When you truly consider the weight-loss process, the battle waged is mostly in your mind. “Should I eat the corn muffin with butter or would it be better for me to have margarine or better yet, have jelly? What am I doing eating this muffin anyway? It’s so caloric and filled with saturated fat. I’m such a pig. I have absolutely zero willpower.” It’s no wonder you’ll eat that muffin with the butter and slather jelly on top to quiet that negative self-talk.
What you need more than a diet is a way to shift those negative self-defeating thoughts to more adaptive, positive self-statements. As with most things worth doing, this requires a bit of practice. First, become aware when you’re using a negative statement, then determine what about that thought is faulty and finally, replace it with a self-defense response or coping thought.
In the corn muffin example, instead of listening to “I’m such a pig” which clearly mislabels who you are, respond with “Pigs are animals and I am human. I don’t have to be perfect.”
Many people cannot change their eating habits until they change their thoughts about food, eating and drinking. By shedding “distorted” thoughts and replacing them with productive ones, eating habits can be changed. It is possible to rid yourself from many self-critical thoughts, but like any ingrained habit, it takes vigor and vigilance to change. Here are some other thinking distortions to challenge:
Shoulds. Should statements are more about other people’s values, not ones chosen by the person who wants to lose weight. Additionally, should statements reflect an attempt by the dieter to motivate herself without really believing in the value. Better to determine what works for you. “I will eat up to two Hershey kisses daily and thoroughly enjoy them.”
All-or-Nothing. This kind of reasoning is the foundation for perfectionism. An all-or-nothing individual views the world as black or white. Since there is no allowance for gray areas, the behavior is either perfect or a failure. “I’ve ruined my diet by eating all that pizza. I can’t stay on a diet and I’ll just always be fat.” Maybe the problem does not arise from the behavior… maybe the problem is with the diet that does not allow for pizza. “I do not want to give pizza up for the rest of my life, so what I need is a way to include pizza in my diet without feeling like a failure. Let me try having a salad (dressing on the side) before the pizza to take the edge off my hunger.”
Good Foods/ Bad Foods. If the truth be told, foods do not misbehave. Foods are not good or bad. While it is true that some foods have more nutrients or are more fiber-dense than others, all foods can be enjoyed. How we think about food colors what we eat and how much we eat. If a food is labeled as bad (such as fries), then for many individuals that food is taboo. When one eventually succumbs to eating the forbidden, French fries, bingeing may result. Rather than continue with dichotomous thinking of good food/bad food, shift to allow space for all foods you like without judgement. Instead of “I ate those fries which are so bad for me” to “I really enjoyed that small portion of fries. They really satisfied me.”
Body Distortions. Rather than dwelling on how fat or thin you think your body is, it is extremely helpful to view your body in terms of what it can do for you. For example, when you look in the mirror, instead of zooming in on your stomach which “looks five months pregnant, although your last baby was nine years ago” tell yourself “my body has given life” or “my body enables me to go where I want to and allows me to have fun.”
The conversations that are going on inside your head cannot be stopped. However, what you can do is to be aware of negative self-talk and understand that it has little to do with actual reality. When you believe this, you can respond to the critical voice with a more objective, coping thought. Although negative thoughts may not be stopped entirely, they can be quieted by listening to your compassionate, caring voice. In much the same way you would sympathize and listen to a close friend, listen to yourself. Be your own best friend and chances are you’ll have greater weight loss success.