Get Your Mind Right: The Mentality of Successful Weight Loss
I'm interrupting the never ending stream of "eat this/not that" and "super food" tips for weight loss to talk about an EXTREMELY important, yet often forgotten, aspect of weight loss: your brain. Through my experiences on my own health journey and all that I've learned through the years of working one on one with clients I've seen how significant the mind-body connection is and how rare it is for weight issues to be a result of food alone. Weight loss is a long road and those that succeed are the ones who are able to keep their head in the game the longest. A while back I started to write down habits of my successful clients in the hopes that I could share that insight with you guys! Here's what I've learned about mentality:
1. They Focus on Health First, Not Just Weight Loss
Don't get me wrong - it is perfectly normal and acceptable to have a goal of weight loss. But those that are successful approach their weight loss weight a greater focus on overall health. Instead of just being interested in lbs on the scale, their goal is to cultivate the energetic, balanced, healthy life they've always dreamed of, prevent disease and enable activity so they can live out their years with the best quality of life. When we focus on bettering our self (building ourselves up) it is highly body-positive vs. focusing on weight loss alone (breaking ourselves down) can be very body-negative. Viewing weight loss as a side effect of health - NOT the other way around is crucial. I like to ask these types of questions to my clients right off the bat because it is a great indicator of the potential of their future success.
Here's an example: a client with a history of restrictive dieting and presenting with full blown adrenal fatigue could have 2 different approaches to their goals. Option A: They want to lose weight but more importantly they want to heal their metabolism, have the energy to play with their kids/play sports/etc, and find a balanced intake without restriction. Option B: they will do whatever it takes to lose weight as fast as possible, their energy/metabolism/etc. is not a concern. In my experience, 'option A' will produce lasting results whereas 'option B' will leave them frustrated, tired and spinning their wheels in the same place.
2. They Visualize Success & Set Intentions
The connection between our mind and our body is astounding and we don't give it nearly enough credit. What we think day in and day out becomes our beliefs and then becomes our reality. My successful clients visualize what they want their outcomes to be and a big part of my job is helping them see what success can look like for them even if they can't see it quite yet. Whether it's weight loss, an athletic goal or a job promotion - I encourage you to start visualizing the results you want and watch it manifest. It's not to say there's no hard work that needs to occur along side of positive thinking but it's powerful stuff!
I've got 2 funny examples for you on this one. Example 1: my fiance was telling me about his childhood and that he SO badly wanted to be tall. He said he would think about it and simply tell himself "I'm going to be tall!" every single day. And, what do you know, he's 6'4"! Can we chalk all of that up to visualization? Probably not but still. Example 2: in my life there is no greater example of the mind-body connection than what I like to call "Kaely's mental food poisoning". If I have the slightest suspicion something I've eaten smells off/looks off/tastes off, I start to spiral thoughts of that food being spoiled and - I kid you not - I will throw up. Every time.
3. They Play up the Positives
As humans, we are wired to remember negative things more than positive in the hopes that we learn something from it and avoid repeating it(see point below). This can be problematic; however, if all we remember about our crazy weeks are the things we did not do well. My successful clients are the ones that do everything they can to focus on the positives! In the long, winding journey it takes to successfully lose weight this is EVERYTHING to prevent burning out and giving up. These people accept that the week wasn't perfect but they excitedly report that they went for a long walk, packed a balanced lunch, slept really well one night, remembered to take their vitamins or surprised themselves with a new PR in the gym. These small victories build momentum and momentum keeps us moving toward our goals.
Example: During an appointment, one of my very busy business-owner clients said "all hell broke loose this week but I did everything I could to keep sleep a priority". We celebrated that success because sleep is essential for weight loss. Rather than harping on the things that didn't go well he focused on the positive habit he was able to keep. All of those nights of sleep began to build momentum and pretty soon he was able to add a balanced breakfast to the list of positives and then morning workouts, etc. Every little win counts and we've got to celebrate them!
4. They Learn from the Negatives
Now, just because we are playing up the positives doesn't mean we have amnesia about the things that didn't go well. Instead, successful clients acknowledge these events and generate strategies to prevent round 2 of said event. Coming up with your own strategies to prevent these negative events requires honesty with yourself and critical thinking: 2 things that lead to lasting change.
Example: I had a client that would do wonderful with eating all day just to come home and heavily snack while making dinner. "Dinner 1 and 2" she called it. When we talked through this event she realized that her afternoons at work were exceptionally busy and she would be unaware of how hungry she was, leading to extreme hanger by the time she got home. She decided that this needed to change if she was going to see results so she began packing a snack AND setting an alarm on her phone at 3 pm to remind her to eat something while she worked. This stopped her from feeling ravenous at home and put an end to the excessive snacking! Let's be real - portion control does NOT exist in the face of ravenous hunger, I don't care who you are.
5. They Track Non-Scale Changes
Have you ever felt like you've done everything right only to see the scale not budge at all (or worse, go the opposite direction)? Yeah, me too. These are the moments that can be a slippery slope to the "F*** it" attitude that leads to days/weeks/months off track or totally abandoning your goals all together. I see this all of the time with my clients that are hyper-focused on what the scale says each morning and it is such a shame! What the scale tells you is only a small fraction of your overall health and is just one (of many) tools we can use to gauge success. Remembering that it is just a tool - NOT the sole defining judgement - is essential to alleviating unnecessary stress, pressure and debilitating frustration. Successful clients track their weight but they also take circumference measurements, body fat assessments, track their energy levels, their performance in the gym, their sleep quality and their overall mood. By doing so they are able to see subtle changes that the scale doesn't reflect and we are able to better assess whether or not their current diet is suitable for them (low energy or poor sleep are a sure sign that it isn't!). The end result of this is keeping their head in the game and reducing the desire to quit. Successful weight loss is playing the long game. We've got to do everything we can to keep ourselves in it!
Example: A client of mine was suffering from the classic combo of putting in great amounts of effort but weighing herself daily and not seeing results. This would lead to anger, frustration and resentment and would spiral into days/weeks of falling "off track". In one of our sessions we decided to create a log where we tracked all of the other things mentioned above on a week to week basis. Right away we found that she was losing inches (great indication of reducing fat and inflammation) and gaining muscle mass (explains why the scale didn't budge) and also that she was seeing marked improvements in her energy levels and performance in the gym. These changes were HUGE motivators and are ultimately what helped her stop the cycle of frustration/falling off track. We all need as many victories as we can to keep us engaged so why not track as many things as possible?
6. They Practice Self Love
This one sounds cheesy but let me explain: in my experience not eating right and not moving your body well are less likely a result of poor will power and more likely related to a lack of self love. We've got to love ourselves and love the direction that our life is heading in order to want to feed and move ourselves the very best we can. A big part of this relates back to point #1: nourishing and moving for better health vs. restricting and punishing for weight loss alone. The other part is working on the negative self-talk that can be crippling. Embarking on a health journey can be overwhelming and scary, some of the common negative thoughts include "I'm just going to fail again so why start", "I'm not capable of this, it's too hard", "I like the way my life is now and I don't want to change", "If only my body wasn't so messed up, I could see results like everyone else" and "I don't deserve success". These thoughts set us up to fail from the very start. How can we possibly succeed if we are breaking ourselves down internally 24/7?
In conversations with my clients we've found that we say things to ourselves that we wouldn't say to our worst enemies; we can be absolutely brutal. My successful clients are the ones that are able to acknowledge these thoughts as problematic and put in the work it takes to reroute them. Sometimes this is as simple as acknowledging negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. One particularly powerful technique is gratitude journaling where you start (or end) each day by making a list of 1-3 things that you are proud of/happy about/thankful for in your life. You'd be amazed at how much of an impact that can have on your outlook for the day! Other times it takes a lot more work of diving into unmet needs and root causes of these thoughts but I encourage you to put in that work and reach out to someone that can help - you're not alone.
Example: An old client of mine wanted to start incorporating exercise but kept talking herself out of it because she was scared she'd be too slow or too out of shape. In one of our sessions I asked her what she would say if a friend of hers was having similar thoughts. Without hesitation she said "I would tell her to get out there and enjoy it! And that I am so proud of her for getting started! It doesn't matter how slow you are, just that you're doing it", to which I replied "Exactly". The simple act of starting to talk to herself the way she would talk to a dear friend or a loved one enabled her to start exercising on a regular basis. And guess what? She's getting stronger every day.
7. They Let Go of Perfection
Aiming to be perfect in any aspect of your life is the quickest route to feeling like a failure. Successful clients are the ones that are able to stop chasing perfection and embrace the imperfection of their journey by playing up the positives and learning from the negatives. When they do that they alleviate an enormous amount of pressure on themselves and in such a high-stress world any chance we have to reduce some stress is a powerful thing. One of my favorite phrases from my girl Dietitian Cassie over at Healthy Simple Life is "progress not perfection". That sums it up perfectly and we talk about this with our clients on a daily basis. No one expects perfection. Weight loss starts with one decision, one day at a time that accumulates into long term success. Imagine how freeing it would feel if your only marker of success is just doing the best you can in your present moment? Go ahead and try it!
Thanks so much for reading this! I hope this highlighted how big of a role our mindset plays in our ability to achieve success and that there was a thing or two on this list that you can start to incorporate into your day. Keep me posted on how things go for you and what you would like to hear more about!