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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kay Cole, PhD

Want to Lose Weight? Stop Trying!

We all know America has a weight problem and Joplin is no exception. Obesity is on the rise at a time when society increasingly prizes health and being lean. In our society, excess weight can affect our mood, confidence, and self-esteem. You have probably read statistics on how many people join a gym January 1st only to stop exercising by February. Many of those people go through the cycle again the following year. Why is that cycle so prevalent? Well, one reason has to do with our motivation to exercise. Most people exercise to lose weight. In truth, that is a terrible reason. Exercising to lose weight typically leads to dropping out of an exercise program in a matter of weeks. Why? Because humans are notoriously bad at delaying gratification. Research psychologists have found that when weight loss is the primary motivation for exercise, people don't stick with exercise. Weight loss is simply too far away to be a motivator. People get discouraged when they think about how long they have to walk or bike to lose their desired amount of weight.

People who stick with exercise tend to focus on rewards other than weight loss. Sure, they'll lose weight over time, but that's not what gets them moving. They aren’t even motivated by the fact that exercise can shrink fat cells and increase metabolism. Instead, they’re motivated by the more immediate benefits of exercise such as body confidence, better sex, clearer skin, mental clarity, improved memory, improved mood, reduced anxiety, greater energy, reduction in pain, a sense of accomplishment, and greater peace. Whew! Read that list again. Focus on the idea that those benefits are far more immediate than weight loss. And if you focus on those benefits, you will feel rewarded within minutes or days. Consider shifting your focus from weight loss to one of the benefits listed. Make a point of recognizing immediate reward after exercising. View weight loss as a pleasant side benefit rather than your sole motivation.

The attached article lists additional benefits to exercise you might find rewarding. Note that the article also lists benefits of eating healthy. Psychologists work with many people who seek counseling or therapy to gain control over their diet. People already know to eat fewer calories and make wiser food choices when they want to lose weight. Yet, the increase in health information over the last ten years has not improved the health of people in our country. Psychologists are trained to identify patterns of mindless eating and the psychological issues which affect food choices. Our eating habits are complex and influenced by our childhood, education, peer group, and many other psychological factors.

Counseling is not essential for adopting better health practices, but self-awareness is. Although some people seek counseling to address their relationship with food, other people address that relationship more slowly by being mindful of their food choices over time. I will expand on the complexities of our relationship with food in a future blog. In the meantime, enjoy the attached article. Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

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