Let’s be honest: If losing weight was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this article — and we wouldn’t be writing it. Emotional issues can fuel obesity-promoting habits such as overeating, and they can get in the way of making change. It’s important to recognize your personal roadblocks and design quick detours around them. See how many of these sound familiar to you:
- Stress. Stress provokes lots of unhealthy responses: piling on the portions, eating junk food, watching TV and not getting enough sleep.
Try: Deep breathing. When you feel stressed, close your eyes and take five deep breaths, suggests Elizabeth Ricanati, MD, medical director for the Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program. Deep breathing helps promote a state of calm and mental focus, so you are better able to make healthier decisions.
- Low self-esteem and poor body image. We live in a fat-phobic society where women in particular feel pressured to look a certain way in order to be accepted. People with obesity may internalize these negative judgments, and the self-loathing often leads to further eating and other unhealthy behaviors, says Michael McKee, PhD, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who works with obese patients.
Try: Positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you deserve to be healthy and take care of your body. Compliment yourself for achieving small goals, and encourage yourself to do more. You may also benefit from joining a weight-loss support group.
- Depression. “As BMI increases, so does the risk for depression,” says Leslie Heinberg, PhD, the director of behavioral services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and an associate professor at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.
Try: Professional help. While exercise and losing weight can help you better manage the symptoms of depression, you may need professional treatment. Tell your doctor immediately how you’re feeling — don’t wait for the feelings to go away.
Overcoming obesity can seem like a long, hard slog. You need to unlearn habits built up over years. While some people can change in a singular breakthrough moment, like the smoker who quits cold turkey, most of us make change by increments — and small increments are usually easiest to handle. The right mind-set, too, can pull you through.
- ID your motivation. Are you trying to lose weight because you want to feel healthier or better about yourself? Or because someone else put pressure on you? “Your motivation should be for a selfish reason,” Dr. McKee says. If you’re doing it because your doctor told you to, you’re less likely to stick with it.
- Assess your readiness to change. To make lasting lifestyle changes, you have to be willing to commit to the process. If you aren’t quite ready to take action, it may help you to think of the benefits of being healthier, such as having more energy to play with your kids or grandkids (not to mention being around to see them grow up).
- Create a plan. Make a small, specific and action-oriented goal, like no eating in front of the television, or walking for 10 minutes before lunch. Your plan may require you to adjust your environment, for example by moving the TV out of the kitchen.
- Review and re-evaluate. After a few weeks, assess the results. Did you stick with it? If not, what got in the way? What modifications do you need to make for your plan to work? Remember, successful plans are often revisions of unsuccessful ones.
- Manage setbacks. Expect and accept that you will occasionally relapse into your old patterns. Don’t beat up yourself: Remind yourself of your motivation for losing weight and start afresh with doable goals.
- Time is on your side. New habits generally become easier to maintain over time. The same goes for keeping weight off. Long-term success greatly increases once people have kept their weight down for two to five years, according to research.