Can positive thinking really help you lose weight?

I’ve seen positive thinking bring about amazing results in my life and that of my clients. I’ve also seen it produce feelings of guilt and anxiety, yielding the exact opposite of one’s desired outcome.

Why such dramatically different results? Because it all depends on what you believe. That’s the main problem with negative thoughts: you believe them. And when you believe them, you fulfill them (i.e. self-fulfilling prophecy). 

In her book, How Emotions are Made, the Secret Life of the Brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett says that we look to past experiences that guide our actions. For example, you create a concept of weight loss, by categorizing past weight loss attempts. When you see that they “don’t work” or “I failed” you essentially predict failure the next time. You literally plan to fail.

Even if you gather up enough motivation to try again, your first skipped workout or trip through the drive-thru, builds on the case against your ability to lose weight. 

(You may have similar experience in business or relationships…can you see the parallels?)

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Now you might say, “but Heather, I believe my positive thoughts. Don’t they balance out the negative?” 

It depends. If your belief in the negative feels really true, simply pasting on a happy face and insisting that “I know I can do anything I put my mind to…” will feel fake. And then it takes a lot of energy to pretend to yourself that you feel good about it. I also see positive thinking invoke guilt or shame for someone when her negative thoughts are persistent. 

If you want positive thinking to work for you, use these 3 techniques:

  1. Gradually inch towards the positive. Take a persistent negative thought that you have and make it less negative. Like “I can never stick with an exercise plan” becomes “sometimes I’m consistent with exercise and sometimes I’m not.” Find something that feels just as true as your automatic thought and replace it when it pops up. Slowly move this negative thought towards neutral. Practice it enough and you’ll be ready to move it to positive. 
  2. Notice how you feel. Just because a statement appears positive does not mean it will make you feel good. To be effective, a positive thought needs to invoke the feelings you want. Is it motivation, determination, confidence, excitement, calm? How do you need to feel to drive the actions you want to take? Find one key positive thought that feels genuinely good to you and practice it throughout each day.
  3. Track your daily wins. Especially the small ones. Helping your brain acknowledge that small successes are relevant to your long-term goals makes it more likely that you’ll be consistent. Because small steps lead to big results.

It’s okay – and totally normal – to feel negative. Like, when you don’t follow through on your healthy habits you probably want to feel disappointed. But don’t wallow in disappointment. Use these three techniques to move from negative to positive in a way that really works for you.  

Hey, want to watch my video on how to change from a negative to positive mindset? You can watch it at my Facebook Group, here.

How to keep consistent with healthy habits when life throws you off track

How to keep consistent with healthy habits when life throws you off track

My dad likes to say that life is what happens when we’re making plans. My clients certainly find this to be true. They want to keep consistent with healthy habits but something always seems to block their best intentions.

You know what though? So much of life is more predictable than we pretend. That is, we know we’ll be disrupted at work. And sometimes need to work late. We know the weather won’t always “cooperate.” It’s really not a surprise when kids create a mess or need to be picked up from some activity at the last minute. 

How to keep consistent with healthy habits when life throws you off track
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

So, why not plan for these things?

The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is thinking there shouldn’t be problems. Planning for – expecting – ideal circumstances sets you up to not keep consistent with healthy habits. It’s one of the biggest reasons I see for people getting stuck in the lose-regain-lose-regain weight cycle. 

To execute consistently on your plan I recommend having a backup plan. Here are three options to consider as you create yours:

  1. If not A, then B: This is about alternatives. “If it’s dark when I get home and I don’t feel safe going for my jog, I’ll ride my stationary bike. If my friend can’t make our weekly walk appointment, I’ll listen to my favorite podcast to keep me company.” 
  2. Minimum standard: Setting a baseline minimum prevents all-or-nothing from taking over, particularly when you have an extended situation that makes it easy to put your healthy habits on the back burner. “No matter what, I exercise for 5 minutes every day. Whatever’s going on, I have a piece of fruit every morning.”
  3. Have a plethora of options: Have a list of 10 different exercises (e.g. lunges, planks, jumping jacks, even stretches) that you can combine together for a 10-minute workout. Develop a list of go-to meals that you can throw together at a moment’s notice (I talk about this in my Back on Track Challenge that’s coming up next month – let me know if you want to be first to be notified when it’s starting). Then keep certain foods stocked that you know will fit the bill. 

These are ideas to get you going. Now brainstorm several in each category. (Even come up with your own category and share below!)  If you regularly take action on your healthy habits – or try to – this will be a significant boost to your consistency.  

Ultimately, you want to avoid being surprised by things you could readily predict. Be flexible and plan for contingencies. That’s how you create the lifestyle that “gets you there and keeps you there.”

Disappointment and Donuts

What do you do when you feel disappointed? Defeated? Or simply down?

Do you speak kindly to yourself? Give yourself space to feel your feelings?

Recently I said that one reason to get good at feeling bad is that you feel better. Because disappointment on its own is much better than humiliation heaped on top.

There’s another reason. When we double up on the bad feelings, we tend towards unhelpful behaviors. Like overeating. Because it feels good in the moment and gives a brief distraction from the negative feelings at hand.

But soon you have another feeling that exacerbates everything.

Because when you’re angry, sad, stressed…you eat cookies, not kale. And once you’ve eaten cookies (or chips, or ice cream), you think nothing of a donut the next morning. After all, you’ve blown it so why bother?

Then maybe guilt creeps in. Hopelessness. Shame is always lurking nearby.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

You’re now at the bottom of a pile. What was initially a feeling of disappointment is now covered with embarrassment and shame. And once you decide you’ve blown it, here comes defeat.

This is a huge reason why so many women who come to coach with me had a hard time losing weight and keeping it off. When we’re in a flood of negative emotions, our logic about what we “should” do is useless. In fact, it only becomes another way of chastising ourselves. And food is such an easy, attractive buffer against those feelings.

Here’s what I want you to know. The wave of feelings comes from the story you’re telling yourself about the initial “thing.” Like your partner said certain words that you took as mean or insensitive. Rather than sitting with that initial “ouch” you weaved a tale about how if he loved you he wouldn’t say those things…or something similar. A few mental leaps later and you’re figuring out where you’re going to live and who gets the cat in the divorce.

Next time the flood starts coming and you reach for food, pause. Ask yourself what you’re feeling. Sit and feel that feeling. Then ask yourself what you truly need – what, if you were to treat yourself well, would you do now? That’s the thing to do.

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