Weight Management: Stop Negative Thoughts

Introduction

It can be hard to get to and stay at a healthy weight. It takes healthy eating and regular exercise. These can be hard changes to make. But you can help yourself succeed just by thinking that you can succeed. If you tell yourself negative things—"I can't do this. Why bother?"—change will be harder. But if you encourage yourself with thoughts like "I can do this," you can raise your chance of success.

With time and practice, you can change what you say to yourself. You can learn to think in a healthy way even when you make a mistake.

  • Negative thoughts can make it harder to reach and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of therapy that can help you replace negative thoughts with accurate, realistic ones.
  • Changing your thinking will take some time. You need to practice healthy thinking every day. After a while, it will come naturally.

How To

Notice and stop your thoughts

The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.

Ask about your thoughts

The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Look at what you're saying to yourself. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated. There are several kinds of irrational thoughts. Here are a few types:

  • Focusing on the negative: This is sometimes called filtering. You filter out the good and focus only on the bad. You don't give yourself credit for the good things you do. Example: "I ruined my eating plan this week by having so much pizza tonight." Reality: Did you keep to your eating plan most of the week? If you did, then you're not giving yourself credit for all the great things you did that week.
  • Should: People sometimes have set ideas about how they "should" act. If you hear yourself saying that you or other people "should," "ought to," or "have to" do something, then you might be setting yourself up to feel bad. Example: "I should never have pizza or dessert." Reality: If you really don't ever want to have pizza or dessert again, that's fine. But many people find a way to work those foods into their eating plan and stay at a healthy weight. They try to have a flexible eating plan.
  • Overgeneralizing: This is taking one example and saying it's true for everything. Look for words such as "never" and "always." Example: "I can never stick with an exercise plan." Reality: Have you ever made a vow to exercise and stuck to it? If you did it before, you can do it again. And even if you weren't able to do it in the past, that doesn't mean you can't stay with plan in the future.
  • All-or-nothing thinking: This is also called black-or-white thinking. Example: "If I can't stay on my eating plan all the time, I'll just give up." Reality: Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. One slip-up doesn't mean you can't get back to your plan the next day.

Choose your thoughts

The next step is to choose an accurate, helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.

Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember them at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so that you can write down thoughts as they occur. Then write down helpful messages to correct the negative thoughts.

If you do this every day, helpful thoughts will soon come naturally.

But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.

If you want, you also can write down what kind of irrational thought you had. Your journal entries might look something like this:

Thought diary

Stop your negative thought

Ask what type of negative thought you had

Choose an accurate, helpful thought

"I ruined my eating plan by having so much pizza tonight."

Focusing on the negative

"I wish I didn't eat so much pizza. But it's only one meal. I stayed on my eating plan really well the rest of the week."

"I should never have pizza or dessert."

Should

"Having dessert or pizza now and then is okay if it's part of my eating plan."

"I can never stick with an exercise plan."

Overgeneralizing

"I've had some problems sticking with an exercise plan in the past. But that doesn't mean I can't do it in the future. I've made other changes in my life."

"If I can't lose 10 pounds this month, then I'm going to give up this eating plan."

All or nothing

"I'm going to try to set a realistic goal. It may be a smaller goal than before, but I'm still working toward a healthy weight."

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

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  • Layous K et al. (2011). Delivering happiness: Translating positive psychology intervention research for treating major and minor depressive disorders. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(8): 675–683.
  • Lightsey OR, et al. (2012). Can positive thinking reduce negative affect? A test of potential mediating mechanisms. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26(1): 71–88.
  • McKay M, et al. (2011). Changing patterns of limited thinking. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 27–45. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
  • McKay M, et al. (2011). Uncovering automatic thoughts. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 15–25. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
  • Newman CF, Beck AT (2009). Cognitive therapy. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol 2., pp. 2857–2873. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
Sue Barton, PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health
Last Revised August 3, 2012

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