Your mental state plays a huge role in your degree of success with any weight-loss program. Mind and body are deeply connected in ways that even experts do not yet fully understand. Consider phenomena like the placebo effect, in which a person experiences an improvement in symptoms simply because they think they are getting treatment.
Or think of a time when you had anxiety or nerves that made you sick to your stomach. When your mind isn’t well, usually your body doesn’t feel well, either. Studies have even shown that an improvement in mental health is associated with weight loss. Indeed, our mind and emotions have a profound physical effect on our bodies.
This connection plays an integral role in a person’s ability to lose weight. An attempt to lose weight by only looking at calorie consumption is likely to fail, because it’s completely disregarding this essential part of our overall well-being.
Knowing this, emotional and mental health must be considered as part of any weight-loss strategy. Follow these steps to incorporate your mental health into your weight-loss and wellness plan:
1. Make stress management a priority
We’ve discussed how stress can make you gain weight or keep you from losing it. This is partly because one of the main stress hormones, cortisol, plays a major role in belly fat, hunger levels, emotional eating, and sleep deprivation. For this reason alone, it’s important to focus on ways you can manage stress while you try to achieve a healthy weight.
But it’s not just about the stress hormones that can throw your weight-loss efforts off track. Many people think that when they lose weight, their other sources of stress will go away. It’s normal to believe that a “better version of you” will have the ability to work through your other obstacles, such as a stressful job, relationship problems, or low self- esteem.
Unfortunately, many people find themselves disappointed or even depressed when they lose the weight but their other stressful problems are still there. This can lead to more stress and mental health difficulties.
Avoid this pitfall by working on ways to manage stress as you lose weight and make healthy changes. Not only will this help you manage cortisol levels, but it may help you deal with other factors in your life that are interfering with your mental well-being.
2. Seek help for emotional obstacles
For many people, the reason behind their weight gain goes far beyond simply eating too many calories. Abuse, neglect, divorce, depression, or other factors may be what triggered a person to become overweight in the first place.
If we don’t seek help for these emotional and psychological barriers, these same issues could — and likely will — resurface later, even if you’re at a healthy weight and feel great physically. Not only will this stand in the way of your happiness, but it may result in weight regain or a reversion to unhealthy habits.
If you think past emotional damage could be affecting you, seek help from a therapist or professional counselor if you can. If that’s not possible, try connecting with people in a support group, either in person or online, to talk with someone who understands.
3. Face emotional eating head-on
Emotional eating is a very real and very difficult obstacle for many people. Our brains are wired to enjoy food, and we get a rush of feel-good chemicals from eating our favorite foods. This leads to using food as comfort and turning to eating when our emotions are hard to handle. For many people, emotional eating is the primary reason they gain weight.
Now is the time to face this obstacle and decide to eat because of hunger, not feelings. Food can be your fuel, not your emotional support. Even if we do eat that thing we’re craving, we know that the emotional “feel good” moment we get from it is short lived. That’s because it doesn’t get to the root of the problem and often creates negative emotions like guilt and frustration.
Try to identify when you might be eating out of boredom, anger, discomfort, stress, or simply habit. Get in touch with your body’s hunger cues. Ask yourself:
- Is my stomach grumbling?
- Do I feel like I could eat anything, rather than one specific food?
- Has it been a few hours since I ate?
If the answer is “yes” to all of the above, you may be legitimately hungry and not simply craving the emotional response from food.
Remember, if you are craving a specific favorite food, especially if it is unhealthy, this is an indicator that you may be facing emotional eating. If you don’t feel like you could eat a salad or a piece of fruit, you probably aren’t genuinely hungry.
4. Forgive yourself for mistakes and replace unhealthy habits
In the past, you may have had habits that led to weight gain or health problems. Don’t let shame or embarrassment take over as you try to re-shape these old habits.
Instead, be kind and compassionate to yourself. Accept that you made some mistakes in the past that led to where you are now, and forgive yourself for them. Then, you can move forward with self-care measures that are healthy for your mind and body.
For instance, find healthy alternatives to former unhealthy habits. Instead of eating a sugar-laden dessert after dinner, eat a small piece of dark chocolate. Instead of watching TV at night, go for a walk while listening to an uplifting audiobook or podcast. Write down your action steps that you want to accomplish in order to replace old habits with new ones.
5. Don’t neglect exercise
We’re all busy, and it’s difficult to find time to exercise. In addition, many people don’t exercise as they’re trying to lose weight because they feel it doesn’t burn enough calories or it makes them hungrier.
However, this approach overlooks one major aspect of weight loss: mental health. Exercise is an effective treatment for anxiety and depression. It can lower stress levels, help you sleep better, and boost your mood.
These are all vitally important factors when you’re trying to lose weight. Indeed, exercise is simply one of the best ways to keep your mind healthy, which will also help you get your body into shape, too.
So even if you don’t feel like going for a walk today, try your hardest to get up and do it anyway. Tell yourself that you’ll be glad you did it when you’re done. You may find that after a few minutes of moving your body, your emotional health improves and you’re able to do focus on your healthy goals again.
6. Be ready for unwanted comments
It seems that many people simply don’t know what to say when they see that a person is losing weight or trying to get healthier. People may see your weight changing and they ask you inappropriate questions such as, “how much weight have you lost?” Or they may make comments like, “You must have lost a ton of weight!”
Be prepared now for comments that may be hurtful or embarrassing. Have a prepared response, such as, “I’m working hard to be my healthiest self, but I don’t really focus on the scale.” Don’t let careless comments derail you or cause you unnecessary stress.
7. Know that self-image isn’t just about weight
Many people who struggle with weight have low self-esteem. But self-esteem issues are not just about how we look. This is a deep emotional issue that we must cope with, even if we achieve the weight we desire.
Even people who lose a hundred pounds or more may find that they don’t feel more self-confident or happier with themselves afterward. This is because they mistakenly believed that all they had to do was lose weight and they would feel great about themselves.
But in reality, many of our self-esteem issues may be tied to things in our past, our relationships, or other factors that have nothing to do with the number on the scale.
As you lose weight, have realistic expectations for yourself and your life. By all means, enjoy the new healthier you, but don’t expect weight loss to make you a different person on the inside. Self-esteem issues and insecurities could still be there, so don’t be afraid to seek support for them.
8. Be kind to yourself
Consider your inner dialogue and how you talk to yourself. If you’re struggling with negative self-talk, this could be a big factor in your self-esteem struggles. This won’t change automatically even if you like what you see in the mirror.
Identify when you’re being unkind to yourself, and make a point to speak to yourself like you would your best and most beloved friend. It can take practice to identify that inner dialogue and stop it from harming you, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to be healthier both physically and mentally.
Get the support you need
Weight loss isn’t a simple or easy task, but we can help you through it. At Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers, we work with each patient to develop a customized weight loss plan that works for you as a whole person. Contact us today for your no-cost consultation!