Every weight-loss journey is different, but shedding pounds and keeping them off requires creating sustainable healthy habits with nutrition and fitness. Another thing that can make or break losing weight: how you speak to yourself about the process. In fact, research published in the journal Obesity found people 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.
“When you tell yourself you’ve failed at something, oftentimes it triggers a backslide or a binge episode,” says Rachel McBryan, RD. If you catch yourself talking or thinking negatively, you can reframe it to get back on track quickly. Doing so “supports a better mood and less obsessive thinking about food,” says McBryan.
Here are five common thinking traps that are helpful to reframe when working to lose weight and improve your health:
The simple fact of defining your eating habits as “good” or “bad” can set you up for failure. “The ‘bad’ days make you feel guilt and shame, which can lead to unhealthy relationships with yourself and food,” says Julia Axelbaum, RD. “The ‘good’ days put an unrealistic expectation and pressure on yourself to keep it up and always be perfect.”
Instead of thinking of days as good or bad, ask yourself about the habits that went along with either being successful or veering off course. For example, maybe you logged your food consistently, so you noticed trends. Or maybe you overate because you were stressed?
“We all have triggers that lead to undesirable behaviors, and figuring out what those are is key,” says Axelbaum. “Once you identify them, take a moment to think about what you can do differently the next time you are in that situation. What new, encouraging thoughts can you test to prevent this from happening in the future?” For example, instead of saying “I had a bad day,” you might tell yourself, “I didn’t get enough protein at breakfast because I was tired, which led me to reach for sugary foods.” Next time, “I will go to bed a little earlier and also prepare breakfast ahead of time.” Identifying the problem without guilt and coming up with a solution to be prepared helps avoid future slip-ups.
It’s easy to get disheartened when stepping on the scale doesn’t show a lower number. This can lead to stress, which alters your body’s hormones and can further hinder weight loss. Here’s the thing: “Losing inches and not weight actually means you have started to lose fat and will eventually lose weight, too,” says Anam Umair, RD, PhD. Instead of getting down on yourself when you step on the scale, remind yourself of all the other positive changes you’re noticing. For instance, “I have more energy to play with my kids,” “I’m lifting heavier weights,” and “I have more endurance on my walks or runs.” Focusing on the positives and what you’re doing right makes weight-loss more motivating and enjoyable.
“An all-or-nothing mentality has no place in creating a healthier lifestyle,” says Axelbaum. Instead of thinking one less-than-stellar decision wrecks an entire day, move forward and do the best you can with what you have.
“The goal is not perfection; it’s progress,” says Axelbaum. “Instead of beating yourself up, pause to notice any feelings of guilt or shame. Remember, you are only human, and this happens to everyone at some point.” Instead of dwelling on one slip-up, remind yourself “no one meal, day or even week of eating defines my weight,” says Axelbaum.
There’s a time and a place for different foods (and indulgences) in our diets. Rather than shaming yourself for choosing a food, understand the occasional treat is part of a healthy relationship with food.
“Next time you’re considering indulging in something special, think about if it’s something you really want and love, or if you are just eating because it’s there,” says Axelbaum. “If you do make the conscious choice to eat it, enjoy it to the fullest. Give your full attention to the flavor, texture and smell with each bite. Savor the food slowly and be as present as possible.” Again, remind yourself to look at the bigger picture. You can tell yourself, “I eat healthfully 80% of the time, so I’m going to fully enjoy indulgences the remaining 20%.”
It might seem innocent enough to ask this when shopping or picking out an outfit in a dressing room. However, “the problem is this kind of language reinforces the bad habit of prioritizing your weight’s appearance and only your weight’s appearance as the focal point of your life,” says John Fawkes, NSCA-certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition-certified nutritional counselor. Instead, “ask yourself how certain clothes make you feel,” says Fawkes. “Think about the material, colors and fabrics, plus how energized you feel after putting on a certain piece.”