The best weight loss exercise you can do isn’t a physical activity, it’s learning how to manage the action between your ears. Yes, I’m talking about how you think. The mental strategy involved in losing fat and getting lean is the hardest part. Don’t believe me? There’s a reason people don’t succeed long-term when just given nutrition information, and why they do succeed when they work with a coach. Maybe you can identify with some of the following:Knowing what to do, but finding yourself doing something else, often just the opposite of what you “want”. Binge eating out of avoidance, procrastination, or in automatic response to a seemingly-unrelated event. Engaging in self-sabotage as soon as you reach a certain level of success. Giving up due to frustration. Feeling deprived when avoiding foods that are bad for you. Rebelling after a period of restrictive eating.
These are just some of the most common problems I work with, but you can bet there are innumerable other ways that we can think ourselves into trouble when trying to shed fat. But, aha! The silver lining, we can also think ourselves out of trouble. I’d like to teach you a bit about how you can do that, to achieve greater success. To keep things simple, I’ll cover just one mental strategy at a time, out of the dozens you can learn if you really want to. Today’s topic is reframing.
Also known as cognitive restructuring, reframing thoughts can help you be more resilient throughout your weight loss journey. We reframe a situation by looking at the same facts, but attaching a different meaning to it. With this skill in your tool belt, you can protect yourself from negative thoughts (which accumulate over time), which lead to negative emotions (which accumulate over time), which often lead to cravings at best, and a complete forfeiture of your diet plan at worst. Being able to reframe your thoughts can improve the experience of getting lean from being one you hate, to one you actually enjoy. Too good to be true? Here’s a direct quote from one of my nutrition coaching clients:
Just wanted to let you know that I think that talking yesterday about reframing really clicked with me. Just thinking this morning that “I’m going to eat protein, fat and veggies for breakfast” instead of “I can’t have carbs at breakfast” made such a difference in my satisfaction this morning. I know it’s a small thing, but I really think it will make a big difference for me moving forward.I feel back on track – I had perfect meals yesterday, and have been for my two meals so far today too Have a great day! -Sarah
Sarah and I had just had a phone conversation yesterday about reframing. I’ve taught her how to use this skill to keep herself out of the “Scarcity Mindset”, and prevent an old habit from resurfacing (every time she tries to eat less processed carbs, she ends up eating more of them.) Instead of telling herself she “can’t” eat something, she focused on what she was going to eat. This is a simple swap: using a positive frame instead of a negative one. And look what it did for Sarah, big difference in satisfaction compared to her old way of thinking. Reframing is simple, but very effective in keeping you out of grouchypants mode.
Grouchypants mode is no good for weight loss. Contentedness and peace is a much better route, I can tell you firsthand!
Want to give reframing a try? Instead of thinking, “I can’t have that…or that…or that” when planning a meal or scanning a menu, reframe it into thinking of all the things you can have. Instead of thinking about how many months and weeks it will take to get to your goal weight if you “only lose a pound a week” (creating your own frustration), you can reframe your thinking by appreciating the moderate pace of change, which gives you time to adjust to your new body, handle people’s possible reactions, and ensure that your new physique is more permanent. (FYI: The more rapidly you lose weight, the more likely you are to put it back on AND the more negatively it is perceived by those in your social circle).
Reframing is not ignoring facts to see the shiny upside to everything. It’s simply a way to challenge our beliefs by applying a different point of view. Instead of collapsing in frustration and giving up after an off-plan meal after deciding “it’s hopeless to try any more”, you can reframe the incident as into an opportunity to gain insight about yourself, perhaps that you need to be extra-careful at parties where margaritas are flowing and chips are free.
Instead of feeling like a failure and being angry at yourself for previous failed attempts at weight loss, you can reframe your years of effort as valuable: they’ve solidified your decision to do something differently.
That might sound quite different from the internal dialog you’re used to hearing in your own mind, and that’s okay. This skill doesn’t come naturally to anyone. You have to practice it at first. Some great places to start are focusing on what you can have, what you can do, and what is going well. Even in pretty rough circumstances, you can decrease your despair and regain a feeling of control in a situation by appreciating that you are able to handle it. If you’re struggling in a particular area of your fitness or nutrition journey, instead of lamenting how hard it is for you, reframe it as you now have identified your next area of progress. And if you need to ask an expert for help, you know who to get in touch with.
I’ll be back next week with a new tactic for you, and it’s incredibly freeing.