CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – When we think of weight loss, we often think about what we eat, and how we exercise, but what’s equally important is learning to develop lifestyle skills to help you manage your thoughts and behaviors associated with food. Clinical psychologist Dr. Tim Hope shared important tips to help you control your weight.
Changing Your Eating Habits
Consider the following steps that can be helpful in changing unhealthy eating behaviors and thoughts:
Monitor your behaviors. Research is clear that people who write down what they eat in a daily log are more successful at losing weight. Record your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment such as where you ate, when and what you were doing. This will help you understand your eating behaviors and identify areas to change.
Track your activity level. This is another important aspect of self-monitoring. It includes not only how much you exercise but also the extent to which you move around during the day rather than remaining seated or inactive. One helpful tactic involves using a pedometer to record the number of steps you take each day.
Eat regular meals. Patients often skip breakfast with the thought they are reducing calories or can “save up” calories for later. But skipping meals can slow your metabolism, make you prone to later eating binges and have a negative effect on your health.
Practice “mindful” eating. Research shows that individuals with eating problems often don’t pay attention to whether they are really hungry when they eat. Psychologists can help you learn mindfulness exercises to heighten your awareness of hunger levels and to make eating more enjoyable.
Understand the things you associate with food. Behaviors are habitual and learned. Sometimes people may associate certain emotions, experiences or daily activities with particular behaviors. For example, if you typically eat while watching TV your brain has made an association between food and TV. You may not be hungry, but in your mind TV and eating are paired together. So when you watch TV you suddenly feel the urge to eat. You can begin to break this association by not eating while watching TV.
Identify your emotions. It’s important to figure out what is happening emotionally while snacking, overeating or choosing unhealthy foods. Identify the feeling: is it boredom, stress or sadness? Patients need to determine if they are really hungry or just responding to an emotion. If you aren’t hungry, find another way to meet that need.
Modify your unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Reinforcing healthy behaviors is important to achieving your weight management goals. Too often, people have negative thoughts and feelings about changing their health behaviors and see the process as punishment. Some people have an “all or nothing” attitude and think about weight loss in terms of being “on” or “off” a diet. Psychologists work with people to address negative feelings and find ways to reward healthy changes to their eating habits.