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Psychologists poll: Use mindfulness with your emotions to lose weight

Psychologists recommend using mindfulness to enhance weight loss success
Psychologists recommend using mindfulness to enhance weight loss success
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My previous articles have all highlighted the role of nutrition, sleep, psychology, and exercise as prerequisites for losing weight, yet changing how you look is about more than just behaving in new ways.

If all it takes to look young and be well is to workout, get to bed at 10pm each night, and eat healthily, then why isn’t everybody doing these things? Why is around two-third of the population of both the United States overweight or obese? (1) The answers to these two rhetorical questions are related and explained in this article.

During the 12 years that I’ve been in the health, fitness, nutrition, and life coaching professions, I've seen an increase in the availability of high-quality information on what to do to lose weight. Even though most people think they know what to do to reduce fat, they have emotional blocks to getting to the gym, turning the light out at night just after 10pm, and eating delicious and healthy meals. Knowing what to do isn’t enough nowadays.

To be successful, you’ve got to know how to change your behavior, and that’s my area of expertise. Just setting goals and beginning your diet plan on Monday morning isn’t going to cut it.

Why goals alone don’t produce success
On its own, setting goals is a largely unsuccessful long-term strategy if you want to maintain weight loss. Thinking your way to success by writing down goals is doomed to failure if your emotions are not aligned with your your self-identity, and thoughts of being slimmer, trimmer, and sexier. Do bear in mind that your emotions have a huge influence on determining your behavior, and that they affect your weight loss success.

If you suspect that the above information is bunk, then a report to be published in the February 2013 Consumer Reports magazine may pique your interest (2). Using an online poll, the publication asked more than 1,328 practicing psychologists to share their professional opinions about weight loss. The findings reveal that losing weight and keeping it off requires:

  1. Understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management (according to 44% of the 1328 respondents)
  2. Addressing underlying emotional issues related to weight gain (according to 92% of the 306 psychologists who provide weight loss treatments)
  3. Gaining self-control over behaviors and emotions related to eating
  4. Making proper food choices (28% of the 1,328 respondents)
  5. Maintaining a regular exercise schedule (43% of the 1,328 respondents)

Successful weight loss - the type that you maintain so that you stay healthy and slim - requires you to change your psychology; lifestyle change requires a psychological change. The psychologists in the poll noticed that being mindful of your emotions is essential and helps with weight loss. Why? When you are mindful of your emotions, you allow yourself to feel them fully, without automatically giving them permission to control your behavior.

Applying mindfulness for weight loss
Stress, (the experience of having insufficient resources to cope with a situation (3)), occurs because we fear that one of our needs is going unmet. As a result, we may experience strong, fearful emotions as a way of alerting others that our needs are being violated. These feelings shift our attention away from healthy behaviors, and to focusing on resolving the stressor instead. Some people use food and alcohol as methods of stress reduction, and over eating and drinking alcohol have side effects (obesity and other diseases). Dealing with our emotions relating to food is an essential part of regulating and determining our own behavior.

To be mindful of your feelings you simultaneously observe your:

  1. Breath
  2. Tune into the information coming through your five senses
  3. Bodily sensations
  4. The thoughts ‘in your head’

Instead of letting your thoughts and feelings control you, watch them, along with your breath, bodily sensations, and senses. Keep watching them, without trying to change them, until they pass and drift away, like clouds moving in and out of your field of vision. 
Once a feeling has dissipated, keep watching until you feel centered and ‘in the moment’. Then make the decision about whether you need to eat, what to eat, and how much.

Need help with weight loss? James Williams is available to help people to use mindfulness and align their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to lose weight. For more information, email him at: James@FreeSpiritLifeCoach.com

Article Sources:

1 Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K.,, Ogden, C. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among US adults, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(5), 491-497. [Download PDF from JAMA]

2 Eurekalert.org: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-01/apa-pop010913.php

3 Lazarus, R. S. (2006). Stress and emotion: A new synthesis. NY: Springer Publishing Company.

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