Weight loss is a three-part process: Exercising and cutting calories are vital, but your mental outlook can mean the difference between success and failure.
"Self-defeating thoughts are often the most overlooked factors when a dieter gets off track," says Jeffrey Wilbert, PhD, author of Fattitudes: Beat Self-Defeat and Win Your War with Weight (St. Martin's Press, 2000). "You feel disappointed when a quick fix turns out to be anything but, or weak if you succumb to an intense craving for ice cream." Without the resolve to overcome such thoughts, sticking with any major lifestyle change can be difficult, if not impossible."
The key is to adopt the right attitude before you start your plan. "If you're really serious about slimming down, you need to think long-term. That's why it helps to ready yourself emotionally to take on the challenge," says Daniel C. Stettner, PhD, a behavioural-medicine specialist at Northpointe Health Centre in Berkley, Michigan. These eight strategies will help strengthen your mind-set.
You probably have lots of reasons for wanting to lose weight. Not all, however, may be good ones. "If your decision develops primarily out of pressure from someone else, your conviction to succeed could diminish over time," says Stettner. "To ensure success, you need to develop the will to improve your life, not someone else's vision of it."
Start by listing all the reasons you can think of for slimming down. Highlight any that include other people. Rewrite the list, omitting the highlighted items. Next, inspect each one for phrases like "have to" or "must." Such words imply obligation, not desire; eventually, they'll also invite the instinct to rebel. (Test the theory: Stand in front of a piece of chocolate cake and tell yourself over and over that you must refuse it. You'll instantly want to dig in.) Translate each "have to" into a "want to." If your reasons lose their relevance, pare down the list again, until you find two or three of the most compelling motivations.
Choose an Attainable Goal
Think smaller: Count on losing just 10 percent of your weight within six months, and focus on keeping it off for more than a year. But be careful about relying solely on figures. "A number on the scale isn't a goal; it's a measurement of success," says Bonnie Goodman, a psychotherapist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who specializes in behavioural therapy.
Design Your Own Plan
Rather than trying every new diet fad, create your own plan that will fit your lifestyle. You need to cut out only 150 calories a day to lose 15 pounds in a year, so start small.
Visualize the New You
A mental dress rehearsal prepares you to recognize and accept success. "Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and picture yourself healthier and slimmer," suggests Goodman. How do you walk? With your head held high. How do you dress? More boldly. How do you feel? More confident, energized, and proud of your achievements.
Get Your Priorities Straight
Start by making "commitment appointments." First thing in the morning, set your goal for the day, whether it's to spend an hour at the gym or to cook a healthy meal. Before the beginning of every month, decide which days you'll work out and what you'll do. Shop for healthy foods once a week, always on the same day if possible.
Uncover Emotional Obstacles
Sadness and anger are two of the most common reasons women overeat, but food won't quell either one. Your diary can provide valuable insights into what may be causing you to binge occasionally. Once you start evaluating your eating triggers, you'll be able to develop more effective strategies to deal with the underlying emotions.
Celebrate Every Achievement
"Rewards reinforce positive behaviour, but only if they're meaningful," says Goodman. "When you reach a milestone in your weight-loss or exercise routine, treat yourself to something that celebrates the particular goal you achieved and helps further your progress."
"If you make an unhealthy diet choice, admit that you're fallible, but don't drown in a sea of judgemental thoughts," says Wilbert.
Berating yourself won't foster the courage you need to dust off those cookie crumbs and move on. A momentary slip won't register on the scale. Turning negative thoughts into encouraging ones will propel you to keep at it until you finally reach your goal weight.