Is Weight Loss All in Your Mind? A Look at Using Psychology to Shed the Pounds

Does anyone remember the old commercials for those ready-made weight-loss shakes? All you had to do was replace two meals a day with that chocolatey beverage, eat a “sensible” dinner, and you’d be on your way to a slimmer you, right? Well, probably not. Even if skipping those meals helped you shed a few pounds initially, that type of weight-loss program simply isn’t sustainable; nor are programs that require you to buy special food that you aren’t going to eat forever. Once you are no longer replacing those meals with shakes, or buying that special food, you’re probably just going to put that weight back on – sorry to be weight-loss program party poopers! 

But those types of weight-loss programs are certainly not your only choice, especially not nowadays, when weight loss is a booming industry. In fact, maybe there’s so much information and so many options out there, that you just don’t know where to even start if you’re looking to lose weight. 

illustration of a head with a question mark on the side
Losing weight based on behavioral psychology seems to work well.

Could the answer be one of the newest things in weight-loss trends: psychologically-based weight loss programs? After all, using methods backed by psychology means making positive, sustainable changes to your everyday life, not just replacing meals that you’ll eventually start eating again, and going to meetings that you’re bound to start skipping. Sounds pretty good – but how do they work, and are they the real future of lasting weight loss? 

What Does Psychologically-Based Mean?

So you might or might not remember the commercials for those weight-loss shakes, but how about something newer: have you seen commercials for an app called Noom? This app promises sustainable weight loss based on a psychological approach; their program is reliant on behavioral psychology, which they claim is the key to shedding the pounds for good. 

And it looks like they’re on to something. While there haven’t been many studies of psychologically-based weight loss programs yet, one study that focused on diabetics found that Noom specifically helped participants achieve significant weight loss compared to a control group, and that they kept off the weight for at least a year. And another found that 80% of Noom users lost weight when they stuck with the program for an average of close to 300 days.

Pretty promising stuff – and that’s probably because psychologists have been using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which psychologically-based weight-loss programs draw from, to help people overcome challenges in their life for a long, long time. And what greater challenge for some people than losing weight and keeping it off?

So if CBT is one of the major components of weight-loss programs like NOOM, what does that mean? Well, the American Psychological Association (APA) says that CBT is based on three core principles:

  • Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
  •  Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
  • People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.

In other words, behavioral psychology aims to understand why we behave the way we do and to analyze patterns in our actions and behaviors. And, since a lot of experts believe that the perceived barriers to weight loss are just as important as the actual things keeping us from tackling our weight problems, this approach might be just what a lot of people who are struggling need.

Are Apps the Answer?

So how do behavioral psychology and weight loss meet in the real world? Well, you can seek out a therapist who specializes in behavioral therapy and use it to help those who are struggling to lose weight. But, if that’s not on the cards for you right now, there are now, as we have already pointed out, apps that claim to be the solution.hand holding a phone with weight loss app on it

Let’s take Noom, for example – one of the most well-known and most used (in fact, Noom was the most-searched diet term on Google in 2018) psychologically-based weight loss apps out there. While we haven’t tried it as a weight loss tool ourselves, reviews and descriptions of this app make it sound – how shall we say? – not all that innovative, or different from other tech-based approaches to weight loss.

Here’s how it works: you set up an account, and start your program by answering a series of questions on the app about your current weight, your goals, your health concerns, and your lifestyle (like how sedentary you are, whether you cook or eat out, etc). You’ll then be given a coach (who they claim is a real person) and a personalized eating plan, as well as access to tools that help you track your food, fitness, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. You will also be given advice as you go, which seems to come mostly in the form of quizzes and short tips. 

One of the main complaints about the app seems to be that the coaches don’t actually seem all that available, chatty, or even human (they can often give canned answers that seem a bit bot-like), according to some reviews, and they’re not registered dieticians, or counselors/therapists, as far as we can tell.

So it doesn’t seem that the app is all that centered on getting to the root of your weight loss barriers – but the minimal data out there does point to its effectiveness as we’ve already said. That might be because it’s simply another form of accountability among many to choose, since the app does ask you to log everything you eat and weigh yourself regularly, so tracking every bite you eat could help you to see where you need to make changes and eat healthier, and seeing your weight fluctuate could help you know when you’re off track. 

In addition, its system encourages you to eat nutrient-dense foods that are lower in calories (like leafy greens), and often seems to suggest a very low caloric intake for a lot of people. In fact, some more of the complaints about the app seem to focus on how few calories it suggests (some users say they were encouraged to eat less than 1200 calories a day, which is far too few for an adult!), and on the fact that it doesn’t recognize the fact that there are some serious health (and even weight loss) benefits to some foods higher in fat and calories, like nuts, seeds, and avocados.

Not only that, but the focus on food tracking and weighing could be problematic for people who have had issues with disordered eating, so it’s important to know what could be triggering for you. 

So, it seems that the bottom line about apps like Noom is that they’re limited in some ways, because, well, they’re apps! They can offer you great tech resources like food and fitness trackers, prompts for weigh-ins, and advice on mindful eating to read, but they can’t really do much more. 

How You Can Incorporate Behavioral Psychology in Your Weight Loss Journey 

The bottom line is, Noom or another paid app might be helpful for you, but you can probably find many of the same features in free apps. And as for the psychological part? Well, you might want to try incorporating some of your own psychologically-based strategies into whatever other tools you’re using on your weight-loss journey. For example, consider the following tips:

1. Set goals

When it comes to losing weight, it turns out that simply eating better and exercising (the physical stuff) is not the only thing you should be focusing on. One of the most important things you can do is something psychologically-based: setting goals for yourself. In fact, there are actually studies that show that setting goals frequently in your life makes you more likely to implement changes, and so setting goals as you work towards weight loss could help you get where you want to be and stay there. 

So how many and what kind of goals should you be setting? There’s no data on how many goals, and the jury is out on how specific they have to be, but studies seem to suggest they should be on the bigger side. More important, though, is that they are challenging and/or set publicly; it also seems to be helpful to set group goals, so you might want to get your friends involved (see below)! 

the word goal with the O and a target

2. Track those goals

So here’s where apps can be helpful in a psychologically-based weight loss program. Science does seem to back up the effectiveness of tracking what you’re eating and weighing yourself regularly. In fact, if it’s not triggering for you, studies suggest that you should be weighing yourself weekly, if not daily. In addition, you need to find a sustainable way to track the food you’re eating (which can be time-consuming and annoying!). One way to do this might be to compromise and track faithfully while you’re first starting out, then ease up when you’ve hit a goal – but go back to tracking if your weight goes back up again.

3. Find social support

Setting goals and tracking your eating are two ways to keep yourself accountable, but you’ll also need a third accountability component: social support. Research has shown that people who talk to people in their lives about their goals, and/or do weight loss programs with a friend or family member, are much more likely to be successful. So get someone else on board!

Losing weight can be incredibly difficult. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many people struggling to do so, and there wouldn’t be so many “solutions” out there promising to help! But we do know now that using behavioral psychology to aid in your weight loss journey can actually work – you just need to find a way that will work for you. That might be with an app or other program, or simply incorporating some of the strategies above into your life yourself. However you choose to do it, keep at it – we know you can do it!

The “Miracle Juice”: The truth behind the celery juice fad

Celery juice is today’s latest fitness trend.  Fitness bloggers and celebrities are raving about this “miracle juice,” and are taking over instagram with artfully displayed glasses of grass-green juice. Anthony William, aka “The Medical Medium” is credited with starting the celery juice fad, but William is neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. Yet, he began circulating the claims that drinking a glass of celery juice a day can support weight loss and even cure diseases like cancer. So is celery juice the miracle cure we’ve been waiting for? We’re here to debunk these incredible claims.

Why Celery? celery stalks in a collander.

Celery has a lot to offer in the dietary department. Even though it is made of 94% water, it actually packs a lot of nutrition into its stalks.  Celery contains high levels of vitamins K, A, B-2 and B-6, and C. It is also a good source of folate, potassium, and dietary fiber, and antioxidants. And, because it has such a high concentration of water, it is low in calories, making it a staple of weight loss diets. It’s crunch and mildly salty flavor makes it a great healthy alternative to chips when paired with dips, and can help reduce junk food cravings.  

The Claims 

Some proponents of this “miracle juice” claim that drinking celery juice first thing in the morning strengthens your digestive system, which allows you to easily process everything else you eat. Others report that drinking celery juice has helped clear skin conditions like shingles and psoriasis. Some even claim that this juice can put cancer and autoimmune diseases into remission. 

There is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims. They are anecdotal at best, and many nutritionists believe that the positive effects people describe are due simply to changes in diet. For some of these people, drinking celery juice regularly is part of a switch to a healthier diet in general. Their “miracle” cures may actually be a combination of medical treatment and that new, healthier diet. There is also the possibility that everything they are experiencing is purely a placebo effect.

silhouette of a thumbs down.
Celery juice is not a miracle, and can be harmful to those with IBS and other gatro issues.

For some people, drinking celery juice can actually be harmful. Those who suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or other gastrointestinal issues might experience flare ups if they begin a celery juice regimen. 

The Reality

Celery juice is NOT a miracle. In fact, there is not one cure-all treatment for any of these issues. That being said, celery is nutritious, as well as high in fiber and water, which gives it strong diuretic properties. For some people, this can support a weight loss regimen. Drinking celery juice for breakfast will not fix acne or cure cancer, but it is a healthy alternative to high-sugar cereals. And, remember, for some people, drinking celery juice is actually detrimental to their health. As with any trendy new health program, always check with your doctor and do your own research before deciding to try it out.

Fitness Goals vs. Nutrition

America is currently in a love/hate relationship with food and our fitness goals. There is a tremendous amount of apps out there in regards to weight control. With the volume of nutrition programs, diet books, and health ads, we seem to be in a war with how to handle our bodies. Worse yet, we have an obesity epidemic. NCBI says, “The latest estimates are that approximately 34% of adults and 15–20% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese.” That’s over a third of people.

What can we do? Science tells us food is the key to losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining. What we eat (and when) are paramount to fitness. Of course, exercise is a major part of a balanced lifestyle. (On this note, try adding this to your workout.)  However, with certain fitness goals, you need to eat certain things.

What to Eat to Lose Weight 

There are so many diets available and each person needs to tailor their own weight loss plan. No two bodies are exactly alike.  One of my friends can eat Oreos by the sleeve and still has trouble keeping weight on, while another watches her diet, exercises, and continues to struggle. Your fitness goals don’t have to be a huge battle.

Studies tell us the surest path is just a numbers game. While it’s not fun, the best way to think about it is the food pyramid. It’s the one you’re probably familiar with from earlier nutrition classes.

food pyramid for your fitness goals
The food pyramid! Does this look familiar? It’s got the recommended allowance of food intake for maximum nutrition.

Just cut out the top and bottom, focusing on the center portion. This leaves you with a large portion of your nutrition focused in leafy greens, healthy meats, and dairy products. With these, be sure to choose whole foods because ones may contain inflammatory additives that, while delicious, may affect your health. A great diet for this if you need an idea is a Mediterranean diet. Another option is to be aware of your eating times; fasting has been studied more in recent years and has shown great results.

Sugars and starches are the main cause of inflammation, weight retention, and other health problems. Humans evolved for a specific diet, and recent years have provided a cornucopia of delicious, cheap, sugary-starch foods that have taken us away from what our bodies naturally need. Our bodies were just not made to handle that, and we haven’t caught up physically for this fierce influx of food that’s just not good for us in gargantuan amounts. In this case, fat is not the enemy; sugar is.

Focus: Whole foods, leafy greens, healthy portions of meat. Less oil, no sugars, no starches. Also, make sure to track your progression with body fat.

What to Eat to Gain Weight

If you’re on the opposite end and are working to gain weight, you may have an easier time with this. You’ll still have to follow some rules so that you’re putting on healthy weight instead of empty pounds. Start a food journal and set goals with what you’re consuming.

measuring food for losing weight
It doesn’t have to be a fight with food. Just be mindful of what works and what doesn’t.

The best way is by putting on muscle, lean or otherwise. The solid rules are to eat more small meals throughout the day and watch your alcohol intake. Your nutrition and fitness goals are more important than a quick buzz. Your friends will understand.

You can involve more of the food pyramid with gaining weight, eating from the entire selection. Of course, sugars and starches may be involved, but take care not to overindulge. Choose many high fat and protein foods like nuts or milk. Also, fill up with whole grains like oatmeal, or use rice. Smoothies/shakes can be helpful as well. Here’s a great resource for recipes and tips for those wanting to be healthier.

Focus: Use healthy protein shakes, dairy, nuts, and involve a good balance of the entire food pyramid. Find your body weight to grams of protein ratio. 

What to Eat to Maintain Weight

This diet is more of a lifestyle, and it includes elements of the first two. Reaching your goal weight is a short term path, but to maintain it, you must think long term.

fresh nutritious food for weight management
Your best bet is to stick with vegetables. Learn to eat a variety of beautiful, natural colors.

 Like the “losing weight” section, you must reduce sugars and starches in your diet, but you don’t have to eliminate them. When losing weight, that’s the goal, but if you’re maintaining, it’s fine to include them. The same goes for the “gaining weight” section, focus on filling up throughout the day with nutrient dense foods, but you don’t have to eat quite so much.

Keep a food journal (with a fitness goals section) so you’re aware of what’s going into your body and how it makes you feel. If you’re like my friends from earlier, you can inhale an entire sleeve of cookies and be okay weight-wise, but does that actually make you feel energized and happy? If it’s something you’re okay with, then eat what you’d like. Food should not be the enemy here, but a partner through the day. 

Focus: Be aware of the food you’re consuming. As long as you’re eating whole, nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens, fish, and eggs, you can safely consume moderate amounts of sugar & starch. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed. 

Get In Shape Without The Stress

Working out is recommended at least 3-4 times a week by doctors to stay fit. It takes some discipline to go to the gym, and current fitness trends can influence how you work out. Every year there are new fads and fitness trends that people follow to get fit and stay fit. For example, have you ever heard of prancercise? Yes it is a real thing where you prance around like a horse. You might also remember the thighmaster, where you squeeze a contraption between your thighs to reduce inner thigh fat, & we all have heard the shake-weight which promises to tone your arms faster and effectively. Some of these fads come and go, or are just a gimmick that promises results, but some trends are exciting and give you a new reason to WANT to go to the gym.

To see real results, you have to put in the work– hard work. There are fun ways to exercise and get a workout in other than just going to the gym and lifting weights or running the treadmill. There are workouts and classes such as aerial workouts that work your muscles while you have fun at the same time.

So What Is An Aerial Workout?
Aerial exercise is a workout that is also a form of art, kind of like dancing in the air. People often describe an aerial workout as flying, which to be honest we all wanted to do when we were a kid. Even though it is a fun pastime, it’s also a great workout. You work out your arms, back, and core muscles. When trying to describe these workouts you might think of Cirque Du Soleil, where people are hanging on ropes from the ceiling floating around. Just like them, you hang in the air using an apparatus.

Aerial exercise is a workout that is also a form of art, kind of like dancing in the air. People often describe an aerial workout as flying.

There are different variations of aerial classes, from aerial acrobatics to aerial yoga and bungee fitness, all focusing on your core muscles. Aerial yoga uses hammocks hung from the ceiling where you do different yoga poses and stretches. Aerial art/acrobatics is when you use the trapeze, silks or a hoops (lyra) and learn to perfect different tricks. If you try bungee fitness you are strapped to a bungee cord from the ceiling and jump around, kick, floor dive, and work your core muscles without even knowing it.. You can expect to break a sweat with bungee fitness because it is similar to a cardio workout with music, and more bounce. Your arms will definitely be sore after the first time you try this exercise, as you will be using your rhomboids,your back muscles used during pull ups.

It is not as easy at it looks and it may take some practice to perfect, but once you have it down, people often claim to be addicted. This fun and adventurous exercise will require more muscle strength to keep yourself up in the air. But like anything, practice and time will make it easier to do.

Over time, these workouts provide you with the balance of strength and flexibility that is needed to perform them. Your teacher will make sure you are safe and you should always voice any concerns you have with them. They are there to make sure you are comfortable and get a good workout in. You should always consult with your doctor if you have prior injuries to find out if this type of exercise will be best for you.