It’s a new year, and if you’re like many people, one of your New Year’s resolutions may be to lose weight and improve your health.
The numbers on the scale can give you some important information about your progress, but if you’re not careful, these numbers can also lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions.
Let’s look at some of the ways you can keep yourself emotionally safe while you work toward your weight loss and other health goals.
Identify the specific reason(s) why you want to lose weight
There are many reasons why people want to lose weight. For example, some people want to lose weight to improve their general health, to feel better, or to get a better handle on their diabetes management. For others, it’s to look better or because someone else is pressuring them to lose weight.
If you are thinking about losing weight, identifying the specific reasons why you want to lose weight can help set you up for long-term success in a couple of ways. First, a specific reason can keep you motivated if things get tough on your weight loss journey. Second, identifying the specific reason that you want to lose weight can be a good reality check on if your motivations are healthy, or if you are looking to lose weight for the wrong reasons.
Set realistic goals
Once you’re comfortable with the reasons why you want to lose weight, it’s time to set some realistic goals. Setting unrealistic goals can set you up for failure and disappointment. If you’re not able to achieve the goals you set, it’s easy to get frustrated and give up.
Weight loss requires time and patience and setting unrealistic weight loss goals, especially if you want to lose too much weight too fast, can be a sign that you’re trying to lose weight in a way that’s not emotionally safe. If you find yourself setting unrealistic weight loss goals, try resetting them to be more realistic. If you’re having a hard time doing this, it might be helpful to take another look at your motivations for losing weight and how willing you are to be patient in achieving your goals.
Look for ‘red flags’
As you’re losing weight, check-in with yourself to see how you’re doing emotionally. Be on the lookout for thoughts and feelings that bring an unhealthy perspective into the weight-loss process. These ‘red flags’ may look different for each person, but the common theme you’ll notice is that they take away some aspect of your life that is important to you like peace of mind, nutrition, and health, or relationships. Here are a few examples of weight loss ‘red flags’:
- Obsessive thoughts: Do you find yourself thinking about losing weight all the time in a way that makes it difficult to pay attention to other aspects of your life? Are you constantly thinking that you are not doing enough to lose weight or worried that you won’t be successful in losing weight? If so, this may be a ‘red flag’ you want to pay attention to.
- Constant feelings of deprivation: Changing eating habits to lose weight isn’t easy, but you don’t want to feel like you have to give up your enjoyment of food to lose weight. If you feel like you’re deprived – either you are hungry all the time, or you’re not able to eat food that tastes good and satisfies you, it’s going to be really hard to stick with this over a long period of time. If you feel like you have to constantly deprive yourself in order to lose weight, this may be a ‘red flag.’
- Loss of social connection: Food is something that brings us together socially. If you find that you’re becoming less social because of your weight loss plan – for example, you’re turning down invitations to hang out with friends because these gatherings involve food – this may be a ‘red flag.’ Social support is an important part of our lives, and if losing weight is causing you to feel less connected socially, that is something to pay attention to.
If you realize that you’re trying to lose weight in a way that’s not emotionally safe, there are a couple things that you can try.
To start, find someone who you trust to support you, bounce ideas off, and give you honest feedback. It can be easy to ignore warning signs, so having someone to hold you accountable and steer you back on track can be helpful.
Also, as you have probably experienced, the number on the scale can easily take on a lot more meaning about you than how much you weight. If you find that your weight has become a proxy for your worth as a person, ask the people in your life for some feedback. For example, ask them what they like about you and to talk about the things you are good at. This can help remind you, in a concrete way, that your value lies in who you are as a person, and not how much you weigh.
Losing weight can be behaviorally, socially, and emotionally challenging in a variety of ways. Taking steps to approach your weight loss in an emotionally safe way can make your journey a bit easier, and set you up for success along the way.