Sick of trying diets only to gain back the weight? Or perhaps you're just not the diet type? Calorie-counting can be a drag, and the lifestyle changes required in a new healthy regimen might seem overwhelming. Well, you're not alone. But the good news is that there's a ground-up method, which starts with your way of thinking about weight loss and healthy eating, that can help you make those changes for the better -- and get them to stick. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thought patterns. It's built around the concept that thoughts, behaviors and emotions all influence each other. The idea is that you can improve mental well-being by changing negative thoughts and unhealthy behaviors. Often used to treat anxiety and depression, it has also proven useful in helping patients lose weight. Here are several tips for getting fit with strategies informed by CBT.
1. Don’t Call It a Diet -- Get Healthy Instead
Dieting implies restriction, which is often too stringent and not maintainable. Instead, make healthy choices most of the time; you'll be much more likely to stick with it. "Most people don't do well on diets," says Chicago-based psychotherapist Dr. Nikki Martinez. "They 'fail' or 'quit.'" Similarly, don't get stuck on a weight-loss goal. It's easy to link weight loss to a specific quantitative value, such as losing a certain amount of weight. But if you don't lose those five pounds, you'll feel stuck and give up. "Make your goal 'get healthy' so you won't feel depleted if you don't lose the five pounds," advises Dr. Jennifer Taitz, a New York-based psychologist.
2. Keep a Food and Exercise Log
Jot down on paper what you eat and what you do for exercise in order for better success. "This gets you to think about the action before making an unhealthy food choice," says Kelley Kitley, a Chicago-based psychotherapist. "It also helps in terms of planning ahead -- like planning for longer workouts." It takes 21 days to break a habit, so look ahead three weeks. "This helps us to set our thought process," says Kitley.
3. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
Thoughts and urges are simply mental events: It's not compulsory that one act on them. "You could have the thought, 'I'm on vacation. It's OK if I take it up a notch,'" says Taitz. "Realize you don't have to act on this." Even just noticing and accepting your thoughts is helpful, allowing yourself to slow down and identify the distorted thinking. Better yet, record your thoughts in your food and exercise log.
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4. Replace Negative Thinking With Positive Thoughts
"In CBT, we change negative outlooks to more positive realistic ones," says Kitley. "People come in with core beliefs like 'Unless I starve myself I'll never be thin' and 'I'm too busy; I'll never have to time to work out.'" Change those thoughts to something like 'I need to figure out how to maintain a healthy lifestyle with food' and 'Walking for 15 minutes during the day is beneficial to my health.'
5. Be Able to Forgive Yourself
When trying to stick to an eating plan, you may tend to talk to yourself in terms of black and white. This could lead to "catastrophizing," which ignores how well you've been doing and says you're a failure if you make one bad choice. It's also the type of thinking that could lead to weeks of binging. "Like a problem drinker," Martinez says, "you can do great for two weeks or two months, then slip and you feel like you've ruined it all." Instead, be kind to yourself: 'I had a bad day, but I forgive myself. I can start fresh tomorrow and make better choices.'
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6. Identify Your Triggers and Cravings
"Triggers are the same for everyone," says Martinez. "These are stress, boredom and anxiety." You may be binging to soothe yourself, but you'll suffer after you finish. Identify your triggers and make a plan to deal with each of them. For instance, if you eat when you're bored, structure your time more by deciding what you'll do next before you start the task at hand. For stress and anxiety, try using coping mechanisms like meditation, walking, talking with a friend or reading a book.
7. Trade in Bad Habits for Good Ones
Taking cues from your eating and exercise log -- with your thoughts noted -- you can determine where and when overeating occurs. "If you're eating to help regulate emotion at certain times of day, then these are the times of day you want to add a new, positive behavior to your daily routine," says Richmond-based psychotherapist John Mathews. Find an exercise or activity that works for you, such as deep breathing, stretching, push-ups or jumping jacks to name a few. "Now trade your bad habit for the good one," advises Mathews. "Commit to the good habit before you eat, and tell yourself you can eat afterward if you still want to."
8. Make a List of Pros and Cons to Getting Healthy
"In the heat of the moment," says Taitz, "the emotional part of your brain may be saying, 'More ice cream.' Having a list of pros and cons at the ready will tell you the costs and benefits of eating more versus sticking to your eating plan." Take a moment to consider what eating the ice cream will do -- it may cause distress (i.e., "catastrophizing"). Instead tell yourself: "I'll feel better if I kick this habit today."
9. Be Accountable
"Accountability and weekly check-ins are key," says Kitley. "You could do these with a counselor or nutritionist, but basically you should create a community of people that can help you attain your goals." Enlist your partner, a sibling and/or friends to check in with. "Taking a team approach is the most successful way to stay accountable."
10. Treat Yourself
No one can maintain nutritional perfection. Allow yourself the occasional treat to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Restricting yourself from having that one cupcake, according to Martinez, could cause you to eat even more later on because you didn't allow yourself that treat. Just be sure to make good food choices most of the time.
What Do YOU Think?
Do these methods seem like they would work for you? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below!
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