I was recently interviewed by one of our local news channels about a ‘new’ strategy for weight loss. The idea goes a little bit beyond ‘thinking your way thin’—which focuses on behavior change when it comes to food choice—to something more like ‘believing your way thin.’ It’s basically an attitude adjustment. If you tell yourself and believe that you’re already a healthy, active person who eats well, then you’re much more likely to behave like one. And those healthy behaviors should, in turn, lead you closer to your goal.
The psychology of weight loss focuses mostly on shifting one’s approach to food, like determining what it is that leads to overeating and how to replace bad behaviors with good ones. It also means teaching our inner voices to ‘talk nice.’ Positive self-talk means that we don’t beat ourselves up when we slip. Instead, our inner voices remind us that just because we slipped, it doesn’t mean we have to fall.
The new twist to this psychology takes this a step further. It’s more than believing that we have what it takes to reach our weight loss goals—we actually tell ourselves that we’re already there.
The thinking goes like this: If we constantly tell ourselves that we’re fat and lazy, it’s pretty much a given that we’ll act the part. But if we envision ourselves as healthy and active, we’re more likely to behave the way healthy people do. We’ll eat better, we’ll get more exercise, and we’ll shift our self-image into something much more positive.
Of course, positive self-talk isn’t going to lead to weight loss all on its own, but it is an important piece to the complex puzzle of weight control. Along with attitude adjustment, successful weight management also means learning new skills—like healthy cooking and calorie counting, finding time to exercise and learning new and healthy eating behaviors.
So, what you do is important, but how you feel about yourself matters, too. It’s more than just the number of calories you’ve eaten or how many steps you’ve logged on your pedometer. It’s about giving yourself a pat on the back for your efforts and noticing how much healthier, trimmer and stronger you feel as a result.
But sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We tell ourselves that we’ve never been able to lose or that exercise is too hard. And when we mess up, it’s even worse. Then it’s “I’m a failure,” “I have no willpower” or “I’m lazy.” We tend to focus more on the negative (“I ate way too much at lunch”), and less on the positive (“I walked a lot faster than usual on my walk this morning.”).
Let’s say that you do slip up—maybe you picked away at a donut at work. Your inner voice might say, “Since I’ve already messed up, I may as well pig out for the rest of the day.” But you could turn that self-talk right around and let that voice tell you instead, “It’s not the end of the world, and if I’m careful the rest of the day I’ll be fine.”
There’s an old saying, “Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.” If one of your friends complained to you that they were having struggles with their weight, you wouldn’t tell them that they’re lazy or that they’ll never reach their goals, would you? So, why do you say these things to yourself?
Learn to give yourself encouragement, just as you would with your friends. Because when it comes to weight loss, if you tell yourself you can it’s a lot more likely that you will.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.