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Why being positive keeps you slim: Psychologist explains how your mindset is linked to weight loss

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Nearly three-quarters of men and 60 percent of women are overweight or obese in the US, and roughly 60 percent of all British adults.  

That means most UK and US adults have high risks of of depression, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and premature death.

In a bid to curb the obesity epidemic, health officials are imploring everyone to put more veg and less meat on their plates, consume less sugar and trans fats, and get moving more. 

According to Dr Aria, a Harley Street psychologist who specializes in sustainable weight loss, there is another key factor: your emotional health. 

Scores of recent studies have found a powerful link between our psychology, our weight, and our overall well-being.

Here Dr Aria explains the positive styles of thinking linked to sustainable weight loss and how you can shift your perspective to improve your health.

Dr Aria (pictured) reveals 3 science-based ways to develop a positive mindset

Dr Aria (pictured) reveals 3 science-based ways to develop a positive mindset

How is body size linked to a positive mindset?

Our mindset is a collection of beliefs, attitudes and expectations that shapes how we feel and what we do. Every emotion you feel and every action you take regarding what to eat, how much to eat and how much exercise you do is influenced by your mindset.

Thinking that you can’t change your size due to your genetics can have an impact on your body. If you believe that obesity mainly has a genetic foundation, certain cognitive biases can become activated in the mind. You’re then more likely to overestimate the contribution of genetics and view your situation as inescapable and beyond your personal control.

Research shows that the belief that genetics has ‘a lot’ to do with obesity is associated with lower levels of physical activity and less vegetable and fruit consumption. Believing that we have little control over how fat we become can have a knock-on effect on our food and exercise choices, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The latest scientific findings indicate that our mindset guides our actions to fall in line with our expectations. A recent study published in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that the more weight that participants in the trial expected to lose, the more weight they actually lost one year later. 

The health benefits of positive thinking 

Believing that a positive future lies ahead of you impacts your mind as well as your body. Decades of research has found that optimistic thinkers have:

· Healthier hearts and lungs

· Stronger immune systems

· A higher likelihood of surviving cancer

· A faster rate of recovery from surgery

· Lower risk of depression and anxiety

· Greater resilience to stress

· A higher quality of life

· Longer lives

The data strongly suggests that the mental attitude of expecting good things to happen can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical health.

Why is a positive outlook good for your health?

Adopting an optimistic outlook appears to increase the likelihood of making healthier choices. 

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Research shows that people who are hopeful that good things will happen tend to exercise more, eat more fruits and vegetables, drink moderately and have better quality sleep. A virtuous cycle can develop, as you feel better and more motivated to make other beneficial changes to your life.

Believing that you can reach your goals can also inspire you to find solutions to the obstacles that arise on the journey. We will all face setbacks and feel thrown by stressful work and family circumstances. The key lies in how we respond to these challenges.

Studies reveal that optimists are less likely to avoid troubling situations and more likely to find effective strategies to cope and deal with difficulties. By addressing specific problems head-on, you’re more likely to feel an empowered sense of control and ownership over your life.

Are you a glass ‘half-full’ or ‘half-empty’ person?

Two people can start exercising more often or lose the same amount of weight and yet view the situation differently. One might be pleasantly satisfied with their perceived progress and the other might be disappointed.

A growing number of studies reveal that greater satisfaction with exercise or weight loss is significantly associated with successfully maintaining that exercise or weight loss. In other words, the happier you are with your results, the more likely you are to keep them.

Whether you view yourself as an optimist, a realist or a pessimist, the good news is that you can shift your perspective to be more positive.

What can I do to develop a more positive mindset?

It’s important to remember that there are multiple influences that determine your body shape, size and health, including your biology and environment. The way you think is just one element, but it is a factor that is often overlooked.

If you would like to adopt a more positive outlook and improve your health, here are three simple, science-based tools I use with my clients that you can implement today:

1. Write down a list of all the foods you love

Most diets are based on cutting out or reducing a certain food group. When trying to lose weight or eat more healthily, people can become obsessed with what they can’t eat.

A restrictive outlook generally leads to feelings of deprivation. Instead, write a list of all the healthful, tasty foods that you enjoy eating and would like to eat more of.

By shifting your focus to the nourishing options available, you’ll naturally feel more positive about the future and your food choices will start to change in a sustainable way.

2. Share what’s going well

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on how fat or unhappy we feel. We rarely give ourselves permission to congratulate ourselves when we take a positive step.

Start to pay attention to what’s going well, whether that’s enjoying a healthy lunch you prepped the night before or noticing that you have more energy when you go for a brisk walk.

For the next week, at the end of each day write down three things that went well that day and why they went well. One study found that this exercise led to increased happiness at the time as well as six months later! You might even choose to share your observations with a loved one or post your thoughts on social media to inspire others.

3. Create a stress-busting ritual

We all have times when we don’t act the way that we’d hope. However, beating ourselves up every time we eat a doughnut or take down more biscuits than we meant to can lead to fear and anxiety about eating certain foods.

The stress created by calorie counting or going on a diet can lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which is associated with increased appetite, cravings for sugar and fat, and weight gain.

There is no ‘perfect diet.’ No one meal or snack makes or breaks your health. Remind yourself that you’re trying your best and create your own stress-relieving routine for these times, such as going for a walk and phoning a friend who makes you laugh, having a candle-lit bath with essential oils, or settling into bed with a good book. You deserve to look after your mind and your body.

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