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Tracy Shawn: The Psychology of Successful Weight Loss and Maintenance

Before you embark on that ambitious diet, here's what you really need to know to make it work

To succeed at reaching and maintaining your goal weight, don’t go on a diet.

Yes, you read correctly: Do not go on a diet.

Even the phrase “going on a diet” creates the mindset that weight loss is a time-limited, if arduous, journey. All too often the psychology of dieting creates a frustrating cycle of deprivation, guilt when one “goes off” the diet, and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors: “I’ve blown it anyway, I might as well finish off the whole bag of chips.”

Also, if you limit essential food groups and restrict calories too much, you may not be receiving adequate nutrients, as well as losing lean muscle, which is not only bad for your overall health, but also lowers your metabolism. (Note: For more information, please check out the Federal Trade Commission and the American Heart Association’s Fad Diets Web sites and type “diet” in their search bars.)

So what, you may ask, does work? First, tell yourself that instead of a diet that you will go on and then off, you are now embarking on an all-around lifestyle that focuses on health. This way, you will learn to make everyday choices that will not only help you lose weight, but will also help you maintain it, all while increasing your overall physical condition. (www.eatright.org and www.nal.usda.gov/fnic are Web sites that contain practical and accurate information regarding nutrition and health). When you further educate yourself about nutrition it also motivates you, and in turn, makes it easier to choose healthy foods.

Second, when you decide to have a treat here and there, tell yourself that it is OK; you haven’t “blown” your weight loss efforts for the week — or even the day — if you indulge in an ice cream cone or have a small slice of flourless chocolate cake at your friend’s birthday party. (And on the other side of the coin, don’t feel obliged to have that piece of birthday cake if you don’t want it!)

We live in a world full of delectable food, a pleasure that we cannot ignore. Unless you have medical reasons for dietary restrictions, it may only make you want to overindulge more if you tell yourself certain foods are “off limits.” In the book, Personal Nutrition, by Marie Boyle Struble, Ph.D., RD, and Sara Long Roth, Ph.D., RD, the authors note that when people label foods into “good” and “bad” categories, they may actually overindulge more than others when they finally give into their cravings.

This all-or-nothing attitude sets the stage for negative self-talk: “I’ll never be able to stay on a diet, so I might as well go for it all.” Whereas people who tell themselves: “Since I’ve been eating healthy foods and have been walking almost every day this week, this one piece of apple pie won’t hurt,” are able to enjoy their treat without guilt and the resulting self-destructive behaviors.

The third mindset for successful — and happy — weight loss is to remind yourself of all your positive attributes (you’re a loyal friend, hard worker, awesome gardener, empathetic parent, good cook — the list can go on and on). When too much focus is placed on what the scale says, self-esteem may become compromised. Each setback may seem like an utter failure instead of just a temporary blip along the way. Placing too much perceived future happiness on being a certain weight can also devastate one’s maintenance; when the same life problems that one had to struggle with before are still lurking, unhealthy eating patterns are very likely to emerge again.

So remember this: Making health, doable goals and positive self-talk your priorities may help lead you to both successful weight loss and long-term maintenance — all while elevating your overall well-being and physical health.

— Tracy Shawn, MA, “The Walk & Talk Weight Loss Coach”, is a certified nutrition and wellness consultant for men and women. She helps clients achieve their weight loss goals through individualized guidance and education. Click here to contact her.

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