Ask Keri: Are there mental blocks that could be preventing me from losing weight?
Keri Says: If weight loss were purely physical, each of us could follow a simple eating, exercise, and lifestyle plan starting tomorrow and be at our perfect weight in no time at all.
We know how the body works in terms of processing food, nutrient needs, and burning calories. But we also know that we are messy, complicated humans with complex emotions, histories, and relationships (to ourselves and others).
Over many, many years of seeing clients, I learned that unpacking psychological barriers to weight loss was often a first step that needed to happen before an individual could seriously commit to a get-healthy plan.
If you’re trying to get to your healthiest weight and feel like there are some mental blocks getting in the way, I’m sharing a few of the most common barriers I encountered with clients, here.
Like most things I talk about when it comes to health and wellness, they are all interrelated. So, you might recognize yourself in a few or think one element applies to you while another doesn’t. That’s okay—the idea is to get educated on the challenges many of us face so that you can work on identifying your own, personal mental barriers and work through them to get to your most Nutritious Life.
3 Common Psychological Barriers to Weight Loss
1. The process of weight loss has become ingrained in your life
Many clients I saw used weight loss as a means to have something concrete to focus on in their lives. Maybe other things in their life were super easy or too hard to face, so they devoted themselves to the process of weight loss as an ongoing task. Sometimes, this was to the point where they were so overfocused on it, they stressed themselves out, and stress is a major barrier to weight loss. Instead of finding healthy eating habits that fit into your lifestyle and are sustainable long-term, this can lead to obsessing over every little thing and getting sucked into a process of yo-yo dieting.
It also happens that if subconsciously you don’t want the process to end, you may self-sabotage. You may think, deep down inside: If this ends and I’ve lost the weight, what will I have to focus my energy on?
2. Your weight is tied to your identity
Similarly, your weight may be tied to your identity in ways that are hard to shake. Maybe it’s always been your thing to joke about eating whatever you want and not caring about weight gain and being seen as the “girl who only eats kale salads” really freaks you out. Maybe your personality is self-deprecating and working on a self-improvement goal feels silly and not like you. You may, subconsciously, fear how your identity will shift after you lose weight—or even during the process—and how others will see you.
3. You’ve been using weight as a way to avoid other issues
With most clients, the desire to lose weight is not about just “being skinnier.” It’s tied up with other things you’re trying to change in your life. Maybe you’re trying to get healthy because of a history of heart disease in your family. Maybe you’ve been single for a long time and want to feel good in your skin so you can get out there and feel confident while dating. Maybe you’ve been depressed and are trying to change things about your life to work on your mental health.
Whatever it is, there can be a subconscious fear that you’ll succeed in the weight loss realm and the other things won’t fall into place. In other words, what if I lose the weight and I’m still not happy? What if I lose the weight and I’m still alone? Those fears are big and scary, and engaging in some emotional eating is way easier than facing them. Holding onto weight might feel preferable to having to face the other—and potentially harder—stuff.
One trick is acknowledging that getting to a weight that feels healthy for you is a worthwhile goal on its own, because you’ll feel better, for yourself, no matter what else is going on in your life. And then, of course, figuring out how to recognize that other things in your life are not necessarily tied to your weight and need to be faced separately.
How to Break Through the Barriers
Which brings me to the fact that…acknowledging that one of these subconscious things might be happening in your life is the first step. Once you do that, you can start dealing with it in a way that works for you.
For some of my clients, I would recommend journaling, to get all of those complicated thoughts out of your head and onto paper. But if taking the time to do that feels like a stressful task, that’s not the solution for you. Exercise is helpful for everyone, for the endorphins. Meditation can also help in major ways. It reduces stress, overall, and too much stress makes you hold onto excess weight. Meditating can also help you with being more mindful of what’s going on in your head and can calm a lot of the other things you’re dealing with.
To really dig into your psychological barriers, working with a therapist is also something I’ve always recommended to clients.
Finally, I want to reiterate that none of this is about “getting skinny,” and recognizing that can help with the psychological aspects of it all. If you approach your weight loss from a whole person and whole lifestyle perspective, thinking about the eight pillars of a Nutritious Life, it’s going to be easier to work through barriers, especially since many of them are tied to “diet” mentality. In the end, it’s about getting to a place where you feel good about you—and that is going to be good for both your physical and mental health.