mindset in weight loss

I Think, Therefore I Am – Mindset in Weight Loss Journeys

July 20, 2022

After one of my presentations about emotional eating, a 60-ish, obese woman ran up to me pleading for help. She insisted that nothing I had presented resonated with her because, in her case, she “just woke up fat one day”. At first, I thought the lady was being facetious, but I quickly realized that she honestly believed the extra weight had just “come upon her”. She lacked the self-awareness to recognize that her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors had played a role in her weight gain. And, at that point, the woman was unwilling to learn to take control of her own destiny. As far as she was concerned, she had fallen victim to the fat fairy and would have to go on living that way.

In the above scenario, the woman’s mind was offering some sort of protection for her. As long as she believed she had not played a role in her weight gain, she was off the hook. She had rationalized her issue away, convincing her mind that she did not need to do the challenging work of modifying her thoughts and habits. She firmly believed that something outside of herself had caused her issue. I wished I could have assisted her, but I understood. She was not ready for change.

My interaction with the audience participant demonstrates the interplay between our thoughts, feelings, and habits. More often than not, emotions seem to come out of nowhere and have a life of their own. However, it is possible and necessary to consider where our emotions come from. We have more control than we usually acknowledge. One of my favorite quotes by Lao Tzu says it best: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” I would expand upon Lao Tzu’s quote by adding that our thoughts become beliefs and feelings that affect our habits. 

Mindset in Weight Loss Journeys

Whether we choose to admit it or not, thoughts and words are very powerful. Our thoughts cause us to either learn and grow or remain the same and constrict. Our thoughts encourage or discourage; motivate or depress; gratify or offend; soothe or terrify. What we tell ourselves matters. Thoughts become feelings, and feelings become actions. Through life experience, many of our thoughts become so automatic that we don’t realize we’re thinking them. Feelings seem to come out of nowhere, but it’s important to learn to identify the automatic thoughts that precede the emotions.

After years of conditioning, it can be challenging to pinpoint our thought processes. From the time we are born, we are bombarded with messages about self-worth, body image, food, and tradition. We hear the same messages so many times that we come to believe them as gospel. As we move through life, we are not even aware of most of the beliefs that govern our lives. Thoughts become so habitual that it takes training to recognize the negative automatic thoughts that are informing our emotions. Much of overeating is fueled by emotional eating. In order to achieve successful weight loss, mindset is a vital component.

Patterns of emotional eating can be so ingrained into one’s life that they seem to “come out of nowhere”. Most people struggling with weight loss describe feeling controlled by overeating ‘demons’. 

As much as someone might want to lose weight and develop healthy eating habits, patterns of overeating can seem impossible to overcome. Such patterns become routines that the brain performs in response to certain triggers. When we try to break bad habits, the brain resists the change and reverts to the familiar habit. When we are triggered by something, automatic thoughts seem to pop into our minds out of nowhere. They can cause us to experience sadness, frustration, guilt, defeat, and any number of other negative emotions. With time and coaching, we can learn to identify and challenge our automatic negative thoughts. 

Learn to Identify and Challenge Negative Thoughts

For example, George is so frustrated by his boss that he feels his stomach churn with stress. When he arrives home, he delves into a box of Oreos, telling himself, “They will settle my stomach”. In this instance, George’s thought process has resulted in him becoming a victim. If he takes a moment to review what happened, he can review what thoughts crossed his mind as he became enraged toward his boss. Things like, “He has no respect for me;” “He’s so stupid;” “He’ll probably fire me just before I can retire”. These thoughts disqualify all of the positive aspects of George’s boss and workplace. He discounts the fact that he has been a top performer with the same company for over a decade. George goes on to catastrophize by thinking he’ll get fired before he has the chance to retire. Naturally, these negative thoughts produce negative emotions. 

By the time George arrives in his kitchen, he seems possessed by fiends telling him to indulge in the cookies. He rationalizes breaking his diet by thinking, “They’ll settle my stomach”. George’s mindset has caused him to surrender control to his negative thoughts and emotions. His habit of overindulging in response to stress is reinforced by the temporary pleasure the cookies offer.

The good news is that George can learn to identify his triggers, feelings, and thoughts. George can train himself to challenge his automatic thoughts. For instance, he might remind himself of the positive review his boss gave him and the fact that his boss has worked his way up in the company and likely has something to offer. With time, George’s negative automatic thoughts will become more self-affirming and better for his mental well-being. He will learn to curb overgeneralization, fortune-telling, jumping to conclusions, black-and-white thinking, and a host of other cognitive distortions.

Since automatic thoughts and their resulting feelings are so ingrained in us from a very early age, it is often advisable to seek out the assistance of a coach who will offer objective feedback.

Dieters can learn to rewire their brains to change their habits and, thereby, make healthy eating and fitness a lifestyle. Although it might feel overwhelming at first, it is important to identify the motivation for changing one’s habits. What’s prompting you to make changes at this time? The next step is to learn to catch your automatic thoughts and reframe them. Learning to do this will have a significant positive effect on your emotions, habits, and outcome. As your mindset changes, your life will change! 

Jenn A. Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT is a Life & Wellness Coach, Psychotherapist, and Personal Fitness Trainer with  FormulaForExcellence.com

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Coach Jenna Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT is a Life & Wellness Coach, Psychotherapist, and Personal Fitness Trainer with advanced degrees in Behavioral Science, Psychology, and Marriage and Family Therapy. She works with clients to redesign their lifestyle habits. To learn more about her services visit www.FormulaForExcellence.com
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