Is Your Brain Making You Fat?

Overcoming Mental Blocks to Weight Loss

Your mind can play tricks on you, but it can also play a role in your ultimate diet success. Here’s how to beat the mental obstacles that can keep you from losing weight.

Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH

Sometimes being on a diet just seems overwhelming. You might feel as though you don’t have the heart to stay in the weight-loss fight. Well, it’s not always your heart that keeps you from diet success — sometimes it’s all in your head.

Weight Loss: Think Before You Eat

One of the main reasons that diets fail is because people approach weight loss the wrong way. “Targeting that diet mentality is really the key,” says Martin Binks, PhD, assistant professor at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. “If I had to pick one thing I could fix to stop diets from failing, it would be all-or-nothing thinking and all-or-nothing acting,”

Binks works to get individuals to set small, realistic goals instead of big, sweeping ones. “If you went into every situation without thinking it’s all or nothing, you’re much more likely to moderate what you eat,” he explains. “Start thinking about the hundreds and hundreds of mini-decisions we make in a day.”

Small decisions and exchanges — like eating only half of a cookie instead of a whole one or adding a few short, quick walks to your overall exercise program — are what ultimate lead to weight loss. “If I could get people to think a little differently day to day, it would make a huge difference,” he says.

Weight Loss: Overcoming Mental Obstacles

Another mental obstacle dieters face is giving up on themselves, says Anne Wolf, RD, a registered dietitian and researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “They don’t believe they really can do it,” says Wolf. “But once they see that other people have lost weight, they realize, ‘I can do that, too.'”

She also sees individuals begin a weight-loss plan out of anger or take a “no pain, no gain” mentality when it comes to weight loss. “Anger is not [the same as] a commitment,” notes Wolf. “If you can stay on a program that causes no pain and you gradually lose weight over the year, that’s great.”

Weight Loss: Finding a Healthy Mindset

“I tried to lose weight twice before I made the permanent lifestyle changes necessary to accomplish my goals,” says John from Fairfax, Va. When he made the decision to get serious about weight loss, it was because he realized that not only was his weight unhealthy, but so was the way he thought about his weight and his health.

“I remember going shopping for bigger pants again, and sitting in the store and looking at the 44W rack, thinking I could probably save money if I just got the 46W and grew into them — talk about surreal,” says John.

That moment made him realize that his thought process had to change and led to a 70-pound weight loss. “Luckily, I had a moment of clarity and realized how self-destructive my logic was,” says John.

The trigger that makes you realize you don’t lose weight through a diet, but through a lifestyle change, is different for everyone. Drastic dieting can be a vicious cycle that leaves people angry, depressed, frustrated, and finally just giving up. But if you learn a healthy way to approach weight loss, both mentally and physically, you can ultimately find success

Unlimited Classes