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The Psychology Of Diet Preparation
We decide to lose weight for various reasons: we don’t like the way we look, our clothes don’t fit us, our health is in danger, our partner wanders off, our job is in danger or our children. they are embarrassed We tend to think of weight loss as something that only involves our bodies; surely no one decided to lose weight because of a fat brain or a swollen mind.
However, “we decide” is a mental function. When and why we make that decision is up to our mind, not our body. We can make the decision when we weigh five pounds more than we’d like, or after we pass the two hundred pound mark and enter true medical obesity. The actual size of the body does not trigger the decision to lose weight, such a choice is made in the brain.
Since starting (and continuing) a diet program is a mental process, it seems worth exploring what factors might trigger that decision.
Each of us has a double image: the face we return to the world and our internal idea of how we appear. Although we dress and groom ourselves in an effort to be seen as attractive by others, we are far less influenced by others than by our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with ourselves.
Explore this concept by observing yourself and others over the next week. You’ll notice that you often get compliments on clothes you wear that, to you, don’t look “very good.” Wear a favorite outfit that fits you perfectly, looks great on you, and makes you feel extra stylish, and no one notices. The same phenomenon occurs with a hairstyle. One morning, pressed for time, you can’t get your hair to do anything, so you angrily pull clips and hope that no one important sees you so badly. Voila! Three people comment that they like what you did with your hair.
There is the same disconnect when it comes to our weight. If we look good in our mind, we don’t feel fat, even if friends and co-workers are whispering about our constant weight gain. However, if we see ourselves as overweight, no amount of reassurance from those around us will make us feel less fat. Taken to an extreme, this mental image of our body size can lead to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa in which painfully thin individuals continue to dangerously restrict their caloric intake because they constantly see themselves as too heavy.
We decide to go on a diet, therefore, in response to our own internal image. Some of the benefits we think come with being thin and fit take into account others: I’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex; At work I will notice when the promotion comes; my family and friends will be jealous and have to reassess me as a stronger person than they thought. But the real reward for getting in shape is what it does for us personally. It is the desire to feel great about ourselves that drives us through the pain and monotony of diet and exercise. It is the future vision of ourselves in our mind that drives us towards our goal. Losing that vision, or concluding that we won’t feel much better about ourselves, are the reasons we give up and fall back into the relative comfort of settling for “good.”
2. Mastery of the body versus the mind.
We all fight a lifelong internal battle between our body and our mind. Each is dominant at different stages of development. As children we are little more than a collection of sensations. We explore the new and exciting world around us by touching everything within reach, trying everything we can put in our mouths, watching the movements of everything around us and listening to every sound we hear until we finally learn to imitate them.
As we progress through the early school years, we begin to focus on our minds. We voraciously devour immense amounts of information. We learn to read and our world expands its limits by a thousand percent. We learn to use the Internet and an unlimited universe is at our fingertips.
Then we hit puberty and overnight our looks become the dominant factor in our everyday lives. We navigate the pitfalls and pleasures of adolescence where popularity and being cool are far more vital than simple learning or mental development. We spend an inordinate amount of time in our bodies. We try new clothes, new hairstyles and new makeup. We have body parts pierced and suffer the pain of a tattoo because it will make us stand out. We prepare, prepare, and force ourselves into the styles that our peers have deemed “in.”
As we mature, we seek to balance our mental and physical selves. While our bodies reign supreme in the environment of attracting a partner, we need to exercise our minds to advance our careers and develop deep relationships that go far beyond mere physical attraction.
It’s when we settle down and start building the good life we want, when our efforts and energies turn to things outside of ourselves: children, significant others, friends, family and work activities. We have so much going on around us and so much to do that we lose touch with our body and mind. We enter our own comfort zone where many of our needs are met with food. It eases our anxiety, relieves our frequent frustrations, and makes periodic bouts of the blues bearable. It fuels our social interactions. It becomes a vital cog in how we show affection for those we love. We continue to see each other as we always have been and ignore the love handles and pockets of fat that attach to parts of our bodies that we resolutely ignore. Our bodies, and our internal image of our bodies, become more and more discordant.
3. Our sense of self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is a term used in psychology to describe an individual’s belief that any action they take will have an effect on the outcome. It is not self-confidence, nor the belief that one is competent to do something, although it may involve both. It reflects our inner expectation that what we do will affect the results we want.
If I lack this belief, then I fear that whatever I do will not achieve my desired goal. Bordering on helplessness, it leads to self-destructive thoughts:
“No matter how much I diet, I don’t lose weight…” “I could exercise every day, but I’ll never get rid of these thunder thighs…”. “I’m trying to eat healthier foods but my hips keep getting wider…”. “No matter what techniques you try, nothing will keep the wrinkles away…”.
If I have a strong sense of self-efficacy, my belief system and thought patterns will sound like:
“All I have to do is motivate myself and get fit in a few weeks…”. “I just have to pick a date to start my diet and I’ll be on my way…”. “I may have neglected myself for a while, but hard work will bring me back…”.
Whether or not we start a diet, decide to get in shape or start taking better care of ourselves is ultimately a personal decision that may or may not go as planned. The difference lies in the expectation of success and it is always easier to embark on a journey that we anticipate will be successful than to drag ourselves towards a goal where failure is the most likely outcome.
How can we combine these concepts to work for us in our desire to become slim, fit and attractive?
We begin by examining our self-image and how we appear to others. Just asking others “Do you think I’m getting too heavy?” it doesn’t work unless you have a brutally honest friend or ask someone you don’t like. Most of us are culturally trained to spare others’ feelings, so the answers to such a question are more likely to be polite than true.
Focusing on specifics can produce better feedback. Tell everyone that you are completing a survey for a class you are taking. Hand out a short one-page quiz asking each friend or co-worker to list three adjectives to describe different aspects of your physical appearance. Complete one of the worksheets yourself. Ensure that responses are anonymous by requesting that names not be used and having someone else collect the completed sheets.
Once you have the answers back, compare them to your own answers and see where the descriptions diverge. You might find yourself a little defensive: “My hips aren’t that big…my clothes make me look skinny too.” This is not an exercise to make you feel bad about yourself or to gloat over the unexpected complimentary remarks you’ve received. It is an organized effort to help you identify where your self-image and your image in the world diverge. Those areas of divergence are a place to start in the effort to make the two images overlap.
Once we have identified the areas where work is needed, it is time to call upon the immeasurable power of our wonderful mind to begin imposing the structure and organization we will need to make the desired changes. Our mind can only take us where we want to go if it is supported by belief in our ability to achieve a successful conclusion. Now is the time to discard any expectation of failure. There may have been many unsuccessful diet and fitness attempts in the past. Leave them in the past. We are not somehow doomed to continue unproductive behaviors forever. We possess that jewel of evolution, the human mind, which is capable of almost anything. If we set our minds to any task, we will achieve it, if our doubts and misgivings do not stand in our way.
We build our positive expectations by tapping into our memories to accumulate a long list of past successes. There can be important milestones, like getting a promotion we wanted, orchestrating a fantastic event, or working ourselves into an intensely satisfying relationship. However, it is the small personal triumphs that count the most, but are often quickly forgotten or discounted as unimportant.
Studying hard and getting a good grade in a tough class clearly demonstrates your ability to get the results you want. Go for quantity: the day you smiled at someone across a smoky room and ended up with a brief but lovely fling; the report you brought at a time no one expected; the night you mastered a spin on ice skates. Go on: making the drill team, shooting a steal, making your own prom dress, dying your hair a wonderful color in your own bathroom, catching a fly ball, discovering new software on your computer, recording your first CD The list can be endless, and it will be, as you continue to remember fragments of the past that you have long buried under more important things.
Keep this list close and read it regularly. It’s your personal self-efficacy team.
You now know the areas you are going to work in and are developing a belief in the effectiveness of your own efforts. Now you need to identify the internal rewards that successful weight loss will bring. Feeling good about yourself, enjoying stepping on a scale, and zipping up your clothes with ease are easy starts. Unconsciously walking to the pool in a short suit is a reinforcement for dreaming. Giving a sales presentation with the confidence that you’re looking your best is an image to enjoy as you drift off to sleep. Seeing someone you love look at you with admiration, or seeing your competitive co-worker jealous, underscores your determination and keeps you going through the discomfort of dieting and the demands of boring exercise routines.
You know where you are going, you know what it will take, and you know you will succeed. Your mind is fully prepared, simply waiting for your decision day. You will make that decision whenever you choose because now you are in control.
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#Psychology #Diet #Preparation