Monday, May 9, 2011

Weight Loss From A Psych Point Of View

Ahh yes, the weight loss issue. I've been there myself, along with every single person I have ever known. So I'm not sure why I was surprised to find so many blogs dedicated to documenting weight loss that are instead being used to document frustration.

As a graduate student studying to become a Nutritional Counselor, this intrigues me because it's right up my alley. Working with clients with food addictions, over-eating disorders, or just plain trouble losing weight is what I want to do for a living. Therefore, I thought I might share some things I have learned so far that might help people approach the concept of weight loss from a different, psychological, perspective.

1.) Understand the concept of willpower.

Willpower, contrary to popular belief, is not something we are all born with, it is a skill that needs to be learned and developed, just like reading or writing. What do you think would happen if you handed someone who barely knows their ABC's a 600 page novel and demanded it be read by the end of the week? Personally, I would probably start off incredibly motivated, put all my effort into the first page, end up getting frustrated by day 6, and then ultimately resort to setting the book on fire.

Sound familiar?

Point is, there's a probable chance of failure right from the beginning.

Yet this is how many people approach the lifestyle change of healthy eating. They say, "No more fast food for me, I'm going to do it this time!" or "No more carbs, no more sugar: that's what Jessica Alba did for bikini season!" And does it ever work? Really?

No, and you know why? Because you're attempting to read a novel before learning your ABC's. You have to build your abilities from the beginning, which brings me to point number 2:

2.) Stop and think.

Why are you eating? Is it because you're hungry? Or is it because you're bored, tired, upset, or lonely? Since you now know willpower is a skill, treat it like one.

What happens to your ability to concentrate when you're tired? Your driving skills? Any skills? They suffer. Willpower is no different. It takes practice to get good at it. Ever wonder why there's infinitely more advertisements for junk food at night rather than in the morning? Simple: people are tired after a full days work, so their willpower is more likely to falter. It's more effective to advertise crap food when peoples' guards are down. Try and recognize when this happens to you.

One strategy is to think of your body like a spoiled child, and your mind as the parent:

Body: Ooooh french fries! I want some french fries!
Mind: No, you just had potato chips, and you have dinner waiting for you when you get home. You don't need any french fries.
Body: But I want some! Potato chips were such a long time ago! I promise I'll behave myself when I get home, I promise!
Mind: No. Last time you said you would behave yourself and instead you ate a pint of Rocky Road.
Body: But I want some! Last time I promise!
Mind: I said no...
Body: Pleeeeeease? Please please please please...
Mind: I said no!
Body: Pleeeeeease please please please please!! I'll be good I promise please please pleasepleasepleaseplease....
Mind: Fine! Have the damn french fries just shut up already.

See what I mean?

Basically, your body gets what it wants by wearing you down, much like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. So step 3:

3.) Start slowly, very slowly.

During my coursework I've learned there is no such thing as breaking a bad habit, there is only creating a new, stronger habit to replace it, and it takes roughly 3 weeks for any habit to become fairly routine. The hardest part about forming a new habit? Your body is going to fight you tooth and nail on every decision you make. Why? Because it's different and therefore, it's uncomfortable, and your body HATES being uncomfortable. So the key here is tricking yourself into thinking it's not really missing out.

So start small. Put a tablespoon less of sugar in your coffee. Instead of eating your morning bagel and cream cheese, eat a banana and then only half the bagel and cream cheese. Make this one small change until it becomes a habit, and then move onto the next one. Keeping the changes small will ensure your body doesn't feel too uncomfortable, so it won't resist as much. Too many changes at once make for a very frustrating 3 weeks. This brings me to step 4:

4.) Read the labels.

In the very beginning, don't worry yourself about the percentages of carbs, protein, and fats; that's for later when you're running marathons and saving the world. Early on, it's more important to look at things like sugar content, sodium levels, or calories. It's about making small changes. Go from white bread to wheat bread, and then to a different wheat bread with more fiber, and then to a different one with less sugar. Someday, it will be second nature to choose healthier foods, which brings me to step 5:

5.) Document your behaviors. 

Yes, it is extremely useful to document what you eat, what time you ate it, and how you felt when you ate it. You should absolutely document all of this as much as possible, but it may be even more useful to document your behaviors. 

It's all a part of that habit formation. Write down when you choose vegetable soup instead of cream of potato, or when you choose a yogurt containing less sugar. Write down when you take the stairs instead of the elevator, or just how often you go to the gym, not necessarily what you do there. This will get you into a habit of being mindful of your decisions instead of simply coasting through your day reacting to your body's temper tantrums.

This also creates a situation of two habits reinforcing each other. Writing down all of your good decisions makes you feel good, which subsequently makes you want to make good decisions the next day so you can write them down. It's a cycle of positive reinforcement. This leads me to step 6:

6.) Plan ahead.

We eat what we see, it's that simple. Why do you think every restaurant that offers chicken wings as an appetizer has a picture of them on the menu? Because they are the food with the highest profit ratio. They're incredibly cheap to make, and are therefore the most profitable. A picture dramatically increases the chances of them being ordered. That's why it's there.

So plan ahead. Have a strategy before eating at a restaurant and stick to it. If you plan on ordering a salad, open the menu and only look at the salads.

Bring a lunch to work, as well as a preemptive strike for those morning meetings. Are you eating the donut because you're hungry or because you just want anything to eat during the hour long meeting and donuts are the only option? If it's because they're the only option, bring another option. Bring a granola bar and eat it slowly.

At home, pre-cut and pre-package fruits and vegetables, putting them at easy reach when you're rushed or hungry. Plan your meals throughout the week. This puts you one step ahead of the game.

7.) Be clever.

Go back to the metaphor of your body being a spoiled child and your mind being a parent. What's one of the oldest scams in the book when a spoiled kid wants something and won't shut up? Trick 'em.

Take the old peanut butter issue. Peanut butter on bananas, apples, or celery is a great snack in between meals. Thing is, if you're like me, you end up eating a scoop of peanut butter per bite of banana, which adds up to some serious caloric intake. So trick yourself.

I've found if you heat a tablespoon of peanut butter in the microwave for about 15ish seconds, it melts into more of a syrup. So cut the banana into bites and dip it into the peanut butter. You end up eating considerably less peanut butter per bite of banana, and your body doesn't know the difference. It just knows it's eating a bite of banana that is absolutely smothered in peanut butter. Win-win.

8.) Set a goal.

Something realistic and well-defined. You're not going to wake up tomorrow, run 6 miles, and then do it again all week. Walk half a mile and make a homemade smoothie instead of a store bought sugar laden one.  It all adds up.

9.) Find a support system.

Even if you feel completely on your own, there is someone else out there, somewhere, going through the same thing. Hell even a community of bloggers will provide a sense of support!

10.) Take it easy on yourself.

You are most likely your harshest critic. Try to keep that voice in check. Write down the sentences you say to yourself and then come back when you're ready to look at them objectively. Would you ever say to your friends the negative things you say to yourself? Would you ever let your friends say those things to you? Probably not.

Work at this to understand the difference between when that little voice is being constructive and when it's being downright abusive. Just being able to identify it is the first step to changing what it's saying.

In closing I leave you with this: there is no such thing as a diet, there is either healthy eating or nothing.

Anything extreme (cutting all carbs, cutting all sugar, no solid foods) is sure to backfire because it's unrealistic. Anything that does the work for you (Nutrisystem) will leave you frustrated, dependent, and broke (think give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish). And anything describing foods you can't eat one week but can another week (Pure Protein) is, sorry to say, complete horsesh*t. All that weight you lose in the first week? Water weight.

So start slow, and create healthy habits that will become second nature. It takes time, but it's worth it!

And you can do it!!


  1. Yes..temptation is humans worst thing when it comes to diets! You think back to how it tastes and how it makes you feel..funny really :P

  2. Hi Marlee-thanks for your comment ... I got it in my email but not on my blog!? I really want to be a nutrionist - so really jealous of where you are at. Looking forward to reading your budget journey! Cheers Sammy

  3. This was wonderful to read-so honest and realistic! Thank you for this-I have a feeling this is exactly what a lot of people needed to hear (*coughs ME coughs*)


  4. You know I have never ever thought of willpower in that wonder I have non when it comes to food. I am an emotional eater from way back now paying the price of being in a vicious cycle. I think these steps you list are ones I can easily put into place :)
    Thanks for your insight.

  5. Wow! This is great. Totally what I needed to hear today. I have a *few* pounds to lose but it is my will power that keeps getting in the way...ugh. Those french fries!!!! The banana and peanut butter trick I am going to try- that is one of my favorite snacks, but yeah way too much peanut butter. Thank you!

  6. Good advice! I always love your stuff! Keep giving us the good stuff, chicka!

  7. There's so much great info here...thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Thanks for the comment! And YOU too have a great blog too!

  9. Thank you for the comment on my blog. I agree with your writing. In fact much of what you have written here are the key elements that have made my healthy lifestyle changes "stick" over the past 18 months. I look forward to browsing through your blog. You will be great in this field. ~Robin

  10. I'm going to start my Masters in Counselling this summer! SO EXCITED (though not for the commute, haha). Thanks for stopping by my blog. Baby steps and positive self-talk go a looong way with any personal struggles.

  11. There is no easy way.
    I believe the most important is perseverance. great points you make here.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  12. Wow... This is truly amazing. You have a way with words that makes things so easy to understand and appreciate. I am slowly but surely learning all of these new things to me on my journey to a healthier lifestyle. However, I believe that you have put it in to a perspective that is not only brilliant but mind altering, in a good way of course!

    If you wouldn't mind I would love to link to this post on my blog and also in my next vlog on youtube. I don't think I could say what you said any better and I feel its necessary for any one trying to change themselves and live healthy to hear this exactly how you put it.

  13. I used to have so much willpower. Now, not so much. (sigh)

  14. Hi Marlee Great points you list here!
    I love the metaphor of the body is wearing you down, much the same as a toddler with a tantrum! :D

  15. I have that potato chip/french fry conversation all the time.

    My body is a pretty annoying 3 year old.

  16. I think we have all heard some version of this before, but coming from someone who stepped on the scale again this morning-and berated myself, it is always good to have a reminder.

    Be realistic.

    And be nice. To yourself.

    (Now I'm off to go tell that 3 yr old in my stomach to stop growling at me.....)

  17. This was really great and helpful to read! I'm really trying to change my diet, not necessarily to lose weight (although that would be nice), but so I feel better. I get so sick when I eat fast food, yet sometimes I cave and eat it anyway... KNOWING I'm going to be sick.

    Really great post :)

  18. Thanks for the great pointers! I will be checking in from time to time for more.

  19. Great pointers. I plan to apply them to increasing my exercise and other things I want to renew as habits.

  20. Very nice post! It really puts a lot into prospective. I'm going to have to make a link to this post so my friends can read this too. And thanks for reading my blog too!

  21. Loved this! I feel like I reason with my toddler throughout the day for his benefit and then when it comes to the toddler inside me I buckle! Will try to think differently tomorrow.

  22. Just what I needed to hear! I am in my 3rd week of a "food overhaul" and just now seeing a change in my jeans, my energy and my habits! Thanks for the clear perspective and the jump started motivation to keep at it ... little baby steps toward healthy choices!

    Great down-to-earth tips that actually work!

    Thanks for stopping by Snapshots :)

  23. That was great, thanks!

    #6 reminds me of a trick of my dad's (annoyingly skinny man for most of his life) - wash and cut the fruit as soon as you get home from the grocery store. You'll be more likely to munch on it.

    Healthier eating and waste less food!

  24. Great post with some easy tips - like the peanut butter tip that you can apply to to other things.

  25. Couldn't have said it better myself.

    I sometimes get very frustrated at the rate at which I am losing weight. Slowly. But then I realise why it's taking my so long - because I am applying the kinds of knowledge you suggest - rather than a fad diet...

    Thank you for linking up to Diminishing Lucy's Drab to Fab...


  26. Great post, I struggle with my weight every day.

  27. I hope that you have a saved copy somwhere of your post from yesterday (Being your biggest fan). I just went to read it and it appears to have been lost in hell.

    I didn't have time to read it yesterday :( Please repost!

  28. Awesome post! It is a struggle and I hope one day soon to win!
    Thanks for the comment on Friday Fitness Last week. This week's post is delayed because of the blogger maintenance!

  29. Excellent post! So glad to find you on voiceboks. I definitely struggle more now at 40 with a new business to keep good habits, and just have time to be good. I'm an old ballerina, so I've always had good discipline under my belt, but things do change a lot as you get older, and life just changes too. Great to meet you!

  30. Great post... makes us think twice now before picking up some french fries! Yikes!!!! visiting you via vBoks. Have a great weekend. :)

  31. This is a great article. It's great that you're able to use everything you've learned at college (since you've obviously been working very hard) and roll it all together for helpful words of encouragement. Following you now from the hop!

  32. Luv the tip about microwaving the peanut butter- all excellent advice.

    Found you on the blog hop at Tara's - glad I did!


  33. Wonderful post - I am currently trying to lose weight and I'm great all day long until late at night - that's when all the BAD stuff beckon me.. I'm your newest follower - would love a hop back.
    I've Become My Mother
    I've Become My Mother facebook
    Kelly's Ideas
    Amazing Salvation

  34. Thank you so much for the very sweet comment you left me! I can't tell you how much I love this post. it's something every girl obsesses over and these tips are all very helpful. Especially the peanut butter one!!

  35. HI - I am hopping over here from VB blogger! You have a very informational blog .. something that I can surly use!
    I will be back to read further.
    I hope when you get the chance please stop by and say HI

    Thank You
    Kirsten (You can sign my GB )

  36. Great post. I do most of the things. I need to work on others. Thanks for sharing.I'm a new follower. Doylene

  37. You have some excellent points in here, and things that can cross over to any habit changing goal. New follower from VB blog hop!

  38. You now have a new follower, Can you please Follow back?

    Tweet with me on Twitter to.!/CHRISTY1986P

    Become a fan on my Christina's voice Fan page.!/pages/Christinas-Voice/133218916750446

    Thanks have a great day!

  39. Hi! This is Kelly from I've Become My Mother and a proud member of Voice Boks. I am visiting you today to ask for your help in saving the life of a child... We as writers/bloggers are excellent at getting the word out on so many different issues and topics... We love to write and we have a passion to share the world with others... What I am asking is this - Please visit my site and link up to today's post - the link is below. Please post the post on your Facebook. We need to get word out about bone marrow donations... You and others can get tested simply by ordering your free kit and swabbing your mouth - it's that easy to save a life... Please join me to save Haley and others who need our help.. Thank you and God Bless!

    Be A Donor Save A Life Urgent Request

  40. Such great advice, Your tips are very important for weight loss. Thanks for linking up.

  41. I will have to book mark this page. Great advice. Thanks for linking up to the NOBH

  42. Why oh why does anything chocolate have to taste so darn good.

    Of course I'm eating when I'm not hungry. I can't let a perfectly good hershey's bar with almonds just sit there, can I?

    I'm working on this too. Once I hit 38 years old I've struggled for the first time in my life. 3 years later and I'm still saying to myself, "Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full and put down that yummy, delicious, mouth watering tollhouse cookie you ding dong!" Oops, shouldn't have said ding dong :)

    Sharon from

  43. We really need to address this obesity problem with almost one third of the population obese this is a big concern. And one of the major factors causing obesity today is processed foods. I lost 48 pounds with the detox diet. Most of us now get the majority of our food from cardboard boxes and plastic containers. Which means we are getting way too much highly processed foods, stuff stripped of the natural ingredients that keep us lean and healthy, and pumped full of unnatural ingredients that make us fat and tired. It is about detoxing and replacing processed foods with real food and you will lose weight.
    I also used a weight loss goal sheet to help me plan out my diet and exercise workouts and this helped alot it kept me on track. This on line weight loss site provided it and I am so thankful.

  44. My biggest weight loss challenge is stress eating until I got it under control. I used some techniques that really worked. Finally I lost 56 pounds. There’s no doubt we’re living in a stressful society. One way some people use to cope with anxiety and stress is to reach for their favorite foods. Food provides instant gratification and can give a tense, depressed person a temporary lift. Unfortunately.

    Weight Loss tips


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