CHANGING YOUR ATTITUDE – Are your habits “bad” and “good”?
by Jana Beutler Holland, M.Ed., Certified Personal Trainer,
Do you alternate between being “good” at sticking to a sensible eating plan and being “bad” when you slip? It’s a frustrating but common cycle for most of us, especially when we consider the self-defeating attitudes that labeling and acknowledging our “badness” create when it comes to food. Many psychologists know that behavior modification strategies–rather than diets–can help us break this self-defeating cycle and make lasting lifestyle changes. What is behavior modification? It begins with a change in self-talk and thought, which helps us change our attitudes about our eating, our bodies, and our weight, which helps us change our behavior. In terms of weight loss, our behavior will be reflected by how we feel inside, which will be reflected in how we appear on the outside. When we feel good about ourselves, we can’t help but be attractive to others. THIS is the ultimate goal—to feel better about ourselves inside, so that our bodies and personae will reflect confidence and light to others.
Enlisting the aid of qualified professionals (a registered dietitian, a physician, a personal trainer and/or a life coach or therapist) will make it easier to interrupt old thought patterns that have affected our behavior patterns. Our thoughts lead to our actions, so if we can intercept our ineffective and self-critical thoughts, we can alter behavior more readily, and with more enthusiasm. Following are some suggestions to help you identify and change your current thought patterns and behaviors that are not conducive to weight loss success. They are designed to heighten your awareness and give you a few tools to try which may facilitate your reaching your goals.
1. Watch Your Language! Do you find yourself thinking “I will never lose weight” or “I feel fat”? Watch for thoughts that are negative or irrational, rather than supportive of your goals. Understand that “fat” is not a feeling. Try to accurately identify the emotion that you are having that may be driving your need to eat, overeat, or suffer from low self-esteem. As Dr. Phil McGraw would say, “You are a life manager. You have only one client, and you cannot hate your only client.” What if your boss spoke to you the way you speak to yourself? Are you managing your life and treating yourself in a way that would be recognized by others with admiration, or should you be fired as your own life manager? Be aware of the negativity that you tell yourself, and stop beating yourself up.
2. Stop “Dieting”. Be aware of the negative and positive connotations in the language you use about your eating—“eating more nutritionally” is different than “being on a diet!” “Being more active” is different than “going to the gym.” It’s all semantics, but it makes a difference! Others are more likely to support and recognize your goals, and you can hear and visualize the positive results of your behavior (being more healthy) rather than the negative (depriving yourself of food.)
3. Distinguish Between Emotional and Physical Hunger. Emotional hunger involves eating when you’re sad, happy, anxious or bored. Understanding when you are trying to satisfy emotional needs with food can help you find more appropriate ways to meet those needs. Emotional triggers will usually subside within 5 minutes if you can make it past the “danger point” and distract yourself with a more useful activity. Physical hunger, on the other hand, is a physiological process that occurs every three to four hours. When you don’t listen to hunger cues, your hunger subsides and your body begins to slow down to conserve energy (slowing metabolism). It is important to distinguish between the two—emotional and physical hunger, so that the reasons why we are eating are appropriate, and supportive of our goals rather than detrimental to them.
4. Avoid environmental attachment to food. All too often, we find ourselves in social situations where we are encouraged—or are encouraging others—to celebrate or socialize with food. While having a nice meal with friends is great, we need to be aware of whether or not we are socializing with food around, or eating with friends around. What is the focal point of your social activities?
5. Use a Hunger Scale. Internal hunger cues–such as a rumbling stomach, a slight headache, fatigue, irritability and decreased concentration–are meant to remind you to meet your energy requirements. Reconnecting with your physical signals of hunger and satiety can help you acquire the internal power to regulate your food intake, and avoid eating for reasons that are not physiological. Using a hunger scale can make you more aware of your internal hunger and satiety cues. Think of 0 as indicating extreme hunger and 10 as signaling extreme fullness. With the scale in mind, begin to read your body’s signals. Your target range should be between 3 and 8. If you go to 0, you may eat too much too fast, particularly since it takes your brain 15 to 20 minutes to sense that your body is full. You should begin to eat at 3 on the RPH scale and stop at 7 or 8, when you’re comfortably full and satisfied.
6. Neutralize Food. There are no good or bad foods–all foods are okay when eaten in moderation. Forbidding certain foods may simply make you want them all the more. If portion control is a problem with particular foods, try specific strategies–measure out one serving of potato chips and put the bag back in the pantry; put ½ your “eat out” meal in a doggie bag before you begin eating; pre-measure and prepare lunches for the week ahead of time.
7. Do Not Skip Meals. Eating frequently throughout the day (3 small meals and 2-3 snacks) will stimulate your metabolism. To lose weight, you MUST eat, or you risk “starvation mode” metabolism slowing. Skipping meals (including breakfast) can decrease your metabolism. Change your thoughts if you skip meals—you are sabotaging your success with the myth that it will aid in weight loss.
8. Know your limits, but be determined to reach them. A safe weight loss is 1 or 2 pounds a week, not 20. Thirty minutes of cardio, 3 times per week is realistic; running a marathon next month is not. Remember, a healthy body comes from healthy eating and exercising to keep you running smoothly and efficiently. If you over-train or under-eat, you risk injury and “binge” eating behaviors. Be realistic with yourself, but push yourself hard enough to feel pride in the process.
9. Be Supportive, Not Critical, of yourself. People lose weight at different rates. Weight may drop off quickly at first and then plateau, or vice versa. Your body composition may change, although your weight may stay the same. The important thing is that long-term healthy behavior gets results. Reassure yourself that you are working hard and remember that hard work pays off. Don’t judge your progress by your weight; instead, acknowledge that during the day or week you engaged in behaviors that will be rewarded down the road.
10. Reward your behavior, and not your weight. You are probably used to rewarding yourself and being rewarded by others for losing pounds, rather than for altering your behavior. Create a system of rewards for the positive changes you make, rather than the numbers you see on the scale. Make your rewards based on your ability to stick to your goals, and on your changes in thought. When you are able to go through an entire day without self-defeating thoughts, you deserve a reward.
All in all, it is important to remember that your thoughts guide you to action, whether they be positive or negative. If you are self-depreciating in thought, your behaviors will be unproductive, and you will become discouraged easily. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge small accomplishments: more positive self-talk, increased activity, eating more nutritionally balanced meals, feeling healthier, feeling stronger, then your behaviors will reflect that. You will be more encouraged to continue exercising, you will find it easier to resist food temptations, and you will gain self-esteem—not because you are losing weight, but because you are managing your life and your body in a way that is responsible and worthy of praise—and the weight loss that follows will be but a side effect of the behaviors in which you engage.
Co Owner, SWAT Personal Training (Strength Wellness Athletic Training ) Tucson, Arizona
Owner, Life in Motion Coaching
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