Last time in Personal Best, I invited readers to send in their questions about weight control over the holidays. Here are three of the main issues I kept hearing about; maybe you'll see your own situation in one (or more) of them.
I intend to control my eating during the holidays but always fail. Why?
There are two main reasons why people continually fail at losing weight or controlling their eating during the holidays. First, most people take a short-term approach, by which I mean a fad diet.
Sure, weight is lost on fad diets. But as soon as the diet is over (and you can bet it will be because of its rigid characteristics) the dieter reverts to the old ways that caused the weight gain in the first place. Fad diets don't teach you to change your habitual ways and the next holiday season will find you in the same fix.
The second reason most people fail at controlling their eating during the holidays is purely psychological. Instead of focusing on positive mental statements that are flexible and encouraging (such as, "I want to strive to increase the veggies I eat at the holiday dinner and I want to take a relaxing walk each day"), they fill their brains with anxiety-filled, negative statements that make them so stressed that they become more preoccupied with food (such as, "I won't eat anything all day long until the holiday meal and then I'll only allow myself some salad and turkey"). Such unrealistic and rigid expectations only set you up to fail.
It makes better sense to relax, set easy-to-follow goals and strive to meet them daily. What's important is your entire life, not just the holidays. Adopt this attitude, and you'll never have to stress about eating during the holidays again.
I've tried every diet under the sun but I can't find any self-discipline. What do other people have that I don't?
Nothing. Most people who think they don't have self-discipline with food can see that they do have it in other areas of their lives. So self-discipline is not the problem.
It's not what's different about you, but, rather, what is the same. Most of us rebel when we are deprived, because our brains automatically protect us from deprivation.
If you deprive yourself entirely of the food you most enjoy (as many fad dieters do), your mind will think about that food more and you'll end up losing control with it. That's why, when you fall off a fad diet, the food you go to first is the very one you were denying yourself.
So, self-discipline can actually backfire. Instead, learn to enjoy your favorite foods in smaller quantities.
I don't like to exercise. How can I lose weight without exercising?
If you want to lose weight permanently, try reframing your question to ask, "How can I learn to think more positively about exercise so that I will do it?" Exercise is not supposed to be difficult, boring, painful or burdensome. If it is, you're not doing it right.
First, find something that you consider "fun" rather than "exercise" (examples might be dancing or taking a nature walk). Next, think frequency rather than intensity. Doing the activity often rather than intensely will have more impact on fat-burning and you'll keep doing it. Finally, start with a goal that doesn't feel too tough, one you feel you can do.
If you haven't taken a walk in years, try just walking to the corner and back. If you like dancing, try dancing to your favorite music for five minutes each day. Once you've shown yourself you can achieve those goals, add a short distance or a little time to the activity as you get more fit and find it easier to do.
People who are active lose more weight and those that stay active keep it off. Instead of thinking, "I can't do this!" think, "How can I do this?" Encourage your mind to be more creative and find solutions instead of giving up.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.