Limiting Beliefs that are stopping you from losing weight - by Sasha High MDOct 07, 2020
Limiting beliefs - what are they? Limiting beliefs are assumptions or thoughts that you have, that you believe to be true, and are holding you back. Everyone has limiting beliefs, they’re often patterns of thinking that we picked up in childhood or something we were told and we have just thought these thoughts so many times that we believe them to be true without questioning them. The thing is, these thoughts can actually hold us back from living out our full potential and they can absolutely prevent us from successful health behaviours.
With regard to weight loss, let me share with you some limiting beliefs that come up often:
‘This should be easy’. This belief manifests with thoughts like: “I don’t want to have to track my food”, “I don’t want to write down what I’m eating”, “I don’t want to have to put a lot of time into planning my meals”, “I don’t feel like exercising”, “I don’t have time for this”. Let me be up front about this - nothing about healthy behaviours is easy. It is hard. Let me explain why, our primitive brain’s job in guiding our actions is to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and live for the moment. I like to use the analogy that your primitive brain is like a two year old toddler throwing a temper tantrum and having the gimmies: “I want to watch that TV show, I don’t want to go for a walk! I want that cupcake, right now!” If your brain sounds like that, it is totally normal. Your brain is working. The challenge is that health behaviours require us to avoid pleasure, do things that take effort or are uncomfortable in the moment, and live for the future. So healthy behaviour goes against how our primitive brain is wired. In a sense, that’s our autopilot self, but we need to turn off autopilot and move into manual mode in order to be really deliberate about our actions.
‘This is too hard’. So I just told you that living a healthy lifestyle is hard and requires ignoring our primitive brain. But I also want to challenge the belief that “this is too hard”. Yes it’s hard, but you can do hard things. What if when your brain told you “it’s too hard” you had an automatic reply that said - “yea, but I can do hard things.” And what about if you could change your thinking so that you actually enjoyed doing hard things? How much more powerful would you feel? And how much more likely would you be to stick to your goals? Think about it - You’ve done lots of things in your life - gone to school, gotten a job, maybe you’re a parent, maybe you’re not a parent, maybe you’re married, maybe you’re single… it’s all hard, but you can do hard things. “I can do hard things” That’s part of my daily declaration - you are welcome to take that and make it part of yours too.
‘I want this to feel natural’ also phrased as ‘I want this to become my lifestyle’. In other words, when will I have to stop thinking about it so much? I want to encourage you that healthy behaviours can definitely become more familiar, but it is always going to take intention and deliberate action - because remember, it goes against everything your primitive brain is inclined to do!
‘I don’t want to feel deprived’. This is a kicker. I agree that feeling deprived is not a good way to approach your weight management plan. But let me tell you what is often hidden beneath this thought: hidden beneath is “I don’t want to have to feel at all uncomfortable. I want to be able to enjoy whatever I want and still lose weight.” True, right? Let me offer you this - there is a big difference between what I call Accepting Discomfort and Restriction/Deprivation. You will only feel deprived, if your thoughts are telling you, you’re deprived. So if you have constant mind chatter about how “I can’t have donut, oh my gosh, it’s sooo good though. I love those donuts with the cream, and the chocolate swirl on top, but I can’t, the doctor said I can’t…. But everyone else is eating it, ugh, this stinks. This diet sucks, when can I go back to eating what I want? Maybe I’ll just start my diet tomorrow.” If that’s going on in your head, of course you’re going to feel deprived! There’s so much drama going on in your head and trying to not give in when your brain is telling you this elaborate story about how good the donut is, and how you’re being so restrictive and deprived, will take an exhausting amount of willpower and mental energy, and quite likely you’ll cave.
So what if you changed the story? What if you were no longer focused on the things you “can’t have” and instead focused on “How can I care for myself today?” “How can I take little steps to optimize the life that I’m building?” or “I could eat that donut but it really doesn’t serve my future self and I know I’m going to feel a hundred times better tomorrow if I choose not to right now.” If that was the story, then perhaps it would be okay to tolerate some short term discomfort (not eating the donut) because you know that it is worth it.
There’s a big difference between accepting that you’re going to have to do some things that don’t feel great in the moment but pay off in the long run (this acceptance brings a lot of peace to the process), versus hating the process and going through it kicking and screaming with all these feelings of deprivation. Start noticing the stories that your brain is telling you - you can choose to change the story.
Here is a great article that provides a really simple framework to overcome limiting beliefs: “Trapped by your Mind? Learn This Five Step Process for Releasing Limiting Beliefs”. You can check it out here: inlpcenter.org/five-step-process-for-releasing-limiting-beliefs/