Written by Nyomi Graef
For many people, losing weight and keeping it off can be two of the hardest things to do in life. Being happy and motivated during weight loss, and persisting through hard times while losing weight, can be especially tough. What can we do to help? Use the ideas below that connect with you.
Remember the benefits of losing weight
Often think of the positive reasons for why you want to lose weight. This is vital to help motivate you and be happier throughout your weight loss.
Benefits might be, for instance, to:
Write down your benefits and read them often — at least once a day. Put them somewhere where you can reach them easily, such as in the top drawer in your kitchen or on top of your bedside table. When you feel like stopping losing weight, read the reasons to help motivate you to continue.
Think of possible problems of not losing weight
Problems might include:
Put up inspirational pictures, sayings, quotes and affirmations in your home and workplace
Put these up on the fridge, doors and walls to boost your spirits and inspire you to keep going, especially when the going gets tough.
Enjoy your food
Eating can be one of the great joys in life. Obviously if we don’t enjoy what we eat, we are likely to stop eating it, so make the effort to find healthy foods that you also like.
Our taste buds can take time to adapt to new flavours, so we might find the new foods hard to eat for a while. Persist -- the benefits of healthy eating and weight loss are worth it.
Imagine the positive outcomes that you want from losing weight
What we often imagine (visualise) can happen (within reason), so visualise what you want from your weight loss. Imagine positive outcomes every day. How much time should we spend imagining? That’s up to you, but small amounts, such as 5 minutes a few times a day, is a good start.
Things to visualise might include:
Overcome barriers to weight loss
There are many barriers to losing weight, and lots can most likely be overcome. Below are some common barriers, with ideas for how to overcome them.
Keep going after setbacks
Whether it’s eating a large packet of chips, eating too much when you go out, or eating all the biscuits in the biscuit jar in one sitting, don’t overdramatise setbacks by deciding to stop losing weight altogether. So you slipped-up. It happens. Forgive yourself and aim to do better next time. Persist with your weight loss -- get back on track after setbacks and keep going.
Set small and large weight loss goals
Goals help keep you on track and help motivate you. Set small goals (such as weekly goals) that work towards achieving your large/larger goals (such as 3-monthly goals).
Review your weight loss goals regularly (daily/weekly/monthly and so on). People who monitor and evaluate their goals often are more likely to succeed than people who don’t do these two things.
If unexpected problems come up, your goals might need adapting. Make your weight loss goals flexible in case this happens.
Use the SMART technique for goal setting. SMART stands for various things. One of the best is:
Below are some examples of goals using the SMART technique:
Reward yourself often
Give yourself a pat on the back whenever you achieve a goal and do a good job. Rewards for weight loss don’t have to be large and expensive. They can be little things like watching a movie online, having a cup of your favourite tea with a friend, or buying something inexpensive for yourself.
Use positive self-talk
Negative self-talk hinders you and makes you feel bad. Positive self-talk encourages you, motivates you and helps you achieve your goals.
Examples of positive self-talk might include:
Praise yourself often
Praise helps boost our self-esteem, confidence and happiness. Think "well done", "great job" (or similar praises) when you achieve your goals and, possibly, when you achieved a fair amount of a goal. Unexpected events, problems and so on can happen in life that hinder our progress, no matter how much we do our best.
Be patient with and committed to your weight loss
The weight took time to put on, so it will take time to lose. Commit to your weight loss, even if it takes months or years to lose the weight.
Be around supportive people
Avoid negative people who put you down and don’t believe in you. Surround yourself with people who boost your confidence, make you feel good and praise you.
Have a weight loss buddy
A weight loss buddy is a great help for your weight loss. They can cheer you up when you’re down, help keep you on track and more. Your buddy might also be losing weight, so you can help each other fight the battle of the bulge.
Read motivational weight loss stories
Motivational weight loss stories in magazines, online, books and so on help inspire and motivate you. If they can lose weight and keep it off, you can too.
Get weight loss tips from fit, happy and healthy people who’ve succeeded in losing weight and keeping it off long-term.
Remember that one weight loss plan does not suit everybody
There are many ways to lose weight. The best ones should be safe, healthy, effective, affordable, enjoyable, practical, sustainable, realistic, and tailored to suit each of us as individuals. We each have different health problems/injuries/allergies/food sensitivities/likes/dislikes, and so on, so one rigid eating plan does not suit everyone.
For best results, a weight loss plan should include both healthy eating and physical activity, at a minimum. Other important elements are to have the right mindset for weight loss, along with stress management techniques, and help with sleep, for instance, among other strategies.
Remember your positive qualities
You are far more than your body weight. You might be a good listener, friend, parent, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, and so on. Don’t let your body weight define you.
Forget the past and focus on the now
Put whatever weight loss failures you’ve had behind you and start afresh. Carrying around the past that you no longer need burdens you. Let it go. Focus on the now and create the future that you want.
Use as many of the above weight loss tips that you feel is best. Think of your own ideas, speak with others, or do your own research on the topic, if you’re interested.
Written by Nyomi Graef
What do sex, drugs, food and alcohol have in common? Lots. One thing in particular is that they are all ways to help us cope during tough times.
If we focus on food as a coping mechanism, comfort eating (also known as emotional or stress eating) is very common. How much so? Well a 2016 article by ABC News said that comfort eating “plays a huge role in Australia's obesity epidemic with 83 per cent of overweight or obese Australians eating emotionally, according to a recent survey.”
During the current coronavirus pandemic, this figure is probably even higher.
What are some experts’ opinions on comfort eating? Is it a good idea?
Harvard Medical School summarises my thoughts on this topic well in its health report titled Lose Weight and Keep it Off. It says: “The trouble is, comfort eating ... only works temporarily. Worse, it causes longer-term distress if it brings about weight gain.”
Deborah Beck Busis, program director for the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy outside Philadelphia, USA, also shares my views on this issue. She says that: “It [comfort eating] ultimately just makes the situation worse because it creates more problems by jeopardising weight loss, reinforcing bad habits, and making you feel guilty.”
Comfort eating can be regular, harmful and addictive
If comfort eating was a one-off/rare occurrence, then it’s obviously unlikely to cause long-term harm. But eating salty/sugary/fatty junk food when we are upset can be (and often is) frequent, harmful and addictive. People can comfort eat for years, and find it very hard to stop. A few kilos of initial weight gain can easily turn into many kilos over time, if comfort eating isn’t quickly stopped.
Stephanie Sogg is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She says that: “We know that there are parts of the brain that are rewarded from eating high-fat or high-sugar foods. And over a decade of psychological research tells us that any behaviour that is rewarded is likely to be repeated. So, if you eat for comfort, and you find that it works, you’re naturally going to do it again.”
Eating to cope does not address the underlying causes of our problems
For long-term happiness we must overcome the root causes of comfort eating, and deal with them in helpful ways.
No amount of food will fill the gap in our lives, hearts or souls. If you comfort eat, stop using food - especially junk food - to fill the gap. As mentioned, comfort eating can be harmful. Find better ways to cope with problems that don’t lead to weight gain and other problems that regular over-eating (especially on unhealthy comfort foods) can cause, such as type 2 diabetes, guilt and shame.
How can we stop comfort eating?
First know why we comfort eat. Are we stressed, angry, sad, lonely or disappointed...? Maybe we feel a mixture of two or more of these emotions.
Now determine why we don't feel good and why we turn to that food to cheer up. Food is strongly linked with celebrations, memories and so on. For example, a particular comfort food might remind us of happy times in the past that cheered us up. Perhaps we used to eat that food with someone we love (or loved), so when we eat that food now (when we feel unloved), we feel loved again. This is just one of many possible reasons. Find the reasons that are relevant to you.
Swap the bad habit with one or more good habits
As mentioned, comfort eating is often a bad habit. It’s best to swap this habit with one or more good behaviours. Next, over time through regular reinforcement, the new behaviours need to become good habits that feel normal to us. Read my blog post about ways to swap bad habits with good habits for further details, if you’re interested.
Think of better ways to cope with negative emotions, and put into action ways that you like
Get help if you need it
Talk to a counsellor, read a book on the topic (on stress/grief/depression, for instance), chat with someone who has overcome the problem themselves... whatever constructive ways that you find work to overcome the underlying causes of your negative emotions.
Use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Be conscious of when you are about to comfort eat, and stop yourself turning to food for comfort before you start eating. Lose Weight and Keep it Off recommends using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help stop comfort eating. This involves swapping negative thoughts (so in this case thoughts that lead to comfort eating), with helpful thoughts that stop us from trying to eat our way to happiness.
Below are some negative thoughts that I have thought of, along with some helpful thoughts to replace them with. Use them, adapt them and/or make up ones that connect with you.
Negative thoughts: I’m stressed (or sad/angry/lonely/other emotion) so I will eat. It makes me happy.
Helpful thoughts: Eating will only bring me short-term happiness. Afterwards I might feel bad (or guilty/ashamed and so on), so eating isn’t worth it in the long run. I’ll do something positive instead.
Negative thoughts: Food makes me happy. It never calls me names (or picks on me/yells at me...) It’s yummy and satisfying, and it always cheers me up.
Helpful thoughts: Food only makes me feel good temporarily. I will respect myself and my health more. This means I’ll now do better things to cheer myself up that don’t make me gain weight/increase my risk of lifestyle-related diseases (or make me feel bad/guilty etc.). I will listen to a happy song (and/or talk to a friend/read some positive affirmations/watch something funny on YouTube...) instead.
Summary and final thoughts
Ikin, S, 2016, Emotional eating fuelling Australia's obesity epidemic, psychologist says, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-18/emotional-eating-fuelling-australias-obesity-epidemic/7175204
Lose Weight and Keep it Off: Special Health Report, 2017, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard University