We are pleased to bring you this regular column by Dr. David Creel, a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. He is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017).
Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.
One of the first steps to changing your thinking is to identify thoughts that get in your way. Categorizing these irrational beliefs can lead to building a shortcut that will help lead to functional thinking and healthier behavior. Here are seven types of negative thinking that can interfere with weight loss.
1. All or Nothing Thinking
Did you go to bed as a late-night snacking bug and hope to awaken in the morning as a die-hard dedicated dieter? Motivation, drive, and excitement can be instrumental in helping us accomplish important goals such as losing weight. But when we look at things in a polarized way, we end up repeating cycles of weight loss and regain.
To learn more about how to combat this pattern of thinking, read Avoid “All or Nothing” Thinking.
2. Filter Focus
Some people filter out accomplishments and focus only on their deficiencies, especially those related to weight. An example would be ignoring the two pounds you lost, while focusing on a package of cookies you ate this morning. This viewpoint leads down a road of frustration and hopelessness, paved with the perceived tragedy of many failures. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to understand and evaluate our mishaps, but only if we also enjoy our positive attributes and success.
Learn how choosing to mainly focus on the positive aspects of life changes your outlook on every situation, the people you encounter, and yourself, in The Problem with Filter Focus.
3. Mind Reading
Mind reading can obstruct weight management by causing anxiety and concern over what others think about us. Thinking this way can result in self-imposed pressure to prove something to a boss, sibling, spouse, or co-worker. As a result, we may eat to help relieve the stress caused by these feelings — or we may lose focus on weight-related goals.
Mind reading can directly impact health behavior if we make assumptions about what others think about our size, what we eat, or our competence using exercise equipment at the gym.
Learn how trying to be a mind reader can obstruct weight management by causing anxiety and concern over what others think about us in Stop Trying to Be a Mind Reader.
4. Catastrophic Predictions
The idea that you’ll never lose weight if you don’t do it now is a good example of a catastrophic prediction. This way of thinking creates enormous pressure to change. Although this pressure can yield results in the short run, it doesn’t work well as a long-term perspective. A now-or-never mindset builds resentment and is emotionally exhausting. You may believe that putting intense pressure on yourself to change NOW will eventually lead to healthy habits. But our minds don’t work that way.
In most instances, labeling is a poor way of explaining our behavior. We are unintentionally reasoning our way out of a solution. In other situations, using labels can be a copout. When you label yourself stupid, lazy, disorganized, or lacking willpower, you’re saying you can’t change — and that lets you off the hook for managing your weight.
6. Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning permeates many areas of our lives, including relationships, career, self-image, and certainly weight management. Having a strong emotional reaction each time you see the scale move in the wrong direction may cause a surge of negative emotions that leads to irrational thinking. Maybe you vow to eat nothing all day forgetting that each time you try this it ends in disaster. Or perhaps you feel strongly that you’ll never succeed and, as a result, you stop trying to eat right or stay active.
If you want to manage your weight long-term, “shoulding” yourself is not the best strategy. It may actually prevent us from doing what’s important. Even if you have short-term success guilting yourself into action, this won’t be effective in the long run. Even if it worked, who wants to feel guilty or pressured all the time? Telling yourself you have to do something strips away your perception of freedom and can lead to feeling disgruntled and even angry.
If we want to make lasting behavior changes and feel good about it, we need to stop talking to ourselves that way. Be nice to yourself. A simple change in words can make all the difference.
Instead of blaming themselves for everything, some people blame others or their situation in life. Sometimes we come up with complicated explanations for our behavior so we don’t have to take responsibility for it. Yes, we do live in a culture that promotes weight gain and inactivity, but we still have choices. Some rationalizers are the defensive, angry types and others are intellectuals, debating like high paid defense attorneys. Some of us have spent years “spinning” the responsibility of our actions to make it someone else’s fault when we can’t reach our goals. Always shifting the blame bogs down our ability to achieve health goals.