Self-Care & Motivation

Mental Blocks to Weight Loss

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Losing weight is not a straightforward task, and can get disconcerting when you dont see results even after regular exercise and healthy eating. But did you know that food isn't just about nutrition? There’s an entire psychology behind our everyday eating habits, and research on the Psychology of Weight Loss has been around for many years now. There have been several studies conducted to  get deeper insights on the extent to which our brain controls and impacts the ease and amount of weight we can lose. We all know the constant struggle to resist cravings and how hard it is to muster the willpower to refuse that one slice of pizza or all the sweet desserts made and shared in the festival seasons. So to lose weight, just changing our eating habits is not enough, we also need to change our mindset.

1. What is Behavioural Psychology and how does it help in weight loss?

Behavioral psychology aims to understand why we behave the way we do and analyze patterns in our actions and behaviors. Using it to aid weight loss means understanding the many factors that influence weight gain which can help us make changes or prevent this from happening. Weight loss is an uphill battle for anyone, but those dealing with emotional struggles may have a harder time reaching their goal. The first step to a healthy resolution is identifying the issue. You may find that there is more than one roadblock to address. The good news is, however, that these hurdles are surmountable.

2. What are some Behavioural theories that can help or aid weight loss?

Using Physiological Mechanisms for weight loss is a concept that is already well established now. The 5 most impactful Physiological Mechanisms normally used to induce weight loss are -

  • Caloric Expenditure
  • Appetite
  • Macronutrient Selection
  • Preserving Lean Body Mass
  • Preventing Decline of Resting Metabolic Rate.

Sounds easy enough right? But it’s anything but that.

While it’s true that the Physiological Mechanisms have proved to be very efficient in aiding weight loss, it’s the actual doing of these mechanisms that determine the probability of you achieving it. In short, this 'doing' is called your 'Behaviour'. There are 2 theories in Behavioural Psychology that define how behaviour is connected to achieving weight loss outcomes.

( a ) Social Cognitive Theory

Based on the reciprocal relationships between person, environment, and behaviour. It suggests that individuals receive reinforcement value from connecting their behaviours to valued outcomes.

Examples

( b ) Self-Efficacy Theory

Continuation of the social cognitive theory which suggests that confidence in completing behaviours of interest will lead to accomplishing that behaviour.

3. What makes Behavioural Psychology an integral part of Weight Management?

Successful weight management is heavily dependent on healthy eating and exercise behaviors. But when the primary goal is to not only lose weight but sustain it in the long term, we may find that physiological mechanisms as a stand-alone level may not get us the kind of results we want. This is where introducing Psychosocial factors along with established physiological constructs guarantees a successful outcome.

According to the Baker and Brownell Model, the relationship between Physical Activities, Physiological Effects and Psychological Variables are interdependent and mutually beneficial. This trio of variables help make the holistic all encompassing process easy to achieve and even more easier to keep going.

Relationship between Physical Activities and Psychological Variables.

What are the Psychological variables that impact Weight Loss?

There are 5 Psychological variables which when improved has proved to be beneficial to the Physical activity being done.

  • Mood
  • Body Image
  • Self Esteem
  • Self-efficacy
  • Coping
Impact of Psychological Variables

4. What are the different types of Barriers to Weight Loss?

There are numerous barriers to weight loss and each individual encounters situations and perceives the challenges they face differently. Barriers can be Real or Perceived, both of which are equally capable of hindering the achievement of weight loss.

( a ) Apparent or Real Barriers

Real Barriers can be Physical or Environmental.

Physical Barriers include poor health conditions, underlying medical and physical barriers like fatigue, discomfort, dehydration and lack of sleep.

Environmental Barriers include having limited access to healthy food or exercise facilities, poor social support, or a lack of time due to social, family, and professional pressure situations.

( b ) Perceived Barriers

Perceived barriers are those hurdles that are formed based on our own emotions. These are the thoughts and feelings that can hold us back from losing weight. Identifying Emotional barriers to Weight Loss has been a big breakthrough in Behavioural Science and Psychology. Some Examples of Perceived Barriers include -

  • Skepticism about your ability to reach goals
  • Negative associations with physical activity
  • Craving for comfort foods when sad, anxious or stressed (Emotional Eating)
  • Lack of awareness of obesity as a problem
  • High stress levels or Depression
  • Uninformed beliefs regarding hereditary or generational body types
  • Lethargy and just a simple lack of motivation.

5. What are the most common Mental and Emotional Roadblocks to Weight Loss?

( a ) All-or-Nothing Thinking

This type of thinking refers to persistent exaggerated thoughts that make us believe that we are either a complete success or a total failure based on any singular choices we may make. An all-or-nothing thinking style is most often related to a perceived lack of control over being disciplined or just simply following a routine. This could be about eating that extra plate of dessert or choosing to continue sleeping instead of going for a morning walk or any other situation where we struggle to return to a healthy pattern after giving in to an indulgence. All of us have experienced that time when we cheated on our diet and felt so guilty for doing it that we decided to just give up rather than get back on track. Our assumption that even a slight misstep in the control of our diet, or a missed exercise session makes it a complete failure, is the perceived mental block that we need to push through.

( b ) Negative Body Image

“ Don’t waste so much time thinking about how much you weigh. There is no more mind-numbing, boring, idiotic, self-destructive diversion from the fun of living ” - Meryl Streep

We live in a society that promotes physical beauty as a symbol of success and perfection. The truth of the matter is that all of us at some point have been critical or not too pleased with our own bodies or appearance and dreamt of being a taller, slimmer, or curvier version of ourselves. In fact having a Negative body image is so common, scientists have a term for it - Normative Discontent. Body Image is our thoughts and feelings, the way we choose to see our bodies, how we treat it, our perception of its size and shape, and behaviors we engage in or avoid because of it. So having a negative body image interferes and creates a mind block making it difficult to lose weight. Now you may ask-

" But why is it important to have a positive body image? Isn't having a negative image more motivating if we want to make a change? "

No its not!

In fact it is impossible to motivate yourself or try to adopt healthy habits when you are constantly telling yourself that you look horrible and imperfect. A negative body image is also tied to self-worth, and that being a certain body shape or size is what makes one worthy. So all these preoccupations we have about weight and shape may lead to feeling embarrassed in public, becoming self-conscious and avoiding any sort of activity. Our thoughts impact our emotions and behaviors, and its clear that feeling a strong dissatisfaction with our bodies will always stand in the way of reaching a healthy weight.

( c ) Stress Eating

It is no secret how the term 'Comfort Food' got its name, cuz eating does make you feel good. But if you find yourself needing the distraction of comfort food or you reach out to grab a fattening snack every time you are stressed or anxious, you are most probably stress eating. This means you may be eating when you’re not hungry, or without even thinking about it. We often dont even notice it, but not only do we eat more hen we are anxious, our food choices also change making us turn to foods that are sugary or high calorie. If this wasn't enough, every time we are stressed, our bodies produce more of a hormone called Cortisol that causes weight gain.

( d ) Depression

Studies have shown that Depression can not only makes you gain weight, but also prevent weight loss. Research also suggests that merely having the perception of being overweight can increase psychological distress and lead to depression. In addition to symptoms like insomnia or fatigue making weight loss more difficult, some common prescribed anti-depressants may cause weight gain, making you feel like you're stuck in an impossible situation with no way out.

6. What are some Psychological Strategies to overcome these blocks?

The core principle of using a psychological approach to weight loss is to identify faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking, looking for patterns of unhelpful behavior and learning better ways of coping with them. This not only helps in relieving symptoms but also makes room for healthy habits and behaviours to show more effective weight loss results.

Using a psychological approach also involves changing your thought processes and thinking patterns, which in turn will eventually help to change behavioral patterns like over-eating, sedentary lifestyle, reactions to stress, etc.

Some Strategies to change Thinking and Behavioral Patterns are -

  • Educate yourself and be more aware by reading and learning about weight loss and the various factors that contribute to obesity.
  • Create small and incremental goals that are realistic and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound)
  • Enroll into programs that can help you modify your habits and behaviours rather than one with just a food and exercise plan.
  • Think Positive and believe that change can happen.
  • Understand that losing weight is not just a lifestyle change, but also about a mindset change.
  • Don't look at exercising like a chore. Find ways to enjoy any sort of movement that can get your heart rate up.

7. What are some Tips and Tricks to coax your mind and body into developing healthy behaviours?

  • Use dark-colored plates and bowls to create a drastic contrast between the plate’s color and the color of the meal, making the meal more obvious and larger in appearance.
  • Smaller or portion-controlled dinnerware can help in reducing the amount of food being eaten making it appear like there is a larger amount of food on it.
  • Eating fibrous-rich vegetables and drink a lot of water to make you feel fuller.
  • Increase motivation and challenge negative thoughts by reading positive affirmations and keeping them handy on your phone to be read especially when struggling.
  • Find ways other than diet and exercise to work on self-care and emotional well-being.
  • Increase your happy chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, using healthy ways whenever possible.
  • Create a support team by surrounding yourself with positive people so that your weight-loss journey does not have to be a solitary one.

Bottom Line

Weight loss does not have a one-sided approach; it should be comprehensive and holistic while taking the mind, body, and spirit into account. Every body is unique and different thus requiring our own personalized ways to lose weight and sustain that in the long term. While there are several barriers to weight loss, there are many facilitators as well that can help us develop healthy eating habits and exercise routines. By being positive about our self-body perception, enhancing our self-confidence, embracing social support, increasing self-motivation and rewarding ourselves with incentives we can achieve and maintain weight loss in the long term and see a marked improvement in our overall quality of life. If you are struggling to lose weight by yourself going down the same typical route, behavioural tools could be the solution. Reach out to the experts at Sugarfit to get a guided tour along your weight loss journey, ending in getting and keeping that pesky weight off successfully.

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