The One Mindset Change You’ll Need for Weight-Loss Success

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The One Mindset Change You’ll Need for Weight-Loss Success

Food is not a reward, and exercise is not a punishment.

On its face, that seems like a simple idea. It’s also one that has the potential to completely remake your relationship with nutrition, exercise, your body — and, ultimately, your results.

But it’s not as easy in practice. Think about how many times you’ve said, “I’ve been so good this week, I deserve a treat.” or “I’ve completely gorged myself today. I need to get to the gym to work it off.”

This is a self-defeating cycle, in which two things that should both nurture and fuel our bodies — food and exercise — erode our self-esteem and put us down, explains Michelle May, MD, founder of Am I Hungry? mindful-eating programs.

Exercise becomes a way of fixing perceived shortcomings. And food, depending on its calorie content, either becomes a treat or a tool for self-deprivation, says Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in body image and weight loss.

When you think about it like that, no wonder most people hate healthy eating and exercise — and often have a tough time sticking with either.

“When people learn to get away from this learned mindset, and treat both food and exercise as ways to fuel and care for their bodies, they are more likely to find mind and body balance,” May says. “They are more likely to sustain healthy behaviors over the long term.”

5 WAYS TO FLIP THE “REWARD VS. PUNISHMENT” SCRIPT

1. FIND NEW REWARDS

“When you hear yourself say, ‘I deserve a reward,’ make the reward fit the action,” Albers says. “So, if you worked hard all day, it’s likely that, what will truly be rewarding, is a minibreak.”

Have some ideas on-hand and ready to go. Spend five minutes brainstorming five things that you find soothing to your body, five things that can give you a minibreak during the day and five things that are fun. Post this list in an easy-to-see location for whenever the need-to-reward urge strikes.

2. REMINISCE ABOUT A FUN WORKOUT

Think back to when you had a really fun time working out, maybe you were participating in a bucket-list run, playing soccer with your friends or going on a relaxing hike in nature. Whatever it is, thinking about that memory may help you look forward to future workouts, suggests 2015 research from the University of New Hampshire.

3. HIT “PAUSE”

When you hear yourself trying to rationalize a food choice, stop yourself right there. Take three deep breaths and remind yourself that your behaviors don’t determine what you can and can’t eat, Albers says. Then, decide if you really want that food and, if so, why. For instance, you might say, “I want chocolate, because it tastes good — not because I do or don’t deserve it.”  

4. TRY A NEW WORKOUT

If your workout doesn’t make you feel good, it’s time to change it, she says. If you usually run on the treadmill, try lifting weights for a change. If you usually go cycling, try swimming. There’s no limit to the options.

5. GET CREATIVE

Oftentimes, junk foods feel indulgent simply because we don’t know how to create healthy meals that are also tasty. Try one new healthy recipe each week that’s full of flavor and makes you feel good — before you know it, you’ll have a healthy-cooking arsenal at your fingertips.

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  • Nicole Gall

    It helps to have examples. For me, a mini- break can be going for a walk; I like to go to a PokeStop or Pokémon gym nearby! Pokemon Go is my new favorite fun thing because its goal- oriented, a little bit silly, a little bit competitive, and especially because it rewards you for walking! When I go for a walk, my Fitbit registers the steps (10,000/ day in general, but I aim for 15 K and get it about once a week. I get 12K about three times a week.) and the Pokémon Go game uses GPS to track speed and distance (too fast, and the walking doesn’t count toward hatching Pokemon eggs- no reward for riding in a car!).
    Another mini- break for me could be reading, painting my nails, checking my Facebook newsfeed, playing a click- game or word- game on my phone, adding to my Snapchat story, or folding origami paper shapes.
    My newest awesome food discovery is ceviche! It’s fresh raw fish marinated in lime with cilantro, and all kinds of small bits of chopped vegetables and fruit: tomato, kiwi, mango, radish, jicama… I started with recipes, and now I’m experimenting a little more.
    Another food I’ve been making in advance so it’s ready to grab & go is egg-whites. I slice boiled egg whites into a small container with salt to bring to work in my lunch. I fry up egg whites in chopped chunks, or as a big omelet- circle. I add bits of ham sometimes or a slice of low-fat Swiss cheese.
    Thanks for the article, and the opportunity to share comments. I’ve been making some healthy changes and building habits, and it’s good to share and be proud of what’s going well. The MyFitnessPal app has been a great help. I track everything, and I get so much data about nutrition values, graphs with my weight progress and more. The blog helps too because I feel like a healthy lifestyle is fun, interesting, and a great new “normal” to be important in my lifestyle & a bit of my identity. Healthy can be and is part of who I am and what I do, and that’s a great change for me.

    Anyway, great ideas in the blog, really hit me where I am right now.
    Thanks again!!

  • This is great!

  • Chris Jones

    I make my daily treadmill time fun by watching my favorite shows on my tablet (digital versions with no commercials). I might not be looking forward to the exertion, but I can’t wait to get back to my favorite characters and continue their adventure! Vudu and Netflix are very helpful for this 🙂