Breaking through a weight-loss plateau to reach your goal and ultimately shift your focus to weight maintenance can be a major challenge for anyone trying to lose weight. While you can create healthy habits to lose those last few pounds — like changing your workout routine and incorporating new foods into your diet — sometimes it’s the way you think that’s derailing your best efforts.
Here, five common mindsets that could be sabotaging your weight loss, plus how to reframe your thinking for a healthier approach
When your ultimate goal is too large and abstract, research shows it’s much harder to achieve significant results, says Sari Chait, PhD, a psychologist at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, Massachusetts. Without zooming in on tangible ways to progress, you’re left with a lofty goal and no path to get there.
THE FIX: Set SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. For example, instead of aiming to lose 5 pounds, make it a priority to eat veggies at dinner five times a week or to up your step count from 5,000 to 10,000 in five weeks, advises Melissa Majumdar, RD.
Keep a food and exercise log, too: It allows you to see if you’re meeting your goals so you can tweak them or check off successes — something that can keep you focused and motivated, says Chait.
Weight loss can be overwhelming — especially today with social media making it hard to sift through trends and fad diets.“While it is a wonderful age in which we can read, learn and research so many different options and ideas around health, fitness, nutrition and the like, for most people, the plethora of information can be intimidating,” says Tiffany Breeding, PhD, certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of “The Metabolic Makeover.” This can lead you to turn to quick fixes or unsustainable options, she says.
THE FIX: To prevent feeling overwhelmed and setting yourself up for failure, make one or two small changes to your daily routine. For instance, replace your go-to soda with water or unsweetened iced tea every day for one week or plan to walk around during a weekly conference call.
Mark your successes with mini-rewards, Chait suggests (a new workout top or a massage after a weeklong streak). Celebrating individual progress gives you the boost of motivation you need to stay on track and keep you from getting lost in the abyss of internet ‘solutions.’
Healthy eating is crucial for any weight-loss strategy, but black or white thinking leads us to create rules around food, deprive ourselves, and cut out foods we enjoy, says Majumdar. This can backfire and lead to overeating.
THE FIX: Instead of limiting enjoyment in the last few weeks of a weight-loss journey, make balanced choices with the foods you love. If you’re craving a slice of pizza, try making a homemade version loaded with veggies and lean protein.
Ultimately, focusing on positive changes rather than what you can’t have makes your weight-loss journey more enjoyable. Research shows this mindset can help you push forward, too.
Even if your weight-loss goals are partially aesthetic, getting in your head too much about physical appearance could hinder your efforts. The worse you feel about yourself, the harder it is to stick to your health goals, says Chait. One study shows focusing on the negatives about yourself could even negatively impact how often you show up and workout.
THE FIX: Think about some of the other results you can see and feel — your ability to tackle workouts that once left you out of breath or your newfound energy, says Majumdar. Taking note of your progress can give you a much-needed confidence bump and keep you on track.
“For many people who reach a sticking point in their weight-loss journey, they get more and more fearful that progress will stop,” says Breeding. At that point, it can seem easier to ditch it altogether rather than explore different ways to keep moving forward.
THE FIX: Reflect on the wins you’ve already achieved, advises Breeding. This could be the first time you went to the gym when you were previously afraid of working out in front of others, the friends you met through a walking group or how you completed your first 5K. When you remember, ‘Hey, I’ve done this before!’ overcoming new challenges becomes that much easier, says Breeding.