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Weight loss psychology

hypnosisThis is an article for those who would like to lose weight. You may have trouble sticking to a diet, or jojo back afterwards. Since I'm a nutritionist, you may expect some dietary advice. Not this time - something else is much more important: Willpower. I don't have any exercise regimen on offer either, because exercise is not the easiest path to weight loss and can even lead to failure because willpower is a finite resource and it should initially be focused on the main goal - calorie restriction. Later you can focus on exercise to remain slim, while eating normally.

No, my "weight loss system" has nothing to do with a specific diet and nothing to do with exercise. Because to successfully reach your goal of losing weight and not gain it back, you need permanent motivation. Dietary details and physical programs are secondary to willpower. With sufficient willpower, you can achieve anything humanly possible. The solution to weight loss is not the perfect diet or ideal exercise schedule, but willpower. I know that much of the below advice is controversial, but I stand by it and will offer arguments at the end of this article.

1. Set the goal to lose all excess weight, plan to become slim. Do not set a specific weight, your goal is rather to become "totally slim and good looking". The goal of becoming really lean in one single stretch of calorie restriction is essential for lasting success.

2. Contemplate the disadvantages of your fatness.

3. Visualize the benefits of your future slimness.

4. Prepare yourself for the hardships involved in calorie restriction.

5. Don't talk too much (or not at all) about your resolve.

6. Stock up on highly-nutritious foods and realize that they will be able to keep you healthy while being low in calories.

7. If possible, force yourself into a situation where you are low on food, such as a week-long trek with rations in a backpack, or locking yourself up in a winter cabin low on supplies for a month.

8. Right after waking up, while still lying in bed look critically at your body and force yourself to notice fat deposits. Evoke revulsion at the flabs and bulges. Say out loud that you're repulsively fat.

9. After getting up, re-hydrating yourself and possibly relieving yourself, step on the scale and write down your weight. Measure your fat with a caliper and write down the layer thickness. Then calculate your lean weight and body fat percentage.

10. Now you should have a different look at your body in the mirror: Notice improvement with a week ago and compliment yourself with your efforts. Visualize how you will look when all excess fat will be gone and vow you'll stay the course until that goal has been reached. Realize that you have been strong, and that you can keep on being strong.

11. Practice walking away from the fridge. Walk to it when you still can resist the hunger, open it, look at the food there and close it again and walk away with the resolve to ignore the hunger.

12. Wait as long as you can stand with your first meal. Try to wait at least two, three hours after getting up.

13. If regular exercise is not part of your usual routine, do not engage in any kind of extra exercise than you usually do. If that means no exercise whatsoever, so be it. Willpower is a finite resource and it should be focused on the main goal and not spread out over multiple goals. Besides, you will be hungry after exercise and it will be nearly impossible to avoid eating more calories than you burnt.

14. When you feel hungry, remind yourself that the stronger the hunger, the better it is because hunger is the feeling of fat burning away. Only strong hunger should become the signal to eat a small meal. Portion and eat it with discipline.

15. Distract your attention from hunger by making unsweetened tea, for example. Any food that contributes nearly no calories can be used for this purpose, but make sure this will not persuade you to eat "real" food prematurely.

16. Wait as long as you can stand with the next meal, and the next, etc.

17. You are only allowed four or five small meals a day, so take the last one in such a way that hunger does not prevent you from sleeping.

18. Do not avoid fatty food, instead avoid making carbohydrates the bulk of your caloric intake.

19. Try to be as busy as possible with many different jobs. The more you have on your mind, the least the hunger will bother you.

20. Visualize what you will do when you'll get hungry. Our Neocortex allows us to plan future actions. You can "program" yourself to do something else than eating when hungry. You can also try self-hypnosis before falling asleep at night.

21. Never think too much about your hunger. Don't dwell on it. Don't discuss it. Restrict your calories and focus on other things.

22. When you have "sinned", do not let it demoralize you but rather let it be a warning to strengthen your self discipline. Try to think about something else than food :-)


[1] When you start your journey of losing weight, it is essential that you keep rapidly going until you are slim. No other outcome is acceptable. Your goal is to restrict your caloric intake until all visible fat is gone. Use a caliper to measure and calculate your body fat percentage and don't stop until you are slim! There is not even a need to exercise heavily, or exercise at all. It is hard not to over-eat after exercise. Many people simply do not want to make the time to do it. You can lose a lot of weight by simply eating much less. Of course you can't afford, nutritionally speaking, to eat junk food when you eat little. It all has to be high-quality protein and fats. Very little of your caloric intake should consist of carbohydrates for several reasons.

All food is metabolized into simpler chemicals and when excessive carbohydrate intake raises the insulin level and this gets above a critical threshold, fat is deposited. Under influence of this hormone, those chemicals get assembled into lipids. Doctors and fellow nutritionists tell us that because fat contains more energy per gram than carbohydrates, fat makes you fatter than carbs. Sounds reasonable, no? No. Fat contains more calories than carbohydrates and protein only when you burn it in a calorimeter, not when you eat it. People are more complex than calorimeters. There are lots of myths told about fat vs. carbs, such as that the body has to do "effort" to turn carbs into fat, etc. Human evolution moved at a snail's pace the past 100 000 years and our metabolism hasn't adapted to the agricultural age, which started between 12000 and 4000 years ago. Implying that a normal human diet consists mainly of fish and game, supplemented with berries, nuts, honey, grubs and roots. Most of the year this means mainly fat and protein. People are biologically-proven omnivores and archeologists say we have been hunters and fishermen through the ages.

caliperOver millions of years, the body has evolved into an efficient system. When we splurge on fat and protein, we do not gain weight because as long as game is plentiful, we need to be lean to hunt it successfully. A surplus can be turned to pemmican so we do not need to store it as debilitating body fat. In autumn, when berries are abundant, we do not need to waste energy hunting, as we live of pemmican and collect the abundant, vitamin-rich berries. The body stores the excess "autumn carbs" as winter fat, when any kind of food is hard to come by. A perfect system, unless you mess it up by inventing agriculture - constantly fooling it into thinking it's autumn by over-eating rice, potatoes, bread and pasta.

Back to my main point: If you stop your calorie restriction program half-way, you could gain it all back because after all that effort, you will still be fat! It would be a disaster to go from fat to slim and then back to fat again, but going from fat to a bit less fat and then back to fat again doesn't seem such a disaster. The Russians won from Hitler because they sacrificed millions of their own to save their Motherland. It was their land. When you "conquer" your goal of being totally slim, you are in the position of the Russians in WW2. Losing the Fatherland is no option. In fact your position would be comparable to a people who once had a fatherland, then lost it due to conquest, then regained it through battle. They would rather die than to give it up ever again. You see why it is so important to set your goal as high as it can possibly be? Because you're setting yourself up for failure when you put the bar half-way. It's much easier to give up the struggle after losing a lot of weight when you're still too fat to show yourself in a bikini. Because when you give up at that stage, you are not giving up slimness, merely a lesser fatness.

[2, 8] Overweight people are being told to accept their condition, to "feel beautiful". As if that will solve anything except perhaps delaying the onset of depression. In my opinion the opposite is necessary: In order to constantly summon the willpower to drastically alter your lifestyle or at least rigorously restrict your intake of calories, you HAVE to be constantly aware of your obesity in all its gory details. The first challenge we face is the willpower to start losing weight. Remembering past failures and realizing the sacrifices involved, we tend to not even use the scale anymore and simply ignore the fact that we are fat. Why torment yourself, right? After all why dwell on the flab? Well, that's exactly what you should do if you want to get rid of it. When you are still in bed in the morning, look down on that belly and grab that flab. Visualize the lard! The first step in solving an issue - any issue - is confronting it. If you are not painfully aware that you are fat, you can never stay the course. I have no illusions that my suggestion will work miracles though. Basic instincts are usually stronger than willpower. The older you get, the fewer calories you need. But your body tries to gain weight because it instinctively knows that when you're old, you can't hunt anymore or you can't raise the offspring of hunters anymore, so you need to fatten up for the years you have left in the tribe.

[7] An important trick in the arsenal: Forced power of habit. The power of habit is strong, and you only need about three weeks to form a habit - including eating much less than you burn in a day. Hunger is not just caused by a dip in blood sugar - its main cause is an empty stomach. If you eat less than you are used to, your stomach literally shrinks and you will be satisfied sooner and hungry later. After at most one months, you have gotten used to the hunger feeling and associate it with "burning the fat" - a good thing. Hunger is good: The goal is hunger. Unfortunately, our willpower is too weak and we are not able to restrict our intake of calories for three weeks. If we would be forced to eat very little (but healthily) during that period, the remainder of our journey towards our ideal weight would be much easier, due to the power of habit. I know a man who found a clever solution to this problem. It was tough, it cost money but it was very effective. He took a month off in winter and moved into a rental apartment, literally in the middle of nowhere, in another country. It was four miles to the nearest village with a shop. He did not have a car at his disposal and there was no public transport available. He used the time to work on his laptop, and every couple of days he walked to the shop, bringing only the food he could carry in a plastic bag. As it was cold, windy and a long walk, these factors helped him in his resolve of eating very little. After a month he took a flight home, having lost only ten pounds but having gotten used to eating little and ignoring the hunger - made easier by the "shrunk" stomach. He had invested so much effort into forcing a behavior change that it helped him stay the course.

[5, 21] Do not talk too much about your weight loss plan. People will make unintended unsupportive remarks and when you fail, you'll fail publicly, inflicting a double-whammy on your self-confidence.

[9] Do weigh yourself every day at the same time, under the same circumstances. Progress will boost your confidence, and a stall will increase your resolve. Use a caliper to measure body fat percentage and lean body mass, because your goal is to decrease your weight by decreasing losing fat, not muscle. It is nearly impossible to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, except when using anabolic steroids.

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