Diets – It’s Not What You Eat, It’s What You Think

The cornerstone of weight control is between your ears. What you think – that is, how you talk to yourself, what you say to yourself about your body image and efforts to become fit and trim – is perhaps the most important element in weight loss and weight management. Whether you stay mired in your current predicament or gain and lose the same X-number of pounds is absolutely determined by your mental approach and belief system. And so is success in the effort to win this battle once and for all.

If you tell yourself one hundred thousand times that you are going to fail, what do you predict will happen? I would venture to guess that it’s not success that you would expect, right? You may FEEL that “I will fail” is the most likely outcome, and you may even have established a pattern that supports that notion. For instance, each time you embark on the latest fad diet, you may be telling yourself: “Oh, here we go again, another diet that is destined to fail; I will lose weight for a while and then it will all come back.” You are dead in the water before you begin, as you already TOLD yourself the way the story ends.

Many people live with the echoes of others who have given them negative messages and labels, such as “you’ll always be fat,” or “you’re lazy and ugly.” Such ideas can easily seep into your core consciousness and take root. When we internalize messages about ourselves in this way, we tend to then take over and repeat them to ourselves whenever we are facing these issues. Not surprisingly, repeating these harmful messages causes emotional pain, and we predictably look for ways to avoid it. One way to avoid the pain is to numb oneself by engaging in automatic eating, which occurs during a binge episode. Another way to avoid is to simply not deal with matters and allow oneself to persist in negative habits that maintain the status quo. You may experience avoidance as a form of self-protection: If I don’t try, then I won’t feel frustrated or disappointed.

Self-loathing may feel very familiar, but how’s it working for you? Does it help you to move closer to your goals of health and fitness? You may feel that you need to go to the opposite extreme – as in attaining perfection in all aspects of eating, exercise and appearance – in order to make the efforts worthwhile. However, these extreme ways of thinking typically amount to setting you up for failure. Setting your standards too low means you’ll never get off the ground. Having too high a standard is also counterproductive – the reason being that the mountain seems to high to climb, causing you to feel overwhelmed and discouraged before taking the first step. Therefore, it is important to not only have a realistic long-range goal for weight loss and fitness, but also to break it down into short-term, manageable steps that allow you to experience progress in real-time. In addition, having a reasonable standard for the process as well as the outcome is vital, because setting the bar too high on any aspect will ensure the frustration and disappointment that you are seeking to avoid. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be perfect in order to be successful or satisfied!

You may wonder what to do about your negative thinking. Well, for starters, you need to capture it. Listen closely and carefully to your internal dialogue, which is the content of what you say to yourself, as well as how you’re saying it. The tone is just as important as the message. For instance, how likely will it be to help you if you say, “I know I can do it” in a sarcastic manner? I think you get the point. Hear yourself, and WRITE IT DOWN. If you don’t write it down, you will be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to examining and working with your thoughts to enhance your progress. I know you might not want to actually SEE your thoughts in black and white, but this form of avoidance amounts to you kidding yourself. The thoughts are there, and the impact is just as strong. So find a notebook and write down these critical thoughts (that’s right, critical in both senses – judgmental and important). Next, subject each of these thoughts to a reality test: is the thought fact-based and absolutely irrefutable? If the thought is true, then acknowledge it. If it is an opinion or a prediction or a thought based on how you feel, then it is just a perspective or perception. Perspectives and perceptions are SUBJECTIVE, and here is where the work needs to be done. A lot of room for improvement is within your grasp at that point, as you’ll find that almost everything you tell yourself can be modified. Ever hear it said that there is no reality, only perception? That means that you create a huge percentage of your experience, including what you manifest in your life, such as the condition of your body and your health-maintenance habits.

After you identify your negative thoughts and challenge them, you need to REPLACE them with more rational, realistic, and constructive ideas and beliefs. It is necessary to not only refute the negative thoughts but to go the distance in formulating a more appropriate one while in the process of re-engineering your internal dialogue. This is an ongoing effort – a chipping away at the rock consisting of old mental habits, and building a new structure that is elegant and refined. Changing long-standing, deeply held beliefs about yourself is not an easy or simple task, and therapy may be needed to get you going and keep moving in the right direction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the therapeutic approach that focuses on cleaning up your thinking. It is geared towards helping people to identify errors in their thinking, to learn how to challenge negative thoughts, and to reframe these thoughts into rational, realistic and healthy ones. CBT is the most efficient and effective form of therapy for this purpose, and its success has been supported by numerous research studies. Such studies have even demonstrated biological evidence for the changes that occur within the brain that are similar to the effects of psychotropic medication when it comes to treatment of depression and anxiety.

Cognitive Therapy Associates is a network of experienced professionals (licensed clinical psychologists and social workers) located in New York City, Westchester and Long Island who provide CBT for those who are struggling with weight loss and weight management issues, as well as many other types of psychological challenges. Phone consultation to provide you with a support system and assist you with reaching your goals through right thinking is also available for those outside the Manhattan region.

To contact CTA for a referral in NYC, Westchester and L.I., call 212-258-2577.

by Dr. Allison Kahner, Clinical Director, Cognitive Therapy Associates.

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