Healthy Weight, Healthy Mind: Pay Attention to Lose Weight

The first step to interrupting thoughts and breaking bad habits—including overeating—is to pay closer attention to what you’re doing.

Chips and soda.

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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). See all of David Creel’s articles here.

Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.

As we go through daily life, multiple thoughts enter our heads like a parade that never ends. Each thought may lead to an action that can trigger more thoughts, more behavior, and so on. Our minds relentlessly create judgment, worries, memories, and ideas. For those of us concerned about weight, these thoughts are often related to eating. Like a game of tennis played on the court of life, our thoughts and behaviors are constantly in flux, moving us toward or away from healthy places. When it comes to food, the back and forth of our tennis match may go something like this:

It’s nine p.m. and you just finished watching your favorite TV show. Now the food commercials start. In less than 30 seconds you see a woman seemingly transformed by a bite of creamy Greek yogurt. Her eyes close and her head tilts slightly to the side as her lips close softly around this magical spoonful of raspberry swirled yogurt. “Wow, that looks great,” you think. You respond to that thought by heading to the refrigerator. You pull the door open and see yogurt, some cheese sticks, and, oh—there’s the chocolate sauce. Seeing chocolate sauce reminds you of ice cream in the freezer. Perhaps you should make sure it’s there.

Yep, you still have ice cream. You open up the container and consider “cleaning up” the ice cream stuck to the inside edges of the carton and then scraping and tasting until all is symmetrical and level. Should you scoop some into a bowl?

If you decide to eat ice cream, your beliefs about that behavior also have a lot to do with how much you eat. Thinking about the flavor instead of the health effects of ice cream can lead to overeating.

Over time, strings of behavior and thoughts like the ones above can lead to bad habits. It’s like we’re stuck playing tennis on one part of the court. Upcoming chapters will help you learn to change your environment and alter your thinking, but the first step to interrupting these thoughts and breaking bad habits is to pay closer attention to what you’re doing.

The first step to interrupting these thoughts and breaking bad habits is to pay closer attention to what you’re doing.

We have discussed motivation and the idea of committing to the process of weight management. This commitment is not simply about how we think—we also commit to taking action, because actions propel us to improve our health and transform our bodies. More importantly, some practices eventually shape our perspectives and become part of who we are.

As a young man, I learned a valuable lesson about dangerous patterns of thoughts and behavior—a lesson that would eventually help me break the risky and costly habit of speeding. At two different times in my 20s, I received multiple traffic tickets within a year. Not only did it cost me money I didn’t have to spare, it earned me two separate trips to defensive driving school. If you’ve never attended a defensive driving class, take my word, it isn’t a great way to spend Tuesday evenings. After my second set of enthralling group interactions, I decided I didn’t really like the idea of paying fines and watching videos about the dangers of speeding. But speeding was sort of a habit with me. I told myself I was driving with the flow, but in reality I drove with the flow in the far left lane. To avoid getting additional traffic tickets I did two simple things: I noticed the speed limit wherever I was driving, and I frequently checked my speedometer. I stopped “going with the flow.” I began paying attention.

“Going with the flow is one way of describing ingrained habits for eating and exercise. We need to pay attention in order to change eating and activity levels. It may seem you don’t eat differently than other people, and that may be true, depending on who you compare yourself to. But if you’re gaining weight, or maintaining excess weight, then going with the flow probably won’t lead to weight loss.

Come back each week for more healthy weight loss advice from Dr. David Creel.


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