Recently I have been having a common conversation with several of my clients about the concept of “flipping the switch”. I think we have all heard of the statement before. As coaches we attempt to help motivate our clients in moving forward with their weight loss goals by giving advice such as: “Just don’t think about it”, or “flip the switch”, or “have peace with the process”. The latter is my personal favorite. But what does that actually mean? For me, I am trying to make the process easy. I am attempting to eliminate the struggle with food. I believe that we need to come to terms with the fact that in order to achieve our goals, we have to be regimented about planning, prepping, and eating our meals. It is that simple.
But what really goes on mentally when we are flipping the switch? What goes on psychologically that causes us to successfully make peace with the process or not? How do I as a coach, go about quantifying how exactly one should make peace with the process. Does it work just to say the words? Or does there need to be a cognitive understanding of how specifically to do that inside your brain?
This month I investigating what goes on mentally in order to create a peaceful weight loss journey. What does science have to say about people that are successful at food planning? And how can we incorporate the strategies of successful food planners?
A Look at Successful Food Planners
Autonomous Versus Controlled Eating Behaviors
According to Otis and Pelletier (2008), there are two types of approaches to eating. The first approach is called Autonomous Regulation. This style uses an approach food planning strategy. An approach food planning strategy moves towards goals. For example, someone who wants to be healthy, feel excellent, take care of themselves. In the world of competition preparation, this is the person who is locked in to the images and feelings of how great they are going to look and feel. They are focused on positive outcomes such as being more agile, seeing visions of shredded abs, feeling lighter and having more energy. They are focused on planning and packaging their meals so that they are ready for the day. Their thought process while planning and prepping meals is on the goal. In order to be successful at their goals they make sure that they are ready for the day with their meals. It is no wonder that Otis and Pelletier argue that people that utilize the autonomous regulation style have more positive affect, meaning that they feel good throughout the process of their weight loss journey. They are focused on what they want and they do what needs to be done in order to achieve their goals. I parallel this to someone who is having an easy journey, or as mentioned previously, has made peace with the process.
The second style of eating Otis and Pelletier refer to as Controlled Regulation. This style uses an away from strategy. An away from strategy focuses on moving away from or avoiding negative results. For example getting rid of a fat stomach, or not feeling so bad about themselves, or to stop doing a particular behavior. These are the types of people who look at a cookie with a sense that it is something that they cannot have and it is off limits. Contrast this with the toward motivation style where they simply see a cookie as not part of their goal. There is more emotion involved for the controlled regulator when it comes to food selection because they are keenly aware of what they cannot have. Controlled regulation is also correlated with feelings of guilt, negative affect and bulimic type behaviors. People with the style of eating according to Otis and Pelletier tend to: “Perceive less goal progress and therefore experience less positive affect and life satisfaction.” Despite losing weight each week or making progress, they are focused on what they don’t want. This is the person who is having a hard time with their weight loss journey.
Real World Applications:
Everything I have said up until this point has seemed like common sense hasn’t it? It seems like if you are focused on your goal and thinking about moving toward your goal that you are going to have an easier time with your weight loss journey. But I have one big question. Why is one person focused on their goals and yet another focused on what they want to avoid? If you find yourself reading this and acknowledging that you utilize the Controlled Regulation style, what can you do about it? Is this a personality trait? Is it a strategy that can be changed through cognitive behavioral techniques? Are we doomed to repeat this negative mentality over and over, or can something be done about it?
What Otis and Pelletier ultimately argue is that what creates a strong sense of moving toward a goal is passion and motivation. They suggest that this is a muscle that can be exercised. They suggest that the stronger the drive and passion the more focused a person will be on their weight loss goals.
So are we back to goal planning 101? Write out your goals, put them on a vision board, repeat your mantras, go on Facebook and look at ab pictures until you are inspired to go to the gym. Yawn.
I am going to suggest something different. I am going to suggest that instead of goal planning you practice Goal Feeling. In a sense we are back to the basics of establishing what you want and creating a way of getting there. But we are using how we feel as our tool for inspiration.
Here are some topics for journaling and self-exploration:
•What feels important to want?
•What will inspire me?
• What has been brewing inside of me that stirs up my passion?
• When it comes to my fitness goals, do I more often move toward or away from them?
• What goal is juicy enough to make me want to move toward it?
If you use mostly the controlled regulation style, this month I want to encourage you to re-evaluate what drives and inspires you. Take 15 minutes to really ponder the above questions and see what happens for you. Shoot me an email and let me know what has transpired for you mentally. Were you able to just flip a switch? Or what happened for you that made the change to where you went from focusing on moving away from negative consequences to moving toward positive outcomes?
Otis, N., & Pelletier, L. G. (2008). Women’s regulation styles for eating behaviors and outcomes: The mediating role of approach and avoidance food planning. Motivation and Emotion, 32(1), 55-67.