DISRUPTIONS, ROADBLOCKS AND FRUSTRATIONS
Human lives don’t stay the same over extended periods of time. We have experiences that change or impact our lives significantly – we enter or break relationships, start careers and switch jobs, start a family or lose a loved one. Interestingly, several life events such as relationship problems, pregnancy, illness and going to university could result in either weight gain or weight loss! However, it is not the event itself but the way a person views the event that impacts weight. An event that resulted in weight loss was often experienced as more positive, more controllable and predictable. Further, the event which resulted in weight loss was described as reducing choice over food and reducing its function but increasing choice over exercise.
Studies show that to keep working successfully at weight loss goals and to maintain their weight, people have clear strategies for coping with lifestyle interruptions. They also have ways of monitoring weight changes with alarm signals for weight gain. When the alarm signals weight gain (oops, my favorite pair of jeans does not zip up as easily today! My husband tells me I have been eating dessert every night for the last two weeks; etc.), they take action immediately. People who are unsuccessful at maintaining their healthy weight are often erratic or inconsistent in their weight vigilance. Or they might fail to observe the warning signs of weight gain until much later. Most people who fail at maintaining weight also tend to fail to control weight gain until they are in a positive mindset or they use poor or weak strategies to deal with weight gain and failed actions.
So, when we experience a significant life event that creates stress, we could work at changing our response to make them less negative and to better manage things that are within control. That means taking charge of the exercise routine and not giving oneself the choice to overeat even when stressed or upset. For instance if the big bosses are flying in for a week of project meetings and reviews, don’t skip the gym entirely. Prioritize exercise by waking up a little earlier to do a 30minute jog or swim in the morning. Or cut back on the dessert or beers to compensate for the lack of exercise and throw in an extra serving of salad.
- Prioritize exercise and choose to stay on track and eat healthily.
- Monitor weight regularly even after reaching ideal weight.
- Have personal warning signs of weight gain and take action as soon as the alarm signals weight gain!
- Don’t wait to feel positive to work on weight management.
RECAP – BEHAVIOURAL TIPS
It is certainly not easy to change habits and lifestyles. Whether we choose to cut back on portion sizes or reach for the next beer, whether we choose to go for the scheduled run or give it up to spend the time working late, all behaviour starts with a thought. Here is a recap of ten behavioural tips that will facilitate healthy lifestyles.
- Watch out for negative emotions like stress, depression, anger and frustration that impact your eating. Remember to not use food to regulate emotions!
- A positive body image will boost confidence. Don’t allow dissatisfaction with weight and body to enable overeating.
- Think about the benefits of weight loss versus the costs of giving up current lifestyles.
- Plan strategies to cope with lifestyle interruptions. Incorporate stress-beating, relaxing and rewarding activities that do not involve food such as a spa/massage session, buying new exercise gear, a bath with aromatherapy oils or going for a walk. Remember exercise is a great stress-beater!
- Avoid ‘all or nothing’ type thinking style (“I have to be stick thin or I am horribly fat”; “I am a success or I am a failure).
- Watch out for negative thoughts that enable overeating. We don’t have to overeat to enjoy a holiday or relax or eat because we have a craving.
- Do not beat yourself up over mistakes and slip-ups, instead implement strategies for coping with lapses.
- Do not be erratic or inconsistent in your weight vigilance (e.g. monitoring for a while, then dropping off for a few months, then restarting before holiday season)
- Do not ignore signs that you are gaining weight.
- Do not wait until you feel positive and relaxed to work on your weight. The best time to take action is now – forget what happened in the past but don’t put off action till tomorrow.
An important step to get started on a weight loss programme is to think about the benefits of losing weight. This could vary from reducing serious health risks such as cardio-vascular disease and diabetes to improving the overall quality of life through feeling fitter and being more satisfied with appearance.
Remember, losing weight is not going to be easy; if it were, we would all weigh exactly what we want! Those selling miracle drugs, fad diets and slimming programmes will say there is no need to exercise or change eating habits. However, for an individual, being overweight is caused mostly because of eating and physical activity patterns. Losing the excess weight therefore requires one to work hard at changing what is within control – that is, eating habits and physical exercise.
Support healthy eating and exercise plans by recruiting persons who can remind you of your goals / your strategies and will also present a reality check when you get overly negative about past mistakes or too comfortable with unhealthy choices.
Work with a psychologist or counselor who can help you make small but powerful changes to your thinking. Psychotherapy can also assist in setting meaningful yet achievable goals and making and sticking to plans. It can help in dealing with the discomfort of exercise or with making dietary changes. Weight loss groups can be especially helpful when facilitated by a qualified professional, such as a psychologist. In addition to receiving psychological intervention to address negative thoughts and beliefs that lead to unhealthy eating behaviours, you can get support from group members. Participants usually share their own experiences and strategies that have worked for them in the group and mutually benefit.
In a society with abundantly available food and machines to do physical work, becoming overweight is easy. Weight management is therefore a lifelong process for all of us! Psychotherapy can help to reduce the distress associated with changing of eating behaviours and help us learn skills for life while guiding weight loss efforts to where it is likely to bring about the best results.