I keep sabotaging my weight loss. Can you help? - Globe and Mail

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The question

I feel like I'm self-sabotaging my weight loss. I know what it takes to lose the weight. At 34, I'm not obese - but I'm chunky, and I've been skinny a number of times - but always put it back on. I can tell myself I'll only have salad before I go out for dinner with friends, but inevitably end up eating junk and drinking beer. Why do I do this? Can you recommend mental strategies so I can get skinny and stay that way?

The answer

An immediate observation: you say you are "chunky" and that you have been "skinny" on a number of occasions in the past, but have unable to maintain that weight.

Rather than thinking in terms of any extremes, the first mental shift you need to make is to establish a realistic and healthy weight goal – both for the short-term and long-term.

If you are aiming for a goal that is unhealthy or unrealistic, you are setting yourself up for failure. And unfortunately, this can contribute to a yo-yo effect in terms of both dieting behaviours and weight fluctuations, as you have described.

You can easily find body mass index (BMI) calculators online which can provide you a reasonable approximation of what a healthy weight range should be for your height and sex. Speaking to a physician, dietitian or nutritionist can also help provide you with some guidance.

Once you have revised your target goal, remind yourself that slow and steady definitely wins the race. Guidelines suggest that it is unhealthy to lose any more than 1 to 2 pounds per week – so keep this and your current weight in mind when establishing a weight loss goal.

The principles of weight loss are not complicated, and as you have said you know what it takes to lose weight. Weight loss requires increasing activity, and decreasing caloric intake (through a combination of reducing the amount of food eaten and making healthier food choices).

Be mindful of the types of limits and expectations you put on yourself - often, these are the biggest psychological barriers to not being able to stick to weight loss strategies:

Black or white thinking when it comes to weight or diet changes is never effective – which is part of the reason diets fail more often than not.

Try to not make "all-or-nothing" statements such as "I will only eat a salad when I go out for dinner" or "I will never eat junk food".

Instead, make realistic goals you can stick to, such as "I won't eat junk food after such-and-such a time at night" or "I will limit alcohol intake when out with friends to a maximum of two drinks".

These goals are much more realistic, and you are more likely to be successful in sticking to them as you are not depriving yourself. Remember, you can always revise and refine your goals if you aren't reaching your target weight loss.

Finally remind yourself that weight changes take time.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

30 Sep, 2011

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