You know how weight loss happens—eat less, move more. Simple, clear and easy to understand, but not always easy to do. In fact, for many people, weight loss seems impossible. They start out with all the motivation and willpower in the world, but eventually give up because they can’t stick to their plan. If you’re struggling to lose weight, it’s not because you’re lazy or lack willpower. The problem is that you don’t have the right mindset. Recent research reveals that your mind plays a much bigger role in weight loss than previously thought. In fact, your weight loss mindset is more important than your genetic predisposition or how much willpower you have. What does that mean, exactly?
Here’s a quick overview:
Struggling To Lose Weight? Check Your Mindset
Your mindset is your attitude and beliefs about something. It’s how you see yourself, your health, and your ability to lose weight. Psychologists believe there’s an important cycle between your mindset and your behavior.
Your mindset affects your behavior, which then affects your results. If you believe that you can’t lose weight, you’re likely to give up when the going gets tough. On the other hand, if you have a positive outlook and believe that you can reach your goals, you’re much more likely to stick to your plan and achieve success.
Think of a simple scenario: You’re starting out on a low carb diet. The first few days are difficult but you’re determined so you push through it. Then something distressing happens (you tank a project at work, or you get into a fight with your partner) and you’re stressed.
You’re craving carbs like crazy and all you can think about is how good they’ll taste.Your first instinct is to give in to the cravings and have a big bowl of pasta. After all, you’ve always been overweight and the diet probably isn’t going to work anyway, right?
Wrong. This is where your mindset comes in.If you have a negative or fixed mindset—meaning you believe that your weight is completely out of your control and there’s nothing you can do about it—you’re more likely to give in to the cravings and sabotage your diet.
On the other hand, if you have a growth mindset—meaning you believe that you can learn and grow and change your habits—you’re more likely to find the strength to resist the cravings and stick to your diet.
It may not seem like much, but this simple example illustrates the power of your mindset. Your beliefs and attitudes have a direct impact on your behavior, which then affects your results.
Psychologists have studied this phenomenon under Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of therapy that assumes that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. The theory is that if we can change our thoughts, we can change our behavior and achieve our goals.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for a wide variety of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders (1). And recent research suggests that it may also be an effective tool for weight loss.
A study published in 2016 found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help people lose weight and keep it off. The study followed overweight and obese participants over the course of a year. Half of the participants received traditional weight loss counseling while the other half received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
At the end of the year, the participants who received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy had lost more weight than those who received traditional counseling. They were also more likely to keep the weight off long-term.
The study’s authors believe that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is so effective for weight loss because it helps people change their mindset about food and their body (1). It also teaches them practical skills for dealing with difficult situations, like how to resist cravings or how to handle setbacks.
How To Get In A Weight Loss Mindset
The good news is that you can change your mindset. And, when you do, it will have a positive impact on your behavior and your results. Here are 10 steps to help you develop a weight loss mindset:
1. Find Your Ultimate “Why”
Meaningful and lasting change starts with a strong why. You need to be clear about your motivations for wanting to lose weight.
Your why might be to improve your health, to feel better about yourself, or to fit into that pair of jeans that you haven’t been able to wear in years. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that truly matters to you.
One technique that can help you find your why is to imagine your future self. Picture yourself in one year, five years, or 10 years from now. What do you look like? How do you feel?
What’s important is that your why is something you can control. In other words, you need to be able to lose weight for yourself—not for someone else.
2. Set A SMART Goal, Then Break It Down
Goal setting is an important part of any weight loss journey. But it’s not enough to just set any old goal. Your goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
For example, a SMART goal might be to lose 10 pounds in three months.
- This is specific (10 pounds)
- Measurable (you can track your progress with a scale)
- Achievable (losing 10 pounds in three months is realistic if you’re dedicated to making lifestyle changes)
- Relevant (this goal is relevant to your ultimate why)
- Time-bound (you have a specific timeline for achieving this goal).
Once you’ve set your SMART goal, break it down into smaller, more manageable goals. These are the goals you’ll focus on week-to-week or month-to-month. Why? Although big goals are exciting, they can also be daunting.
Smaller goals are easier to accomplish and will give you a sense of achievement along the way. Think of your big goal as the destination, and the smaller goals as the journey—enjoy the ride!
For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds in three months, your smaller goals might be to lose 3-4 pounds per month. You’ll break this down further into which changes you need to make on a daily or weekly basis to achieve your monthly goal.
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3. Educate Yourself
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about weight loss. You need to educate yourself about the basics of healthy eating and exercise so that you can separate fact from fiction.
Start by reading trustworthy sources, like the website of the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2).These organizations provide evidence-based information on a variety of topics related to health and wellness.
Seeking knowledge is an important part of developing a growth mindset; when you know better, you can do better. You’ll avoid these common weight loss mistakes:
- crash diets: These are restrictive diets that eliminate certain food groups or severely limit your caloric intake. They’re not sustainable in the long-term and can actually lead to weight gain.
- detoxes and cleanses: There’s no evidence to support the claims that these programs help you lose weight or detoxify your body. In fact, they can be dangerous—especially if they involve fasting or cutting out entire food groups.
- supplements: There’s no magic pill that will help you lose weight. Stick to a healthy diet and exercise program, and save your money.
- spot-reducing: Unfortunately, you can’t choose which areas of your body will lose fat. When you lose weight, it will happen all over—not just in the area you want to target.
- exercising every day: You don’t need to exercise every day to lose weight, but it is important to be active on a regular basis. Overdoing it can lead to burnout, which will sabotage your weight loss efforts.
4. Be Reasonable
A one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss doesn’t exist (2). What works for one person might not work for another. It’s important to be reasonable in your expectations and work with the resources you have to achieve results.
For example, you might not have time in your day to go to the gym. This doesn’t mean you can’t be more active. You can still find ways to move more, like taking a brisk walk in your neighborhood. taking your dog for a walk or dancing around the house while you do chores.
Another example relates to diet culture. You might not have the resources to buy all organic, grass-fed, and locally sourced food.That’s OK! You can still eat healthy by making smart choices with the resources you have.
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables, which are often more affordable than fresh produce. And look for sales—you can stock up on items when they’re on sale and save them for later.
When you make lifestyle changes that are sustainable and realistic, you’re more likely to stick with them long-term.
5. Set Yourself Up For Success
You’re more likely to achieve your goals if you set yourself up for success from the start. Creating a healthy environment—both physically and mentally—will help you stay on track.
Here are some ways to set yourself up for success:
- Keep healthy food within easy reach and make sure your kitchen is stocked with nutritious staples. This way, you’ll be less likely to order takeout when you’re tired or hungry.
- Plan ahead by packing your meals and snacks for the day. This will help you avoid unhealthy choices when you’re on the go.
- Set a regular sleep schedule and make sure to get enough rest. Lack of sleep can lead to cravings and make it harder to stick to your diet.
- Rethink your social life and make time for activities that don’t revolve around food and drink. This can help you avoid triggers that lead to overeating.
- Make exercise a priority and schedule it into your week. You’re more likely to stick with your workout plan if it’s part of your regular routine.
6. Question Your Beliefs About Weight Loss
If you want to change your mindset, it’s important to question your beliefs about weight loss. Where did you learn these beliefs? Are they based on fact or fiction? What’s your internal dialogue like?
For example, do you tell yourself that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never be able to lose weight? This type of negative self-talk will only hold you back.
Try to identify the thoughts and beliefs that are standing in your way. Once you’re aware of them, you can start to challenge and reframe them.
7. Focus On Health, Not Weight
One of the best ways to change your mindset is to focus on health, not weight. This shift in perspective can help you feel better about yourself and make healthier choices.
Health isn’t just about the number on the scale. It’s also about how you feel mentally and emotionally. When you focus on being healthy, you’re more likely to make choices that are good for your mind and body.
Here’s an example of a decision you might make if you’re focused on health:
You wake up feeling tired and groggy. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, you decide to hydrate with a glass of water and eat a nutritious breakfast.
This decision supports your physical and mental health. Although both drinks are low-calorie and won’t affect your weight loss efforts, coffee can dehydrate you and make you feel more tired (3). A nutritious breakfast, on the other hand, will give you energy and help you focus throughout the day.
8. Switch From “I Have To” To “I Get To”
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to focus on all the things you have to give up—like your favorite foods or your nightly glass of wine. This can make the journey seem daunting and unappealing.
One way to change your mindset is to switch from “I have to” to “I get to.” For example, instead of thinking, “I have to give up carbs,” tell yourself, “I get to eat more vegetables.”
This simple reframe is called positive thinking and is a practice that’s proven to improve mood and motivation.
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9. Be Patient With Yourself
Losing weight takes time, so it’s important to be patient with yourself. Remember that you didn’t gain the weight overnight, so you can’t expect to lose it that quickly either. Focus on making small, sustainable changes and give yourself credit for every step in the right direction. This will help you stay on track and avoid becoming discouraged.
10. Seek Support When Needed
Making lasting changes to your diet and lifestyle can be tough, especially if you’re trying to do it on your own. If you need some extra support, don’t be afraid to seek help from a friend, family member, therapist, or other health professional.
It’s best to consult qualified help if you’re struggling because they can give you personalized advice and guidance.
The Bottom Line
Losing weight requires more than just making changes to your diet and exercise routine. It also requires a change in mindset. The good news is that you can learn how to get a weight loss mindset using the 10 steps outlined in this article. Remember, it’s not about willpower—it’s about sustainable, healthy changes.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies: Achievements and Challenges (2013, nih.gov)
- Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies (2003, nih.gov)
- Why Does Coffee Make You Tired? (2022, sleepfoundation.org)