Overcome Mental Barriers to Lose Weight

Understand the Psychology of Weight Loss to Slim Down

overcome emotional stress for weight loss
Peter Glass/First Light/ Getty Images

Having trouble losing weight? If you've tried every diet and exercise plan and can't slim down, you may have mental barriers to weight loss. These mental barriers can be tough to overcome, but with some work, these hurdles are surmountable. 

The Psychology of Weight Loss

A mental barrier to weight loss is simply a psychological roadblock. It is like a brick wall that separates you from your weight loss goal. So how do you get past the wall? The first step is to understand that mental barriers to change are normal.

Most of us have good intentions when it comes to eating right and exercising more often. And most of us know the basics of what to eat and what to avoid. But even with the best of intentions, we often end up derailing our progress when we feel tired, or stressed, or bored, or frustrated. And let's face it...these emotions pop up often.

We are all creatures of habit. We find comfort in routine. So if your routine includes food and activity patterns that have lead to weight gain (or the maintenance of a heavier weight), it is normal that you seek out those comfortable habits when times get tough. These habits relieve discomfort—at least in the short term.

What's worse, is that if you are smart you'll have strong rationalization skills to support the continuation of the unhealthy habits. After all, why would you discontinue a practice that provides relief and comfort? In the case of food habits, it is particularly difficult to change our habits. Our bodies are designed to eat. And we feel better when we do.

But all is not lost if you want to change your habits for weight loss. The psychology of weight loss works against you in some ways, but it can work for you in others. In order to get past your roadblock, you'll first need to figure out specifically, what that roadblock is.

3 Common Emotional Barriers to Weight Loss


There is a good reason that comfort food got its name. For most people, eating feels good. And in times of stress, some people use food as the best way to calm their emotions. Studies have found that overeating can become a chronic coping mechanism for managing life's stressors. 

So how do you conquer stress wall to lose weight?  Avoiding stress is not always possible. But you can identify stress triggers and do your best to avoid certain situations or people that undermine your success. Keeping a food journal may be helpful in the process. Do you overeat or eat unhealthy foods when you are in certain environments or around certain people? If so, take steps to limit those circumstances.

If you can't avoid the people or places that cause stress, relaxation techniques can be a healthy alternative for managing emotions during stressful times. Scientists have found that a specific type of relaxation technique, called guided imagery, can help with weight loss. You can work with a therapist to learn guided imagery, but it's possible to learn guided imagery on your own. It takes some time to master, but guided imagery may be the most effective technique for weight loss if your emotions are causing you to eat during stressful times.


Researchers are not clear if depression causes weight gain or if depression prevents weight loss. but many scientists believe that there is a link. Depression-related symptoms like sleeplessness or inactivity can make weight loss more difficult. And some commonly prescribed antidepressants can cause you to gain weight as well.

So how do you know if depression is preventing you from reaching your weight loss goal? The first step is to get screened for depression. Talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a mental health professional. He or she will be able to investigate further and determine whether you have depression and give you helpful advice for moving forward.

If you circumstances prevent you from seeing a behavioral health specialist, consider using one of the newly developed apps or tech tools that provide mental health counseling via text, Skype, or Facetime. These therapy services often offer relief for much less money than face-to-face counseling.

Personal or Childhood Trauma

Some researchers have found that people who were exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse or peer bullying are at higher risk for obesity.

Some scientists believe that weight gain can be used as an emotionally protective "solution" for survivors of abuse. 

If you have experienced emotional trauma, it could be affecting your eating habits and your weight. Your past experiences might prevent you from losing weight in the present day. To reach your goal, you may want to work through the issues with a qualified professional.

There are many experts who are specially trained to deal with past trauma. You can find a​ behavioral health specialist who is skilled at treating the underlying emotional causes of overeating and weight gain. Your primary-care provider may be able to provide a referral. If not, there are other ways to find a therapist. The American Psychological Association provides resources to help consumers get the help they need, including a locator service to find practitioners in your area.

A Word From Verywell

If you are struggling unsuccessfully to lose weight, Any one of these mental barriers to weight loss may be to blame. So use the psychology of weight loss for you, rather than against you. Think about why your roadblock or "wall" is in place and then take steps to get the help you need to reach and maintain a healthy weight. 

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources