A Hard to Hear Weight Loss Truth You Need to Hear
"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already, but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him." - Leo Tolstoy
If you truly believe you can’t lose weight you are correct. Yes. You read that correctly. I said exactly what I said.
So many people out there, myself included, have spent years trying to lose weight through fad and crash diets that have led them into becoming serial yo-yo dieters. This cycle leads to feelings of failure and a negative view of dieting. Now they decide they are done with the fads and want to be in this for the long haul. They believe that they have committed to lifestyle change this time around and even though they believe they are doing all the right things, they aren’t getting results. Could that negative view of dieting be playing a role? 100% yes. Because they went into this believing they have tried everything and nothing has worked, their own self limiting beliefs are what’s causing them to self sabotage. They don’t even know it's happening. Let’s talk a little about something called confirmation bias and what it means in regards to weight loss.
You may be wondering exactly what the heck is confirmation bias. Well I’ll tell you. The term confirmation bias refers to the tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms our beliefs, while avoiding information or interpretations that conflict with our beliefs. In fact, numerous studies have shown that we place too much value on confirmatory information.
There is no lack of examples of confirmation bias in the realm of health. For example, opponents of the artificial sweetener aspartame (or Nutrasweet) often cite a 1996 study showing a link between increased brain tumor frequency and aspartame consumption. From 1980 to 1985, there was a rapid rise in aspartame consumption in the U.S. In 1985, there was a jump in brain tumor frequency.
Aspartame critics cite this as evidence that increased aspartame consumption caused an increase in brain tumors. Ignoring the fact that the critics are commiting the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, the critics are committing confirmation bias by selectively choosing the time period of 1975 onward. When we expand our time frame, starting at 1973, we get a different story:
The fact is, brain tumor frequency was already increasing before aspartame was introduced to the market. Despite the flaws in this study, and despite a follow-up study showing no relationship between aspartame and brain tumors, aspartame opponents continue to cite this study as evidence of aspartame's supposed danger.
Now how exactly does this relate to you and your lack of success in weight loss? Your brain is ALWAYS looking for evidence that what you believe is the truth even if it doesn’t serve you. Our brain wants to be correct and it wants to keep us safe and comfortable so it will cause us to do things that put us in that familiar and seemingly safe place. In regards to weight loss this could mean you sabotage yourself by allowing the old patterns of over restricting and binge eating to resurface. It could mean that if you see a small increase in scale weight you take that as failure and so you give up. It could mean that you go over your deficit calories each day by just enough to maintain your weight and not lose. Honestly self sabotage will look a little different on everyone and you should work closely with your coach to determine what and why it’s happening.
So now that we understand confirmation bias how do we avoid it? Well that comes down to working on your mindset. All of our values and attitudes are deeply rooted in our mindset. What is mindset? A mindset is a person’s established rules, attitudes, and world views. The good news is that working on your mindset will positively affect all aspects of your life. The bad news is that it’s freaking hard to do.
Mindset shifts happen over time. Everyone has a unique perspective, experience, and situation, so you cannot easily gauge how long it will take for each person’s mindset to change. New habits and lifestyle changes inform mindsets; generally, building habits can take a few weeks or months.
Here are a few of the tips I like to share with clients when we are working on their mindset.
1. Embrace change. Changing your mindset may mean making new friends, leaving a job, or moving to a new area. This can be logistically complex, but if you embrace it, you can come out on the other side stronger and healthier than before.
2. Set goals. A healthy mindset can make goals more attainable, so write out what you want so you can see it in print and act to work toward it. Break down your goals into smaller, easily accomplished steps, so you set yourself up for success.
3. Surround yourself with positive people. Friends and family who think positively will prove necessary in changing your mindset. If negative people surround you, their habits will rub off on you and make self-improvement more challenging.
4. Take walks. A good walk can clear your head, put things in perspective, and give you some easy exercise. Daily exercise can help you think more clearly and release endorphins to uplift your mood.