How to Overcome 5 Psychological Blocks to Weight Loss

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If you've tried every diet and exercise plan and can't lose weight, there may be a psychological block in your way. Weight loss is an uphill battle for anyone, but those dealing with emotional struggles may have more difficulty reaching their goal.

The first step to a healthy resolution is identifying the issue. You may find that there is more than one roadblock to address. The good news is, however, that these hurdles are surmountable. 

Common Psychological Blocks

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.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

If you find yourself walking a thin line between sticking to your food plan perfectly or falling off the wagon completely you may be experiencing a cognitive distortion called all-or-nothing thinking.

Psychologists use the term "cognitive distortion" to refer to persistent exaggerated thoughts that are not in line with what is actually going on in the real world. People who experience all-or-nothing thinking while trying to lose weight believe that they are either a complete success or a total failure based on their food choices.

Studies have shown that an all-or-nothing thinking style is closely linked to a perceived lack of control over eating and an inability to maintain a healthy weight. Some researchers have even likened this lack of control to Jekyll and Hyde-type behavior.

If you practice all-or-nothing thinking, you probably struggle to return to a healthy eating pattern after enjoying a small indulgence. Instead, you are likely to throw in the towel and overeat based on the assumption that your diet is a complete failure.

Negative Body Image

If you are trying to change your body size and shape, you may be less than satisfied with how it looks in its current state. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your health or your appearance. But if your body image is negative, it can hinder your progress and damage your self-esteem.

For some people, a negative body image is tied to self-worth. They may think that their worth is determined by body, shape, size, or the food that they eat.

This can get in the way of success when trying to develop healthy eating habits or reach and maintain a healthy weight. In addition, a negative body image is linked to unhealthy eating patterns and other problems.

Those experiencing distressing preoccupations about weight and shape may also experience embarrassment in public, avoidance of activity due to self-consciousness, and excessive feelings of fatness after eating. They may focus on low-calorie foods instead of nutrient-rich ones and label foods as "good" or "bad".

When to Seek Help

It's vital that if you experience persistent negative thoughts about your body, you seek the help of a qualified mental health specialist. Trying to control your body with diets and exercise can severely negatively impact your relationship with food and physical activity, both of which should contribute to overall wellbeing beyond a number on the scale.

It is not clear if a negative body image leads to unhealthy eating or if unhealthy eating leads to a negative body image. What is clear is that feeling an intense dissatisfaction with your body can stand in the way of reaching a healthy weight, and more importantly, damages your mental health and self-esteem.

Stress

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. While this occasional strategy is not uncommon in people of all body shapes and sizes, it can create problems if you are trying to lose weight or if eating is your only way to cope with stress.

Studies have found that overeating can become a chronic coping mechanism for managing life's stressors. The strategy may be more common among those who are already overweight.

And it's not just overeating that can be problematic. Your food choices are likely to change when you feel more anxious. Not only do you tend to eat more when stressed, but the foods consumed are foods that are normally avoided for weight loss or health reasons (foods that are typically higher in calories and added sugar).

Lastly, when stressed your body produces more cortisol which can lead to weight gain. Many people who are trying to lose weight, but are stressed may not see a change in their weight which is completely unrelated to their best efforts but rather related to our body's response to stress. Stress can be a big roadblock for people trying to lose weight or get healthier.

Depression

Researchers are not clear if depression causes weight gain or if depression prevents weight loss, but many scientists believe there is a link. And even among normal-weight people, depression can be problematic regarding weight.

In some people, depression can lead to a lack of appetite and weight loss. Research has suggested simply the perception of being overweight increases psychological distress and may lead to depression.

Depression-related symptoms like sleeplessness or fatigue can make weight loss more difficult. And some commonly prescribed antidepressants can cause you to gain weight as well. If you are experiencing depression, it's vital to speak to your doctor or a mental health practitioner. Addressing your mental health is much more urgent than weight loss.

Tips to Overcome Barriers

You may have found that one or several of the common psychological barriers to weight loss look familiar to you. It is not unusual to experience multiple hurdles on your journey to a healthy weight. But these roadblocks don't need to prevent your success.

Each of the tips and suggestions below can address multiple barriers. These suggestions are also healthy strategies for lifelong wellness that carry no side effects and are almost all completely free. Consider giving one or more of these solutions a try.

Keep a Journal

Avoiding stress is not always possible. But you can identify stress triggers and try to avoid certain situations or people that undermine your success. Keeping a journal may be helpful in the process. In fact, research has indicated that keeping a journal can double your weight loss results.

There are different ways to use a journal. For instance, you can log your food intake with a journal. But you can also use it to write out your thoughts and identify stress triggers. Use the journal to keep track of any situations or foods that may feel triggering to you.

Make Small Changes

If all-or-nothing thinking prevents you from sticking to your food plan, consider taking small steps and setting short-term goals. First, identify one specific healthy change that is reasonable and attainable. Remind yourself that perfection is not the goal, but, rather, any attempt to nudge yourself in the right direction is progress that you should be proud of.

Perhaps you can choose to walk for 15 minutes after dinner each day. Set a goal to focus on that target for a week. If you keep a journal, jot down notes each day about different ways you have succeeded in keeping that goal front of mind. And give yourself credit. Remember that taking a small step is better than taking no action.

Taking small steps can also help you avoid making too many changes at once. It can be easy to get overwhelmed if you do too much at once and then lose motivation. On the other hand, if you can make a small change with success, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, which motivates you to keep going.

Listen to Self-Talk

Do you pay attention to the messages you send to yourself throughout the day? These pervasive thoughts may be building a roadblock to your wellbeing.

Those prone to a negative body image may find themselves repeating negative messages about their body throughout the day. Phrases like "I'm so fat" or "I'm so out of shape" said out loud or in your head can undermine your ability to take a healthy step when the opportunity presents itself.

Self-talk is another way that all-or-nothing thinking can come into play. For instance, you might find that you beat yourself up for reaching unreasonably high standards or goals you set for yourself.

Take a week or two to listen to your inner dialogue. Identify one or two messages that may be encouraging a negative self-image and write them down. You can then challenge them or replace these messages with a powerful mantra. Phrases such as "my body is strong," "I am enough," or "I have come a long way" are mantras that are commonly used to boost confidence.

Learn Relaxation Techniques

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 relaxation technique, guided imagery, can help with weight loss. You can work with a therapist to learn guided imagery, but it's possible to practice it 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.

Prioritize Sleep

Researchers have repeatedly found a link between sleep habits, weight gain, and unhealthy eating behaviors. So, one of the most straightforward and relaxing steps to overcome psychological barriers is to improve your bedtime habits.

Try to go to bed at the same time each night, rise at the same time each morning, and make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. Remove electronics (television, computer, cell phone charger) and do as much as you can to reduce noise.

Get light-blocking drapes or buy an inexpensive sleep mask so that you experience total darkness at night. Some people also lower the thermostat to promote restful sleep.

Seek Help

Many experts are specially trained to deal with depression, past trauma, and other issues that may be standing in the way of weight loss success. You can find a​ behavioral health specialist skilled at treating the underlying emotional causes of overeating and weight gain.

Your healthcare provider may be able to provide a referral. If not, there are other ways to find a therapist. The American Psychological Association offers resources to help consumers get the help they need, including a locator service to find practitioners in your area.

If your circumstances prevent 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.

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. It is also possible that your body is already at a healthy weight and weight loss is unnecessary. So you may want to evaluate why you feel weight loss is necessary.

If you feel that weight loss is warranted, 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

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Malia Frey
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.