The Psychology of Weight Loss [Top 9 Barriers]
Most people today have some goal that is related to their weight or fitness. Maybe you just need to lose that extra ten pounds, or perhaps you have been struggling with obesity for decades. If you are like most dieters, though, the process of losing weight is often an on again/off again commitment that leads to roller coaster readings on the scale and not much success over the long haul. If this sounds familiar, maybe the problem isn’t your diet. (Source)
According to the psychology of weight loss, changing your thoughts and feelings about food and eating is vital. It is even more important than changing what you eat or how much you eat. Psychological barriers could be preventing you from losing the weight you want and keeping it off permanently.
Overcoming these mental blocks is crucial if you are going to make lasting change that benefits your health and keeps you at the healthy weight you have always wanted.
Understanding the Psychology of Weight Loss
Your mind is extremely powerful in:
- controlling your behavior,
- triggering your cravings,
- convincing you that your unhealthy choices are somehow justified.
Mental roadblocks can exist that you are not even aware of, but that are influencing your food and lifestyle choices in ways that are preventing you from losing weight.
Overcoming these barriers and breaking the patterns of behavior are critical for weight loss success, which is why this guide explores the many different mental obstacles that can interfere with your journey toward better health.
The real truth about weight loss success is that it is not about knowing what is healthy or how much you should eat. We all know that vegetables are much better for us than junk food. Information is not the problem. (Source)
And, intentions are also not in question, because:
- you keep saying you want to lose weight,
- make resolutions about weight loss,
- keep buying diet books and weight loss products,
- all in hopes of reaching that goal, right?
So, it is not information, and it is not intention, what is it?
- your emotions,
- your habits,
- and your past experiences.
Your mind has a powerful desire to maintain the status quo. Which means your brain defaults to familiar routines, practices, and patterns, led to your weight gain. These usual ways are comforting. When you are stressed, sad, happy, or otherwise emotionally charged, your mind seeks comfort.
Your brain seeks this comfort so much that it will rationalize and argue with you (and anyone who will listen) about why these unhealthy choices are better or more desirable. It will tell you anything you want to hear to allow you to continue with these choices that give you comfort and relief. It will tell you anything you want to enable you to continue eating the things that make you feel better. (Source)
- the better you can understand it,
- prepare for it,
- work against it,
and establish new psychological habits that allow you to lead the healthier, happier life you want.
Figuring out your roadblock or blocks is your first step to weight loss success. As such, read to learn about 9 of the most common psychological blocks that could be stopping your weight loss efforts.
Top 9 Psychological Blocks to Weight Loss
1. The Psychology of Weight Loss and Responses to Stress
One of the main reasons people overeat or binge on unhealthy foods is a desire to feel better, to comfort themselves. This is most often in response to stress. There is a reason it is called comfort food, you know.
We turn to these foods because:
- they make us feel better,
- calm our emotions,
- remind us of simpler times when things were not so difficult in our lives.
And, if you are like most people, they are also not good for you.
The compounds and chemicals in food that release feel-good hormones and enzymes in our brains are among the least healthy. Salt, fat, and sugar all light up the same parts of your brain that other unhealthy substances, like drugs and alcohol, do.
The smells and tastes of many of our childhood treats also conjure positive emotions that we wish to reconnect with when we are feeling stressed. So, while your mom’s chocolate cake (which she likely made once a year as a special treat) made you feel wonderful as a child, you now seek out the same response any time life gets a little overwhelming.
Learning to reduce stress is important, as is developing coping strategies for managing your response to stress that does not involve food. Tracking what you eat while also noting your emotional state is essential when trying to identify stress-related psychological blocks.
What are the conditions that cause you to binge, reach for unhealthy choices, or to overeat? Getting a handle on this will help you avoid these in the future.
2. An “All-or-Nothing” Mindset
- “I can’t start eating healthy at this meal right now because I made an unhealthy choice earlier in the day”
- “I can’t begin a new way of eating until I have completely rid my home of unhealthy foods (which I should hurry up at eat right now).”
Diets are often abandoned rather quickly because of one mistake or slip, rather than choosing to move forward with the same, healthy intention that began your efforts.
Our brains are wired to seek results from our efforts at change. Unfortunately, losing weight and gaining better health are processes that take time. It is hard to stay focused on change when the scale does not instantly start moving the second you start eating better.
Focusing on health rather than weight is one way to avoid this type of thinking. Looking for victories and milestones that do not involve your weight can help you adopt healthier habits.
- Do you have more energy?
- Are you sleeping better?
- Do you notice you can concentrate better when you eat healthier?
- Are you able to walk with less pain?
- Do you see a difference in your skin or hair?
All of these are influenced by your diet, so you should focus on other ways that what you are eating is improving your life and health.
3. Allowing Mental Turmoil to Distract You
Changing your mental habits and patterns of behavior takes concentration, motivation, and dedication. When you are preoccupied with mental turmoil, you may lose focus. You could rationalize your unhealthy choices as something you do not “have time for” because you have not adequately dealt with these issues.
Whatever your emotional turmoil or distress, it is important that you deal with it in a healthy way to give you the mental and emotional capacity you need to focus on your health goals.
Think carefully about the emotions you are carrying around with you that are not serving you in your life. What regrets, grudges, sorrows, or issues do you find yourself thinking about? What do you worry about? Getting in touch with these deeper feelings and problems is crucial to moving past them and finding happiness to allow you to become the healthy person you want to be.
4. The Psychology of Weight Loss and Depression
There are many ways that depression can interfere with weight loss efforts. For some, depression leads to weight gain, while for others, it can prevent weight loss.
If you have depression, you are more likely to have difficulty sleeping, for example, which can contribute to overeating and stress-eating. And antidepressants can often cause weight gain, as well.
Learning to manage your depression is crucial if you want to continue on your road to better health. Mental health is just as important as your physical well-being. Talk with your doctor or mental health professional about your depression symptoms and treatment options.
Do not suffer needlessly with this mental health disorder. There are even online tools and apps available today that can connect you with a therapist whenever you need.
5. Lack of Knowledge or Denial
Most adults today can tell you, what makes up a healthy diet. But a surprising number lack information about how their own weight is affecting their overall health. And it is much easier to ignore a problem you do not fully understand than to deal with the reality of all the facts.
If you are rationalizing being overweight because you are “still healthy,” then it is time to confront your ignorance.
Make an appointment with your doctor. Get a complete physical and have your blood tested. Talk with your doctor not only about your current health but about your risk factors for developing chronic illnesses and how your weight is affecting your life. Be honest about all your symptoms and issues.
Armed with all this information, your doctor can explain to you how being overweight, over time, cuts your life expectancy and affects your long-term health.
While you may not exactly be “sick” right now, you are certainly headed in that direction. Get in touch with the facts if you want to overcome this mental barrier that is keeping you overweight.
5. Comparing Yourself to Others
One of the reasons some people have a tough time sticking to their goals and following through on a commitment to lose weight is they focus too much on other people. They worry what other people at the gym might think of them.
They focus on how other people have been successful in improving their health. They focus on what other people look like, are eating, are not eating, or are wearing.
Instead of looking around at other people, it is time to look inward at yourself. What is it that YOU want to do? How do YOU want to feel?
The most important person you need to compare yourself to is YOU. Building your self-worth and worrying only about what your body needs and what makes you feel strong and healthy are crucial to making lasting changes for your way of eating.
6. Past Trauma
If you have experience with abuse, bullying, or trauma in your past or present, it could be interfering with your ability to lose weight. Many people who have survived abuse or trauma use eating as a protective mechanism of comfort. So trying to change your eating habits equates to changing your coping strategies for handling your pain.
Like ignoring less severe emotional turmoil, neglecting your emotions related to your past trauma will keep you on the same cycle that is preventing your healthy transformation.
If you are the victim of abuse or trauma, it is important that you get the right professional help to allow you to process, forgive, and move forward from your psychological barrier. Getting the help, you need to improve your mental state and learn to deal with your past trauma is the only way you will ever enjoy happiness and health in the future.
7. Fear of Achievement
Your brain may actually be resisting you in the accomplishment of your goals. There are all sorts of reasons why you may subconsciously be stopping yourself from achieving your goal. So you may need to do some digging to discover yours.
For some, you may fear the ramifications of having a lifestyle or size that is drastically different from your earlier one or from others for whom you care. For others, it is the fear of facing the many reasons why you have sabotaged your health previously, and what that damage has done to your body.
Fear is a powerful emotion. Other than necessary concerns that protect you from apparent harm, being afraid rarely leads to positive outcomes.
So, it is essential that you acknowledge your fears and try to tap into the origin of these anxieties.
What do you really fear? If your fears were to come true, what would happen? Most of the time, our fears are unfounded or unnecessary, but it is not until you hold them up to the light of day that you can see this for yourself.
8. Neglecting Your Own Self-Care
For many people, especially women, the demands of everyone else come well before your own. Work, family, friends, and partners are placed at the top of the priority list, leaving little room for your personal needs or priorities.
This includes taking care of your nutrition, exercise, and mental health needs. Instead of feeling like you are in charge of everyone else, try giving responsibility to others in your life for their own needs.
Involve your whole family in the planning and preparation of meals. Make sure you are sharing responsibilities with others, including co-workers, colleagues, and your spouse, and not taking on added duties that others can perform.
Schedule time for yourself, including getting enough exercise and sleep, and be sure to plan meals that will help your health.
Building time into your life to take care of yourself will show others in your life how important this is and serve as a significant role model for your children, as well.
9. You Doubt Your Own Ability to Lose Weight
“I can’t” are probably the two most powerful words when it comes to weight loss, because the second you believe them, guess what?
You will not be successful in your weight loss efforts. Your personal belief in your ability to change your habits and find new, healthier ways to eat and act can hold you back or help you succeed. You see, we want to believe ourselves.
We trust ourselves. But the unfortunate truth is, your mind is the last person you should trust when it comes to losing weight.
Decide right away to no longer trust your inner voice or listen to your own mind.
Decide that you are going to trust instead the views of experts, doctors, and researchers.
They tell you that:
- it is possible to lose weight,
- you can develop healthier habits,
- and you are capable of making lasting change in your life.
The Psychology of Weight Loss [Final Thoughts]
Learning to become healthier and to lose weight is not just about changing your lifestyle. It is also about changing your thinking.
The psychological factors we discussed here play an enormous role in your ability to lose weight and successfully keep that loss. It is not enough to eat healthier. You must think healthier, too.
Recognizing that these mental blocks exist is the first step to overcoming them. Once you are aware of the traps and barriers your brain sets out for you, you can find ways to work past them and make the positive mental as well as health steps to help you on your weight loss journey.
If you have struggled for years with weight loss efforts, it may be time to talk with a mental health professional about the psychological barriers that are thwarting your progress.
Learn to use your brain in positive ways and to permanently remove the roadblocks that are stopping you from maintaining a healthy weight. Until you heal your mind, you will continue to struggle to heal your body.
Stay well and take care!
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