When it comes to weight gain, you might think that a poor diet and slacker gym habits are the main culprits to watch out for. But a new study published in International Journal of Obesity suggests that simply thinking you’re overweight may actually make you gain weight—which is something I see every day in my practice as a health and lifestyle coach.
The authors reviewed three previous studies of more than 14,000 people between the ages of 23 and 45. They found that those who thought they were overweight—regardless of whether or not it was true—were more likely to gain weight over time.
It might sound bizarre, but as someone who has helped thousands of women heal their relationships with food, this theory makes complete sense to me.
Many of my clients spend the first several years of their lives not worrying about their weight because they aren’t aware that it’s something to be concerned about. Instead, they eat what makes them feel good and instinctively choose the right amounts of food for their bodies. But then, someone tells them that they’re overweight, or they start comparing themselves to other women, or some other event occurs that leads them to believe they need to lose weight. Frequently, they’ll look in the mirror and start to see everything they think is wrong with them, which results in them spending their days feeling unworthy and stressed.
That’s when things start to go a little crazy: They start dieting, they feel stressed every time they eat because they’re worried about eating the “right” or “wrong” things, they work out to fight against their bodies instead of to enjoy themselves, and they start labeling some foods as “bad.”
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But when they become so obsessed with losing weight that they make their eating routine all about the rules of the diet they’re following at the moment, it becomes increasingly difficult for them listen to their intuitive ability to know what and how much to eat. They start to restrict themselves, fear food, and feel even worse about themselves. But a funny thing happens when you starve yourself all day and are stressed out all the time: You tend to eventually overeat.
That’s why, if you perceive yourself to be overweight—regardless of whether it’s true or not—you can see the number on the scale go up. In order to stop this vicious cycle, you’ve got to stop telling yourself that there’s something wrong with you and start seeing food and yourself differently.
Give yourself permission to love yourself as-is: Even if you are overweight (and many people who tell themselves that they need to lose a few pounds don’t, actually), that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. You can be just as happy as anyone else. Sometimes people think they need to be a certain weight to feel secure about themselves, but that’s not the truth. If my clients have a moment where they doubt that they can be confident in themselves as they are, I tell them to acknowledge the that that’s not the case and to try to see themselves with love.
If you’re actually holding on to some extra weight and have verified that with your doctor, use it as motivation to love yourself more by taking care of your body. Try to be extra compassionate toward yourself instead of turning against your body. For example, treat yourself like you would a friend by not beating yourself up for eating an indulgent food or missing a workout. You wouldn’t say, “You’re a failure because you ate a slice of pizza and watched TV last night instead of working out” to a friend. So don’t do it to yourself. As you start being less judgmental, you’ll naturally start working out and nurturing your body with healthy foods because it makes you feel good, not because you have to. Keep your thoughts toward your body positive by telling yourself that you are whole and complete exactly as you are.
Change the way you “diet:” If you think that jumping into a new eating plan will help you drop pounds and keep them off, you should know that it could warp your view of food and cause you to overeat. Rather than cutting out entire food groups and slashing your calorie intake drastically, ask yourself: “Am I overeating when I’m not hungry? If so, what’s causing this? Am I ‘hungry’ for something besides food, like excitement or the company of others? Which foods are actually nourishing my body and energizing me, and which aren’t?” Taking a deeper look at your relationship with food helps you connect with your body and become an intuitive eater again.
The most important thing here is going to be for you to stay away from following arbitrary diet rules and to figure out for yourself what you want to eat and how much. So that means if you want a double cheeseburger, go ahead and eat one. Afterward, really focus in on how your body feels. Though every body is different, you might find that it doesn’t make your belly as happy as other foods do. And you’re not going to gain a ton of weight from experimenting with your body and eating patterns this way—trust me. In fact, it will most likely keep you from overeating because you won’t feel constantly deprived.
Jamie Mendell is a holistic health coach who specializes in helping women lose weight without dieting. To find out more about her philosophy, check out her website.
Source: Women’s Health Mag