Most people know what they need to do to lose weight: Eat less, move more. While it might not be that simple for everyone, the truth is, not knowing how to eat well or how to exercise is not usually the reason people struggle with weight loss. (Although, it happens.)
But if you feel confident you know how to fill your plate with the types of foods that will help you reach your goals, and you know how often you should be hitting the gym — and you’re doing all of those things, yet you’re still not losing weight, then your mental game is likely the missing piece of the puzzle.
It turns out, the way we think about food, our body and our goals makes a big difference in how likely we are to stick to a weight-loss plan, regardless of whether your plan involves counting calories, going keto or hitting a bootcamp class three times a week.
Here, fitness and nutrition pros dish out their best advice for staying motivated and on track without needing to try out a new trendy diet or adopt an intense new workout plan.
STARVE THE DISTRACTIONS
“All too often when we eat, we’re also multitasking: watching TV, answering emails, scrolling through social media,” says Jess Glazer, a certified personal trainer and founder of FITtrips. “These habits are detrimental to having a strong, clear, healthy relationship with food, and they can hinder our ability to make dietary changes.”
“In order to truly focus on what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, why you’re eating those specific foods and, most importantly, how those foods make you feel, you need to starve the distractions,” Glazer says. That means when you eat, just eat. “Focus on your food, the process it went through to end up on your plate, where it came from and how it nourishes you.” With this technique, you’re more likely to finish a meal feeling satiated.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU’RE NOT WILLING TO DO
This might sound counterintuitive, but it can help provide a “why” when motivation is waning. “Declare, in writing, what you are unwilling to do,” recommends Brian Nguyen, trainer and CEO of Elementally Strong. Nguyen’s personal no-go? “I am unwilling to be the old dad who cannot play sports with my children.
“This hits me in the heart every day I wake,” he says. “It gets me on my foam roller and my Versaclimber in the morning. It allows me to choose a healthy salad over junk food because I visualize myself running on the track with my children. Moment to moment, we are faced with decisions and it’s about being mindful to the ones that follow your ‘why’ path. Sure, I may be willing to drop a cheeseburger down the gullet because I am hungry and inconsiderate of the long game. However, if I am unwilling to be a father who is out-of-shape, my short game will match my long game vision and I will opt for a cleaner meal.”
So consider what you’re not willing to accept, write it down, and keep it at the ready.
STOP LABELING FOOD “GOOD” AND “BAD”
You’ve probably heard someone say they ate something “bad.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself.
“The trouble with ‘bad’ foods isn’t that they’ll send you to the grave after a bite or two,” says Kyle Kamp, a registered dietitian. “The trouble comes when we eat excessive portions of really calorie-dense foods meal after meal, day after day.”
Instead of labeling foods as good or bad, think about which foods you can eat a lot of, and which ones you should just eat a little of. Then, plan ways to eat the foods you really like in portions that fit with your overall goals. “A good example of this would be having a slice of pizza alongside a club salad with chicken breast, avocado and a bit of dressing,” Kamp says. “This is vastly different than 3 slices of pizza, 4 breadsticks with cheese sauce and half of a liter of regular soda.”
BRUSH YOUR TEETH AFTER YOU EAT
Getting your mindset in order is important, but sometimes small habits can make a big difference. “After eating, you still have the taste of food in their mouth, which often causes people to eat more even if they are full or engage in a nibble or two of dessert,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, registered dietitian and nutrition expert at Betches Media. “Brushing your teeth will remove the taste of food from your mouth, and the clean, minty freshness will serve as a cue that mealtime is over.”
FOCUS ON CROWDING NOT CUTTING
“The most common first step during ‘dieting’ is to cut,” Glazer points out. “We cut our portion sizes down, we cut out ‘bad’ foods, we cut out entire food groups. This act of cutting puts us and our minds into scarcity mode.”
When something is off-limits, even if you’re able to avoid it for a while, you could end up bingeing on it later because you’ve gone so long without it. “So, instead of cutting, focus on crowding,” Glazer says. “If you crowd your plate and fill it up with more foods like veggies and protein, it simply allows less room for the other stuff.” In other words, shift your focus away from what you can’t eat, and celebrate the foods that will help you reach your goals.
TAKE TRACKING A STEP FURTHER
Track what you eat, when you ate it, how much you ate and how that food made you feel, Glazer recommends. “Being completely honest with yourself and writing down every single thing that passes through your lips will help you start to notice that maybe you actually do snack, possibly take in more sugar than you thought, eat when you’re bored rather than just hungry or maybe that you have a habit of snacking before bed while watching TV.”
The difference from simply tracking your food intake is you’re taking into account how food make you feel, as well as what you’re doing while you’re eating. This is about becoming more mindful of what, when and why you eat, Glazer adds. “I bet you’ll come across more emotional food-related moments than you realize.”
PRIORITIZE GOOD SLEEP
“One of the strongest risk factors for being overweight is poor sleep,” Beckerman says. “When you’re feeling tired, you’re more likely to choose unhealthy comfort foods and to skip your workout. Additionally, sleep deprivation may slow down your metabolism. Yikes! Therefore, sleeping 7–8 hours per night can help with weight loss without having to change your diet or increase your physical activity.”
SET ASIDE TIME TO DISCONNECT
“Get off your phone for a day and escape to nature as we are human and of nature,” Nguyen suggests. “Just get out there. Disconnect from the electronics and connect to the elements.” Not only will this help reduce stress (a major factor in weight gain) by giving your mind a break from the constant stimulation we’ve all become so accustomed to, but it may also reprogram your brain to connect with yourself and what you’re feeling.