Have you embarked on a weight loss journey and you’ve reached your goal weight, only to put it all back on again? Maybe you have experienced weight loss followed by weight gain many times and seem to be stuck in this diet cycle? How do you escape? Well the answer might not be so much to do with what you eat or how much physical exercise you do, it might be your mental blocks to weight loss. In this post we are going to look at the psychology of weight loss so you can see what might be a psychological reason for why you fail to lose weight and what you can do to overcome it.
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We all have unconscious blocks. The unfortunate thing is we do not have such a great ability to see those blocks. Our defense mechanisms keep them locked away from us to help keep us safe and protected. Only, these blocks show up in our behaviours. Behaviours such as continually making poor food choices. Having a poor relationship with food. Having a preoccupation with food and mindless eating.
If you notice your relationship with food is not where you want it to be, or you are not at the healthy weight you want to be or have never achieved sustainable weight loss, it could be you have a psychological barrier to weight loss.
Further Reading – How to lose weight without dieting
The emotional effects of dieting
Dieting can have detrimental effects on our mental health. At the beginning it can feel good, to feel in control and to refuse any unhealthy foods. Though as time progresses it feels like we are missing out. The psychology behind dieting shows that we are dieting to control an aspect of ourselves. Dieting works when we need to tweak our diets, but if we have disordered eating or emotional eating, no diet is going to help.
The common psychological barriers we have to losing weight
Through our best weight loss efforts, we may find we not losing weight. This tells us that there is something else psychologically going on. A key to weight loss is to also look at your mindset. So could one or more of these possibly be stopping you?
1) All-or-Nothing Thinking
This is common to many people find it difficult to find a healthy balance with food. Our eating ends up on a polarised scale, with one end being binge eating or overindulging. It can feel like we have a lack of control and to balance it out, the other end looks like depriving ourselves of food that we like, like chocolate and ice cream, or restrictive dieting.
There is no middle ground and the swinging from one state to another creates other psychological effects such as not feeling good enough, feeling weak because you cannot control your eating. The more you stay in this cycle, the more polarised your eating can be.
2) Fear of failure
What if we put in all this effort and we fail? The thought and prospect of future failure can be too much to bear. In an effort to not fail, we may find that we have placed stricter dieting rules on ourselves. Only that leaves us feeling like we are missing out and guess what – we start having food cravings again.
3) Fear of attention
When we start losing weight, we fear people will notice us, people will start making comments about us. This can bring deep anxiety and can be triggering, especially if we have experienced abuse or an assault in the past. Our unconscious comes in as a way to protect us from that and hence we find ways to keep our food intake or our caloric intake high.
Because of our suppressed emotions, we may find ourselves emotionally eating without recognising that is what we are doing.
4) Negative Body Image
In our society, we are led to believe that Slim is good. We develop this cognitive distortion that once we are a slim person our problems will go away, we will feel better about ourselves and life will be good. To a certain extent, yes we do generally feel better when we eat healthy foods and we are in a healthy weight range. Though part of feeling good is also coming to an acceptance with our body shape. Learning to love ourselves as we are.
Carl Rogers, an American psychologist said that when we can find acceptance with ourselves, then we are able to change.
5) Stress and or Trauma
When we grow up in a stressful environment, this could be due to lack of parental care, abuse and or bullying, our brain develops in a way to cope with that daily stress. Our stress reflexes are on high alert and the parts of our brain responsible for developing our relationships, emotions do not develop as they could. This is the brains response to keeping us safe and alive.
What that means is, in adulthood, we have not learnt how to deal with our stressful emotions. It also means we unconsciously may seek stress and drama as that is what we know. Food and emotions are tied very closely. When we are stressed very often we turn to food as a way of helping us to manage those emotions.
When we look at the psychology behind dieting. We are using diets as a way to feel better about ourselves, to put some control on our lives, when actually what we need is to find a way to better manage our stress and emotions.
Further Reading – How to manage your emotions without turning to food
Tips to Overcome your Psychological Barrier to Weight Loss
To start overcoming what could be psychologically stopping you from losing weight, it pays to start practise being mindful and being introspective.
Here are some steps of what you can do.
1. Keep a food diary
Keeping a record of what and when you eat, is not for the purpose of counting calories or as an excuse to berate yourself. It is for the purpose of mindful eating. Mindful eating is being aware of what you are eating and why. You are looking for eating patterns. You are looking for the emotions that you are feeling that are driving you to eat, and it is not hunger.
2. Stop setting Weight loss goals
I say this because chances are you have set weight loss goals time and time again and not reached them, which has probably left you feeling despondent. Instead, look to make one small change a week. Come away from the all-or-nothing mindset. By making a small change which could be to either add in some healthy food, or to move, exercise for a small amount for improved health or to cut out one thing of unhealthy food. Really we are looking to come away from the fad diets and diet plans to move to more intuitive eating. Though it is a health journey, a marathon not a sprint.
3) Listen to Self-Talk
How we talk to ourselves, dictates how we feel and how we feel shows up in how we eat. We say things like we are not good enough. That we can’t lose weight. I only have to look at a chocolate cake and I put the weight on. Change it into positive self-talk. I can lose weight, I am good enough.
4) Learn Relaxation Techniques
When we are stressed and on the go all day our brain needs to find a way of relaxing and getting us to stop. Food often becomes that way. If we can learn to relax instead, then we can stop turning to food to do that job. Meditations are a great way to do this.
5) Seek Help
When you have tried absolutely everything it could be helpful to seek help. This could be in the form of a therapist or even a diet coach. A specialist eating therapist will help you to see behind the eating and help you to open up to your thoughts and emotions. They will help you get past the psychological barrier to weight loss that you cannot see yourself.
An eating therapist will also help you on a positive and sustainable weight loss journey.