Image by Josh Nimmo

How to Lose Weight When You Love Food: 9 Psychological Tips

“I’m so motivated to lose weight,” my client said.

“I want to be more healthy. I want to wear cooler (and smaller) clothes. I want to be more active with my husband and kids. But there’s one problem I can never get past — I just love food.

She explained: she enjoyed reading about food, buying it, experimenting with new recipes, cooking, tasting, sharing with family and friends; using it for treats, comfort and celebration.

Like many who struggle with weight loss, she’d given food too much power over her. She’d made it responsible for creating most of her positive feelings AND also for getting rid of the negative ones.

What she needed were ways to take back that power.

How to Lose Weight When You Love Food

We each have our own “food psychology” made up of the ways we think, feel and behave around food. This is formed over time — through multiple factors including family/cultural food practices and beliefs, societal influences, food-laden environments and the ways in which we “use” food in our lives.

Changing this food psychology is the key to lasting weight loss. But when you have repeatedly struggled with your weight, changing your thoughts, feelings and behaviour around food can feel too complex and too onerous—which is why many people give up.

So it’s important to keep it super-simple. Here are the 7 keys to weight loss psychology, all boiled down.

1. Give yourself permission to work on yourself.

People often have trouble allocating time to work on themselves. It feels self-indulgent — even selfish. But not only is this allowed to be all about you — it has to be. Making change must be your own decision, backed by your own motivation. AND you must be in the right emotional and physical space for committing to a plan and forming new habits.

If you’re still in the contemplation phase, thinking it’d be “nice” or “healthy” to lose weight or if you’re acting on the advice of others — sorry, it won’t work. Good intentions are not enough. Nor — sadly — are “I’ll give it a try” or “I’ll do my best”. You need to be 10/10 motivated to create new habits AND stick with them. So psych up to give yourself the best possible chance of success.

2. Write down your WHY.

You need to know why you’re doing this. People often don’t get serious about weight loss until they feel a sense of fear (like a health scare) desperation — or even (sadly) disgust. Those are the seriously big motivators.

So write down WHY you want to lose weight. You should have a short term reason AND a long term one. To base your efforts solely on a short-term goal is asking for trouble. What happens when the wedding or the high school reunion is over? What happens when you reach your goal weight?

Your reason needs to be meaningful to you over time as well as in the short term — otherwise, any success you have won’t last.

3. Jump on the scales.

If you’re serious about this, it’s time to weigh in.

When I began working in weight loss I advocated a ban-the-scales approach because it put too much focus on a person’s weight, rather than the life we were trying to create for him or her.

But we do need to be honest about what we weigh and, if there’s a problem, to face up to it. It’s not helpful to avoid the numbers altogether.

Weighing yourself daily is problematic because the numbers have the potential to dictate your feelings and, therefore, your day. But weighing in privately on a regular basis (weekly or fortnightly) can help to keep boundaries in place and the plan on track.

4. Cleanskin your environment.

Sustained weight loss is not just about straightening out your thinking. You need to make it easier by clearing out your home/office environments of big temptations. Figure out where your Hot Spots (biggest temptations) are, then put a strategy in place to counter it. For example, if it’s the 24/7 deli on your walk home, plan to take a different route.

5. Do what works.

If you’ve been in the weight loss game for a while, you will know better than anyone else what works for YOU, your body and your lifestyle. So draw up a food and activity plan based on all those things, then begin. One day at a time.

6. Leave your past behind you.

It can help to know the historical reason for why we can’t lose weight, we’re stuck or we’ve failed previously but it can also turn into an excuse — and if you dwell on it, you’re gone.

Once you know why you want to reduce your food intake, bring yourself into the present. Think right here, right now. Focus on your plan, on doing what you need to do each day to move towards your goal.

7. Make food your curiosity — not your passion.

If you repeatedly tell yourself you adore everything about food, guess what will happen? Food will take over your world.

Instead, begin to neutralise your feelings. Tell yourself you like and are interested in food — nothing more, nothing less. After all, food is just a thing lying on a plate or hanging out in a bag — it’s not asking you to adore it or obsess about it, so don’t hand it the power. Just let it be food.

Then write down ALL the things and people (include people, hobbies, interests) you love/enjoy — and that make you feel comforted. Keep going until you have an extensive list. You’ll find there are things on that list other than food. Begin to invest more in those — especially when you notice yourself looking to food to reduce stress or boredom — or for comfort.

8. Treat yourself well — but not with food.

Food treats are one of the biggest barriers to lasting weight loss. We tell ourselves we’ve earned it, we deserve it, we need it — and so we do. The truth is we do need to treat ourselves well, but not just with food. We need a variety of ways to do it. Put some time into thinking of other ways that would work for you — and then practise using them.

9. Happiness is not wearing skinny jeans.

No matter what you weigh, life ticks on. You will still experience joys and triumphs and setbacks and sadnesses. Too many people pin their hopes and dreams on something they don’t yet have. A new job. A new relationship. More money A new city. Most of all, a different (slimmer) body.

But we all know happiness is not hiding inside a pair of skinny jeans. She’s (potentially) wearing the same clothes as you.

So think about the LIFE you want, rather than the body. Then go all out after that.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list here if you’re interested in practical psychology for everyday life.

Clinical psychologist, writer. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for everyday life.

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