Lose Weight for Good by Overcoming Psychological BarriersPosted: September 1, 2019 in Lifestyle by Craig Primack MD FACP
Losing weight may be a challenging endeavor for many reasons and some people yo-yo diet for years before they manage to keep the weight off. The basic principles of weight loss are: eating measured portions of healthy food, adequate physical activity, and restorative sleep. They aren’t difficult in theory but many factors can get in the way.
Typically, people struggle to lose weight due to psychological factors that interfere with their motivation and self-control. Fortunately, there are a number of practical and medically proven strategies to overcome these psychological barriers and lose weight successfully.
One of the most common causes of weight gain is emotional eating. Emotional eating refers to any food consumption that occurs when you feel a strong emotion rather than physical hunger. When you experience a strong emotion, the emotion center of the brain, known as the amygdala, is stimulated. Then the rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is less prominent. This means it’s difficult to make sensible and rational choices.
Emotional eaters often need to address the root cause of the strong emotions that cause them to eat. The root cause might be environmental, such as a stressful job or a difficult relationship. It might also be a past trauma or a mental health condition. Addressing the root cause can naturally reduce instances of emotional eating. If the root cause cannot be established or treated, you can try to overcome this behavior by adopting a different, healthy coping strategy, for example, deep breathing techniques, exercise, or engaging in a distracting activity.
When you start a new routine or habit, your brain floods with endorphins, making you feel happy and motivated. This endorphin rush tends to fade after a few days, which is why you can feel excited to start a new diet or exercise program then, unfortunately, lose this excitement and give up quickly.
There are many ways to increase your endorphin levels naturally, to sustain the happiness and motivation that can help you stick to a weight loss plan. Exercise is a very effective way to boost endorphin levels and can help you to burn calories and tone your body while you diet. Other effective techniques include meditation, social interaction, and engaging in a creative activity or hobby.
Habitual behaviors are “hard-wired” or embedded in your brain. Neural pathways in the brain are triggered when you engage in habitual behavior. They gain strength as you repeat a behavior. A neural pathway will lose strength when you stop an old habit. When you start a weight loss program, a number of neural pathways associated with your old eating and exercise behaviors will start to fade. This may feel uncomfortable in the beginning and you are likely to experience strong urges to regress and repeat these old behaviors. But over time the old patterns will fade away and the new ones will take their place.
Rather than focus on the fact that you are giving up old behaviors, try to focus on the positive creation of new neural pathways that better serve your health. Observe the cravings that arise in your body. Recognize they are a sign that these problematic pathways are fading. The more you can engage in your new habits and behaviors, the stronger these new pathways will become, and the easier you’ll stick to your diet.
Sticking to a diet program requires some self-control, especially in the beginning. People tend to have a lot of self-control in the morning, but it gradually declines throughout the day. By evening, the rational part of your brain is preparing to shut down so that you can rest and sleep. Many people are able to stick to a diet during the day but are unable to resist urges in the evening.
If you find that you have less self-control in the evening, try to prepare by planning activities or social events to distract you. Attending exercise classes in the early evening or doing meditation can also help you to stay in control.
Visual stimuli can be helpful. When you step on the scale and see a numerical loss or a physical change to your body, it feels good. This gives you some motivation to continue your diet. However, events occur throughout your day that trigger emotions, cause stress, and distract you from your goals.
Try placing visual cues somewhere you can see it regularly, for example in your wallet or bathroom mirror. Stimuli might include a photograph of you at your target weight, a chart documenting your weight loss, or motivational quotes. Get into the habit of looking at these images often to keep your motivation levels high throughout the day.
Many people find peer support very helpful when sticking to a weight loss program. You can find support from a weight-loss club, Facebook group, or family and friends. Losing weight with another person or group of people can help you to stay motivated. It can also be a good confidence boost to see how other people have managed to lose weight successfully. In turn, you’ll gain self-esteem knowing that you are contributing to other people’s weight loss journeys with your own encouragement and tips.
Start with a Weight Loss Program
It is often a combination of these strategies that help develop new weight loss habits. Starting a medical weight loss program means changing your behavior…which is never as easy as it sounds. BUT it’s definitely possible and many people do successfully lose weight, especially with professional guidance and support. Understanding the brain’s resistance to your weight loss habits can help you overcome, reach, and maintain your goals.
Read our FREE e-book Chasing Diets and learn about the weight loss program that works.