Tuesday, September 21

It’s All in Your Head

A gym membership. A fridge stocked with fruits, veggies and lean meats. A pantry overflowing with whole grains. Drinking 64 ounces of water a day.

These are the keys to effective weight management, right?

They are certainly beneficial, but surprisingly, they’re not what you really need. The ultimate key to effective weight control isn’t something you can buy. But the good news is, you already own it. It’s rattling around between your ears.

Say hello to the mother of all weight loss weapons. Say hello to your brain.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing registered dietician Paula Schnurman from the Advanced Wellness Centre. With 25 years of experience in nutrition counseling Paula is an expert in helping people attain their health goals.

My first question to Paula was simple, “What separates a successful weight loss client from an unsuccessful one?”

“Successful individuals embrace the behavioral change side of weight loss,” she replied. “They are very self-aware. They understand their problem behaviors and use a variety of techniques to help them break down their internal barriers to change and create healthy new patterns.”

Simply stated, you’ve got to think. Think about your problem behaviors, think about when you’re most tempted to cheat, and think about ways to combat those destructive behaviors.

Paula said the most successful weight loss clients employ the following seven habits.

1) Self-monitoring: the observing and recording of behavioral patterns followed by feedback on the behaviors.

Tracking what you’re doing is the first step to understanding your patterns. Are you keeping a daily food and exercise journal? You should be. It’s the best way to monitor your behavior.

I use Livestrong.com’s Daily Plate and when I go over my calorie count for the day, a big, angry red button pops up highlighting exactly how far over I went. Talk about feedback. I hate that red button. It reminds me that I was less than stellar that day and I need to get back on track.

2) Stimulus Control: identifying the major barriers that are associated with unhealthful eating habits.

For example, for me, drinking wine with friends can lead to overeating. And dancing. And karaoke. Given my vocal range, the karaoke is really the worst part of that scene.

3) Problem Solving: Developing coping strategies to deal with temptation.

For example, I don’t want to give up drinking wine with my friends, but I can limit the amount of wine I drink by alternating between a glass of wine and a glass of water. Or, I can have a healthy snack before I go out, which will make me less hungry and less likely to overindulge.

4) Contingency Management: A positive-reinforcement approach where rewards are given for adherence to desired behavior.

Let me state first that food is not a good reward system. Although it’s tempting to treat yourself with a slice of cheesecake or a vat of cookie dough for losing a few pounds, it’s more constructive to pick inedible rewards.

My reward to myself was a new dress for my cousin’s wedding. It was fun to go shopping for my new shape and the experience had the added bonus of keeping me motivated to stay on plan.

5) Cognitive Restructuring: Refuting faulty thinking with positive self-talk.

Do you remember the character Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live? The skit was titled, “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley.” Stuart, a bleached-blond, effeminate man, would try and help his guests fix their problems and at the end of the skit he would look in the mirror and say, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Hollywood loves to mock the self-help movement and that skit was hilarious. But Stuart actually had a good point. A positive internal dialog is vital if you’re trying to change your behavior.

Just think about the following statements. Which one do you think is more likely to get a positive result?

“I might as well eat the fried chicken and mashed potatoes because I’m never going to be able to lose weight and keep it off.”


“I’ve conquered the corporate world, survived two teenagers, and assisted my parents through multiple illnesses. I can figure out how to eat salads and exercise.”

6) Social Support: The physical and emotional comfort we get from family, friends and co-workers.

Success is rarely achieved on your own. Reach out to people to help you. I know I’m more likely to go to the gym if I’m meeting someone there.

7) Stress Management: Learning to change how we manage stress.

A lot of us are stress eaters. We love our comfort food, but that’s a horrible habit.

Since stress is a part of life, you’ve got to develop different coping strategies instead of food. Meditation, exercise, talking with friends, there are a variety of things you can do to relieve stress.

Since I’ve yet to successfully meditate, I rely on exercise and chatting, or venting, which is probably a more accurate description. There’s nothing like a good kvetch session to get out some frustration.

There you have it. Who knew you just had to use your brain.

Now go get thinking!

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