When it comes to losing weight and creating better health, what you eat matters. So, too, does when you eat.
I’ve talked about how meal timing can impact weight loss and more in this blog. But another critical piece of weight loss that sometimes gets overlooked is mindset.
By mindset, I mean your mental attitude about health, being aware of your eating habits, and paying attention to bad habits that can sabotage your health goals.
“Unfortunately, behaviors and thoughts that slip out of your awareness are bound to continue and take you places you do not intend to go,” says Susan Albers, Ph.D., in Eating Mindfully. “These mindless eating habits are like reflexes. You do them so automatically that eating can be like tying your shoe or brushing your teeth—something you do with little thought.”
Even if you currently go on autopilot when you’re eating, you can retrain your brain to cultivate healthy habits and be present during meals and other activities throughout your day.
As a nice “bonus,” being mindful can help you lose weight. In one review, researchers discovered significant weight loss in 13 of 19 studies among participants who practiced mindfulness.1
With these 10 simple and effective strategies, you can retrain your brain to develop a healthy mental mindset and find your healthy weight.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #1: Make Mindfulness a Habit During Meals
Overeating even healthy foods or eating food too quickly can stall your weight and health goals. Many of us eat meals like we’re competing in a Coney Island hot-dog-eating contest. One of the best ways to retrain your brain is to slow down when you eat, pay attention to, and savor every bite.
“Much overeating happens automatically,” says Albers. “It can become so routine that you may not even be aware of it. When you start to become more mindful, you begin to see mindless behavior that you hadn’t noticed before.”
If you’re accustomed to eating quickly or doing other things like watching TV or scrolling through social media while you’re eating, being completely present may initially feel like a challenge. But you can retrain your brain to be completely present during meals, and that new habit will spill over to other areas in your life.
Learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine here.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #2: Find Your Big “Why”
Reaching your health goals becomes easier when you know why you’re working towards them. As you retrain your brain toward healthier habits, figuring out your big “why” will help you stay the course when you’d rather blow off your workout or dive into that double-fudge chocolate cake.
Dig deep here and be honest with yourself. Your big “why” might be playing with your grandkids in the park, wearing your skinny jeans to an upcoming anniversary party, or having better sex.
Get really clear about your big “why,” write it down, and keep it nearby. You might share it with others for accountability, but you can also keep your big “why” to yourself.
I talk more about your big “why” and discuss how to create a personalized wellness routine in this mindbodygreen blog.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #3: Cultivate Gratitude
Gratitude is the attitude to better health. Express what you’re grateful for, especially on those days when you feel frustrated or down. You’ll be amazed how much better your day becomes instantly.
In one study, people who kept gratitude journals “reported higher levels of energy, determination, enthusiasm, feeling more optimistic, being more likely to exercise, having fewer physical symptoms, sleeping longer, and sleeping with better quality” compared to those who didn’t keep a journal.2 Talk about a simple habit that repays big dividends!
Keeping a nice journal and a pen by your bedside is a great way to practice gratitude. Write down three things you’re grateful for in the morning and then celebrate your wins in the evening.
Alternatively, you might send a text or make a phone call to someone you appreciate and express your feelings. I promise you that will brighten their day and yours!
Read more about mindset and gratitude in this blog.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #4: Track and Monitor to Improve
What you track and measure, you can improve. Providing your brain with feedback about what works and where you can improve can give you that boost and confidence to stay the course and reach your goals.
One of my favorite ways to track and monitor is to record your body-fat percentage and your weight, waist, and hip measurements. You’ll want to purchase a body-composition scale to do that. This Tanita® scale is relatively affordable (these things used to be over a thousand bucks back in the day) and efficient at measuring your body composition.
I also track my blood-sugar levels with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Blood sugar control is the number one thing you can do for your overall health, and a CGM is a great way to know how specific foods impact yours. Learn more about CGMs here.
While you’re at it, consider tracking other health measures including your stress, sleep, exercise, and even your connections with others. I explain how to do that in this mindbodygreen blog.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #5: Practice Habit Stacking
Retraining your brain involves creating small, sustainable habits that you’ll stick with over time. A simple way to do create healthier habits is with habit stacking, or “stacking” a new behavior with the one you already have.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Lay out your gym clothes for the following morning when you brush your teeth at night.
- Practice mindfulness while you’re prepping veggies.
- Have a glass of water first thing in the morning while you brew your coffee or tea.
Find something that you want to work on and stack it with an already-existing habit. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this new habit becomes second nature.
Learn how to feed the emotional centers in your brain to create healthier habits in this episode of Ask the Health Expert.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #6: Surround Yourself With Like-Minded People
You’ve likely encountered a Debbie Downer who crashed your mood and left you feeling like a sinking ship toward your goals. As you retrain your brain, you’ll want to find the right community that supports your can-do mentality. That might mean an accountability partner, a friend, a life coach, or a support group.
Surround yourself with amazing, positive people who support you, hold you accountable, and occasionally dole out some tough love. The right community creates a mindset to help you exceed your limits and smash your goals.
A great place to find supportive, like-minded folks is in my Facebook Community. You can join for free here.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #7: Tap Toward Your Goals
Can a few simple taps help you retrain your brain to better health? Emotional freedom technique (EFT), or tapping, is simple and easy to use. Using your fingertips, you stimulate energy points throughout your body. Tapping only takes a few minutes, you can do it nearly anywhere, and you’ll be surprised how effective it can be.
One study looked at the effects of tapping among 76 participants in a six-week online weight-loss course. During a one-year follow-up, researchers found these participants showed significant improvements in body weight as well as other measures, including depression symptoms.3
Learn more about tapping in this episode of Ask the Health Expert.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #8: Meditate
Chronic stress is the antidote to better health and weight loss. When your stress hormone cortisol stays elevated when it shouldn’t be, you store fat around your midsection.
One of the most effective ways to retrain your brain is with meditation, which can help normalize cortisol levels and help you stay focused on your goals. One study found that adding meditation to your weight-loss goals could help reduce weight and waist circumference.4
Banish any ideas of spending hours meditating or joining an ashram! Even five or 10 minutes of deep breathing or meditating on a mantra in the morning can create the foundation for weight loss and better health.
I talk with meditation teacher Emily Fletcher about the benefits of meditation in this episode of Ask the Health Expert.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #9: Rewrite Your Story
As you retrain your brain for better health, pay attention to the stories you’re telling yourself. Thoughts like I’m too old to wear that size or I can never reach my goal weight can sabotage your success, and you may not even be aware of these thoughts.
The good news is that you have the power to rewrite your story.
“To rewrite your story you first have to be aware of the stories you are ‘buying into’ or telling yourself,” says Jade Teta, ND, in Human 365. “Ironically, we do not always write these stories; instead they are written for us. They are so pervasive and common we don’t even think to question them; we just embrace them.”
Spend some time reflecting on the stories you’ve been unconsciously following, perhaps for years or decades. What would you change about those stories? You have a choice… continue following the narrative or creating a better story.
Retrain Your Brain Strategy #10: Journal
Back in the day when I worked one-on-one with clients, I had one rule: you had to keep a food journal. Writing down what you eat along with how you feel around meals can be incredibly helpful to train your brain and reach your health goals.
Journaling can help you lose weight, too. One study among nearly 1,700 participants found that those who wrote down everything they ate lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t!5
While you’ll find many handy apps to track your food intake, you might instead go old-school and take pen to paper. The key is to be consistent and write down everything… even on those days when you don’t want to.
Do try to write things down shortly after you’ve eaten. You may “conveniently” forget to track some foods when you wait until the end of the day to recall your meals!
Final Thoughts: Lose the Foods That Are Hurting You
Retraining your brain with these simple but powerful strategies could be the missing link for better health and weight loss. As you’re journaling, pay attention to the foods that are hurting you.
If you suspect that, say, gluten slipped into your entrée on Tuesday night and you wake up with a headache Thursday morning, tracking what you eat can help you identify problem foods and be mindful of how they impact you.
On The Virgin Diet, I target seven highly reactive foods that could be stealing your health and happiness. Replacing these foods with nutrient-dense, healing foods can help you feel better fast, lose the weight that you’ve perhaps struggled with for years, and cultivate healthy habits that help you thrive in life. Learn more and order your copy of The Virgin Diet here.
Starting your day with a loaded smoothie is the perfect way to retrain your brain to eat healthy all day long! My new, improved, FREE Loaded Smoothie Cookbook has over 60 delicious and easy-to-make recipes to keep you full and focused for hours.*
- Olson KL, Emery CF. Mindfulness and weight loss: a systematic review. Psychosom Med. 2015 Jan;77(1):59-67. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000127. PMID: 25490697.
- Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Feb;84(2):377-89. doi: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.2067. PMID: 12585811.
- Church D, Stapleton P, Sheppard L, Carter B. Naturally Thin You: Weight Loss and Psychological Symptoms After a Six-Week Online Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Course. Explore (NY). 2018 Mar-Apr;14(2):131-136. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2017.10.009. Epub 2017 Dec 21. PMID: 29370983.
- Sampaio C, Magnavita G, Ladeia AM. Effect of Healing Meditation on Weight Loss and Waist Circumference of Overweight and Obese Women: Randomized Blinded Clinical Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2019 Sep;25(9):930-937. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0092. Epub 2019 Aug 2. PMID: 31373827.
- Kaiser Permanente. “Keeping A Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708080738.htm (accessed August 20, 2022).
The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.