Why Diet and Exercise Aren’t Enough Anymore

January seems to be the month that places emphasis on losing weight, eating healthy and ditching bad habits. So how about in February we add finding a positive attitude? According to the Special K study “Positivity and Weight Management: A Look at the Gains”: 9 out of 10 women who think positively about weight management reported either losing weight or maintaining their weight in the past year, compared to only about half of women with a negative approach.

So why not think your way into those skinny jeans? Renee Engeln, PhD, psychologist and body image researcher at Northwestern University, is “weighing in” on the study findings and has provided some useful tips.

What has your research taught you that you would want to share with your closest girlfriends?
I tell my girlfriends and the young women I work with is that it’s time to stop the ‘fat talk’ and take a new perspective on our bodies. Fat talk doesn’t just affect how you and other people feel, it can actually sabotage attempts to stay at a healthy weight. I’ve been consulting with Special K on a research project that shows women who take a positive approach to weight management were more likely to report maintaining or losing weight over the past year. These same women were more likely to appreciate their bodies for what they can do, less likely to engage in fat talk and more likely to stop other women from engaging in fat talk.

What are a few steps you have to offer towards getting away from body image talk and into a more positive mindset?
Replace talk about how your body looks with talk about how your body feels and what it can do for you. Take small steps to appreciate what you get from your body. “These are the legs that walk me around my office every day, helping me to do my job.” “These are the arms that hug my loved ones.” Focus on health over size or a number on the scale. Instead of, “I need to lose 10 pounds,” try, “I am working to become stronger,” or, “I am working to care for my body so that it continues to help me do all the things I want to do.”

What are some key developments in recent years that have helped women maintain weight loss?
Weight management is complicated and influenced by myriad different factors, some of which are under our control and some of which aren’t. Thoughts are one factor that influences weight management. With practice, we can change the way we think. The way we talk and the way think directly influences how we behave. We know that feeling bad about your body is not a successful weight loss technique. If it were, weight management would be easy for lots of women! Instead, emotional distress often leads to overeating and other quick-fix ways of feeling better. As the Special K study demonstrated, positive thinking can have a real impact on weight management. The women in the study who took a positive approach were much less likely to have trouble getting back on track when their weight management plans were derailed. They were also more likely to turn to friends for support, which is a great practice.

What advice would you offer for busy moms on the go, who may not have time to take care of themselves after a long day?
A lot of women struggle to find time to care for themselves, especially when they’re busy taking care of others. When it comes to being healthy, it’s important to remember that what we think and what we say have a real impact on what we do. Taking small steps to change the way we approach our bodies can facilitate making the changes necessary to improve health and well-being. By focusing on what you want to do and who you want to be instead of what you look like, you remind yourself that making healthy choices is not just about a number on a scale. Our bodies are amazing. They walk, run, lift, and carry. They move us around in the world. They help us reach our goals and help us communicate with others. Think about your body becoming strong and healthy, or about being a good role model for other girls and women. When we learn to talk about our bodies with compassion and care, we open the door to making the kinds of lifestyle choices that are consistent with that kindness.

So let’s make February not about what we are going to lose but what we are going to gain, weather it be self esteem, energy, confidence or strength. Click here to learn more.

Christine Bachman

About Christine Bachman

Christine Bachman is founder and president of Plan It PR, a public relations and marketing firm. The mother of five shares tips and survival stories in “Play Dates and Power Lunches.” Ms. Bachman started working public relations after a long career in broadcast journalism, which included work as a television anchor, reporter and producer.