Build Strong Mental Skills to Enhance Weight Loss Efforts

I picked up a recent issue of Runner’s World magazine, intrigued by the teaser on the cover:  “Beyond the Mantra – Transform Your Running with Your Mind”.  Hmm, sounds like something I talk about often, but in reference to eating habits and weight loss.  “Transform Your Eating with Your Mind” would be the title I could use to describe what I think is so important about changing habits.

The article is great.  I would link to it, but it requires a subscription to access the online version, so I will summarize the points I think are most helpful.

Coach Dean Hebert gives these tips (Comments in parentheses are mine.):

Select a performance goal.  Decide what you want to achieve by the end of your training . . .  (Yes, set a weight loss goal.  Make it realistic.)

ID your weaknesses.  (Do you habitually eat at night after dinner, even when you are physically satisfied?  Do you eat most meals out?  Maybe you are allowing yourself to get over-hungry too often?)

Set process goals.  These are the specific, measurable actions you do every week to help you reach your performance goal.  (I have my weight loss group members set a weekly goal that is not an end point goal, but a behavior-based goal instead.  It might be not eating after a certain time at night or eating a vegetable and salad with dinner every night.)

Develop focus tools.  (Anything that helps to calm anxiety and keep you in the moment is effective.  Breathing deeply or positive self-talk are a couple of examples.  These tools will not prevent all overeating, but with practice you will improve.  That is the key.)

Sync it up.  Train your brain as you train your body.  (Keep a journal of your successes with weekly goals and which tools were helpful.  Noticing your self-talk will keep you progressing away from negativity.)

Practice, practice, practice.  (This is basic.  You must practice new habits to make them stick.  This includes habitual thought processes.  If you want to be more positive, you have to practice that way of thinking.  As you go, make changes to your eating plan as needed to increase your success rate.  Continued practice – without judgement – with give you the self-knowledge to recognize your needs.)

Reinforce process goals.  (For example, if your weakness has been eating for comfort at night, zero in on this time and take note of techniques that work for you.)

Prep for race day.  (Prep for your meals – and your life.  This means you must make sure you have food available, so go to the grocery store and do a little planning.  When you eat out, check the menu ahead of time so you will have a plan.  This need not be lots of work.  Start where you are and work toward improvement.)

Visualize executing your race plan.  (See yourself making better choices at the grocery store and at home/work.  Visualize yourself stopping when your body has had enough.  Whatever it is you are practicing, it doesn’t hurt to practice mentally as well.)

Stick with routine.  (Routine helps build habits.  You don’t have to eat the same thing day after day, but if you have a general pattern of eating, it will feel easier.  You won’t have to make so many last minute decisions.  That can be stressful!)

I love what Hebert says about what we can control and what we can’t:

You don’t control if you run 3:30.  You only control the steps that improve your chances of hitting that time, from how well you train to whether you take in fluids on race day.

BINGO!  I constantly remind my clients that the scale is not a controllable entity. (Damn scale, right!?)  It does not always make sense.  What you CAN control is what you do to get to your goal weight.  Are  you making healthy food available and keeping over-tempting treats out of your environment?  Are you eating an appropriate amount of food (enough to feel just satisfied) most of the time.

Hebert also encourages looking at the big picture when “keeping score” of your efforts.  I like to tell clients to put away the magnifying glass when looking at how they are doing.  You only need to improve overall, not every single day.  Step back and take a broader look at your progress.  Better yet, think of yourself as the earth and see how things look from the space shuttle.  You will miss the little bumps and disappointments.  Then you can see what you are really accomplishing.

3 thoughts on “Build Strong Mental Skills to Enhance Weight Loss Efforts

  • If people wanting to lose weight would approach it more like fitness, it wouldn’t be so mysteriously difficult. You wouldn’t expect to walk into the gym fresh from years of being on the couch and expect to press the heaviest weights or run a marathon….you would start where your body allowed and slowly work up as your body grew stronger. The same concept applies to changing the way you approach eating. (At least that’s what I’ve learned!)

  • Agree with this article and agree with Kathy in her comment. What exactly is weight loss if you are not working together with like-minded people in the same room in a group atmosphere setting while taking the fitness to another level, for you. Having a short-term outlook and believing that fitness and you will get closer together one day at a time is what drives that long-term goal closer to reality.

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