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Weight Loss Attitude Traps

The five things components for lifetime weight control are lifestyle, exercise, attitudes, relationships, and nutrition. This is according to the Learn Program, the most successful and most thoroughly tested lifestyle change program for weight management.

Kelly Brownell, Yale University obesity research expert and creator of the Learn Program, says thoughts and feelings can spell the difference between success and failure in permanently controlling your weight.

He says there are four inter-related attitude traps to watch out for: Perfectionist thinking, light bulb thinking, imperative thinking, and impossible dream thinking.

Perfectionist Thinking
Brownell says it is human nature to want to be perfect. But we learn to control this desire because we find out from experience that we can never achieve perfection and we will only be disappointed if we become obsessed with it.

Nevertheless, Brownell has discovered that many people who go on a weight loss program unrealistically expect to never make mistakes or to never encounter difficulties and are emotionally crushed when they do.

For example, he says perfectionist thinking leads people to expect to lose weight every week. The reality is that some weeks their weight will stay stable or may even go up a bit. This leads to negative feelings of discouragement and self-blame.

It is much better to expect to lose weight some weeks and to feel good about the hard work you have put into your commitment even on the weeks when the scale does not budge.

Light Bulb Thinking
A light bulb is either switched on or it is switched off. There is no in-between position. The same is true for people with light bulb or dichotomous thinking. This is also called the “all or nothing” attitude.

Brownell notes that light bulb thinking is the classic attitude of people on weight loss programs. In fact, he sees it in nearly every client he works with. “It involves viewing the world and losing weight as either right or wrong, perfect or terrible, good or bad”.

He gives the example of a person who for six straight days sticks to their diet and on the seventh day has a piece of cake. Light bulb thinking makes this person think, “I really blew it now. I am off my program”.

The guilt and depression at having been “bad” usually leads to more eating to soothe the negative feelings, according to Brownell.

To counter light bulb thinking, he suggests talking back to yourself to realize how illogical it is to feel terrible about one slip. Mistakes are inevitable and should be seen in the context of learning from them rather than feeling like a complete failure.

Imperative Thinking
Imperatives are words like “never, always, and must”. Brownell says that the vocabulary of people trying to lose weight is peppered with these imperatives. H gives real-life examples from his many years as a weight loss counselor. “I will eat a salad for lunch every day”. “Chocolate is my downfall so I will avoid it always.” “I will never eat more than 1,200 calories”.

Brownell warns that people who feel they should never eat certain foods are especially likely to fall prey to imperative thinking. He says that if you forbid yourself from eating peanuts, you will be fine for a week or two but then you may start to crave and fantasize about peanuts. When you break down and give in, feelings of failure can lead you to a binge not just of peanuts but other types of “bad” food as well. At this point, some people give up trying to lose weight until the next diet comes around.

Instead of saying, “I will never eat candy bars”, Brownell recommends saying to yourself, “I will do my best to eat fewer candy bars, but if I have one, it is a sign to increase my control, not to let down”.

Instead of promising, “I will exercise every day”, substitute the thought, “This is my goal, and I will do my best to reach it. When I can’t, I will try harder the next day.”

Impossible Dream Thinking
“Impossible dreams” are extremely unrealistic goals or expectations. People may believe that they can easily lose fifty pounds in two months or that losing weight will bring back an adulterous husband. Brownell observes that people are oftentimes not aware that they have impossible dream thinking about their weight loss goals.

He cites the case of Audrey, one of his first overweight clients. Audrey had been overweight since childhood and had never had a serious romantic relationship. She would joke that when she lost weight, she would meet the man of her dreams. Apparently, she was serious because she became deeply depressed when she lost all her excess weight and still there was no romance on the horizon.

Brownell believes that it does no harm to hope for the best and aspire to improve your life through weight loss but you have to realize that losing weight may not change your life dramatically. He explains that impossible dream thinking can actually make weight loss a disappointing experience when if your fantasy is not fulfilled.

His advice? “Concern yourself with what you will do today and tomorrow, not what life will be like when you lose weight”.

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