For long term weight loss, start with your mind, not your plate.
Why do so many people find it virtually impossible to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off? Most women I spoke to during the past 5 years had been on a diet within the previous one to four years. After coaching many of these women toward their health goals, it’s become apparent to me that they started out by focusing on their diets alone. But I quickly realised that it wasn’t what was on their plates which most urgently needed to change. To resolve their challenges for good, they’d need to start with their minds.
For sustained weight loss, are the odds stacked against you?
Various studies by obesity experts cite that it may be as few as 5% of the population (in the US at least) who succeed at maintaining weight loss for 4 years and beyond.
So if you believed this statistic to be even close to accurate, what could be discouraging women specifically from maintaining the healthy habits they worked so hard for?
To stick to healthy eating habits, you need more than the best diet
If you happened to look up the description of one or more of the most popular weight-loss diets today, there are some common features you may notice.
The majority of these diets focus on similar aspects of a person’s eating habits:
- Reducing the number of calories you consume
- Reducing or completely cutting out certain foods/entire food groups
- Increasing certain types of foods or entire food groups
- Controlling at which times of the day or night you eat and drink
- Portion sizes and the number of portions per food/food group
Now let me just be clear, I’m not saying that these factors aren’t significant. But in my experience, the women who find themselves repeatedly falling back into an unhealthy lifestyle, don’t just need guidance and education on nutrition and exercise. Some of them are actually quite knowledgeable on the subject.
If you truly want to change the way you eat so that it becomes a lifestyle, a way of preparing and enjoying your food without guilt, stress, or constantly feeling deprived, you have to work on your mind as well.
Four reasons why women may fail to sustain healthy weight
1: You don’t just eat because you are hungry
If you only ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full, it would have been much simpler to maintain healthy a body weight. But instead, there is a myriad of reasons why you munch.
To curb boredom
To fill the void of loneliness
To celebrate occasion or success
To receive a reward for good behaviour
To show or receive affection
To dull/suppress pain and grief
I’m sure if you gave it some thought you could come up with a few of your own.
Even if you recognized right now that there are healthier choices you could turn to in the situations I’ve listed above, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch and making a decision.
It’s probably taken years for these habits to be installed, so it would be fair to expect AT LEAST a few months of deep work and commitment before you will consistently choose healthier alternatives.
2: Your relationship with and beliefs about food
Think about the last time you ate your favourite food or snack. What thoughts or feelings did it leave you with? How often do you take your time with each bite, savouring the textures and flavours, afterwards feeling grateful and content?
Or in reality, do you eat in a rush and gulp it down, eating so fast you aren’t even appreciating it, leaving you with a feeling of having done something bad that you have to make up for during the following meal or workout? Does indulging in what you personally would label ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ foods leave you unsatisfied, sluggish, and feeling worse about yourself than before?
How freeing would it be to believe that there was a wide variety of true natural foods which you could include in your diet, are nourishing to your body, and could be enjoyed in the appropriate time and conditions?
I have experienced personally and through my clients’ journeys that when you educate yourself about each food – the nutritional complexity, the interaction with and affect on your body, as well as the best and simplest preparation methods, this knowledge can release a lot of the fear surrounding some of these foods.
In addition to learning about real foods, we each have a responsibility to become educated about our body’s unique needs, conditions, and limitations. This is one reason why I don’t recommend specific diets to my clients. There is a myriad of factors which could influence how various types of foods, and the different ways of preparing these foods, may affect any person’s body including their gut health and brain health.
This additional layer of information further serves to release you from ignorance-based fear about the foods you want to eat, and the foods you do eat. It gives you the power to focus on the foods that will nourish and support YOUR body, giving you room to be creative and have fun with your meals and snacks.
This ability to be flexible, creative, and have fun with food, helps you sustain healthier eating habits for much longer. When you are in a rigid mindset believing that you have to stick to the same meal plan every month, which may not include the flavours and combinations you personally prefer, you will be more inclined to make unhealthy choices. You may sabotage your efforts more often by falling back to unhealthy and super processed snack foods or pre-prepared meals, in your weak moments at the end of an exhausting day and when you’re not feeling well physically or emotionally.
3: You aren’t mindful and aware of true hunger and fullness
So many women who grew up from the ’50s to late ’90s were taught that eating a certain way made them either a good kid or a bad kid.
Good girls eat when the family eats
Good girls eat whatever is on their plates
Good girls finish all their food
Good girls don’t eat before mealtimes
Did you know that babies under the age of 2 years are able to regulate their own appetites and will not over eat, IF they are fed on demand? That means that normally developing healthy babies and toddlers will not eat too little or too much if their carers consistently give them food (solids, formula or breastmilk) when they show signs of hunger.
Kids can start losing this hyper-awareness of hunger and fullness once their carers force them to eat when they are still content, or denies them food / intentionally delays meal times when they are already hungry. Excessive snacking (bordering on bingeing) can also be a cause of this disconnect.
Some questions to consider or explore as you journal:
How often have you eaten simply because you were in the habit of having a snack or meal at that time of the day?
Do you still believe that it is unhealthy to skip any meal or snack, even if you are not hungry?
When you eat, do you eat until everything is finished, or are you aware of your body’s signals which tell you that you are close to or already satisfied?
Simple ways to avoid a caloric excess by strengthening your brain-body connection:
- Eat only when you are hungry
- Stop eating when you are close to full (it could take up to 7 minutes before your brain realises that you are full)
- Be mindful of how different foods make your body feel in the hours after eating, consider avoiding those that make you feel unwell – e.g. sluggish, give you brain fog, or make you bloated
- When dishing up or buying food, opt for fewer servings and smaller serving sizes than you think you will eat. When you’ve finished everything, wait a few minutes before deciding that you do want and need a second serving
4: What you feed your mind, impacts what you feed your belly
Have you realized how different types of content and media affects your state of mind and even your mood? If you are a regular consumer of personal development or spiritual growth content, books, and films, you would have learnt how even the subtlest pessimistic or dark influences can alter your focus and thought patterns. This then eventually manifests in real life through obstacles such as self-sabotage, procrastination, or anxiety.
If any of these obstacles sounds like something you’ve experienced in the past, it shouldn’t surprise you that the same is true for unhealthy lifestyle habits such as eating super processed/fried/sugary foods, addictive behaviour like smoking, and excessive use of alcohol.
So, when we are living in a world surrounded by noise coming from so many sources, while most of us rely on being connected to many influences virtually 24/7, what can we do to improve how we filter and control what we feed our minds?
Suggestions to clean up and audit your mental influences
- Decide what you want to focus on – what is true, good, and supportive for how you want to feel and make choices?
- Take a look at all the places where you visit/read/watch content regularly, this includes your email inbox and tv/movie streaming services. Make a list of the profiles/friends/accounts who post and share content or information which is in line with what you want to focus on.
- Add these positive and supportive influences to your ‘see first’ list, create shortcuts, or do whatever you can to make sure you see their content or hear/watch their information first and most often.
- Now this next step may be time-intensive for some, but it’s critical to ensure that you reduce the pessimistic and negative noise you are bombarded with every day:Whenever you are consuming content (for pleasure, recreation, to connect with friends or whatever reason), take your time to consider what each piece makes you think of, how it makes you feel about yourself and the world, or whether it triggers an inclination to turn to a habit/food/substance that you want to reduce or avoid altogether.
Each time you notice the content of a certain account/publisher/influencer affecting you negatively in any way, consider removing them from your feed, muting their account, or removing them from your list – choose an action that will drastically reduce the number and frequency of content or information you get to see from them.
- Pray regularly and earnestly for God to make it clear which influences you should remove from your life, or at least reduce how often you listen/speak to them. Sometimes these may be mentors, colleagues, or so-called ‘experts’, they may even be trusted friends. Let His Spirit guide you, making you willing and open to His correction while inspiring urgent action.
- Lastly, I want you to seriously consider reaching out to someone who can keep you accountable for the commitments you make to yourself. The right support person can encourage you, inspire you, and give you much-needed perspective on the journey to a healthier lifestyle.
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