In their new book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think, Act & Be Happy, psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow and Amy Newmark (of Chicken Soup for the Soul series) write about how through changing the way you think, you can take charge of your life. Through a combination of personal stories, clear explanations, and guided journaling exercises, the authors help you tap into your brain to change the way you think and act. In this excerpt, Dr. Dow focuses on a common problem; how to lose weight and keep it off. Learn tips for changing your mindset and steps you can take to achieve the weight loss results you want.
Do you know where your hungry feelings are coming from?
I don’t know about you, but if you’re like most of us—your emotions sometimes affect the way you eat… Culturally, so many of us have learned to use food to celebrate life’s highs (e.g., wedding cake) as well as life’s lows (e.g., ice cream on the couch after a bad day). Has this ever been true for you?
One helpful exercise is to stop and ask yourself if your hunger is “above the neck” or “below the neck” hunger. Hunger that is “above the neck” is coming from your brain or your emotional state. You may have just eaten a large meal an hour ago. Yet, sadness, disappointment, or boredom leads you to the kitchen. This kind of hunger tends to come on suddenly.
On the other hand, “below the neck” hunger originates in your stomach. It tends to come on more slowly and builds hours after your last meal….
Use this as a tool to stop for a moment the next time you get the urge to eat. Ask yourself: Where is my hunger coming from? By doing so, you are training your brain.
If it’s emotional/above the neck hunger, then choose an activity that will help you resolve this feeling. After all, a pizza doesn’t solve the problem of loneliness. See who is free tonight for a nice healthy dinner so you can connect with your friends. It’s a more direct way of dealing with what ails you (e.g., connection as the antidote to loneliness) as opposed to self-medicating with something that is probably going to lead to more negative feelings (e.g., eating a whole pizza which leads to guilt… and still leaves you feeling lonely)…..
How to change your mindset to get results
Focusing on success is the opposite of obsessing about tiny failures. In fact, a pitfall thought pattern common in people struggling with their weight and food issues is polarization. Remember, this is a type of binary, black-or-white way of seeing the world and your choices as they’re related to your eating patterns…..
People who use polarized thinking …tend to think: if I’m not a complete success, I’m a complete failure or if today’s meal isn’t absolutely perfect, then it’s a complete disaster. Have you ever had a thought pattern that was so rigid and perfectionistic that it blocked all the success and positivity you had created?
People who use polarized thinking tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. Of course, this pitfall thought pattern can make you feel bad about yourself. It can spiral into a bad mood, leading you to cancel your plans, sit on the couch, and eat a pint of ice cream while binge watching TV. The whole day is ruined because of that one cookie you ate.
But what if you could prevent polarized thinking from robbing you of all your success? Instead of that one cookie ruining your whole day, you consider your day through a balanced, gray-area lens.
If you had a healthy breakfast, lunch, and then one piece of candy, you still had far more healthy foods. Of course, this often helps us to feel better about ourselves. You’d probably leave work feeling energized, go to the gym, and have dinner with your friends. Oh, and you’d probably have a nice healthy dinner, too! You’d get right back up on that horse without beating yourself up. Imagine what this sort of energy could do for you in your daily life.
Isn’t it so nice that this gray-area type of thinking actually puts more emphasis on what we do right instead of obsessing over what we do wrong? Now, it’s time to train your brain by looking at where this pitfall thought pattern may be showing up in your life. By doing so, you’ll find your own new way of thinking. Write in a journal the answers to the following:
What’s one area of my life where polarized thinking shows up?
If I were to let polarized thinking go, how would my life improve?
What’s a better, more balanced, and gray-area way to think about my life?
Take Baby Steps
The solution: take that mountain and break it up into small mounds. And then climb just one of those small mounds today. Take a lofty weight loss goal—or any other important goal you may have for yourself in your life—and break it into a SMART goal.
A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. “I need to lose 150 pounds” becomes “I am going to lose two pounds or more per month for the next twelve months.” This SMART goal may also help you incorporate something else that helps keep people on track: accountability.
For most people, weighing yourself about once a week or so can be a helpful strategy. If there is a week where you “fall off the wagon” and gain a few pounds, then you can simply pick yourself up the following week. Remember: weight loss isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.
Consider a fitness or weight loss goal that you have for yourself. Write it on the lines below. It should be something you can measure. It could be body fat, your weight, or your time running a quarter mile. Also, how long are you going to give yourself to achieve this goal? What you can measure, you can change.
Excerpted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think, Act & Be Happy: How To Use Chicken Soup For the Soul Stories to Train Your Brain To Be Your Own Therapist, available on Amazon here.
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