Struggling with weight loss? This may be due to a battle in your mind. Dietitian Laura Clark and life coach Carole Ann Rice, explain how to beat your brain and achieve the results you want
Ever wondered why, even with all the best intentions, you struggle to stick to a diet? More often than not the things holding you back will be mental barriers as opposed to physical ones, and these can be the trickiest to recognise.
Thankfully, a little self-scrutiny goes a long way. As soon as you know what your barriers are, you can start to regain control of your weight and change eating habits long term – vital for sustained weight loss.
So, what are the main self-sabotages our minds are capable of, and what can we do about them?
Sabotage #1 Your hunter-gatherer instincts are taking over
Evolution has a lot to answer for. For a few million years or so, humans lived as foragers, and (unfortunately for us) a lot of our present-day eating habits were shaped during this time.
Even in today’s modern world of fast food outlets, Michelin star restaurants and limitless snacks, your brain remains adapted to a hunter-gatherer way of life, where food was in short supply.
The instinct to gorge is hard-wired into our genes from a time when we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. So, if you want to know why you wolf down an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s as soon as you spot it in the freezer, ask your Stone Age ancestors.
Weight Loss TIP:
‘If you want to achieve successful and sustainable weight loss, often the first and most important thing you need to do is re-think your relationship with food, as this will help you to understand what causes you to eat in a certain way,’ says registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Laura Clark, who you may know from ITV’s The Biggest Loser series and BBC One’s Lose Weight for Love.
‘If you don’t tackle your lifestyle head on when ‘dieting’, it’s almost inevitable that you will regain any weight previously lost once you end the ‘diet’ – and potentially end up bigger than you were before. Old habits die hard!
‘If you want to retrain your thought patterns, take a proactive approach and fuel your body well throughout the day, rather than a reactive approach where you end up eating more of the wrong foods and beating yourself up about it’.
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Sabotage #2 You can’t make any more tough decisions
Willpower is a word that’s thrown around a lot when discussing dieting. But have you ever wondered why some people appear to have more than others?
Willpower – also known as self-control – is a finite resource. Try as you might, you will never have limitless supply. Throughout the day, our self-control resources are being constantly tapped away at by the need to make decisions.
The more decisions you have to make – and the more complex they are – the more these resources are depleted. The moral of the story? If you come home from work after a long and stressful day, you’re going to be far more tempted to eat an entire pack of biscuits than if you’ve been lying on a beach doing nothing.
Weight Loss TIP:
Carole-Ann Rice, a leading Life Coach, comments: ‘You might imagine that people who are slim have more self-control when it comes to eating, but this is not true – they simply have better routines that take the decision making out of mealtimes.
‘In order to preserve your levels of self-control, reduce the amount of decisions you have to make during the day by planning your meals and snacks in advance. Meal replacement plans are one way to help’.
‘If you’re considering starting a meal replacement plan, make sure you look at the ingredients list, because this can help you meet important vitamin and mineral requirements,’ says Lauren.
‘There can, however, be variance between brands. You should look out especially for a high protein content in your shakes.This has been shown to keep people feeling fuller for longer, and so can be a great support if you want to lose weight.
‘B-vitamins are another good nutrient to have in your corner, as they can contribute towards a healthy metabolism.Minerals such as zinc, magnesium and calcium are important for healthy functioning of the body, so any products designed to replace meals should contain a broad range of micronutrients like these to help support the body’.
Sabotage #3 You have an emotional connection with food
Show me a woman who says she doesn’t have an emotional connection with food and we’ll show you a robot. Emotional triggers can come from anywhere, with sources ranging from stress or panic, to a need for comfort or distraction.
There is evidence to suggest that foods high in sugar can be as addictive as drugs.
So why do we use what we eat as an emotional crutch? While it has not been proven, there is some evidence to suggest that foods high in sugar can be as addictive as drugs. Furthermore, when you eat carbs it boosts serotonin levels, so we know that food can and does have the power to make us feel better… just only in the short term.
Weight Loss TIP:
‘Try to think of ways to increase your wellbeing that are not food related, exercise is a great one because it releases endorphins, and research has shown that if you have high positive emotions you are more likely to stick to a diet, because this trait enhances your self-control,’ says Carole-Ann.
‘If not exercise, find something else non-food related that gives you the same sense of pleasure – it might be a new hobby or skill – and you could see the benefits reflected in your eating habits.
‘Don’t expect quick fixes – if you want to make changes to your diet, the most important mental skill you need is patience. Making small changes to your habits over a long period of time is what will give you real and sustained results’.
Sabotage #4 You’re scared of protein
Protein isn’t just for gym bunnies, if used correctly it can be a great support for anyone wanting to lose weight.
Because it has been shown to keep people feeling fuller for longer, protein could help to reduce portion sizes and quash those mid-afternoon snack cravings – meaning you save on calories.
It also helps your body maintain muscle mass, which protects your metabolic rate. This is vital for sustainable weight loss so, if you’re trying to lose weight, make sure you’re eating protein regularly in your day.
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Weight Loss TIP:
With numerous studies now showing that a diet high in protein has many potential advantages for successful weight management, getting savvy on this vital nutrient is important for anyone who wants to slim down.
If you want to know more about the benefits of protein and how you can get more into your diet, read Laura Clark’s article ‘Confused about protein? Here are the REAL reasons you need it’.
Sabotage #5 Your eyes are bigger than your stomach – and believe us, size does matter
Take a step back and think about what’s really influencing your calorie intake – we’re betting that portion control has a lot to answer for.
For example, how big are your plates? Yes it might be good for you, but it isn’t really necessary to cover the whole thing in quinoa. Or are you cooking too much food, thinking it’s wasteful if you don’t use up the whole packet? We bet that once or twice you’ve purchased a value-for-money ‘sharing’ bag of popcorn as well, but never quite managed to share it.
With all these pitfalls, your mind is rationalising the decision to eat more than is necessary, and that’s a sure-fire way to calorie overload.
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Weight Loss TIP:
‘If you look at the statistics around people who lose weight and keep weight off, it’s the old fashioned things that work,’ says Laura.
‘Small, proven steps like journaling food, weighing yourself, portion control and building activity into daily life may not sound like the most exciting things, but they really do make a difference.
‘Meal replacement plans have fallen off our radar in recent years, but the reality is they are a great option for many people who want to lose weight.
‘As well as providing balance and portion-control to your mealtime routine, meal replacement shakes give you an opportunity to regulate eating patterns and help take the pressure off food selection. They also have the added bonus of convenience – something we all need in today’s busy world!’
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