Maybe you have followed all the exercise plans. Tried all the diets. Downloaded all the apps. You may have exercised as much as you can and removed all the unhealthy foods from your pantry. You’ve gained and lost and gained and lost the same 50 lbs for years. This can be so frustrating! Believe me, I know cause I just described myself and it drives me crazy! You work so hard and either don’t see the results of your efforts or they are temporary ones. Why is this such a shared struggle for so many of us?
The missing link is our minds. If there is a disconnect between your mind, where your motivation, determination, and mentality come from, and your body you will have a hard time achieving your expected results or keeping them. As long as your mind is not in the right mindset for your body to lose weight, it will remain an obstacle to achieving your desired goals. The good news is that you can train your brain to be in the right mindset to work with your body, instead of against it, to lose weight. Here are some ways you can train your brain to help you lose weight.
As you train your brain to lose weight, you should remember that:
- Our brains are wired to eat whenever we see food. Even if you are not hungry, the chances are high that when you see a plate of food (especially food that you love), you will want to eat it or carry it to eat at a later time.
- Our brains respond more positively to foods that are high in fat and calorie content. Such foods attract our attention more than healthier foods that have lower fat content. This is because our taste buds perceive them to be sweeter, thereby the brain, and the body will react more positively to them. Giving you the happy emotions your brain loves.
- Our cognitive function directly affects our food choices. When it is not at its peak, we end up making poor food choices and going for fatty and sugary foods instead of healthy options.
- Sugar highs and lows affect your brain.
- Changing your mindset towards healthy eating and exercise is not easy, and may take time, but it is worth it.
- Long-term weight loss and healthy living are a lifestyle journey, not a temporary trip.
De-stress Your Brain
Most people, when faced with stress, turn to food as a way of relieving that stress. Very few will turn to healthy food such as fruits when stressed; a majority will crave the sweet, salty, and high-fat foods that, while not healthy, stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that will reduce the stress; a situation known as stress eating. The first step in taking care of your brain and changing your mindset in order to take control of your weight loss is to de-stress your mind.
Here are ways you can use to de-stress your brain and avoid stress weight:
- Quality sleep – A good night’s sleep is useful in reducing stress. If you have very little sleep, the chances are high that you will wake up grumpy and ill-tempered, as the body perceives sleep deprivation as a stressor. You may find yourself reaching for sugary foods to make you feel better. This is detrimental to your weight loss program and will set you back by a day or more depending on how motivated you are to stick to your program. Ensure you get regular quality sleep of about 8 hours, as recommended by doctors.
- Working out – Exercises and other physical activities have been shown to reduce stress by producing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. They also improve your ability to sleep, which in turn will reduce stress. You do not have to do extreme exercises, but a few manageable ones will help you reduce stress.
- Have fun – most people are stuck in a vicious cycle of working for 8-9 hours and then going home, with no fun activity on their schedule. If you ask the typical working adult, their idea of fun is probably sitting in front of the television to watch a movie or a show. You should make an effort to include fun activities in your daily or weekly schedule. You could opt to have weekly dates with your friends, visit a new place, or even go to a stadium and watch a sport. This will boost your happiness and reduce the chances of you having stress, which will, in turn, reduce any stress eating.
- Reduce your caffeine intake – Whenever you feel stressed, avoid coffee or choose decaf. This is because when stress and caffeine are combined, the cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in the body are raised even higher than they would be if they were stress only. According to a study done by the University of Oklahoma, consuming 2.5-3 cups of coffee while under mild stress raises cortisol levels by about 25% and keeps it up for up to 3 hours. Since high cortisol levels contribute to stress eating, you should consider quitting caffeine altogether.
Change Your Mindset
When you hear the word ‘diet’, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is a negative thought of how they will have to give up their favorite foods and start eating food that may not be as great-tasting as the food they are used to. The thought of putting effort into workouts to burn calories in order to lose weight may more often than not demoralize someone as they try to start their weight loss journey. This negativity may make it harder for anyone to stick to their weight loss program, thereby making it harder for them to achieve any significant results.
Change your mindset by changing the mind’s view that a diet is something difficult or unpleasant. Start seeing it as a means to an end; as the plan, you have to follow in order to lose some pounds and achieve your desired weight. Instead of seeing the new foods that you will incorporate into your diet as not so good, look at the foods you have removed from your diet (that may seem very attractive and delicious) as barriers to losing weight. Look at exercises as a way of keeping fit and healthy; as a means to lose some weight. This way, it will be much simpler for you to stick to your weight loss plan, including the diet and the workouts.
Create a Vision Board
Sometimes you need to give your brain a little nudge in the right direction by feeding it with various images for motivation. Look for pictures of what you want to achieve by weight loss. Do you want to fit into a certain dress? Look for pictures of the dress, or of people in the dress, and stick them on your vision board. Do you want to get a bikini body to fit into that swimsuit you love then hit the beach? Download pictures of the swimsuit, and have magazine cutouts of the dream body that you want and pin them on your vision board. Want to go back to the body and weight you had some years ago? Get a couple of photos from that period and pin them on the vision board. If you want abs, toned arms, and muscles, find pictures of that body that you want to achieve and put them up on the vision board.
You can create the vision board on your phone (Hello, Pinterest!), or for a physical board, have it up a wall where you are going to see it every day. You could also post the pictures on the fridge using fridge magnets so that you can see them every day. Seeing images of your goals every day will inspire you to work harder to achieve them.
Have a Plan
Losing a chunk of weight may seem intimidating, and it helps if you have a plan of how you are going to do it. Break the goal into smaller portions, as it will seem easier this way. If you want to lose, say, 40 lbs, divide this up into about 5 portions, where you aim to lose 8 lbs first, then another 8 lbs later. You should do your research beforehand, though, so that you do not have an unrealistic plan where you want to lose the entire 40 lbs in two weeks! Losing about 1 – 2 lbs a week is a great goal to use to do the math. Smaller goals are much easier to achieve, and with each milestone that you reach and achieve, you gain more confidence. This will enable you to take on another milestone, and another, till you achieve your target.
Once you have divided up your goal, come up with ways you are going to achieve the mini goals. Find exercises that you will do at each stage to achieve the mini goals. Research and come up with a diet plan that will help you lose 8 lbs. You can either do this at the beginning where you come up with a schedule for all stages of your plan, or you could tackle the stages one after the other, creating a plan for the next stage when you are almost done with the current one. The second option is not the best one though, as you might forget to come up with a schedule for the next weight loss stage.
Be Easy and Kind to Yourself
Adapting to a healthier lifestyle may be difficult, and at times you will find yourself backsliding. When this happens, cut yourself some slack; do not berate yourself or give up. You might go for a birthday party and overindulge in the cake or sweet treats available, or work for extended hours at work and end up doing fewer hours at the gym.
If this happens, do not give up. Try to get back on track; to get back to your workout routine. Forgive yourself for the slip-ups, and get back to your healthy lifestyle. You may feel demoralized, and it is okay, but don’t wallow in the demoralization for long. Pick yourself up and resume your workout plans.
Eat Foods that Boost Serotonin Levels in the Body
Serotonin is a chemical nerve produced in the cells that send signals between the nerve cells. It is considered a natural mood regulator that helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting. High levels of serotonin in the body boost happiness levels in the body. When the body is relaxed and happy, serotonin levels are very high. This will amplify the stimulation that you get from eating, thereby resulting in the feeling of being full. This will, in turn, result in you eating less food.
Low serotonin levels may result in binge eating, as the body tries to compensate for it. One of the factors that lead to low levels of serotonin is stress. You should, therefore, ensure that you de-stress your mind as often as possible. To increase the serotonin levels in your body, you should exercise and eat foods that contain tryptophan. Some of the foods that you should eat include:
- Eggs (including the yolk)
- Nuts and seeds
Define Your Trigger Foods
There are some unhealthy foods and snacks that seem difficult to walk from and tempt you to eat them whenever you come across them, even if you are not hungry. Define these foods, and make a deal with yourself that you are not going to eat the said food or snack for, say, a week. If you are able to go without it for a week, then you can go without it for another week, and so on. With time, you will find that you have broken the cycle and no longer crave that food as much as you did previously. Start out with one food, and add more to the list with time. If you achieve a major milestone, such as going for a month without eating your trigger food, you could treat yourself, not by eating an unhealthy snack, but by, say, buying a new pair of gym shorts.
You should also replace unhealthy foods with healthier options. Find something that you can eat in place of your favorite sweet, salty, or high-fat snack. You could use fresh fruit, carrots, hummus, or even sushi. Whenever you crave unhealthy food, reach for fruit and eat it first to fill yourself and sate the craving. This way, you will psychologically train yourself to opt for healthier options when you are hungry. This will also help prepare you for when you start dieting.
Do Not be Obsessed with the Scale
When you start a weight loss program, results are almost always never immediate. It may take some time before you start seeing meaningful changes in your weight. If you, however, keep on checking the scale day after day and do not see what you want to see (which is instant weight loss results), it may demoralize you, and you lose your zeal and motivation for trying to lose weight.
You will need the scale to measure your progress, but make your weigh-ins reasonable. You could do it every fortnight or monthly. This way, you will more meaningful changes than if you check daily. Most importantly, do not let the scale control you. At times the changes you want to see will not be there, but do not let that demotivate you. Keep on working hard, and soon enough you will reach your target.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up & Don’t Forget to Celebrate Your Accomplishments
As human beings, it is easy to concentrate on the negatives and forget about the positives. You may have eaten healthily, gone to the gym to do your workouts, and even hydrated throughout the day, but gave in to a fries craving on your way home. As a human being, you may find yourself concentrating on that one misstep instead of the fact that you otherwise ate well and exercised. This may demotivate you and hamper your weight loss efforts by making you feel like there is no point in trying.
Have a journal where you write all your accomplishments and wins each day. This will help your mind focus on the achievements instead of the few and almost inevitable missteps. This will lead to more positive results as you will encourage yourself to work harder for more accomplishments.
Focus on How You Feel Instead of Your Physical Appearance
Your physical appearance, as you lose weight, may take time to change, but how you feel changes within a short period of time. Focus on how your body feels instead of how you look, in order to make better decisions and from a more intuitive place. When you realize that you feel much better and energized when you eat healthy and fresh food as opposed to when you eat unhealthy food, regardless of any physical outcome, it will be easier for you to adhere to a healthy diet. This is because the body will tend to gravitate towards the food that makes you happy, and if your brain has been conditioned to pick healthy foods as the better option for your body to make you feel good, choosing a healthy diet will not be as hard.
Losing weight may at times be difficult, but training your mind to lose weight goes a long way in helping you overcome any difficulties.