Struggling with Weight Loss? Learn How to Win the Mental Game
I can say confidently that my problem with food and weight is not with the nuts and bolts of executing a nutritional plan, a lack of enjoyment from healthy food, or the discipline to eat it. That’s been VERY easy to do, fortunately for me.
My struggle with nutrition and dieting shouldn’t surprise anyone, as it is most definitely universal: it’s a mental game that I’m constantly losing.
“Oh, you just ate something, want something sweet?”
“Yeah, you’re full now, but don’t you want another serving?”
“Didn’t it feel good eating? Let’s get more of that feel-good stuff!”
“Come on, don’t waste that food!”
I’ve learned bad nutritional habits and behaviors over the years that completely sabotage any progress. I’m constantly wrestling my compulsion to eat unhealthy foods in excess.
Today I will present three unhealthy diet thoughts that keep bubbling up. We’ll discuss why they show up, what I believe the real struggle is, and talk turkey with some harsh truths I need to accept.
Unhealthy Diet Thought 1: “I’m so frustrated.”
There are two main reasons I’m getting frustrated:
- Upon weighing myself daily, the weight either doesn’t move OR it regresses
- The weight isn’t moving fast enough, generally
The Real Struggle:
I’m “working hard,” I tell myself. “It’s not fair that this hard work isn’t producing the results I want.”
The Harsh Truth:
My frustration isn’t about the weight, at all. I have a desire for instant gratification. More importantly, my frustration is about resistance to discipline.
I’m making a pretty dramatic change, going from using “eat until you hate yourself” to meal planning and fighting these thoughts that want me to revert to my old habits.
If my weight isn’t moving, that means I may even have to be more regimented than I currently am. I don’t like that idea, at all!
It takes energy to be healthy, and it’s a constant fight for me. It hasn’t yet become normal or a habit, and it probably won’t ever. I’ve been programmed for 40 years to act in an unhealthy way with food, with maybe 6 total years of exception.
I have to stop BS-ing myself: I’m not frustrated about the progress, I’m frustrated with the process. It’s not “what I want to do” and “it’s difficult.” I may not be doing a good enough job and may have to work harder.
I breathe. I let my non-lizard brain drop some knowledge: this is what it is, and just because I do or do not meet the progress goals my mind is arbitrarily assigning “success” to, it doesn’t mean this is not the best way of being.
I must stop resisting the change.
And yes, I know it is not advised to weigh yourself every day because of the fluctuations and the resulting frustration. The truth is, again, I know that things will go up and down, and I know that the week-to-week trend is very much satisfactory towards my realistic goals I set in my Wellness Pyramid-backed plan. I choose to weigh myself to build a new habit of daily monitoring, awareness of these negative feelings (and how inappropriate they are), and discipline.
Unhealthy Diet Thought 2: “I’ll be happy when…”
I’m looking forward to my cheat day, a holiday where I can let loose, or when I hit my goal weight so I can “relax.”
The Real Struggle:
I’m frustrated for whatever reason (see #1). I’m trying to turn my pain into an affirmation to help me get through it.
I’m creating some sort of a goal or finish line, so I can get some of that instant gratification an American in 2020 needs when I cross it with arms up in triumph.
The Harsh Truth:
This isn’t really about goal achievement, it’s about hoping for a day where I can relax my discipline.
“When I get to X weight” or “if I’m good all week, then on Friday I can…” is clearly saying that I “deserve” to eat unhealthy food. But this just will undo the hard work I’ve done. In reality, these affirmations are bad thoughts.
I’m looking to logic my way out of my frustrations around the discipline needed, and I’m doing it in an unhealthy way. Before I was being negative about my frustrations. Now, I’m masking them with what I superficially believe is positivity.
Repeating phrases like “I’ll be happy when…” is what I’m referring to as backstabbing goal setting. We sabotage our own mental health via these affirmations. The only affirmation they are enforcing is that I am not happy now.
In my original conversation on my weight, I stated that my plan is to have a single pig out day a month and a once-weekly cheat meal. I’ve decided that with holidays, parties, and everything, I certainly can indulge, but doing this frequently is contrary to my goals:
Talk about GIFs you can hear, amirite?
I’ve changed my plan to remain disciplined as much as possible. This means I’m more active compensating for any excess calories via exercise or reductions before/after the “splurge” to keep the net results as close to the target.
Desiring relaxed discipline means you should tighten up your discipline, and view more discipline as a positive state of mind instead of a punishment.
Unhealthy Diet Thought 3: “Go ahead, splurge.”
There’s a splurge trigger that manifests in one of 3 ways:
- “I’m still hungry.”
- “I want more.”
- “I need something sweet.”
The Real Struggle:
Eating feels good. Junk food is engineered to keep you eating. Tasty stuff is just straight-up awesome. I eat fast, so I don’t get satiated quickly enough.
The Honest Truth:
I’m not OK eating “just enough.” I’ve normalized overeating.
I’ve become addicted to food. I use the dopamine rush from tasty and often unhealthy foods to scratch my own internal itches, instead of mindfully addressing stress, anxiety, comfort on its own.
I have to get over my dysfunction. The dopamine dumping euphoric feeling from the calorie-rich, nutrient-depleted junk food needs to come from elsewhere.
I’ve solved this problem by going slower. I’ve increased my fluids with each meal, which also helps speed up satiation time. I’ve stood up from the table and walked away, explaining to my kiddos that I’m fighting my impulse to overeat.
Your brain is deceiving you.
The Overarching Honest, and Sometimes Harsh Diet Truths
There is a piece of all of these situations and scenarios that rings true for us all, no matter what stage in the journey we are on.
Even re-reading these words creates a conflict inside me. I watch my mind try to create defenses and justifications for unhealthy decisions.
There are three realities we must accept:
There is no end zone. This is a lifelong wellness plan, and I’m going to be constantly running down the field. Touchdowns will happen, but excess celebration will cause a flag on the play.
Junk food is a rubbage reward. I won’t scoff at a well-made Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookie. Using junk food or excessive eating as a reward is shortsighted and reinforcing bad behaviors. We must find rewards in other ways.
We’ve normalized being unhealthy. Through its general ease, social influence, conditioning, propaganda, and improper handling of our own mental stuff, many of us live pretty unhealthy lives. We’ve done that more often than we’ve done healthy.
“I want to reward myself for…”
“I want to enjoy my life, and that means eating…”
“I don’t want to change my whole life around by…”
We rationalize. We judge ourselves. We put ourselves down.
These thoughts create tension and resistance in your mind. This creates suffering and makes this whole process negative.
We need to turn that frown upside down. Call out these thoughts for what they are: nonsense. We’re making excuses, justifications, whatever to maintain the unhealthy habits we’ve cultivated over a lifetime.
I’m a 6’2” 40-year-old male. The proper diet for that person is exactly what I’m doing now. THAT’s the positive here: I am finally eating as much and as healthy as I should. I’m no longer at the will of my irrational mind and unhealthy habits.
The real affirmation is that I’m eliminating one of the most significant causes of disease and early death: poor diet.
As with all mental health issues, we have to let go of the story we tell ourselves about the “way things were” or the “way things ought to be” and focus on what is real in this moment.
We make our plans. We set our goals. We take action towards those, but we must do it with a general curiosity, not an attachment to a result or a time frame.
If we’re screwing up, we have to come clean about it.
Don’t judge yourself.
Change from “I have to do this hard work” to “I should never let myself be so unhealthy.”
We’ve normalized unhealthy, and that needs to change.
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth