LifeTime WeightLoss Logo

« 10 Get Your 10,000 Steps | Main | 10 Things a Trainer Would Tell You »

7 Psychological Factors That Influence Weight Loss 

What are the most powerful questions that will determine your weight loss journey - and even outcome?

How many meals should I eat each day? What should be my macronutrient balance? What will I do for movement? How much cardio should I do? What should my resistance training routine look like?

As important as all of these issues are, I'd suggest our mindset has as much influence over our outcomes as logistical choices often do.

See which seven psychological factors I believe commonly figure into weight loss.

Just as much as the meal planning and fitness programs we undertake, our psychological process can shift or sabotage our journeys. Because success largely depends on the mental game we bring, implementing healthy choices can be simple — but not necessarily easy. If we're fighting old stories or self-defeating patterns, we'll often unconsciously undo the good we accomplish. On the other hand, a self-aware and empowered mindset can help us push through the toughest of times or better adapt to the healthy changes that will create our success. 

Are you focusing on what “worked” before?

If you are like most people, you’ve tried losing weight in the past, and it even worked (for the short term). Maybe you cut out soda and lost ten pounds or restricted calories every day until you got to a specific goal weight. When you try to repeat those behaviors this time, however, the scale won’t budge. "Wait," you may think. "It worked before! Am I stuck at this current weight forever? 

Mind Shift

Remember that your metabolism is a complicated and ever-evolving process. What worked for you in your twenties won't necessarily work for you in your thirties or forties. A multitude of factors impact your body’s ability to lose weight, including hormonal balance, sleep, and nutrient intake. Instead of focusing on quick fixes, focus on habits and behaviors that will promote your health. Finally, if you really get stuck, reach out to a weight loss expert to help assess your situation and determine the best path.

Do you compare your success with the success of others?

Some of my favorite opportunities as a professional have come in a group setting. When people who have similar goals work with each other, teaching and learning can take the lead. At the other end of the spectrum, however, comes the propensity to compare another person's trajectory with yours.

Are you sharing your weight loss journey with another person? Are you and your significant other in it together? Studies show over and again that having an accountability partner can drive weight loss success and increase one's likeliness to stay on track. However, many of us can also get frustrated if our partner sees faster success than we do. Sharing strategies and offering support can be helpful. Comparing outcomes along the way really isn't.

Mind Shift

Remind yourself that people who eat and work out the same don’t necessarily look the same. Each body is different and every metabolism is challenged in its own way. Instead of comparing your success to others', try to learn from their efforts.

For this and other reasons, many people do better with a health professional as a coach/accountability partnerversus a peer. Look into hiring a nutrition coach or personal trainer to manage your success if you find yourself continually challenged by others around you.

Are you worried about being a “radical”?

Will you get weird looks when you turn down the birthday cake? Will your friends stop inviting you out on the weekends? What will people think of you when you don’t behave the way they do? These are all valid questions many of my clients face when embarking on their weight loss journeys. We're creatures of habit and thrive within our social communities – so much that many people don’t make changes solely because they don’t want to be singled out or labeled as the “healthy” one.

Mind Shift

Luckily, eating healthily is becoming increasingly popular. When grocery shopping, terms like organic, gluten-free, grass-fed, and antibiotic-free are more recognizable by the general population. As a result, you aren’t considered a radical person for favoring these specific foods. Even five years ago, it was a completely different story!

I encourage my clients to research and continue learning about healthy eating outside of our sessions. (PDF)The more you empower yourself with real knowledge, the easier being healthy becomes and the harder it is to go back to old unhealthy ways. If you’re ever questioned about your choices, you'll feel informed on the decisions you’ve been making to improve your health.

What if it doesn’t work?

What IF it doesn’t work! When we make big changes in our routines, we expect big results. Your ability to lose weight isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. It’s a process. For many of us, it can be a longer process. That means we need to continue sending our bodies the right signals (e.g. eating healthily, getting enough sleep, exercising, etc.) over the long term to optimize our results. For many of us, we have a multitude of changes to make, and just thinking about it can be exhausting and de-motivating.

Mind Shift  

Try not to focus solely on the specific result you're looking for. With my clients, we identify all sorts of progress metrics sans the scale. When you worry about not seeing certain numerical successes, you don't appreciate the positive impacts you're making on your body's overall health.

Start small and focus on bite-size changes you can make each day and throughout the week. When you start this way, you’ll be more likely to stick to habit changes because they won’t feel so overwhelming. Remind yourself to keep sending your body the right signals, and focus on wellness in addition to weight loss.

What effect do your words have?

Do you use confident and hopeful mental phrasing? Do you harness the power of positivity or focus on what needs to be restricted? Sometimes our success can hinge on our mental approach and the particular language we use to frame our challenges. Our words can either positively or negatively influence our outcomes. Although you might not feel your best in your current body, don't sabotage your journey with self-defeating language. Be aware that you might have to “fake” some confidence at the start.

Mind Shift

Practice using the words “I will” or “I can definitely do” in place of the “I should" and/or “I’ll try." This can be put to use when writing out your goals or mantra for the week or when in conversation with your accountability partner/coach. Also, when writing out your goals, focus on positive behaviors such as “I will eat more veggies at breakfast each day” versus negative framing such as “I won't eat as many calories today."

Are you bringing an “all-or-nothing” attitude?

If you find yourself obsessed with perfection, really challenge yourself to let go of that attitude. We learn as we go along what constitutes healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle behaviors. However, we might begin to believe that we need to practice everything perfectly to attain any reasonable outcome.

We can easily be led astray and let the perfect become the enemy of the good. If we can't follow every suggestion 100% of the time, we may be tempted, for example, to give up. Don't underestimate the power of each positive choice! If you can’t commit to organic for all of your produce, still strive to consume enough fruits and veggies each day. If you can’t do grass-fed beef all of the time, still set a goal for eating optimum proteinon a daily basis.     

Mind Shift

Remember that you're human (and always will be). Try to remind yourself over and again that perfection is unnecessary. Many readers of this blog like to follow the 80/20 rule of healthy living. We might find certain foods or behaviors that we’ll never eat or practice again once we’ve learned about the negative impact they have on our health, and the rest we manage by moderation. That said, each person’s "ruled out" behaviors can and will be different. Know that every hour is an opportunity to make good decisions that serve your health. 

Are you simply afraid of being successful?

I’ll never forget this client.... She had a great job, great husband, happy and healthy children, and an amazing personality along with a goal of losing 40 pounds. We worked toward that goal for almost 2 years. She was a perfect client – accountable with food logging, embracing of new habits she even implemented with her family, happy to exercise every day and motivated to follow all blood chemistry measures to monitor her health and metabolism.  

Yet, every 5-10 pounds lost would turn into a regain shortly after – to the point that we lost and regained the same 5-10 pounds nearly ten times. I was a newer professional then and had never known such a compliant client see such confounding feedback!

It wasn’t until we stopped focusing on tracking compliance and instead focused on simply talking about her emotional process that I learned she had been self-sabotaging her success. Although she had wanted to lose the weight most of her adult life, she had also lived with those extra pounds most of her adult life. Would she be a different person 40 pounds lighter? Would she still be just as happy and just as successful as she already was with the 40 pounds gone? Although it might seem rare, this type of thinking is very common. Since my time with this client, I’ve seen the same pattern a multitude of times with other individuals who are completely content with their current physiques and lifestyles but assume they "should" lose weight based on a multitude of influences.

Mind Shift

If you ask yourself similar questions, assess your reason for wanting to lose weight in the first place. Remind yourself that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and make your health your first priority. My client above had always been overweight as an adult. Her concerns and questions about herself were completely relevant. She had no idea what it would be like to be a smaller self, and she wasn’t sure if it would be a good change or not. 

Having been new to my field at the time, I failed at continuing to assess and reassess her underlying reasons for change and instead, unproductively, focused on the number itself. If you find yourself in the same scenario, challenge yourself by writing out all of the positive effects losing weight would have on your life and the lives of those closest to you (if you feel that's relevant). Write down the "unknowns" you sense as well. I can happily say that, once I had these crucial conversations with my client and understood where she was coming from, we both felt more confident about her plan and were able to find success at keeping the weight off for good!

Thanks for reading, everyone. Give your mental process and emotional experience their due, and talk with a weight loss coach today for perspective and support on your journey!

In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version