Educators, Dietitians, Nurses, Mental Health & Fitness Professionals
Menu Planning & Recipes
« Weight Loss Plateaus: How to reignite your weight loss | Main | Pick Your Approach to Weight Loss Carefully... »

Want Success With Your Weight? Fix Your Thinking

The biggest obstacle between you and success with weight management probably isn’t eating better or even exercising—it’s very likely negative thinking and sabotaging self-talk. It may never have occurred to you that your most problematic habit might be faulty thinking, or that long term success with weight management ultimately hinges on fixing your thinking.

“We all talk to ourselves. We may not want to admit it, but all thinking human beings have a constant stream-of-consciousness chatter going on,” says psychologist Stephen Gullo PhD. That stream-of-chatter essentially programs you for either success or failure.

The good news is that you can take control of your internal dialog so that it is programming you for success. Changing your thinking so that it supports you instead of sabotages you is called cognitive restructuring.

Cognitive Restructuring is a proven behavioral strategy for successful weight control based on the premise that distorted or dysfunctional thinking strongly influences a person’s behavior. It involves identifying distorted thinking (self-defeating, false, and irrational beliefs) and replacing them with more rational, constructive thoughts and beliefs.

Examples of Negative and Sabotaging Self-Talk:

False Beliefs: The interesting thing about false beliefs is that they provide convenient excuses for failure.

  • “I’ve ruined my metabolism with yo-yo dieting—my body is broken.” Unless you have severe undiagnosed hypothyroidism, your metabolism does fall in the normal range for your gender, age and weight. If you doubt this have your RMR measured so you can stop doubting it.
  • “I’m destined to be heavy due to family genetics.” Genetics do play a role in a variety of areas that can affect your weight, including the tendency to overeat, and be physically inactive. But biology is not destiny. If fact, your choices about what you eat and how much you move ultimately determine your weight. You are still in control.
  • “I haven’t found the right doctor/pill/nutritionist/diet—nothing works for me.” The underlying error is that responsibility for changing is put outside of yourself rather than being owned by you. By the same token when you’ve had success you’ve also given the credit to the (fad) diet instead of to your own hard work. In reality all the diet did was trick you into eating fewer calories—YOU did all the work! When you own responsibility for your weight you also—correctly—give yourself the CREDIT for your success.
  • “I can’t wait for this diet to be over—I’m tired of watching what I eat.” The underlying error is thinking that temporary changes might have permanent results. Additionally, you may be telling yourself how unfair things are, and how deprived you feel.
  • “Food is my friend.” Food—and especially problem trigger foods—are not friends, treats, rewards nor comfort. What have these foods really done for you? In fact they have cost you happiness, quality of life, and self esteem by creating a never ending struggle with your weight. Trigger foods are more like enemies. Any food that you can’t control is controlling you, and needs to be dealt with accordingly.

Unrealistic Expectations:

  • “I want to lose 40 pounds for my class reunion (wedding, anniversary, before summer, etc.).” You didn’t put the weight on overnight and it comes off even slower than you put it on. Expecting otherwise is unrealistic and a set-up for disappointment and failure. The smartest approach is small—and therefor achievable—goals. That way you have more frequent celebrations of success, and you know you CAN lose the next 5 pounds.

Self-Critical & Defeatist Thinking:

  • “It’s too hard, I have no self-control, I will never lose weight.” You are simply programming yourself for failure. Your mind will dutifully find all kinds of evidence to support what you tell it—so if you keep saying, “I have no self-control,” you’ll never have any self-control.
  • “Poor me, I’m deprived, it’s not fair!” The truth is that you CAN have anything you want whenever you want. You can’t however do that AND be trim (and that truth applies to everyone). This kind of self-pitying, self-indulgent, self talk keeps you stuck. Worse, the end point of this type of thinking can be highly destructive—leading to a binge cycle that spirals you out of control.
           Turn deprivation thinking on its head—the reality is that by over-indulging in certain foods you have deprived yourself of a healthy weight and appearance, self-regard, peace of mind, and ultimately left you feeling unhappy and out of control. How many years have your handful of trigger foods tricked you into perpetually feeling frustrated and miserable?
           Finally, add in some perspective: real deprivation is a child going to bed hungry because he/she literally doesn’t have enough food to eat.

Basically, any change efforts are bound to fail if you don’t also change the internal conversation that you sabotage yourself with. You can continue with a negative, pessimistic, defeatist and often self-demeaning internal dialog (and keep spinning your wheels)—or you can take control with an upbeat, winning attitude that supports success.

Examples of Supportive and Constructive Self-Talk. Change your thinking and weight loss will naturally follow:

  • “Losing and maintaining weight, or gaining weight, is under my control.”
  • “It’s not a treat if it keeps me fat.”
  • “Avoiding trigger foods is not deprivation, it’s liberation!”
  • “Managing my home environment makes a winning day easy!”
  • “Planning trumps willpower!”
  • “I CAN have everything I need; and what I don’t need I don’t want.”
  • “I am mastering the skills necessary for success.”
  • “I’m in charge now—food no longer controls me.”
  • “A craving is just a feeling that passes quickly when I ignore it.”
  • “I CAN have everything I need; and what I don’t need I don’t want.”
  • “I can master the skills necessary for success. I just need to take it one step—and one day or hour—at a time.”
  • “Weight management depends on skills that I am mastering.”
  • “Every time I say, 'no, thank you,' I say 'yes' to my health and happiness.”
  • “I CAN have that, but I CHOOSE not to.”
  • “Good food is body fuel, body nourishment, but not entertainment. Treats are for special occasions, not every day.”
  • “A real treat is buying smaller clothes.”
  • “Eating doesn’t solve my problems, it adds to them!”
  • “With each ‘no, thank you’ I gain more control, self-reliance, and self esteem.”

How to Replace Sabotaging Self-Talk with Constructive Self-Talk:

  1. Start by tuning in and listening to your internal dialog so that you can begin to identify your “flawed thinking” and in each case write a constructive/supportive statement—or belief—that counters it.
         Don't worry if this seems difficult or awkward at first—after all you're in  the habit of not fully tuning into it consciously. Like most new habits, it will take a little practice.
  2. Create a personal set of 3 x 5 cards with your constructive statements and read them a minimum of twice each day. The more often the better! Keep adding to your collection of supportive statements—every time you catch your internal dialog going negative, write a new supportive counter statement.
  3. It’s also helpful to listen to yourself speak each of your new constructive beliefs and statements. An easy way to do that is to leave yourself a message on your cell phone (or voice recorder) that you can listen to several times a day.
  4. Immediately read or listen to your cards whenever you find yourself tempted to slip. Make sure you memorize some supportive one-liners too. The more you read—and listen to—your new constructive beliefs and statements, the faster your “new thinking” will be internalized. Essentially, what you are doing is waging an internal PR campaign that reprograms you for success!

It’s Up to You. Of course this all depends on your really wanting to change. If deep down you are not actually ready to give up being pessimistic, defeatist, and self-critical you’ll make excuses for not identifying and fixing your sabotaging self-talk. That’s okay—it just means you’re not yet ready to leave this self-defeating (crazy as it sounds) comfort zone. There are always costs as well as benefits to changing. Know, however, that serious success with your weight—the kind that lasts—will require dealing with any unsupportive self-talk that holds you back. You can and will be successful as soon as YOU decide to be!


PS--This blog is excerpted from a new section of the latest edition of my book, The NEW Healthy Eating & Weight Management Guide.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>