It's All in Your Head: How to Train Your Brain for Weight Loss Success

Learn how to readjust your mindset and overcome mental obstacles
Flickr/heavyweightgeek, Licensed under Creative Commons

If you feel like you’re constantly struggling to lose weight, it’s possible that the problem could have something to do with your attitude.

As Holly Stokes, a certified Hypnotherapist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner and author of A Lighter You! Train Your Brain to Slim Your Body, puts it: weight loss involves both simple and complicated aspects, and success on every level is highly dependent on your mental state.

“At the simple level we have habits to change like overeating,” Stokes explained. “At the more complicated level we get into cravings, which aren't logical and rational, emotional eating and then self-sabotage is a deeper issue.”

One of the first and most important things you should do before aiming to tackle a weight loss goal is make sure that you’re actually ready to change by determining which of the five categories from the Readiness for Change model you fall into.

Then, to address and overcome some of the mental hurdles that commonly get in the way, Stokes suggests implementing the following strategies.

1. State what you want in a positive manner, rather than presenting it as a problem.
“When we say ‘I want to lose weight,’ we focus on the problem: weight,” Stokes explained. “If instead we say ‘I want to slim down to my ideal weight or build a healthy fit body,’ we have a different mental reaction and different feelings attached. It feels lighter and more achievable—motivation is a feeling.”

2. Change your mental images.
“When we think of something we're not motivated to do, there are usually corresponding negative images, thoughts and feelings,” Stokes said. She suggests using he following strategy to “change how your brain is coding your internal system” in order to boost motivation.

“Say, for example, when you think of exercising you see an image of dirty running shoes in a dark closet. You think to yourself, ‘I know I should, I just don't want to,’ and you feel the weight of one more thing to do. By changing the picture you can change the degrees of motivation. Make the picture of the running shoes brighter, add some sunlight. Change what you say to yourself to something like, ‘I would feel satisfied and accomplished if I worked out.’ Imagining your favorite music in the background can boost it a few notches. And then add the feeling of the benefits of having had a great workout.”

Stokes said that this tip comes directly from NLP, which examines how the brain codes information.

3. Imagine it done.
“Imagine having already had your great workout. How would you feel?” Stokes said. “Accomplished? Satisfied? Imagining it done gets your mind to focus on the solution rather than the problem and gives your motivation a boost.”

She explained that the thoughts we think and feelings we feel are often habitual. As a result, they happen so fast that they fall below our awareness radar and we hardly even recognize that they’re negative or counterproductive.  

“But by changing our mental habits, we can train the brain to focus on what we want and even find.” Stokes said. “[It’s] instant motivation just by thinking about it.” 

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