Psychology of Weight Loss (food psychology): An Introduction- Part 2
By Daniel Johnson
Youth Training Specialist
Last time we introduced psychology of weight loss (PWL) and briefly noted how we should realign our expectations with reality as well as working to view food in a positive light. We will now move on to look at why Alisa Anokhina says we fail and what we can do to right ourselves in a problem/solution or problem/alternative format.
Problem: When working towards a better body we many times will attempt to stop eating certain foods we like because they are “bad” for us. This deprivation of foods we enjoy is a form of self-punishment, unintentionally. [We may subconsciously begin to associate becoming fit and eating healthy with punishment of not being allowed to eat foods we like. The result being, we don’t want to be punished so we stop changing our diet and reward ourselves with foods we like.] This self-punishment is unpleasant and eventually we are going to give in. (Alisa Anokhina)
Solution/Alternative: We need to change our food preferences. It is important to eat food that is nutritious as well as food that is enjoyable. If eating certain foods is enjoyable we will eat those foods more often over a longer duration of time. For example: one might think to themselves “salad is good for me but I hate salad.” In that case, don’t eat salad, have something else. It will take time and energy to discover what nutritious foods you do like, what works for you. It will be worth it. [In the long run, which diet (the foods you habitually eat) is all about longevity, you will be more able to stay on track because you actually enjoy the nutritious foods you are eating. Your diet is a marathon not a sprint.] (Alisa Anokhina)
2. Self control is limited (ego depletion)
Problem: Many of us have the idea, “if only I had enough will power then weight loss would be easy.” It turns out that this thought is not only unhelpful but also wrong. Psychology says we have a finite amount of self-control. Our self-control can be thought of like a muscle. We use it and it gets fatigued. Once we have exerted self-control and our “self-control muscle” becomes fatigued (ego depletion) we are then less able to use self-control again. [Here we can tie in our problem, number one. Instead of constantly attempting to use self-control to not eat certain foods, we need to take the time and energy to find nutritious foods we do like so that we are not depleting our finite self-control.] An example of ego depletion with exercise would be such: If we do not enjoy going to the gym and then force ourselves to go using our self-control we will not only deplete our limited self-control store but also become physically fatigued. In this case we would be encountering not only physical fatigue, but mental fatigue or ego depletion as well. [These two fatigues could compound the problem of not wanting to exercise in the future.] (Alisa Anokhina)
Solution/Alternative: In the case of forcing ourselves to go to the gym we need to find an alternative that we enjoy. Just like finding an alternative to eating salad if we don’t like salad. This may take time and energy but it will be worth it in the long run to find a form of exercise that we enjoy. In fact, the goal should be to find, not a form of “exercise” we enjoy but find an “activity” we enjoy that includes physical activity. This activity should be liked for its own sake and not for the purpose of exercise or weight loss. This new activity we participate in or new hobby will be enjoyable as well as having the benefit of aiding exercise and weight loss goals. (Alisa Anokhina)
Next time we will finish our introduction to PWL thanks to Alisa Anokhina, taking a look at a third reason why we fail (it includes a white bear) in the problem/solution or problem/alternative format. In addition we will find out what successful dieters do and touch on weight loss counseling and what it can do for you.
Alisa Anokhina- doctoral researcher in clinical health psychology