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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Emotional Health

Give Yourself a Reality Check-Up

Are Your Weight-Loss Expectations Realistic?

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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Perhaps the biggest reason that permanent weight loss is so difficult is that it is stressful—for your mind and your body. And when you're stressed out, you just don’t function at your best, mentally, emotionally, or physically. In fact, chronic stress tends to make you into your own worst enemy, impairing your judgment, making you emotionally hyper-reactive, messing up your metabolism, and generally making it more difficult to do the things you need to in order to lose weight.

As far as your brain and body are concerned, persistent calorie restriction is, by definition, a condition of chronic stress. Human beings have automatic biological and psychological responses to calorie restriction that are designed to help us survive this condition without losing too much weight or starving to death. Unfortunately, these responses also kick in when you are trying to lose weight for healthy reasons—and they often get in your way.

The best way to minimize the negative effects of these responses to your weight loss efforts is to minimize the degree to which your diet stresses you out. Less overall stress means a reduced reaction to calorie restriction, and that means much less trouble for you. Anything and everything you can do to make your weight loss efforts less stressful should be at the top of your priority list.

The good news is that much of the stress you normally experience during weight loss comes from factors you can control—your own expectations and attitude about how weight loss works, and your natural ability to focus your attention and thoughts in ways that promote motivation, persistence and success, even under difficult circumstances. When your expectations and attitudes are out of sync with reality, or when you fail to focus your attention where it will actually help you, stress can get the best of you and wreck your weight loss efforts.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • MICKEYBLADE
    These questions were interesting but i put true on questions 2-4 I agrees we must not force any changes to our way of living but take each step one at a time and each day as it comes 61 days ago I gave up real sugar without a fuss I m amazed still I don t crave it plus eating right and I lost 8 lbs after 60 days so I m feeling and thinking better...I m happy I m on this site MickeyBlade - 12/1/2013 11:10:44 AM
  • I scored false on all of them, I must be doing something right! This article is right on the target! - 8/4/2013 2:56:52 PM
  • Great article. - 6/4/2013 6:05:31 PM
  • I found one phrase riveting

    shift our in-the-moment priorities

    - 6/4/2013 9:36:16 AM
  • Well, well, well. I said false to all, but I can guarantee my Mother & 1 of my sisters would say true to all. I would add something like: True or False: Your attitude toward food will help you lose weight. Changing everything at once distracts you from thinking about food. For me, attitude is everything. - 11/19/2012 10:26:30 AM
  • VICKIE441
    Great article - 10/16/2012 2:35:17 PM
  • KAYTEETOO
    This is a brilliant article. I think it's hard for us to accept some of these points because it goes against things we have been taught all our lives, but after years of struggling I have realised that sometimes what we were told is wrong! - 5/25/2012 5:34:58 AM
  • "You are your body, and your weight loss efforts will succeed exactly to the extent that you mange to do the work on behalf of your embodied self. You’ll do much better when you focus on making positive changes to improve your health and well-being, rather than on fighting your bad habits."

    All well and good BUT this doesn't address hormonal and other fluctuations that might cause a person to feel hungry when they know they are not, or to feel empty within a short time after eating a nutritionally balanced meal. I KNOW this happens to me - and I'm SURE I'm not the only one. If something other than willpower will conquer this I'd love to know what it is!

    I rather felt that this response just danced around the issue, frankly. - 5/24/2011 7:03:17 PM
  • GYPSYPITCREW
    I find the statement that willpower may not exist to be offensive. This quiz was too arsty-fartsy for me. - 5/8/2011 1:40:01 PM
  • Dean, I read your personal story that you posted and I just want to let you and the staff at SP know how incredibly helpful it is to know that the informational articles a member is reading are from someone who has "been there done that". For me and a number of people that I know, there is a deaf ear phenoenon that occurs when someone who has never had a significant weight issue of their own gives you advise or direction on how to improve your health status.
    It's the combination of a positive atmosphere, empathy and the professional level of a wealth of information and advise that make this a special place. One that I KNOW will assist me to make lifelong health changes. - 6/11/2010 3:06:54 PM
  • I wish I had a photographic memory for this series so all this information would be at instant recall. I need to take at least a week with several of these articles and really work with them, make them part of me. I have several things I was going to do this morniing but I'm going to work on my vision plan, I think I really need that. I woke up this morning kind of tired of this whole thing (dieting), after just now reading step 8 I'm so enthused agin and know this is not about dieting, it is about living a healthy happy life! I am sure glad I have SP to come to whenn the going gets tuff! - 5/9/2010 10:27:29 AM
  • Great article Dean. I have worked as a fitness trainer for the past several years. You can imagine the many experiences I've had with a difficult task (weight control) that most do not do well with. I am consistently impressed with the articles on the Spark People website: accurate; professional; readable; understandable; human. Keep up the good work! www.udo-fit.com - 1/25/2010 8:32:40 AM
  • Timely reminders. Mille remerciens! - 2/17/2009 11:45:53 PM
  • oops! didn't mean to double post. It was still showing my comment box a few minutes later, and nothing was going on so I hit it again, then it showed the comment page with my 2 posts. There is nowhere to edit that..sorry! - 8/31/2008 12:06:13 AM
  • "You’ll do much better when you focus on making positive changes to improve your health and well-being, rather than on fighting your bad habits."
    I agree completely with this statement Dean made in his article. I have always had a hard time losing weight any other way than Atkins. But Atkins was just too hard to stick to in the long run (it IS supposed to become a lifestyle, but I am too active in the real world (almost anywhere you go it is hard to eat atkins friendly, you have to stay home to eat that way) to be able to realistically always be eating atkins-friendly food only.). Whenever I tried to lose weight without Atkins, I would just try to "eat less" and "not eat junk food" or "not eat sweets," but those were just shots in the dark and they did NOT work. I needed to be able to define and quantify what I should be doing. Sparkpeople did that for me. They gave me the missing info I needed to get started down the path to a healthier life. I needed PRACTICAL, real world advice on how I should be eating. Instead of, eat less, I discovered how MUCH I should be eating. Now I have something I can measure, to know how much I should be eating. Instead of "don't eat junk food," spark said to drink 8 glasses of water. Sure I had always known to do that, but I never thought about TRACKING it to make sure I was. I would always just go by the philosophy, drink as much as you can and it will eventually be about 8 glasses. Now I put ticks on a piece of paper every day to keep track of how much water I've drank. It's easy to forget how you're doing on water! It's also easy to ignore when your body needs more water! Another thing spark said instead of "don't eat junk food" is "eat 3 fruits and veggies a day." I strive every day to have fruit wth my breakfast, fruit for a snack, and then veggies with lunch and dinner. Now I don't have as much room for junk food.
    I just want to say that I have learned so much with spark people, and it has changed my life tremendously. I feel so much better; so much more alive, and so much happier. I WILL get to my g... - 8/31/2008 12:02:56 AM