In the world of nutrition, there is often so much focus on how quickly a particular diet can help us lose weight, and how many pounds it can help us shed, that we forget why we want to lose weight to begin with—to be healthy and happy.
Applying the seven attitudinal factors of mindfulness, as outlined by Dr. Job Kabat-Zinn, to weight loss can help us approach the process in a way that promotes true well-being. The factors are non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.
Many of us frequently criticize and judge ourselves, which only makes it that much more difficult to grow. Or we decide that our current situation is “terrible” and we fight it, wishing it were different. Instead, we need to accept the situation as it is, then look for positive steps we can take to move forward.
When we’re trying to lose weight, it is easy to criticize ourselves for possibly carrying a few extra pounds. But this will only keep us trapped in a negative mindset, which makes it more challenging to make positive changes. Instead, we should strive to accept our bodies as they are, and realize that the fact that we may have some weight to lose doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with us. Paradoxically, accepting our bodies as they are is the very thing that will allow us to lose weight.
When we approach weight loss from the perspective of knowing we deserve to be healthy, rather than desperately trying to lose weight in order to gain the approval of others, we’re more likely to adopt healthy, sustainable lifestyles than ineffective crash diets.
When something is causing discomfort in our lives, it is natural to want to change it as fast as possible. But real, long-lasting change often takes time and effort. And that’s okay!
The desire to lose as much weight as we can, as quickly as possible, often causes us to turn to crash diets or punishing workouts. But these approaches are not sustainable for the long-term and even if we lose the weight, we will gain likely gain it back when we revert to our former habits. By contrast, creating a truly healthy lifestyle that includes eating whole foods rather than “low-calorie” or “low-fat” diet foods, as well as exercise we genuinely enjoy, takes time. But it is much more likely to bring us long-term health.
Often, we make assumptions about ourselves and our circumstances—indeed, about life at large—and we believe them to be objectively true. Beginner’s mind is the idea that we need to challenge those assumptions, and realize that we are constantly learning and growing.
One such assumption many of us make is the idea that losing weight will bring us happiness. So, we try every method we come across to lose weight, without realizing that what will really bring us happiness is self-acceptance. We must learn to love ourselves, regardless of what the scale says. That in turn, will actually help us to lose weight and keep it off, because it will make us more likely to approach weight loss in a way that is healthy and sustainable.
It is not always easy to trust our own instincts. And culturally, we are not often taught to do this. So we allow self-doubt and indecision to get in the way of our ability to listen to and follow our intuition.
One of the factors that’s so appealing about many diet plans is that there is someone else telling us what to do. We are “allowed” to eat a certain number of points, calories, or grams of fat or carbohydrates every day. There are certain foods we may eat, and others we may not. But true health is about learning to trust our body wisdom. Eating whole foods and discovering for ourselves which ones make us feel the healthiest – this is a key part of lasting weight loss.
Typically, when we’re trying to make a positive change, we do so with a particular outcome in mind. But this can be detrimental for two reasons. First, it causes us to close our minds to other, better possibilities that we may not have thought of yet. Second, it adds an additional layer of stress by causing us to compare our current circumstances to our imagined, “perfect” future. Instead, we need to try to make positive changes simply because we know it’s what’s best for us, not because we have one specific outcome in mind.
This is especially applicable to weight loss. Maybe we don’t need to lose as much weight as we think we do. Maybe we don’t actually need to lose any. We should adopt healthy lifestyles because we deserve health. That will bring us something better than skinniness—genuine health and happiness.
When there’s something in our lives that we’re unhappy with, it’s all too easy to ignore it, deny it, or spend too much time wishing it were different. But if we want to change, we have to first come to terms with the reality.
In the case of weight loss, most of us probably fall into the category of wishing it were different. We wish we were thinner, and we judge ourselves for not being so. But we need to realize that we are perfectly worthy, valuable people, regardless of our weight. Once we accept our bodies as they are, and realize we don’t have to change them to become lovable human beings, then we can start taking positive steps forward.
It is understandable to want to hang on to the things that bring us comfort—even (or especially) when they’re things that haven’t happened yet. But in order for us to live our fullest lives, we need to let go of our preconceived notions of what those lives will look like.
For many of us, when we imagine happier future lives, we picture ourselves having lost a certain amount of weight. But weight loss is not actually necessary for happiness. Once we learn to accept ourselves at any size, we may find that we’re perfectly happy and healthy without losing a single pound. In turn, as discussed earlier, that self-acceptance is actually necessary for sustained, healthy weight loss.
Adopting these attitudes in our daily lives is a great way that we can support ourselves on our journeys to greater well-being. And of course, mindfulness is not simply a weight loss tool. The more we practice holding these attitudes toward our bodies, the more they will spill over into other areas of life, and soon we’ll find ourselves experiencing more peace of mind throughout our busy days.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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