Most fat loss plans focus on the mechanics of physical change. What to eat? How much? When? What kind of workouts? For how long? All very important questions. And also a bit fun to think about, right? There’s so much potential.
But here’s the problem: the mechanics of fat loss account for maybe 10% of long term success.
Today I want to talk about the forgotten side of fat loss. It’s our mindset, and it drives our lifelong relationship with food. Call it whatever you like – thoughts, beliefs, desires, outlook, attitude, emotions – but it’s the most important part of the fat loss equation, and it doesn’t get the love it should.
WOULD YOU MOVE WITHOUT MAKING ANY PLANS FOR YOUR NEW HOME?
Imagine planning a move to a new city. It’s a beautiful place, and you think you’ll really like it.
As you plan the move, would you focus mostly on the vehicle that will get you there? Because, you know, you can figure out the rest once you arrive?
Let’s say you’re going by plane. What kind of plane will it be? Where will you sit? What route will the pilot take? What drinks will you have? How long is that flight? Should you fly through Chicago or Denver?
This is crazy, right? You might give a little thought to choosing a flight, making reasonable plans for timing, convenience, comfort, and personal preferences. Most of the planning, though, will focus on your new environment. What do you need in a neighborhood? Where will you live? Most important: what will make you happy?
Making short-term fat loss plans without thinking of your long-term needs, desires, and personal challenges is a lost cause. It’s like focusing on the mechanics of a trip and treating the destination as an afterthought.
Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s often not hunger that drives us to eat. Rather, our emotions, habits, and thoughts can play a significant role.
I’m an emotional eater, so I think of the way I’ve often eaten because I’m bored, anxious, or depressed. Sometimes it’s the draw of wanting the pleasure of something delicious, or of being social. Eating can be a pleasant excuse to procrastinate.
Habits may play a significant role in our relationship with food. So many of us have patterns we carry out when certain triggers appear. For example, that 30 minute period after getting home in the evening has been a powerful trigger for many a snack I didn’t really want to eat.
Deeply held beliefs can also tempt us to eat when we otherwise wouldn’t. An example is the food version of the dreaded Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Food FOMO is the idea that we’ve got to eat because if we don’t, we’ll miss out on something really important.
Food FOMO is behind the ridiculous idea that it’s not only ok, but expected, to chow on candy on Easter or Halloween. As if candy isn’t available 365 days a year if we want to buy it.
It’s so, so hard, but it is possible to develop a healthy mindset around food. Mindfulness work can do wonders to help manage emotions without using food as a crutch. Habit work can be a reset button to release routines that don’t serve us well. We can be on the lookout for FOMO thinking and intervene before we eat something we didn’t really want.
Here’s one little FOMO mantra that’s really helped me anytime I come upon an opportunity to eat something I’d rather not (where the opportunistic goodie is “X”):
I can have X anytime. I can go to the store/restaurant and buy X; I can make X or something similar; there will always be something like it accessible. I’ll enjoy X when it makes sense, and when it’s really worth it.
This is ultimately where we want to be, right? We eat when we’re hungry, enjoy foods we like, and avoid thoughts and behaviors that feel destructive.
WHAT’S NEXT? FLIP IT—PICTURE THE FAT LOSS DESTINATION FIRST
There’s a popular school of thought today that fat loss diets are a bad thing – that all we need is to change our habits, develop a positive body image, or make tiny changes that will get us there over the long run.
That’s not at all what I’m suggesting. Everyone is different, and an aggressive fat loss diet may be just the thing for you.
What I’m suggesting is simply that we rearrange our thinking. Our natural instinct is to focus on the short term, so I’m suggesting we instead look at fat loss the way we might plan a trip. Think first of the destination, then plan specifically how you’ll get there.
As a starting point, here’s a checklist of questions to ask to get a sense of mindset issues that may need some attention to ensure long term fat loss success:
- Why do you want to change your body?
- Are your goals coming from a place of good energy (becoming more awesome) or negativity (hating what you see)?
- What kinds of food and/or meals make you happy?
- What foods are non-negotiable – foods you can’t imagine living with/without?
- Would you describe your relationship with food as —
- Warm and fuzzy? You love food and food loves you.
- A marriage of necessity? You can take it or leave it.
- Love and hate? Charged with emotion, regret, and/or negativity at times.
- What’s your greatest challenge around food?
These questions, of course, are just a starting point for mindset work. And let’s be honest – mindset work is messy and difficult, which is one reason it’s so tempting to focus on a meal plan or workouts. That’s actually the “easy” part! If we can just start to look at our meal plans or workouts through a mindset lens, though, we’ll be ahead of the game.