How Mindful Eating Can Help When It’s Hard To Lose Weight
Many people go on a diet when they want to lose weight. However, it’s really important to have a mindset that’s conducive to weight loss, and long-term weight management. Many people tell me they know what to eat, it’s just sticking to the diet they find difficult- and if they do stick to the diet and lose weight, many find it hard to keep off the weight they’ve lost. Working with clients, I see a lot of similarities in terms of the way they’ve approached weight loss in the past, with similar experiences and challenges. I also see similarities in people’s mindsets- their beliefs, thought patterns and attitudes in relation to food, eating and dieting.
Certain commonly held beliefs and attitudes can make it hard to lose weight. It’s vital to address our mindset, including our relationship with food, if we want to embark on, and stick to, a weight loss programme; not only that, but if we want to keep off the weight long-term too. Once an individual is aware of any self-limiting, deeply ingrained beliefs or thought patterns he or she may have, they will be in a much better position to embark on a weight loss goal and find an enjoyable and sustainable approach that helps them to escape the yo-yo dieting trap, achieve long-term weight management and develop a healthier relationship with food.
Using concepts of mindfulness and mindful eating, I teach people how to address any self-limiting thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that can make it hard to lose weight or achieve long-term weight control. I help individuals to approach healthy eating and weight loss using a more flexible approach, and empower them with mindset strategies that enable them to approach weight loss in a new, more effective way.
Tackle ‘Black And White’ Thinking
Many people find themselves caught in a long-term vicious cycle of being either ‘on’ or ‘off’ a diet. It’s very common for people to start a diet feeling highly motivated, with good intentions to see it through, but then after a few days or weeks they give up the diet. Part of the reason for this is that they might be aiming for an unrealistic, restrictive way of eating that categorises foods as ‘good’ (allowed) or ‘bad’ (forbidden). At the start of the diet, they might find themselves rigidly sticking to the diet, thinking carefully about what and how much they’re eating. They try so hard to avoid certain foods, perhaps for fear that if they have just a taste or a mouthful of a food they love, they will feel out of control and end up bingeing on it. Take a packet of biscuits, for example- a person might love biscuits, but on the diet they might not allow themselves biscuits. However, if they’re feeling tired, or if their willpower is running low, they might give in and eat a biscuit, resulting in a ‘blown it’ mindset. Strict dietary rules might make us feel like we’ve failed by eating just that one biscuit, which may lead to writing off the rest of the day, along with eating the rest of the packet. ‘If I eat one I’ll have to finish the packet’ is an example of a black and white mindset. This is why it’s important to give ourselves permission to eat the foods we enjoy, even when we’re trying to lose weight. From my experience of working with clients, when they start giving themselves permission to eat the foods they love, they stop craving those foods and feel able to eat those foods in a more moderate way, and without guilt.
Another example of the black and white mindset is: ‘I ate a piece of cake earlier, I’ve totally blown it so will start my diet again tomorrow’. Instead of putting that one incident behind them and continuing with good intentions for the rest of the day, they’re completely writing off the rest of the day. Being ‘good’ all week and then completely overindulging at weekends, or starving before a holiday and then overeating when on holiday are other examples of the black and white mindset. This is why many people get caught in a trap of yo-yo dieting. When we self-sabotage like this, we’re undoing all the effort we’ve put in to trying to lose weight, which is why the black and white mindset can be so detrimental. Helping clients to reduce their black and white thinking, to be wary of overly rigid rules and to give themselves permission to eat all foods and stop categorising foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a really helpful starting point. If we’re too rigid or black and white, with no room for manoeuvre, it’s going to be impossible to stick to a diet and inevitably hard to lose weight.
A rigid black and white mindset can encourage people to carry out compensatory behaviours; for example, if they’ve eaten an overly large evening meal they might not allow themselves to eat breakfast the next day, even if they’re feeling hungry for breakfast. It’s important to honour the body and not carry out such self-punishing behaviours.
Using mindful eating concepts I teach clients a ‘middle-way’ approach, which helps them to move away from rigid black and white thinking. If you tend to be black and white in your approach to dieting, try to become more flexible; give yourself permission to include in your weight loss plan the foods you love, whilst eating them in mindful quantities, and try not to see one indulgence or one moment of overeating as a complete failure- try to be realistic.
Be Aware Of Excuses And Self-Limiting Beliefs
It can be very helpful to become aware of the excuses we might regularly use to overeat, make poor choices or to break a diet. If we’re cutting out favourite foods in order to try and lose weight, sooner or later we’re likely to start using excuses to eat them. Examples of excuses people might use to eat include: ‘It’s Friday night so I’m having this’, ‘I’ve had a really stressful day so I deserve this’, or ‘I can’t let it go to waste’. Other people might also sabotage your efforts by providing excuses to encourage you to eat such as: ‘Oh go on, how often do you eat it?’ or ‘We’ve got to buy these desserts, they’re on special offer!’. As eating is such a social activity for many of us, it’s easy to feel we’re missing out when others are tucking in. A person might dislike missing out, causing them to eat a highly calorific food, or eat when they’re not actually hungry, for example, ‘If you’re having a cake I’ll have to join you’. They might then feel they’ve ‘blown’ their diet, or they’re using the cake as an excuse to stop their diet.
We might have certain deeply ingrained and self-limiting beliefs around eating which may sabotage a person’s efforts to lose weight. For example, ‘You want to enjoy yourself on holiday surely?’, or ‘It’s not worth going to a restaurant if you can’t overindulge’. We might also hold particular values linked to providing food for others, which might be used as a means of justifying poor food choices or overeating such as ‘I have to have them in the house for the children’, ‘My husband likes a dessert after our evening meal’ or ‘I’m not buying food that the children won’t eat’. It’s very common to feel guilty about leaving food on the plate, causing people to eat beyond fullness, thus ignoring the body’s internal cues to stop eating. This often stems from childhood, where we might have been told not to waste food- we then carry the message of ‘I can’t waste food’ into adulthood.
Instead of going on a diet, it’s far more effective to go on a journey of self-discovery, to become more aware of what excuses we might have been using or which self-limiting beliefs and values we’ve been holding on to with little awareness. We can then replace them with new, more helpful attitudes towards food and eating.
Build Self-Awareness And Knowledge
Mindfulness is about getting curious about yourself or something else without being judgemental. Through curiosity we can become more aware, and with increased awareness positive change is possible. I teach clients to go on a journey of self-discovery, and encourage them to work on addressing underlying, unhelpful motivations to overeat and/or make poor food choices and to understand their relationship with food, rather than simply focusing on weight loss. If we become overly focused on a weight loss goal and label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, this can lead to guilt and shame around food. Gaining some self-insight will give you the knowledge and awareness you need to find a fresh approach to weight loss and improve your relationship with food. No matter how keen a person is to lose weight, if they haven’t tackled issues they might have with emotional eating or secret eating, or if they’re not aware that their food portions sizes are too big, if they’re out of touch with their internal cues such as hunger and fullness, or if their nutritional knowledge is poor and they’re eating ‘diet’ foods that don’t sustain them, they’re unlikely to lose weight, to feel in charge of food, and to achieve successful long-term weight management. Knowledge is power.
If a person has a tendency to overeat or has a history of not being able to stick to diets, their memories of personal experiences of weight loss attempts might cause them to lack confidence in their ability to lose weight, or keep off weight, leading to a ‘what’s the point?’ attitude. This might also cause them to procrastinate, or put off starting diets, as well as cause them to easily give up diets because they don’t envisage success. Along with increasing self-awareness and finding a fresh approach to weight loss it’s important to wipe the slate clean, and build a sense of hope and belief that they’re capable of being in charge of food, and that weight loss does not have to involve deprivation and strict rules.
Lack of self-belief is linked to motivation, so it’s important to build self-belief by embarking on a realistic, manageable and enjoyable weight loss plan and to also notice and record your successes or ‘mini-victories’ along the way- writing a journal can be helpful. The more you can give yourself positive feedback, the more chance you have of building your self-belief. My mindful eating approach teaches people about the importance of self-care and self-kindness, and how we need to become self-reliant and cheer ourselves on if we want to progress towards and reach a goal. If you have a lot of weight to lose, it’s important that you tackle it in stages, rather than see one huge weight loss target, as this can impact motivation and self-belief, and how likely you are to self-sabotage and give up. Baby steps is key.
If you want to lose weight and achieve successful long-term weight management but you have a history of yo-yo dieting and feel you need to improve your relationship with food, then like many people who contact me seeking support, you’re probably looking for a fresh, personalised approach.
Set yourself the goal of becoming more aware of any self-limiting thought patterns, beliefs and behaviours you may have. Self-awareness is the key to positive change. Be willing to explore your own mindset by getting curious about it, in a non-judgemental way. Notice and record your thought patterns and ways in which your mindset might be making it hard for you to lose weight- and keep off the weight long-term. Identify the main issues that have been getting in the way of you having a healthy relationship with food and achieving successful weight management.
By exploring our relationship with food we can start to improve it, and weight loss can be a positive by-product, based on a new and more effective approach. Learning to adopt a less rigid, black and white approach, becoming more aware of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs that may lead you to overeat or make poor food choices, increasing self-awareness and knowledge, building self-belief, addressing issues such as emotional eating and understanding why you might self-sabotage when trying to lose weight can help you to rely less on weight loss diets and inspire you to embark on a more flexible and sustainable weight loss strategy. It’s important to get in touch with your own needs and preferences, to not put too much pressure on yourself, and to find an approach and long-term healthy way of eating that’s enjoyable and achievable for you.
My services include fortnightly support groups (based in Lightwater, Surrey (Wednesday evenings) and online (Thursday evenings)), a range of popular talks and one-to-one sessions (face-to-face and online).
Support Group: more information about my support group can be found HERE.
Talks: If you’d like to attend any of my talks on mindful eating, emotional eating, food and mood and other topics, please click HERE for a summary of all talks. Click HERE to purchase tickets for any of my events via Eventbrite.
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