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Refocusing on a Healthier Lifestyle — Part Two: Training Our Brain

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In Part One of our series on Re-Focusing On A Healthier Lifestyle, we looked at the science that connects weight and brain function and highlighted research that shows a clear link between weight loss and improved brain function. Today we’ll look at what we can do to help “train” our brain to help us in our weight loss journey.

We’ve said it here before, and we’ll undoubtedly say it again: successful weight loss involves a change of lifestyle. That includes transforming the way we think about food. As children, many of us were either rewarded for being part of the “clean plate” club when we ate all of our meals, or punished for not finishing our vegetables. Associating food with reward or punishment is a major obstacle that is difficult for many people to overcome. Fortunately, you’re the adult now and you’re in charge! Instead of adhering to old patterns, take a moment to think not only about what you eat, but why you’re eating it. If it’s out of habit rather than hunger, try to step away and do something else.

You should enjoy what you eat and work towards healthier living — but it’s a process. Feeling guilty about eating a roll instead of an apple can ruin your whole day and demotivate your weight loss effort. Rather than beating yourself up, congratulate yourself on the things you did achieve (Walk for a mile? Make dinner instead of ordering take-out? Play a game with the kids instead of watching TV? It all counts!). Also, focus on positive, bigger-picture things like how your weight loss makes you feel rather than how your think you look or what the scales says. Studies confirm that when we concentrate on achievements it sets in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy and leads to more positive outcomes, and we can all use some more of those!

Another key to training our brain is to change our behavior and stick with the change. Routines that we’ve become used to are difficult to break, but that’s exactly what we need to do to integrate new behaviors. This requires a continued, conscious effort to implement change consistently so the brain can adopt it as the new routine. This also applies to how we speak to ourselves. If we constantly self-criticize or are embarrassed by our bodies, our mind starts believing it. Fortunately, the reverse is also true and positive self-talk rewires our subconscious. So speak compassionately to yourself, and do it often! Think about how empathetic you are when you speak to a child or another person who is struggling and give yourself the same thoughtful consideration.

You can also try different activities to keep busy. Meditating can be a new activity and a way to become more aware of your thoughts and beliefs. In another blog we talked about starting new hobbies as a way to keep occupied, which is another way to keep busy and refocus thoughts.

Overweight and obesity don’t happen overnight and changing the habits that led there will also take time. Expect it and plan for it. Fifty pounds is a high initial goal, but five pounds over the next week or two is much more reasonable and achievable. It also gives you time to start with small changes and recognize where you can build on strengths and where you might need some support. Then make another goal of five pounds and build from there. Remember, you’re in charge!

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