The holiday season can be one of the brightest times of the year, but it can also be a source of anxiety for some. No, not for lack of presents or running out of bananas, but for weighing in after Christmas. Whether you’re worried about ruining your good work with a balanced diet and regular exercise throughout the year, or worried about falling into the classic trap of overeating during the festive period, help is at hand. And it comes in a perhaps unexpected form: what we tell ourselves.
The psychology of weight maintenance focuses mostly on reframing attitudes toward how we eat, such as making good food choices and discovering what triggers overeating1. It can also involve learning to “talk nicely” to ourselves. But there’s another twist to this psychology that takes positive self-talk a step further. And that’s believing you have what it takes to reach your fitness goals. The thinking is this: whatever we tell ourselves, we tend to play the part. So by imagining yourself as someone who leads a healthy and active lifestyle, you’re more likely to achieve this by eating better, exercising more, and shifting to a more positive self-image.(2, 3, 4)
Of course, positive self-talk and (increased) self-belief alone won’t achieve your fitness or weight goals, but they can be an important piece of the puzzle. So while what you do is important, how you feel about yourself matters too. Remember, this holiday season is about so much more than the number of calories you ate at Christmas lunch or how many (or few!) steps you logged. It’s about applying positive thinking and belief and being your own idol and coach rolled into one. With this approach, it is possible to enjoy the holidays, find a balance between treats and a healthy lifestyle, and start the next year in a great mood.
Try these positive self-talk ideas based on some common holiday scenarios:
- Missed a workout? Instead of “I’m lazy,” positive thinking says, “I’m going to take this day off and use the time to plan a great workout for tomorrow.”
- Did you succumb to the second mince pie? Instead of “I’ve already messed up, so I might as well suffer for the rest of the day,” positive thinking says, “It’s not the end of the world—I’m going to enjoy it, and then commit to eating lightly later.</ li>
- Did you gain weight at your last weigh-in? Instead of “I give up. I’ll never reach my goal weight, so why worry?” positive thinking says, “Okay, I’ll set a new mini goal for the next few weeks and make some better choices to reach it.”< /li>
Remember that positive thinking means not giving up if you “slip up”. Instead, use your inner voice to remind you: just because you slipped doesn’t mean you have to fall.
Get yourself in the mood for a happy, healthy and positive holiday season.
- Castelnuovo, G., et al., Cognitive behavioral therapy to aid weight loss in obese patients: current perspectives. Psychol Res Behav Manag, 2017. 10: p. 165-173.
- Varkevisser, R.D.M., et al., Determinants of weight loss maintenance: a systematic review. Obes Rev, 2019. 20(2): p. 171-211.
- Sheeran, P., et al., The impact of changing attitudes, norms, and self-efficacy on health-related intentions and behavior: A meta-analysis. Health Psychol, 2016. 35(11): p. 1178-1188.
- Teixeira, P.J., et al., Successful behavior change in obesity interventions in adults: a systematic review of self-regulation mediators. BMC Med, 2015. 13: p. 84.