When it comes to losing weight, mindset matters. Positive habits such as celebrating small successes, focusing on positive self-talk and practicing mindfulness could help you lose more weight — and keep it off — than dwelling on negative thinking.
“Understanding whether and how thoughts support successful weight management can inform future programs designed to modify thoughts to support weight-management success,” says Suzanne Phelan, PhD, professor of kinesiology and public health California Polytechnic State University
The latest research, published in the journal Obesity, found those who used positive self-talk were more successful at losing weight, helping them get back on track after minor lapses such as overeating or skipping a workout.
“Research from cognitive-behavioral treatment of obesity suggests modifying thoughts can support weight management,” adds Phelan, the study co-author. “The first step is to self-monitor thoughts … It can be a challenge at first but, over time, helpful cognitions may become ingrained and support long-term success.”
Phelan suggests recording negative thoughts after an episode of overeating or a small weight gain to identify the thoughts that are inaccurate or unhelpful and replace those thoughts with more helpful alternatives. Instead of thinking, “I’m a failure,” think, “I can take action now to prevent additional weight gain.”
A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found focusing on the potential positive health impacts of your food choices during mealtime led dieters to select healthier foods and smaller portions.
It appears emphasizing positive health outcomes triggers activity in the area of the brain linked to self-control and future planning, including meal planning. The shift in mindset, researchers noted, could help those who are overweight or obese meet their weight-loss goals.
Kishore Gopalakrishna Pillai, associate dean and professor of marketing at Amrita School of Business in India, studied how different mindsets affected nutrition choices and weight loss.
His 2019 research showed those who were concerned about the presence or absence of positive outcomes — dubbed a promotion focus — were better able to adjust their diets and lose weight than dieters who were focused on the absence or presence of negative outcomes — called a prevention focus.
Pillai believes weight-loss interventions should emphasize a promotion focus, encouraging dieters to focus on positive, not negative outcomes, to help them choose more nutritious foods and lose weight.
Embracing a positive body image has also been associated with eating a healthier diet and greater weight loss, according to research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
A positive attitude is especially important because slip-ups are an inevitable part of establishing new exercise and eating habits and losing weight, Phelan adds.
“Any effort made at any time to respond to lapses and recover is well worth it. Self-monitor, be kind to yourself,” she says. “Weight management is hard work but over time and with lots of practice, habits are formed and the work becomes easier.”