Getting your mindset right is, without doubt, the MOST IMPORTANT step in a weight loss program.
Why? Because we are creatures of habit. We’ve all heard that saying, but don’t always understand what it means.
Our brains have a huge amount of work to do 24/7. “Habits” are the brain’s way of coping with that enormous workload. Think of an airline pilot: when the plane is cruising at altitude in empty sky, he will put the plane on autopilot so he can do other things. Your brain is the same. Eating is a classic example – your brain knows what you like, and it knows you need to shovel the food into your mouth to keep alive. Simple – put it on autopilot!
I’m sure we’ve all been through the same saga many times. You decide you should lose weight. You make your resolutions, sign up for the diet, or go to the supermarket and buy all the right food. You may be good for a couple of days, then, you succumb to a Big Mac and chips and bang, the diet’s gone.
That’s your brain working! It’s annoyed that you’re wasting it’s time, focussing on what it thinks should be an easy, routine task. That’s why you should never beat yourself up about your “lack of willpower”: you are fighting a very powerful natural instinct, one that’s been built into you!
The good news is that if you can stick to a new way of doing something for long enough, your brain will accept it as a new habit, and stop fighting you. The time differs for each person – some people may be able to set up a new habit in two weeks, while others may need a month or so. The trick is to find a way to survive those few weeks, until your new habit has formed – then you will find losing weight miraculously easier.
For instance, you might decide to sign up for a group exercise program (e.g. a boot camp), or join a sporting club. It’s harder to make excuses if others are expecting you at class, or if you are part of a team. Once you’ve formed your new habit of exercising, your brain will expect you to go out and exercise (which is called motivation!). You may choose to stay with your group class or strike out on your own – it doesn’t really matter.
I broke one bad food habit by going on the Carbohydrate Addict’s diet. This diet is a bit like the Atkins diet – it allows you to eat as much as you like during the day (but NO carbohydrate). For dinner, you can eat ANYTHING YOU LIKE, but
(a) you must start with a green salad and
(b) you only have one hour to eat your whole dinner. As soon as the hour is up, you must stop and can’t have anything else till tomorrow morning.
As usual, I didn’t stick to this diet very well, but I kept trying for about a month. Because I was such a bad dieter, I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but a weird thing happened.
I lost my sweet tooth.
Why? Because I made a new habit. I used to eat muffins for breakfast, sweets for snacks, sugary sodas, and ice cream for dessert. During the diet, I only ate those things at dinnertime, and my brain got used to my new habit of having only one serving of sweet things in a day. And as you can imagine, that makes controlling my weight a whole lot easier now!
So, what have you learned?
1. Work out what your bad habits are
2. Think of strategies to change them
3. Remember you can’t “break” a habit, you must form a new habit to replace it.
4. Because habits are such strong instincts, concentrate on one habit at a time.
5. Be patient – habits can take several weeks to change