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.
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:
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:
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.