Lose Weight for Good by Overcoming Psychological Barriers

Posted: Sep 01 in Lifestyle by

Losing weight is often a challenging endeavor and many people yo-yo diet for years before they manage to keep the weight off. The basic principles of weight loss, eating measured portions of healthy food and increasing physical activity, are not difficult in theory. Typically, people struggle to lose weight due to psychological factors that interfere with their motivation and self-control. Fortunately there are a number of practical strategies to overcome these psychological barriers and lose weight successfully.

A common cause of weight gain is emotional eating, which refers to any food consumption that occurs when you feel a strong emotion rather than physical hunger. When you experience a strong emotion the emotion centre of the brain, known as the amygdala, is stimulated. Subsequently, the rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is less prominent. This means it is difficult to make sensible choices.

Emotional eaters often need to address the root cause of the strong emotions that cause them to eat. The root cause might be environmental, such as a stressful job or a difficult relationship. It might also be a past trauma or mental health condition. Addressing the root cause can naturally reduce instances of emotional eating. If the root cause cannot be established or treated, you can try to overcome this behaviour by adopting a different, healthy coping strategy, for example breathing techniques, exercise or engaging in a distracting activity.

When you start a new routine or habit, your brain floods with endorphins, making you feel happy and motivated. This endorphin rush tends to fade after a few days, which is why you can feel excited to start a new diet or exercise program then lose this excitement and give up quickly.

There are many ways to increase your endorphin levels naturally, to sustain the happiness and motivation that can help you stick to a weight loss plan. Exercise is a very effective way to boost endorphin levels and can help you to burn calories and tone your body while you diet. Other effective techniques include meditation, social interaction and engaging in a creative activity.

Habitual behaviours are embedded in the central nervous system. A neural pathway is a cellular path that is triggered when you engage in a habitual behaviour and it gains strength as you repeat this behaviour. Equally, a neural pathway will lose strength when you stop engaging in an old habit. When you start a weight loss program, a number of neural pathways associated with your old eating and exercise behaviours will start to fade. This may feel uncomfortable and you are likely to experience strong urges to regress and repeat these old behaviours.

Rather than focus on the fact that you are giving up old behaviours, try to focus on the positive creation of new neural pathways that better serve your health. Observe the cravings that arise in your body. Recognise they are a sign that these problematic pathways are fading. The more you can engage in your new habits and behaviours, the stronger these new pathways will become and the easier you will find it to stick to your diet.

Sticking to a diet program requires self-control, especially in the initial stages. People tend to have a lot of self-control in the morning, but this declines gradually throughout the day. By evening, the rational part of your brain is preparing to shut down so that you can rest and sleep. Consequently, many people are able to stick to a diet during the day but are unable to resist urges in the evening.

If you find that you have less self-control in the evening, try to prepare by planning activities or social events to distract yourself. Attending exercise classes in the early evening or engaging in yoga and meditation can also help you to stay in control.

Visual stimuli can be a useful aid. When you step on the scales and notice a loss or you see a physical change to your body, it feels good and gives you motivation to continue with your diet. However, lots of events occur throughout your day that trigger emotions, cause stress and distract you from your goals.

Try placing visual stimuli somewhere you can access easily, for example in your wallet. Stimuli might include a photograph of you at your target weight, a chart documenting your weight loss or even motivational quotes. Get into the habit of looking at these images regularly so that you keep your motivation levels elevated throughout the day.

Many people find peer support very helpful when sticking to a weight loss program. This might come from a slimming club or from your family and friends. Losing weight with another person or group of people can help you to stay motivated. It can also be a good confidence boost to see how other people have managed to lose weight successfully.

If you have been unable to stick to diets in the past, it is easy to think that your efforts will be unsuccessful again, which will affect your motivation levels. Peers can reassure you that this is not the case and encourage you to carry on when you feel like giving up. In turn, you can gain self-esteem knowing that you are contributing to other people’s weight loss journeys with your own encouragement and tips.

Starting a weight loss program means adapting your behaviour, which is never as easy as it sounds. It is definitely possible and many people do successfully lose weight. Understanding the brain’s resistance to your weight loss habits can help you to overcome them and reach and maintain your goals.

Often a combination of these strategies can be employed to develop new habits successfully. If you follow a weight loss plan and do not lose weight or even gain weight, consult a doctor as it might be a sign that something is medically wrong.

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