©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Weight management is less about food and more about your mindset
and what happens in your brain
“Congratulations on signing up to become a healthier and more vibrant you,” said the wellness coach.
“Well, I’ll try,” said Tiko, “but frankly I’m not sure I can pull it off. Eating a double cheeseburger while watching the sports channel every evening makes me feel good.”
“Of course it does,” replied his wellness coach. “The human brain wants to feel good and likes rewards. In fact, it only repeats behaviors for which it does get some type of reward. Your brain has learned that eating a double cheeseburger is a short-term reward. You can follow the urge to eat one or defer in favor of realizing a healthier long-term reward. The way you think is what makes the difference.”
“I seem to go for short-term rewards,” said Tiko, snorting out a laugh, “which keep my weight and blood pressure high and my spirits low. It also makes it difficult to squeeze into some chairs.”
“First and foremost, maintaining your weight is about mindset: negative or positive, can do or can’t do,” the coach responded. “It’s the difference between trying and doing. Many try, while doubting success. Trying rarely achieves your goal; doing often does. It actually takes steps designed to increase your likelihood of success. The brain knows whether you are really serious and only gets on board to help you when it senses you mean business. If you think you can or you think you can’t—you are right.”
“I’ve never thought about it that way,” said Tiko. “Clearly, I’ve been trying more than doing.”
“That’s often the case,” said his coach.
“But I want it all,” said Tiko. “Seriously. I want the short-term double cheeseburger and the long-term healthier life.”
“I applaud you for recognizing that,” said his coach. “Many people have not even identified their have-it-all mindset. You never can have it all. There is no free lunch, per se. In life, human beings always give up something to get something. You gave up something to be here talking with me today. And, if you wanted to do so, I’m sure you could figure out quickly what you gave up.” Tiko grunted.
The coach continued. “So, you could sprawl on the couch and munch a double cheese- burger, or you could take a thirty-minute walk and eat an apple. But not both at the same time. For that matter, you could consistently get to work late and risk getting fired or arrive on time, remain employed, accrue paid leave days, and then take a vacation. Maybe even get to check something off on your bucket list.” At that thought, Tiko nodded.
“Write down one measurable goal for yourself. Say aloud what you plan to do as if it’s already accomplished. Speak to yourself in the third person using the pronoun you. Studies have shown that’s more effective in programming your brain than using the first person pronouns I or me. It depersonalizes things slightly and emphasizes that you are collaborating with your brain and giving it directions, which can be very helpful. For example, rather than saying, “I’m taking a walk,” be specific. Verbalize positive encouragements such as these: “You are walking for 15 minutes after dinner. You feel great. Your clothes are already fitting better. You are looking good.”
In other words, picture in your mind’s eye exactly what achieving your goal will look like. Once your goals are defined, focus on what you want to have happen and avoid thinking about, talking about, or picturing what you do not want to have happen. For example, if you say “I don’t want to eat large dinners late at night,” your brain pictures eating a large dinner late at night and reminds you frequently.
Dr. Daniel Wegner calls this the “white bear phenomenon.” When you say, “Don’t think about the white bear!” a representation of a white bear goes into working memory and that’s all you think about. And that instruction certainly doesn’t tell you what to do; just what not to do. It is much more helpful to say: “You are eating a good breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a small dinner. You are eating slowly and feel satisfied.”
“It is about mindset,” exclaimed Tiko. “I never understood that before and I plan to change mine. I can do this!” He paused. “Correction. You are working this weight management improvement program every day. You are dropping 50 pounds. Your blood pressure is lower.” He stuck out his chin and added: “There. I feel better already!” They both laughed; the wellness coach applauded.
Remember, feelings follow thoughts. You have the power to alter your thoughts. When you change the way you think, you change the way you feel. Actions follow thoughts, too. Studies have shown that your brain may be thinking a thought for seven to ten seconds before you become aware of it. This means that you’re not always responsible for every thought that crosses your mind. However, you are responsible for the thoughts you hang on to and the behaviors you exhibit. Free choice may consist of deciding what to do when a thought crosses your conscious awareness.
Bottom line: Everything starts and ends in the brain. Weight management is less about food and more about mindset, i.e., what happens in your brain. Embrace a positive can do mindset. Always tell yourself what you are choosing to do (as if it’s already a done deal) and stop talking about what you no longer want to do. Speak to yourself in the third person using the pronouns you and your. Because if you think you can or you think you can’t—you are right!