You’re out to dinner with friends. You got through the meal eating well. You order a bowl of berries for dessert. The rest of the table orders a brownie sundae to share. The ice cream lands on the table. Everyone digs in.
Eh, it’s a special occasion, I can splurge this once, you think.
And suddenly, you’re at the bottom of the bowl and you’re 400 calories in.
It’s easy to rationalize that slice of pizza or that hot fudge sundae, telling yourself that one little piece won’t hurt you.
But talking to yourself in this way can actually program your brain for failure.
Talking to yourself differently, on the other hand, can set you up for success.
But here’s where it gets tricky… Some sabotaging self-talk can sound perfectly harmless. So you could be hurting your chances of losing without even knowing.
Let’s take a look at three of the most common ways of thinking that may be waylaying your weight-loss efforts… and how a simple “rethink” may be all you need to lead you to the real prize: a leaner, healthier you.
Whether it’s your boss’s birthday, your wedding anniversary or Bastille Day, you can always find an excuse to eat. But when your inner voice is screaming, “It’s okay to overeat because…” you’re headed for trouble.
Because soon one celebration leads to another and suddenly, every day is a reason to splurge.
An occasional treat is okay… even necessary (more on that later). But you can’t overdo every day. So instead of rationalizing that every day is a holiday, rethink your approach to be more flexible. Tell yourself, you can enjoy every celebration AND still make healthy food choices. It just takes a little planning.
Here’s how: Make sure before you go to that birthday party/office lunch/holiday celebration, you eat a small, high-protein snack so you don’t go in starving. Try celery with hummus, or an apple with nut butter.
At the party, use the half and half rule: Fill half your plate with healthy fare and the other half with small portions of indulgences.
#2: Unrealistic Expectations
“I have to lose 10 pounds by Tuesday,” or “I have to exercise every day” and other “should” thoughts related to weight loss can set you up for unrealistic expectations… and eventual failure.
So banish the “should,” “ought,” “must” and other rigid self-talk and replace it with a more flexible mindset.
Instead of thinking about how much you have to lose, for example, shift your focus away from the scale. Concentrate on tracking the realistic behaviors that result in weight loss… behaviors you know you can do.
Give yourself a gold star each time you perform a positive action. For example, reward yourself each time you do these things:
- *Maximize your gym time with a HIIT session
- *Add one more serving of vegetables to your daily plate
- *Practice deep breathing throughout the day to help reduce stress
- *Take your WLF1 before each meal.
#3: All or Nothing Thinking
After you’ve dug deeply into the cookie jar it’s natural to think, “I’ve blown my diet for the entire week, forget it, I’ll just start again on Monday.”
If you start thinking just because you had one slip up you might as well just go ballistic for the rest of the week, you’ll too easily fall into a never-ending spiral of tomorrows, and Monday will never get here.
Your weight loss journey is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. Rather, successful dieting is all about the middle ground where flexibility is the watchword.
Instead of blowing one hour of cookie binging into a failed diet altogether, call it what it was – a cheat meal. Which isn’t such a bad thing. I’ve written about the importance of cheat meals here. One study found women who allowed themselves to cheat occasionally actually lost more weight than those who never strayed.
Turns out, when you allow yourself that occasional treat, reward or celebration, you are more likely to enjoy your process of weight management, get to your goal and stick to it.
So let go of the black and white thinking. Did the world end because you ate that double dip cone? Probably not. Did you enjoy the cone? Probably yes.
Speaking of something else going on…
Have you said any of these things to yourself? Are you rethinking them now? How about any other phrases you think you should delete from your vocabulary now that you’re thinking along these lines?
Tell me about how you’re thinking differently about dieting now. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or comment below.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
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1. Westenhoefer J, Engel D, Holst C, et al. Cognitive and weight-related correlates of flexible and rigid restrained eating behaviour. Eat Behav. 2013;14(1):69-72. PMID: 23265405.