While our diet industry might have us still believe that weight loss is all about math, and our food industry seems happy to support this belief (with all of it’s fat, protein, carbs, sugars, salt and grams of fiber on the nutritional facts label), it’s simply not the truth – weight loss is not all about math – it’s intrinsically connected to our psychology, our emotions, and our beliefs.
In some ways, it would be a lot simpler if it was just about the math. Then we could easily get those 50 grams of protein, and 40 grams of fiber that have the right caloric load with the right minerals and vitamin needs, and we’d be all set. But there’s a way that we can be sure that losing weight isn’t just about the numbers – and that quite simply, is this: it hasn’t worked.
Now, to be fair, it has worked – for some – for a little while at least. And that’s the reality right there. Time. Because when we do go on a numbers-based-diet, the results are never truly long-lasting. In fact, 98% of people who diet, end up gaining their weight back.
If we want to create a lasting impact on unwanted weight, then we have to step into the realm of psychology of weight loss for 3 primary reasons:
Stress has a direct impact on our ability to lose weight. When we experience stress, whether it’s the external stressors of our busy life – or our internal stressors of being unhappy with unwanted weight or eating behaviors – our cortisol (stress hormone) levels go up. When cortisol is high on a daily basis, fat storage metabolism increases. This is due to the fact that our body is in a survival response. Our body will not release weight when in survival mode, it’s going to slow down our metabolism so that we have extra energy stores in case they are needed.
If we are indeed faced with a stressful life – but still want to lose weight – we need to learn how to shift our body out of our chronic stress response and into a relaxation response. Breathing, slowing down and bringing mindfulness into our eating and life are all powerful tools when it comes to shifting from stress to relaxation.
This is another foundational key in the psychology of weight loss because it has a direct link to reducing stress. And reducing stress, as we mentioned above, is crucial to creating an internal environment that supports weight loss.
Pleasure is essentially a shortcut to shifting our body from sympathetic nervous system activation (fight or flight response) to parasympathetic nervous system activation (relaxation response). When we access the things in life that make us go, “aaahhhhh” in relaxation and contentment, we are turning on our supportive biological systems. When we take a moment to enjoy the aroma of our meal, we are engaging the cephalic phase digestive response, which is the very beginning of our digestive process. The cephalic phase response alerts our digestive enzymes and digestive tract that food is on its way: “be prepared for digestion and assimilation.”
When we take a moment and soften into the touch of a supportive friend or enjoy a moment to chat or walk in nature, again we are engaging healthy physiologic responses such as the release of endorphins – which help us feel happy.
Pleasure brings us into the moment of enjoyment of our food. When we are truly in the moment of eating and tuning in to to our body, we are much more likely to make food choices that support our health and listen to the cues that tell us when we’ve eaten enough.
Weight loss tips often focus on changing our behavior. “Drink more water, eat more greens, cook at home, don’t eat out, reduce processed foods,” and more. These are behaviors that change what actually gets consumed. And it’s true that behaviors are fundamental to creating healthy habits, however, underneath our behaviors are values, feelings, and beliefs. The foundation of our behavior is our psychology.
If we don’t believe that we can actually impact our health in a positive way, it’s unlikely that our healthy behavior will become a habit.
If we don’t feel that we deserve to be happy, we’re less likely to take action that supports and champions our health and well being.
We can be offered a list of 100 or even 1000 tips to help us lose the weight, but until our feelings and beliefs (our psychology) is in alignment with our desire to feel our best, it’s unlikely we’ll follow through with our well-intentioned health tips. We think it’s about will power, but it’s not. The Psychology of weight loss is based on the tenet that there is more to losing weight than “eat this and don’t eat that.” We are complex beings in a full-tilt world, and we need compassionate support on the deeper levels of our feelings, thoughts and beliefs when it comes to being able to release weight in a healthy way that lasts.