For those who have tried to lose weight, the struggle is often too real and too challenging to cope with. Regardless of what is the cause of the weight gain, the journey to lose that weight often becomes a challenge due to many factors. Losing weight is a challenging journey, especially if you do not have the right mindset to lose weight but also maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If you have tried to follow every diet and also followed a rigorous exercise plan but failed to lose weight, there could be a psychological block coming in the way of your weight loss goals. It has been found that people dealing with emotional struggles usually have a more difficult time achieving their weight loss goals.
Lose Weight with Psychology
Here’s how psychology often interferes with your weight loss plans and what you can do to overcome these factors to lose weight in a healthy manner.
Concentrate on Your Lifestyle
The psychology of weight loss tells us that the bottom line for why a person desires to lose weight is usually a direct result of the lifestyle they have been following till now. However, it is also possible that a person’s weight is due to a medication or an underlying health condition. Successfully losing weight can be determined by the lifestyle you choose. The psychology behind this is that wanting to lose weight needs to be an all-around commitment that you need to make. This means that you not only change your exercise routine or your daily diet, but also your sleep schedule, your working style, and everything else in your life to become more healthy. It is essential to know that the lifestyle choices we make are a direct representation of where we are at psychologically in our life, and of course, where we want to be at as well.1,2
A healthy and well-rounded weight loss plan that is built on a wholesome approach to a healthy lifestyle incorporates healthy eating, especially a lower intake of carbs, and aims to achieve:3
- Cause you to lose weight
- Reduce your appetite
- Improves your metabolic health
Weight loss should not be about losing weight fast. In fact, even though we will feel very happy to witness a sudden drop in our weight rather rapidly, but what matters is whether or not we are able to keep this weight off. It has been found that people who lose weight gradually are more successful at keeping the weight off.4
Healthy weight loss is not just about following a diet or having an exercising routine. It should be an ongoing lifestyle that includes long-term changes to your daily eating habits and exercise habits.
Remember that once you have managed to lose the weight, you will need to continue eating healthy and regularly exercise to keep the weight off. So be committed to making healthy lifestyle changes and stick to them, even though it may be challenging to follow through.5
Understanding Our Emotions And Their Impact On Weight Loss
All of us have the best of intentions at heart when it comes to wanting to eat right and exercising more frequently. Most of us are also well aware of what we should be eating and what should be avoided. However, even with the best of intentions, we usually end up derailing the progress we have made when we are feeling stressed, bored, tired, or frustrated. These emotions are commonly responsible for a majority of people falling off their commitments towards weight loss.
This is primarily because humans are creatures of habit who find comfort in routine. And if this routine includes indulging in food and activities that are responsible for the unhealthy weight gain, then it is normal that a person continues to seek out these comfortable habits in tough times. These habits provide a sense of relief from the discomfort, at least for the short term.6
Furthermore, what adds to make this situation worse is that we usually have very strong rationalization skills to support continuing such unhealthy habits. After all, nobody would want to voluntarily discontinue practices that provide comfort and relief.
When it comes to food habits, it is especially challenging for us to change our habits because our bodies are designed to eat, and of course, we need food to survive. By nature also, we feel much better when we eat our comfort foods, making it that much more challenging to break the pattern and change our habits.7
However, it’s not all bad news. If you want to change your habits to lose weight, the psychology of weight loss can work for you in a different way. In order to get past these roadblocks, try to identify exactly what is your biggest challenge that is stopping you from changing your habits. Once you have that figured out, breaking the pattern will become much more easier. This is not to say, though, that it won’t require hard work. Changing anything that is comfortable, is challenging, and something the human body does not want to do very easily. So stick to your resolution and power on.8
Try To Get Rid Of Your Negative Body Image
When you are trying to lose weight and change your body shape and size, it is possible that at the back of your mind, there is a less than satisfying feeling about the way you currently look. Of course, everyone wants to improve their health and their appearance, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to change your appearance.
However, if you have a very negative body image, then it can become a hindrance in your weight loss process.
Researchers have found that body dissatisfaction is much more common in people with obesity than in people that have a normal weight.9,10
Additionally, a negative body image is also associated with unhealthy eating patterns and other unhealthy habits. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that people who have distressing preoccupations about their body shape and weight are also more likely to experience embarrassment in public, avoid any type of physical activity due to their feelings of self-consciousness, and also have excessive feelings about fatness after having their meals.11
It is not yet clear if a negative body image can cause a pattern of unhealthy eating or if it is the other way around. However, it is known that our thoughts have a direct impact on our behaviors and emotions. This is why having a strong negative body image, or a strong dissatisfaction with your body can definitely impact your journey towards weight loss.12
Understanding the Effect of Stress
For most people, eating while stressed offers a lot of comfort. This is why comfort food is so named. In times of stress, some people tend to use their favorite foods as the best way to calm down their emotions and deal with their mental anxiety.13 While this type of stress eating is not only limited to people who are obese or overweight, it is known to create a host of problems when you are trying to lose weight or when stress eating is the only way for you to cope with your stress.
Studies have shown that overeating when stressed can actually go on to become a chronic coping mechanism for managing the various stresses of life. This strategy is also more commonly observed in people who are already overweight or obese.
Simultaneously, it is not only the overeating that can create problems. The food choices you make are likely to change when you are feeling anxious or stressed.14
A study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior found that not only do we tend to consume more food when we are stressed, but the foods we consume often tend to be the ones we usually would avoid for health reasons or because we are trying to lose weight. These tend to be foods that are high in calories and often have a lot of added sugar as well.15
Depression And Its Impact On Weight Loss
Another psychological factor that has a significant impact on your weight loss efforts is depression. While researchers are not exactly clear on whether depression causes weight gain or if the attempt to lose weight is affected by depression, but it is believed that there is a strong link between the two. This is true for normal-weight people as well as depression can be a problem since it is related to weight. In many people, depression can lead to weight loss and a lack of appetite. Research has also found that just the perception of being overweight can increase a person’s psychological distress and may cause depression.16,17
Symptoms of depression like fatigue or sleeplessness can also make it more difficult to lose weight. Furthermore, there are many commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs that can actually cause you to put on weight.18,19
How To Overcome These Psychological Barriers To Weight Loss?
Many of these psychological barriers to weight loss are bound to look familiar to many people. It is not unusual to experience such types of psychological hurdles when you are trying to lose weight. However, it is possible to get past these roadblocks to achieve weight loss. Here are some tips to overcome these challenges and lose weight successfully:
Start By Making Small Changes: It is best to start by taking smaller steps and setting short-term goals instead of trying to go all out. Begin by identifying only one healthy change you want to make that is both reasonable and also attainable. For example, walking for just 15 minutes every day after dinner is something that is both attainable and reasonable, and you are unlikely to give up. Now set a goal to focus on achieving this target for a week. Once you have reached the target for one week, increase the time period. Remember that taking smaller steps is better than not doing anything at all. Even a small attempt in the right direction is progress that you make towards losing weight.
Think Positive Thoughts And Listen To Positive Self-Talk: People who are prone to having a negative body image are likely to find themselves passing on negative messages about their body to themselves during the day. When you say phrases like ‘I am so fat” or “I can’t lose weight,’ either out loud or in your head, it undermines your ability to take healthy steps to lose weight. Identify one or two positive messages that can help encourage you to replace this negative self-image. Repeating these positive thoughts will boost your confidence to keep trying to lose weight.
Prioritize Your Sleep: There is a strong link between sleep and depression, stress, and unhealthy eating patterns. One of the easiest steps you can take to break out of such psychological barriers is to improve your sleeping habits. Remove electronics from your bedroom, keep your room cool and dark, and reduce unnecessary noise. You will find that going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning will also help you.
Find The Help You Need
There are many health experts who are professional trained to help people with depression, past trauma, and other such issues that act as barriers to weight loss. It is a good idea to look for a behavioral health specialist who is trained in treating such underlying physiological causes of weight gain and overeating or other such healthy habits that lead to weight gain.
Your doctor may be able to provide you with a referral, or you can search online as well. If you are unable to consult a behavioral health specialist, there are also many newly develops apps that provide mental health counseling. These therapy services are less expensive than consulting a professional specialist and have been found to offer relief to many people.
- Schelling, S., Munsch, S., Meyer, A.H. and Margraf, J., 2011. Relationship between motivation for weight loss and dieting and binge eating in a representative population survey. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(1), pp.39-43.
- McArdle, W.D., 1987. Nutrition, weight control, and exercise. Lea & Febiger.
- Wilson, G.T., 1993. Relation of dieting and voluntary weight loss to psychological functioning and binge eating. Annals of Internal Medicine, 119(7_Part_2), pp.727-730. Saris, W.H., 2001. Very‐low‐calorie diets and sustained weight loss. Obesity research, 9(S11), pp.295S-301S.
- Riebe, D., Greene, G.W., Ruggiero, L., Stillwell, K.M., Blissmer, B., Nigg, C.R. and Caldwell, M., 2003. Evaluation of a healthy-lifestyle approach to weight management. Preventive medicine, 36(1), pp.45-54.
- Wood, S., 2010. The comfort food fallacy: Avoiding old favorites in times of change. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(6), pp.950-963.
- Cohen, G.L. and Sherman, D.K., 2014. The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual review of psychology, 65.
- Wood, W. and Rünger, D., 2016. Psychology of habit. Annual review of psychology, 67.
- Rosen, J.C., 2002. Obesity and body image. Eating disorders and obesity: A comprehensive handbook, 2, pp.399-402.
- Myers, A. and Rosen, J.C., 1999. Obesity stigmatization and coping: relation to mental health symptoms, body image, and self-esteem. International journal of obesity, 23(3), pp.221-230.
- Palmeira, A.L., Markland, D.A., Silva, M.N., Branco, T.L., Martins, S.C., Minderico, C.S., Vieira, P.N., Barata, J.T., Serpa, S.O., Sardinha, L.B. and Teixeira, P.J., 2009.
- Reciprocal effects among changes in weight, body image, and other psychological factors during behavioral obesity treatment: a mediation analysis. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 6(1), p.9.
- Essayli, J.H., Murakami, J.M., Wilson, R.E. and Latner, J.D., 2017. The impact of weight labels on body image, internalized weight stigma, affect, perceived health, and intended weight loss behaviors in normal-weight and overweight college women. American Journal of Health Promotion, 31(6), pp.484-490.
- Torres, S.J. and Nowson, C.A., 2007. Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Nutrition, 23(11-12), pp.887-894.
- Ozier, A.D., Kendrick, O.W., Leeper, J.D., Knol, L.L., Perko, M. and Burnham, J., 2008. Overweight and obesity are associated with emotion-and stress-related eating as measured by the eating and appraisal due to emotions and stress questionnaire. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(1), pp.49-56.
- Adam, T.C. and Epel, E.S., 2007. Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & behavior, 91(4), pp.449-458.
- Wurtman, J.J., 1993. Depression and weight gain: the serotonin connection. Journal of affective disorders, 29(2-3), pp.183-192.
- Polivy, J. and Herman, C.P., 1976. Clinical depression and weight change: A complex relation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85(3), p.338.
- Faulconbridge, L.F., Wadden, T.A., Berkowitz, R.I., Sarwer, D.B., Womble, L.G., Hesson, L.A., Stunkard, A.J. and Fabricatore, A.N., 2009. Changes in symptoms of depression with weight loss: results of a randomized trial. Obesity, 17(5), pp.1009-1016.
- Fabricatore, A.N., Wadden, T.A., Higginbotham, A.J., Faulconbridge, L.F., Nguyen, A.M., Heymsfield, S.B. and Faith, M.S., 2011. Intentional weight loss and changes in symptoms of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of obesity, 35(11), pp.1363-1376.
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