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Using Distraction Techniques in Weight Loss & Maintenance

Using Distraction Techniques in Weight Loss & Maintenance

How many times have you tried not to think of something but find that it still intrudes into your thoughts? It seems the more you try not to think of something, the more you think of it.

This can be especially true with weight loss. As we make changes in our nutrition and activity, we find ourselves pestered by intrusive thoughts that may lead us down a path we do not want to go. For example, when you decide to remove a certain addictive food from your diet, you may find your brain missing it. Your body is not missing it because it feels so much better, but still your brain longs for something sugary, fatty, salty or starchy because those foods used to release feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.

Your brain is your best friend, but it can also be your biggest obstacle to weight loss and weight maintenance. There is good news! You are not powerless to what happens in your brain. Most of us are simply unaware of how to train our brains to do what our body needs to run at its best. So to help, I’m going to share a few tried-and-true distraction techniques you can use when your mind starts to wander.

To begin, pick a day to write down all of your intrusive thoughts; just jot them down quickly on a piece of paper. At the end of the day, analyze the subject of your thoughts to recognize any patterns or themes. The goal here is to bring awareness to your prefrontal cortex (your conscious thinking brain). There is a bonus to this as well; just writing down your thoughts can often make them go away. Intrusive thoughts lose their power when you recognize them and call them out, and once on paper, you have the cognitive ability to analyze them and take them for what they are worth.

Now let’s practice distraction. Write down as many ways as you can think of to distract yourself from your intrusive thoughts. With this step, we’re building tools to stop cravings in their tracks. For a little inspiration, think about distraction techniques that have been successful for you in the past. What techniques will you use in public vs. private? For example, you may think of a pleasant experience in nature in public but when alone sing your favorite song loudly and off-key.

These distraction techniques can be helpful:

  • Shift your gaze, change the focus of your eyes and look away.
  • Tense a muscle in your leg, abs or arm. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
  • Take a deep breath. Move the diaphragm deep, breath in and slowly exhale out the mouth for a count of five, then repeat.
  • Turn on loud music and dance.
  • Go outside and breathe in the fresh air; feel the sun on your face or the tingle of the cold.
  • Walk outside for 5-10 minutes no matter the weather; if it feels good, keep going.
  • If possible, get out of or limit your time in the area that triggered the thought, such as the kitchen, grocery store aisle or restaurant.
  • Put your body in charge. Get down on the ground and do ten push-ups or sit-ups, swing your legs up and down, fidget in your chair, tap your fingers on your thigh, scratch your arm or physically move your body in whatever way you can for just a few minutes.
  • Press on your upper lip with your index finger to change your focus.
  • Find a place of peace and calm and pray or meditate, focusing on what you are grateful for.
  • Practice mental calisthenics in your head, such as counting back from 100 by 3s, visualizing a happy place where you have a favorite non-food memory or listing a boy or girl name beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

It’s amazing to realize that our minds are capable of learning new behaviors at every age. Begin today to recognize your intrusive thoughts and use distraction techniques. Over time your mind will adapt, and your intrusive thoughts will hold less and less power. After all, intrusive thoughts are just thoughts we don’t have to act on them.