By Dr. Ari Bernstein
We’re all familiar with the conventional weight-loss advice: Cut calories and exercise more. But if that’s all it takes, why is it so hard to lose weight?
The truth is, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a complicated process that often involves factors such as hormonal imbalances, chronic inflammation, stress, sleep, and the quality — not just quantity — of the food you eat.
One important factor that often goes overlooked when it comes to weight loss? Attitude.
The Mind-Body Connection
Your mental health and physical health are closely linked in ways that still aren’t fully understood. There’s a reason the placebo effect works: If you believe strongly enough in something, it can have a powerful effect on your health and well-being.
Because the mind has such a strong influence on the body, it’s crucial to approach any weight loss effort with the right mindset, and research backs up the idea that an improvement in your mental health can help you lose weight.
No matter how much you count calories or how many hours you spend on the treadmill, your weight loss efforts may ultimately fail if you don’t also devote some time to cultivating the right attitude. Try these steps to get started.
1. Manage Stress
We all have stress in our lives. It’s impossible to avoid it, but it is possible — and essential — to find ways to manage it.
Chronic stress is linked to weight gain. Stress triggers the production of a hormone known as cortisol, which slows down metabolism and causes the body to store fat, particularly in the midsection. Stress also puts you at greater risk of emotional eating and making poor food choices.
If you don’t have a plan in place for managing stress, create one now. This may look different for you than it does for me, but some good things to include are exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, identifying and avoiding your personal stress triggers, and seeing a therapist if necessary.
2. Understand That Weight Loss Is a Process
It’s important to approach weight loss with realistic expectations. You didn’t gain the extra weight overnight, and you can’t expect to lose it right away, either. While this may sound obvious, it’s very common for people to get discouraged when they don’t see results within two or three weeks of starting a new diet.
Weight gain is often related to chronic underlying inflammation. This inflammation can be caused by a number of factors, including your diet, drinking alcohol, smoking, and — once again — chronic stress.
When you change your diet, your weight loss may be slow at the beginning until any underlying inflammation has been reduced. However, that doesn’t mean that other positive changes aren’t happening in your body. You may notice that your clothes fit better, you have more energy, or you feel less “puffy.”
It’s important to pay attention to these “non-scale victories,” as the number on the scale doesn’t always tell the full story. In fact, you will likely regain some weight at different points along your journey. Weight loss isn’t a straight line for anyone — it’s full of peaks and valleys. So don’t get discouraged. Be patient, and focus on the other positive effects that are occurring.
3. Make Time for Exercise
You may know people who say they lost weight without exercising, but I don’t recommend this approach. Aside from burning calories, regular exercise offers countless benefits. It’s a natural mood booster. It reduces your risk of chronic health issues, and it helps you stay strong and flexible as you age.
We’re all busy, but making time to exercise regularly can lead to enormous improvements in both your mental and physical well-being. It may help to change the way you think about exercise. You don’t have to spend an hour on the treadmill for it to be worth it. Ten minutes on your yoga mat or a walk around the block in the evening counts too.
Above all, believe in yourself. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t — you’re right.” You will experience setbacks and frustrations along the way, but this is part of anything worth doing. Commit to your health and to reaching your ideal weight, and move toward your goals with confidence.