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The Relationship Between Thinking about Weight and Losing Weight

Here’s your pop quiz for today: 1) Is there a correlation between how frequently you think about losing weight and the shedding of pounds? 2) Is there a correlation between how desperately you want to lose weight and losing it? 3) Does focusing, or worse, obsessing about losing weight actually help you lose it?

I confess, I don’t know if there’s been research done on these questions, so you’re stuck with my take on this subject based on 30-plus years of experience working with people who are unhappy with their eating and their weight. To a person, I would say that one of the major impediments to “normal” eating, getting (and staying) healthy and fit, and becoming mentally healthy is over-focusing on weight. Losing weight is the end of a process, but if you’re not focusing on the process itself, you will never reach that end.

Think about weight loss as a passive activity. Thinking about it is not creating change. There’s no behavior involved, no attitudinal shift, no challenge, and none of the discomfort that’s involved in altering eating habits, which is all about taking action. In fact, thinking about losing weight is too often a replacement for the more concrete and demanding practice of actually responding differently to food. Let’s face it, it’s so much easier to ruminate about weighing less than to do what is necessary for this to happen.

Desperation is never a pleasant state and is far from conducive to effective problem solving. Think of how you act when you feel desperate: You become blind to everything but your desired goal which means you often screen out things you would be better off taking into account. What you erroneously believe is that wanting something a great deal will help you get it. I think you’ll agree that desperation is not your best mode for taking action and making progress. Movement towards a goal takes place mostly out in the world, not in your head. Desperation feels crucial to success, but it ironically works only to impede it.

In my experience, disregulated eaters who obsess about weight don’t end up losing and keeping it off. They wind up miserable and making themselves (and others) crazy by defining their lives by this singular goal. They put so much pressure on themselves to slim down that they’re tense and stressed out and too often turn to food to de-stress. Now, how much sense does that make? The best way—the only way—to lose weight is to get out of your head and into your body, eat “normally,” manage your emotions effectively, engage in more activity, and take excellent care of your precious self.