Brain food Jedi-level mind tricks for losing weight


I’M AN ALL-OR-NOTHING kind of girl. When I set my mind on losing weight as my 2014 New Year’s resolution, I didn’t stop—or cheat—until I reached my goal. I credit part of that success to Nick Fry, behavioral specialist at Medifast, the Owings Mills-based company whose low-carb eating plan helped me drop the equivalent of an entire chunky toddler in body weight in less than a year. Sure, exercising helped, too. So did being single, so I could control every food-related situation in my life.

But when I look back at why it really worked this time—after years of false starts and following every diet craze on the planet—I realized it was my brain that did most of the heavy lifting. Here are some of the mind tricks Nick taught me, along with a few more from other local experts.

SHAKE IT OFF. I’m a rare breed of human who prefers an “AA-style” of weight loss where I go cold turkey: no alcohol, no bread, no butter, no sugar, no kidding. I like the control and predictability. But it’s not for everyone.

“For some people, an all-or-nothing mindset can lead to problematic thinking like, ‘I cheated this morning, so I might as well binge for the rest of the day’ or ‘It’s the holidays, so I should be able to eat whatever I want,’” says Nick, a former addictions counselor. “It’s important to practice getting over setbacks—not letting yourself off easy, but learning to how to forgive yourself (or your genes) and get right back in the game.”

BE A BIT MASOCHISTIC. While I never went off-plan (say, eating a big, flaky croissant), I still struggled with willpower, especially late at night after a stressful day. I remember sitting on my couch, staring down a bowl of soy-protein cereal (with a Medifast bar crumbled on top!) thinking, “This adorable, one-bedroom apartment isn’t big enough for the both of us.”

Since I was eating a low-calorie diet, some- times I was truly hungry (or dehydrated), but often I just craved comfort.

“It’s called distress intolerance,” Nick says. “That’s a psychobabble term for saying, ‘Sticking to a weight-loss plan is hard. Are you willing suffer anxiety now to achieve something better down the road?””

So Nick taught me to “ride the wave”—recognizing my brain’s creative reasons for why I needed, deserved or didn’t care about the ramifications of eating one damn extra bowl of cereal. But rather than buying into those thoughts, I took a deep breath and tried to picture myself on the beach, letting the cravings roll out to sea.

I’m hip to the fact that Nick was probably tricking me into meditation. He’s big on self-awareness to avoid mindless eating. Also, he says, just say “no” to self-judging thoughts, like “Why bother? I’ll never be as fit as [insert any 24-year-old in a cheeky bikini at the Merritt Canton pool].”

“It’s biology,” he adds. “If you stop paying attention [to cravings or negative thoughts], they go away. That’s how the brain works.” TOUGH-LOVE YOURSELF: Richele Henry, an integrative health coach who brands herself as The Sugar Mama (“the refined stuff lights up the same place in the brain as street drugs like crack,” she says) suggested I go even deeper.

“Sometimes you have to dive into the discomfort,” says Richele, who encouraged me to look for patterns, like what happened right before I went to the kitchen to eat a spoonful of peanut butter (which she calls a “beckoning food” for me).

“Instead of just waiting for a craving to float away, challenge it,” she said. “Gently ask, ‘What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself right now? Is this choice in alignment with how I want to feel? What am I really craving?’” With these tools, I repeatedly made the right decisions—and I starting doing yoga and other “juicy self-care” (as Richele calls it) to reduce stress and satisfy my starving soul.

FIND YOUR “WHY?” Motivation is essential to weight-loss, but it’s often more complex than just wanting to look good in a tankini. Cathy Carr-Dadin, an RN who started the bariatric surgery support group at St. Agnes Hospital, is also one of its success stories. “I cried for a month after my surgery,” says Cathy, who woke up feeling ashamed for needing help to lose the 188 pounds she eventually lost.

“A lot of our patients feel this is a journey they’re never going to finish. It’s like climbing Mt. Everest,” she says, adding that her mother gave her a tin of candy for Christmas after her surgery. “Sometimes family or friends won’t understand how to support you—or may even resent you—for getting healthy. But you’ll find your people who do.”

Cathy also encourages her patients to celebrate “non-scale victories,” which one young woman decided to write in colorful Sharpie ink right on her home scale. Here are some of things she listed:
Crossing my legs. Walking up a flight of stairs. Riding a horse again. Fitting in a carnival ride. Wearing a size small shirt. Energy. Happiness. Motherhood. Love.

And at the top—with arrows pointing to the screen that displayed her weight—she wrote: “Not 310 pounds!” and “You’re more than a number.”

You know what I love most about that? Sharpies are permanent markers. Even though I still fluctuate a few pounds, I know I’ll never need a do-over of this journey. Because I did it for me. Not to win back a lover or find a new one (which I did). Not to buy all the clothes at Anthropologie (which I do). I finally just loved myself enough to want to feel good every, single day in my own skin.
My big non-scale victory? Realizing I had stopped thinking about my body every three waking minutes.

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  1. Thank you for sharing. I’m on my weight loss journey now and I can use these tips. It’s nice to hear from someone who has lived it, not just read about it.


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