MealEnders Blog

5 Powerful Food Psychology Hacks for a Weight Loss Mindset

By Tami Lyon, MPH, RD
January 07, 2018

New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, but can be tough to follow through with. Furthermore, changes to our daily routine and diet are hard to stick to. But there are a few ways that you can set yourself up for success. By making simple changes in your food psychology (in how you think about food), you can cultivate a weight loss mindset that will help you achieve your goals.
weight loss mindset

1. Exploit leverage points (key choices that minimize food decisions).

According to a study by Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, we typically make more than 200 choices related to food every day. But there are often just a handful of decisions that are pivotal… if we make the right choice, we can eliminate many smaller decision points down the road.  By recognizing those key decisions when faced with them, and understanding how they come into play, we greatly increase our chances of success.

For example, we often hear that we should avoid buying foods that are bad for us – if they’re not around, we won’t eat them. This advice strategically uses food psychology to help us avoid compulsive eating and weight gain. By making one key healthy decision, we avoid having to make multiple other decisions down the line. Let me explain further.

Let’s say that you find potato chips to be particularly tempting. While shopping, you instinctively grab them off the shelf and tell yourself that you’ll only eat a few at a time, or save them for guests, or some other rationalization. Later, at home, you know that they’re near and feel strongly compelled to eat them at many different points that day and throughout the week, leading you to test your resolve each time. So in the end, your impulse decision to buy potato chips burdens you with multiple additional choices about eating them. If, instead, you refrain from purchasing them, you make one powerful decision at the store and are released from the many chip-eating dilemmas later.

The same logic can be applied when it comes to social meetups. One key decision can help you avoid a plethora of food-related choices later on. For example, it’s commonplace to meet a friend for a meal, coffee, or a drink. But instead of consuming while you socialize, suggest going for a walk. This single decision will eliminate the hard choices of what to order, how much to order, how much to eat or drink, what condiments to add, etc., where just one out of those dozens of decisions could result in the consumption of unnecessary calories.

This same weight loss mindset can also be applied to eating outside the home. Prior to dining out, go online, look at the menu in advance (make sure not to do this on an empty stomach!), and select a lower calorie option. Then, commit yourself to that selection by telling your dining companion. You can also pop a MealEnder into your mouth before entering the restaurant to give you a little extra reminder about your health goals as you order.

2. Avoid thinking economically.

Everyone loves a good money-saving deal. However, though stores like Costco may seem great for your wallet, they’re often not so great for your waistline. Not surprisingly, buying in bulk can lead you to buy more junk food, which can cause you to eat more junk food. Focus on Costco’s fresh produce section and steer clear of their dry grocery section, particularly the candy, salty snacks and, yes, even trail mix aisles (a small handful—about one ounce—of Costco’s Kirkland Signature Trail Mix packs 160 calories!).

Additionally, “value meals” tend to be anything but. Though you may be getting more food for your money, the quality of food is often lower and you’re usually getting much more than you need. Research by Brian Wansink demonstrates that individuals who consume 5-10% fewer calories per meal experience equal satisfaction to those eating larger portion sizes. This means that the extra calories provided by “value meals” do very little to reduce hunger and primarily serve to increase your waistline. Knowing this, you can adopt a weight loss mindset when grocery shopping – choose single portion items as opposed to buying in bulk, even if these items are a bit pricier.  You’ll have less junk food around, consume less and equally enjoy what you purchased.

3. Leftovers aren’t wasteful.

All too often, we eat what we don’t need (or even want) in the name of “not wasting it.” But this type of food psychology is counter-productive, especially when it comes to weight loss. Whether you throw it in the trash or down your throat, this unwanted food isn’t helping anyone. In fact, in the latter case, it’s only causing you to gain weight.

Instead, don’t be afraid to throw it out or box it up for tomorrow’s lunch. Soon, you’ll get a feel for how much food you need to consume. Then you’ll be able to portion out just what you need when you first get served, and you can ask the waiter to immediately box up the rest so you won’t be tempted. In the end, you’ll be both eating, and wasting, less.

4. Slow and steady wins the race.

In this case, you’re only competing against yourself and the so-called “race” has no time constraints. Many people throw themselves wholly and completely into weight loss, taking their efforts from zero to sixty. While complete commitment is certainly a virtue, this type of sudden ramp up is very difficult to sustain. A more effective weight loss mindset involves slowly establishing new habits and routines. Instead of committing to running every day, going to yoga, and eliminating carbs, strive to change one or two habits at a time. Don’t overextend your reach—aim to make small changes first. For example, switch from sugary drinks to water. Once you succeed at making one change, you’ll feel encouraged to move forward with more.

Taking things slow is ultimately the best busy lifestyle diet plan. Weight loss is a tricky thing, and you can’t always control how your body responds to your efforts. Plus, nobody is perfect, and life’s many demands can derail even the best of us from our efforts at times. When you think of your goals in binary terms, you leave no room for failure. Such a mindset simply isn’t beneficial for long-term weight management.

Follow up your slow and steady weight loss mindset by constructing concrete behavioral steps, which you can learn more about in our ebook.

5. Utilize Positive Psychology

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, writer Charles Duhigg explains that it’s easier to incorporate a new, positive habit than to eliminate an ingrained, less-than-positive behavior.

Since many of our unhealthy habits are associated with a reward, they are very hard to break. To get rid of a bad habit, you have to find a healthier option that will yield the same, or similar, reward. Once your brain associates that new, better habit with the reward, it won’t require so much willpower to follow through.

Going back to the example above about opting to walk with a friend instead of a grabbing a drink – if the reward you get from going out for that drink is primarily the social interaction it allows, then setting up a walk, or better yet, a weekly walk together, will eventually come to be associated with the end reward of socializing and will replace the old bad habit of going out for drinks.

On top of all that, research shows that people who are more tuned in to the positives, including unanticipated positive outcomes of a decision, tend to be more successful at forming new habits. Say you find that going for a walk rather than drinks has resulted in saving you enough money to buy those shoes you’ve had your eye on. Focusing on that positive outcome will help that new habit stick.

Ultimately, a positive attitude will help you in so many ways along the journey to better health. Remind yourself that you can accomplish what you want to, and that you don’t have to achieve perfection to be successful.

Sure, losing weight is a physical endeavor. But like anything in life, it takes mental strength. So, keep your mind strong, stay positive, and be patient. Cultivate a flexible weight loss mindset and use tools like MealEnders to help you develop new habits. Before you know it, you’ll have altered your food psychology and be well on your way to living a sustainably healthy lifestyle.

*Individual Results May Vary