthy salad.
But as your best friend reaches for her third slice of pizza, you suddenly find yourself thinking something like, "I LOVE pizza! All my friends are eating it — and they're thin. It's not fair if I have to eat salad while they eat pizza. Maybe I'll just have that salad tomorrow."
Thoughts like these are powerful, and they quickly replace all your good intentions. Old habits can be strong. In fact, just seeing or hearing the word "pizza" probably gets you thinking about that food!
You can see how easy it is to give in. We've all been there. But after you've had the pizza, the guilt and regret set in. You might feel mad at yourself or self-critical. You may think, "Oh, I should have had the salad. Now I feel stuffed and my jeans feel tight." You might feel discouraged and tell yourself things like, "I can't stick to my plan." Or, "I'll never slim down. This is too hard."
It's like your mind is working against you.
This is where counselors (like psychologists or weight-management social workers) can help. They are trained to understand how people feel, think, act, and relate. Weight-management counselors are there to help us deal with things like cravings or overeating. They can help us develop new habits — and new ways to think — that allow us to change.
Trimming down to a healthier weight involves making changes in eating habits — and in thinking habits. For example, if you're working to lose weight, you may need to:
Deal with cravings, urges to overeat, eating too fast, or mindless snacking.
Create new habits about food choices, portions, or when and where to eat.
Pay more attention when you're eating, so that you're getting full enjoyment and satisfaction from the healthy foods you eat.
Develop new thinking habits that encourage rather than defeat you.
Adjust your routine to fit in exercise time.
So many changes — so many opportunities to talk yourself out of your plan!
Ways Counseling Helps You Stay on Track
Weight-management therapists and counselors can help people bridge the gap between struggling and success. They can:
Help you put knowledge about weight management into practice. You know what you should be doing to manage your weight, but it can be hard to actually do it. Weight-management experts can help you use all the new information you're learning to create a specific plan on what to do, one that's realistic for you.
Help you find and build strong, positive motivation. It's not enough to have a plan. You need to build an inner motivation to put it into practice — to find the tools that let you sweep all the old habits out of your mind and replace them with new, healthy habits.
Help you identify the blocks and obstacles you face. Weight-management counseling can help you recognize the things that make it difficult to stick to your plan and figure out how to work out, or work around, these barriers.
Help you identify emotions that can trigger overeating or emotional eating and deal with them in healthy ways. The emotions surrounding eating can be complicated. Some emotions can act as motivators or barriers. Therapists can help people sort through the bad (like emotions that trigger overeating) and the good (like positive emotions that help motivate you).
Help you identify the pitfalls in thinking that can ruin your plan. When you know which things get in the way of your success (like eating pizza when you're out with friends), you can learn to outsmart them.
Help you learn self-management skills. Some people need to strengthen the skills that make it possible to stay on track and follow through on a plan.
Help you adopt positive eating habits. A therapist can help you work to reset old eating habits so you can succeed with a weight-management plan.
Help you improve body image and self-image. Feeling good about yourself can help you stick to your plan.
Help you work out other problems that may distract you from putting a weight-management plan into action. Life problems (like issues with school) that don't get worked out can suck up time and energy that you need for your weight-management plan.
Everyone's different, so each person's plan for weight management will be tailored to fit him or her. That's another useful thing about working with a psychologist or counselor. These professionals understand your unique needs. They're not trying to fit you into a generic plan. Psychologists and other therapy professionals are great resources to help support you on your way to a healthier you!