At this time of year, we may be feeling disappointed at how difficult it has been to shift those winter pounds. New Year’s Resolutions have often been shot to pieces and old habits have returned. Perhaps it was because the approach was simply to follow a chosen diet and/or exercise regime and expect discipline to do the rest. Instead of focusing on the physical mechanics, what if we looked at the mental aspects too, especially the good habits we want to make stick or the bad ones we need to lose? It is not so much what you do, as how you go about it. 

Why eating too much is a hard habit to break 

Since eating is necessary to keep us alive, the modern human brain, which still owes much of its psychology to its hunter-gatherer counterpart thousands of years ago, doesn’t like the thought of giving it up. If we are hungry, our stomachs send a signal to the brain, and of course we habitually react by eating. 
It is a survival mechanism which we follow almost unconsciously, a habitual combination of physical reactions and mental processing. If we are to be successful at losing weight over a sustained period, then we need to understand our mental workings as much as our physiological. 

What’s the mental game? 

I have been working with a client lately who wanted to lose some weight – let’s call her Rita. She has been successful in the past at shedding weight and reaching a target but is finding it more difficult at the moment. Undergoing some family stress in her life, she wondered if a mental approach was required to complement her dietary and exercise regime. 
After spending a few sessions to get to know her and understand some of the stresses and triggers in her life, as well as what had made her successful before, we developed this framework around which we could set some parameters. 
The 3-point plan which follows is a template you could use to supplement your own strategy to lose weight, whatever that might look like in terms of diet and/or exercise. 

Manage Stress 

Often forgotten about in the dieter’s armoury, but this is what made Rita come to me in the first place. How many times has your progress and discipline been kiboshed by the need to stress-eat (or drink)? A hard day at the office or troubles with the family can have us reaching for the chocolate as a coping mechanism. You may feel it is deserved because of what you have been going through, and the stress needs a counter after all. A different way of doing this is to use the practice of mindfulness. 
A proven stressbuster, mindfulness often gets dismissed as something esoteric and weird. This is mostly due to a misconception that to practice it, you need to empty your mind of thoughts (even though it is mind-full-ness, not mind-empty-ness). It allows you to switch off the stress response in your nervous system and more healthily relate to thoughts. You become more consciously aware of the habits you have and choices you make. 
You can sit and meditate for 20 minutes if you like, but it can be much quicker than this. Taking the occasional minute out to go through the S-T-O-P routine as per the link below, for example, will give you calm and perspective. This will help you manage stress and therefore reduce stress-induced eating. If you have a minute to yourself and you can ‘stop’ for a minute, try it out. 

Eat Mindfully 

Short on time – got somewhere to be? Then you might quickly make or buy a sandwich and wolf it down. Energy restored. Off you go. Did you enjoy that? Or do you now feel a bit sick that you ate too much, too fast? This is necessary - possibly, but mindless - eating. If you had eaten it mindfully you would have paid attention with your senses to what you ate. 
Try eating a piece of chocolate (or any other snack, preferably wrapped) while following these instructions:- 
Place the product in the palm of your hand. 
Turn it over and around and take a good look at it. Don’t judge it, just look. 
Open it up – paying attention to the sounds you can hear as the packaging opens, the resistance of the glued-down wrapping. 
Does it release its odour yet? Put it to your nose and note what you smell. 
Break off a single, bitesize piece and hold briefly between finger and thumb. (Are you getting impatient yet?!) 
Slowly pop it into your mouth and let it sit on your tongue for a moment. Does it start to melt? What flavours are released? Are you starting to salivate? 
Start to slowly bite, then chew. Resist the urge to start swallowing just yet, as long as you are comfortable. 
Start to swallow part of it and feel it go down your throat. How far can you feel it go down until you lose the sensation? 
As you ingest the rest of it, what flavours are left in your mouth? 
How do you feel? 
That’s a simple exercise in mindful eating. Note how it slows you down and makes you enjoy (hopefully) what you ate. It should encourage you to eat less as you become more sated with fewer bites! You have given your stomach the chance to tell your brain that it doesn’t need more. Try adapting this for anything you eat, at least for part of a meal perhaps. 

Managing Your Environment – Make it Easy to do the Good Stuff and Hard to do the Bad 

Our brains sometimes fall into traps that we set for it. If I have a biscuit jar on the kitchen counter, I might easily delve in when I am peckish. If that is banished altogether and replaced with fruit or healthy snacks, I will probably go for that instead. Yes, I know some of you will yell “Tried that!”, but if you increase the friction between you and the bad stuff, then you will start to get out of the habit. Even better not to have it on the premises at all! Have a word with the shopper in your household if tempting items keep appearing… 
You can also apply this to an exercise habit only in reverse. If you decide you will work out or run at 6.30am, you should put out your workout clothes by your bed the night before. If you are scrambling to find socks in the darkness of pre-dawn in the winter, you might just fall back into bed…make it easy to do the habit you want to do. 
Making it easy for yourself to eat well will also prevent lapses and excuses. When out on the road it is very difficult to make healthy choices when you need something quickly from a petrol station shop. P asties and bloaty bread don’t help waistlines, and pricy shop-bought fruit and nut mixes don’t help wallets. 
If you can be organised enough to have some cheaper and healthier snack items, such as pre-bought cashews or almonds (if you can eat nuts), in a small container in your car or bag, you can quell urgent hunger pangs until you can get back to your next planned meal. Moreover, it will give you confidence that you remain in control. 

Building your own plan 

These are just a few things you can do. Setting mini-goals properly, making sure you are rewarding yourself for your good work, and knowing how and what to track are also useful tools. 
If you would like to know more about how to build healthy habits or remove bad ones, then feel free to contact me. 
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