Mind games - the inner aspects of weight loss
By Dr Matthew Chircop, 8/21/2016
We have already talked about motivation in previous articles. The importance of motivation in helping you change your habits can not be over-emphasised. There are many things that impact on your motivation. These include your emotions and your thought patterns.
Eating in a calorie deficit can have a significant effect on your mood. Irritability, anxiety, anger, depression, poor motivation, difficulties concentrating and loss of libido are all very common. It is very easy to sail when the weather is favourable, but it can be disastrous for the inexperienced to attempt to sail through treacherous waters in the midst of a storm. Likewise, when your emotions (or lack thereof) are pulling you in all directions whilst you are trying to carefully and diligently adhere to your lifestyle plan to lose weight, it’s very easy to get taken off course to somewhere you didn’t really want to go. The emotional turmoil adds to the confusion, frustration and despair that many who are trying to lose weight feel, as their weight loss slows or stops (Why? What can I do about it?), even though they are doing the same things they were doing about 2 weeks ago when a few kilograms came off (seemingly all at once).
When you change your lifestyle, some of these mood changes are a result of the stresses of calorie-deficit and/or training. Those can be easily reversed and prevented in the future by making sure that calorie-deficits are not too large or prolonged, that there are frequent sufficient breaks in your training program (both throughout the week and between training blocks, for example every 6 weeks), and that you have optimised your macronutrient intakes. Some of the changes in mood might also be because you have stopped using food as a reward, and have not yet found an adequate replacement – so you get bored, depressed, irritable, anxious, or whatever the emotion was that was “medicated” with food in the past. That is also satisfactorily dealt with by finding a suitable replacement.
For example, boredom can often be addressed by indulging in “adrenaline”-inducing activities (for some people, that means sky diving or bungee jumping, for others it might mean learning to dance or public speaking). Conversely anxiety is often dealt with by indulging in activities that promote a sense of control and calmness (often artistic endeavours like painting, drawing, photography, playing a musical instrument, puzzle solving, etc). Likewise depression can be addressed by indulging in activities which promote a sense of self-worth (e,g, community service or volunteer work).
However, some of these mood changes might be the result of reducing or eliminating (or even introducing) certain foods from/to your diet. Some foods which are known to have significant effects on mood include foods containing caffeine, as well as foods like chocolate, green tea (tea in general), alcohol and cheese. I am sure there are others that I have not mentioned. The point is to be observant, and not to introduce too many changes at once. If you are going to introduce a supplement or new food, try and make that the only change and see what happens. The onset of the effect might be within hours, days, or even weeks (you might need to reach a certain “load” in your system before the effects become apparent). If you are going to reduce a particular food (like the ones mentioned above) maybe try reducing one at a time and gradually (to lessen the severity of symptoms). Some people prefer to take a couple of days or weeks off work and just go “cold turkey”, stocking up on pain-relievers to treat the inevitable headaches, resting, keeping the lights dim and the noise low, drinking plenty of fluids, and staying away from anyone that could trigger an instant meltdown. One should take particular care with alcohol reduction, however, as sudden large reductions in alcohol intake can trigger epileptic seizures – best to seek medical help with alcohol reduction, and any other drug withdrawal for that matter.
Then there is the “baggage” that you carry – all of the negative things that you think about yourself, all of the self-imposed limitations, stereotypes, etc. Those thoughts can hold you back. If you don’t truly believe that you have it in you to change your body, then, in a sense, you have already given up or lost before you have started. That thought, even if subconscious, can take root and grow and one day manifest itself, catching you in a moment of self-doubt or indecision or tiredness or frustration. The subsequent blow to your motivation can momentarily derail your progress, and (depending on how you interpret this set-back) might sow the seeds for future relapse. Be vigilant about what you are telling yourself, be realistic but not fatalistic – allow yourself to hope.
If you can master what you tell yourself, if you can work out how to manage your emotions (without relying on food), and if you apply your lifestyle program diligently and methodically, you will see and feel your body change for the better.
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