While it is often not difficult to differentiate negative thoughts and feelings from positive ones, it can be a bit more challenging to see the ways in which negative thoughts and feelings affect us. In terms of weight loss, negative thoughts and feelings can be particularly damaging. For one, negative feelings, such as contempt, hate, envy, and greed, can cause us feel negatively not only toward others, but also, toward ourselves. Clearly, when we feel negatively toward ourselves, we are much less likely to make positive health choices, such as exercising regularly, and eating healthfully. Negative feelings toward ourselves also make us much less enjoyable to be around, often leading to destructive relationships, and the inability to accept the help of others. Obviously this can present a critical problem when it comes to weight loss. If we are attempting to accomplish anything that we have not done before, especially weight loss, we need the help of others.
While negative emotions will make it difficult for us to accept the help of others, negative thoughts can also make it difficult for us to make positive health choices. For one thing, negative thoughts result in negative feelings, making healthy weight loss behavior much less likely. Negative thoughts, such as blame, projection, avoidance, and denial can also make it very difficult for us to see our part in the challenge of weight loss. It is unlikely that we will see our part in anything if we are busy blaming someone else for our lack of success. Or, if we our accustomed to projecting our own faults onto others, we are going to have trouble accepting that they really belong to us. When this happens, making life changes, such as weight loss, becomes impossible, as we do not see the negative thoughts that are actually holding us back. If we do not see what holds us back, clearly, we can’t move forward.
As we begin to recognize the importance of our thoughts and feelings on the way we attempt weight loss, it can be challenging to accept and change these things about ourselves. However, when we experience the sense of accomplishment that comes with weight loss, it all becomes worth it. To help you along your quest for continued weight loss success, we will begin exploring some negative thoughts and feelings, and the effect they may have on our weight loss attempts.
• Upward Counter-Factual Thinking: Upward counter-factual thinking is essentially wishing things could be better. While wishing things could be better is not, in itself, a bad thing, it is when this wish inhibits our ability to recognize the positive aspects of the way things are. For example, losing five pounds in one week is a great accomplishment, however, if your desire to lose ten pounds in one week negates this accomplishment, you are likely to feel let down by your five pound weight loss. The reality of the situation is that a five pound weight loss in one week should clearly be celebrated. If we were to engage in the opposite of upward counter-factual thinking, which is downward counter-factual thinking, we would be realizing that our five pound weight loss could have been less than five pounds. In this case, your five pound weight loss would seem like much more of an accomplishment, resulting in positive feelings about yourself. When upward counterfactual thinking becomes a habit, clearly, nothing will ever be good enough. Feeling as though nothing will ever be good enough of course makes it difficult for us to try, as the results don’t seem to lead to any positive response. This situation is akin to being raised by a negative, critical parent. This type of parenting style often results in a petulant, obstinate child. When we treat ourselves this way though constant upward counter-factual thinking, we are also likely to behave like a rebellious child, avoiding being accountable to our weight loss program.
• Upward Social Comparisons: Upward social comparisons, like upward counter-factual thinking, involves a wish that things were better. In the case of social comparisons, the wish results from a comparison of ourselves to another person that we view as somehow better off than us. For example, that five pounds that we lost last week will be compared to another person’s ten pounds, and will lose value to us in the comparison. Not only will our accomplishments lose value when we constantly compare them to other’s, but we will lose value as well. Now, some social comparisons are normal, but in the case of upward social comparisons, they result in feelings of insignificance and worthlessness. The majority of this is due to the fact that the comparisons are not balanced. Comparisons can be both upward, or downward. As downward social comparisons involve seeing the value of our accomplishments in comparison to other’s, such as realizing that not everyone has accomplished what we have, they result in feelings of self worth and valuation. Obviously, the problem arises when we engage too much in either type of comparison. Where weight loss is concerned, upward social comparisons can cause us to feel as though we will never measure up to other’s accomplishments. When we feel this way, we are likely to avoid trying, and frequently, give up on our weight loss efforts.
• Cognitive Distortions: Cognitive distortions are distortions of thought that often occur instantaneously as a result of our interpretations of events in our lives. For example, if a fellow employee fails to smile at you, you might automatically conclude that she is angry with you. The reason that this type of thinking is called cognitive distortion is because we make these conclusions without any evidence to prove that they are true. In this sense, we are making conclusions based on our perception of the situation, not reality. When we do this, we will automatically find justification for our conclusions, further causing a divide between our perception and reality. Often, this type of thinking can lead a person down a very negative road, colored with a variety of negative sentiments about himself. As you can imagine, negative beliefs and feelings about yourself increase the likelihood of negative behaviors. When you feel bad about yourself, you are going to look for a way to find some relief for this feeling, in the form of food, avoidance, denial, or isolation. When it comes to weight loss, all of these behaviors can deter success, and place the person in a position where she is less able to access the ego strength needed to make positive health changes.