Balancing the Scales: How Mental Health Influences Weight Loss

Woman relaxing next to a waterfall.

As you work hard to change your diet and lifestyle, stress can stand between you and your healthy habits, making it a challenge to adhere to your weight loss program. A stressful day can be a gateway to consuming extra calories from emotional eating and might make staying home seem more appealing than adhering to a workout schedule.

To prevent stress from hindering your weight loss efforts and diminishing your quality of life, it’s essential to address the root causes of your stress and make tangible changes to those anxiety-inducing factors. Identifying your stressors is the initial step towards reducing stress and improving your mental health overall. 

Where Does Your Stress Come From?

When you feel stressed, take note of what may be causing it and divide your stressors into categories. Most stressors can be placed into the following groups:

  • Emotional. These stem from internal factors like fears, phobias, and fundamental characteristics of one’s personality.
  • Occupational. These stressors come from challenges in professional relationships and other issues encountered in the workplace.
  • Environmental. These are caused by problems in your environment, like lack of space, messiness, or noise.
  • Physical. These are the result of issues in your body, which may be caused by health conditions, your weight, or poor habits.
  • Familial. These can come from tensions in your relationships with your significant other, children, or family members.
  • Social. These are the stressors we face from our involvement in the community around us, like meeting new people or speaking in public.
  • Change. These come from the stress we feel when switching jobs, moving into a new home, or encountering some other monumental change in life.

After categorizing your potential stressors, document them in a journal to recognize recurring sources of stress. Think of which stressors you can change and break them down into manageable tasks. Rank them by difficulty and tackle each one at a pace that’s comfortable for you.

6 Strategies for Stress Reduction to Improve Mental Health

The most important aspect of successful weight loss is making lasting behavioral changes. Of course, this includes changing your diet to include healthier foods and more physical activity. But to be successful at that, it’s important to come from a mentality of empowering yourself rather than limiting yourself. Let’s explore some tips for making lasting changes towards reducing stress and improving your mental health.

1. Make Measurable and Achievable Workout Goals

Exercise improves your mental health and decreases depression. It gives you endorphins that make you feel good. So make it a realistic goal to get 10 minutes of exercise every morning. This is a very short amount of time that anyone can fit into their day. If you can make this exercise a habit, you will want to push yourself a little further when you realize how good it makes you feel.

2. Redefine Dietary Success

Indulging in something outside of your dietary guidelines doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You have succeeded leading up to that moment. Adopting a negative mindset can push you further into binging because you believe you have failed and will continue to do so. On the other hand, a positive mindset recognizes diet as a series of ongoing choices. A single perceived setback today doesn’t dictate the pattern for all your tomorrows.

Rather than viewing dieting as restrictive, which often stems from the idea of limiting or eliminating certain foods, shift your perspective. Explore new healthy foods and recipes to discover flavors you enjoy. When you find meals that are both delicious and energizing, the notion of a “restrictive” diet fades away.

3. Slow Down

You may have noticed that when you’re stressed out, you tend to rush a bit more. This causes hurried, jerky movements and hasty decisions. This heightened state of alertness boosts your ability to focus—nature’s method of preparing you for situations that might demand a fight or flight response. But let’s be honest, most stressful situations don’t require such extreme reactions. Overly concentrating on any stressful problem that comes your way can be counterproductive to your inner peace and in hand, your overall mental health. 

In situations like this, all you need to do is slow down your physical movements to help your body relax. As your body slows, your brain receives the signal you don’t have to be hyper-vigilant and you’ll return to a calmer state.

4. Practice Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises that engage the diaphragm and focus on taking long, deep breaths help to clear stale air from the lungs and, over time, will improve your lung capacity and function. There are many different types of breathing exercises so experiment with different types to see which are best suited to your needs.

To enhance mindfulness, try the following exercise: 

  1. Focus your attention either on the nose and nostrils or on the stomach area. Don’t regulate or control your breathing; instead, allow your body to breathe naturally and simply observe it. 
  2. Try to follow a complete breath from its beginning to its end. If your mind wanders, gently redirect it to the breath. 
  3. Practice this for five minutes, and you’ll likely feel a calming shift in your overall state.

5. Focus on What Works

Often, stress arises because you’re clinging to negativity. Negative thoughts, whether about financial struggles or an employer’s poor attitude, can amplify this stress. Engaging in upsetting conversations or lingering on daily irritations, like being cut off in traffic, can further erode your well-being. Keep in mind that these stressful thoughts stem from situations that aren’t benefiting you. By choosing not to let these instances dictate your mood and detaching emotionally, you’ll find your stress lessens.

Thinking about happy, or even neutral topics, can also improve your state of mind. While this might sound obvious, it’s often surprisingly difficult to achieve. By shifting your focus to aspects of your life that benefit you and recognizing that your happiness shouldn’t depend on a particular outcome, you’ll naturally adopt a better attitude. Consequently, you’ll find relaxation and escape the sensation of being weighed down by a dark, oppressive cloud.

From Mindset to Movement: A Holistic Approach to Weight Loss Success

Anxiety and depression can cause you to seek comfort in unhealthy choices, potentially disrupting any progress made in your weight loss journey. Therefore, it’s essential to find consistent and effective strategies to counteract these negative influences. This starts by identifying where your stress is coming from and finding ways to reduce the impact they have on your life. 

Addressing these emotional triggers is merely the beginning. Eating healthy and exercise play pivotal roles in alleviating anxiety and depression, but they aren’t the only solutions either. Maintaining a clear focus on your goals, cultivating a positive mindset, and dedicating intentional moments to breathe and relax can greatly benefit your mental well-being. Together, these steps not only promote mental health but also strengthen your resolve to stay on track with your weight loss objectives.

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