Setting a goal to lose weight and improve your nutrition habits is a great first step in the journey to getting healthier. Still, it’s fair to acknowledge losing weight comes with challenges. Maybe it’s rethinking less nutrient-dense foods (i.e., overindulging in french fries or chips) and downsizing portions. Maybe it’s finding time to fit regular movement into a busy schedule. With these weight-loss hurdles, it’s natural to have moments of doubt — or even let negative thoughts sneak in. However, the way you think about big goals can make a huge difference.
“Our mindsets are a fundamental part of everything we do and can predict whether or not we will be successful in losing weight,” says Brandon Nicholas, certified personal trainer at The Fitness Tribe.
While the negative thoughts others have about us can be turned into motivation (i.e., someone saying something like “I don’t think you can do that” and proving them wrong), our negative thoughts about ourselves are not as easy to bend to our advantage. “When we think negatively of ourselves, we instill it in our own belief system, and our minds process and accept it as our truth,” says Nicholas.
Here, experts weigh in on some of the most common negative thoughts that can get in the way of our weight-loss goals and how you can reframe subpar thinking on your quest for progress.
Instead of using this negative language, try speaking to yourself in the third person, recommends Todd Buckingham, PhD, lead exercise physiologist at Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation. “This will improve self-control and help regulate your emotions. So, the next time you have these negative thoughts, imagine you are talking to a friend. You wouldn’t shame a friend for not losing weight, so why do it to yourself?”
When you completely limit a certain food or entire food group, you get into risky territory. “The guilt cycle you create sabotages your chances at choosing healthy foods the next time,” says Theresa Gentile, RD, spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You feel so bad about eating poorly, that you choose gluttonous foods to make you feel better, only feeding the cycle.” Instead, ditch food guilt and place all foods on a neutral playing field. Remember, there’s a time and a place for all foods so you don’t feel constantly deprived.
Comparison is the thief of joy. “When you compare and despair, you may feel as though your own body isn’t reacting to the diet and exercise like others,” says Gentile. “This could make you give up on your weight-loss efforts and feel like they’re useless.”
To combat these thoughts, try to remember every body is built differently and reacts differently. “You can also practice kind inner-talk where you speak to yourself as you would a friend — with gentle compassion,” says Gentile.
The all-or-nothing mindset (commonly referred to as black-and-white thinking) can be your worst enemy. For example, drastic polarization of good or bad foods, on-or-off a diet, success-or-failure. However, not all aspects of your personal journey will be black and white, and when you view them as such, “it can lead to yo-yo dieting,” says Gentile.
Instead, focus on slow and steady gains and wins on your path to long-term weight loss. Things like eating more whole foods, getting in the daily recommended amount of water, and moving your body are all aspects of a healthy routine worth being celebrated — even if you slip up a little bit here and there.
Along the lines of the all-or-nothing thinking, this train of thought is also focused on perfectionism. The truth is you won’t be 100% perfect at adopting healthy behaviors — especially all at once. “This type of thinking refuses to see and celebrate progress,” says Buckingham. “Just because you couldn’t resist temptation once and have a treat doesn’t mean you’re not making positive progress overall.”
Weight loss takes time, and you won’t see results overnight. It could take weeks, months or even years to reach your weight-loss goals. What’s most important is you’re losing weight in a way that’s reasonable and maintainable, adds Buckingham. A good rule of thumb is to aim to lose 1–2 pounds per week or 4–8 pounds per month.
Weight loss can seem complicated with tracking how many calories you eat and finding time to fit exercise into a busy schedule. However, there’s a lot of great technology (like the MyFitnessPal app) and other resources such as dietitians and personal trainers who can help take the guesswork out, says Buckingham. “You don’t need to feel alone in going after your big goals,” he adds. “These experts can help you without adding extra stress.”