Caroline Cranshaw: How to stop sabotaging your weight loss success

Publish Date
Thursday, 9 November 2017, 10:00AM
Photo / Getty

Photo / Getty

Do you want to lose weight and get fit? Do you start most Mondays motivated and determined and by Thursday night, you’re skipping the gym, eating takeaways and drinking a bottle of wine? Trust me, you’re not alone.

Here’s the thing, your weight is not the issue. The problem started off as something else; family turmoil, trauma, watching others struggle with food and their weight or maybe low self-esteem.

You turned to food to make you feel better and (surprise, surprise) you gained weight. Then the fun begins, you went on a diet. You may have lost a few kilos, but sooner or later your brain started to fight you. To shed the kilos and keep it off, you need to look at the way your brain works and also what emotions may be driving you to overeat.

Your brain has many different components. The part of your brain that wants you to be slim is the most advanced (we’ll call it your computer brain). Under that, lies more primitive layers which we will refer to as your animal brain.

Your computer brain wants you to look good in your jeans. Your animal brain wants you well fed and couldn’t give a toss how you look in your clothes. So, when you go on a diet, your computer brain is taking over and saying “Right, I have had enough of you pigging out. We are cutting back on food until all this flab is gone!”

It may last a while; you might even lose weight. But in the battle between the animal and computer brain, the animal will eventually win. Every time. When you restrict your food intake, your animal brain assumes there some type of famine and goes into panic mode. It floods your body with stress hormones which in turn make it even harder to lose weight.

To keep your animal brain under control, it’s important to try to relax and get in touch with what’s causing us to overeat in the first place. First off, if you have ever been on a diet, your brain and metabolism have been damaged.

There was a study done in the 1940’s called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. In the study, they took 36 healthy men between the ages of 22 to 33, with no previous health problems. They were considered the most physically and mentally sound out of 400 volunteers.

They were in a controlled study for 12 months in which 6 of those months their diet was restricted to the starvation amount of (wait for it) 1,800 calories a day. Far more calories than most diets recommend today!

The results were astounding. After only a few months, the men became completely fixated with food, thinking and talking about nothing else. They became angry, depressed, hopeless and had no sense of humour. They began stealing and hoarding food as well as anything else they could get their hands on.

Many began smoking, biting their nails and drinking coffee so excessively, they were limited to nine cups a day. Then came the bingeing, some of the men lost all control and would eat huge quantities of food and then experience guilt and self-hate so great that they would force themselves to vomit.

After the study finished, the bingeing became even worse, some of the men eating up to 10,000 calories a day for months afterwards. To top it off, the men’s metabolisms were an average of forty percent lower, making the cycle even worse.

So, the moral of the story is diets can screw you up! When you cut way back on your food intake, your animal brain will send stress signals thinking a disaster has struck. It will pull every trick in the book to get you to eat, to gorge yourself until you’re sick. It’s doing what it thinks is best, keeping you alive.

So, the easiest and most effective way to lose weight, (without your brain and body freaking out) is to make gradual and gentle changes.

What to Do to Stop Sabotaging Your Weight Loss 

1. Commit to making one change a week

Figure out what is sabotaging your weight loss the most. Is it your sugar, bread or fried food cravings that are your biggest downfall? Or is it the fact you are always on the go, so you live on takeaways? Maybe your diet is healthy but your portion sizes are too large. Or are you drinking a bottle of wine a night to cope with stress?

Take an honest look at your lifestyle and change one thing. We tend to fail if we change too many habits at once so making one change every week, eases us into a healthy lifestyle.

If it’s sugar that’s the problem, commit to cutting it out the first week and then drop white flour as well the week after. Next, reduce your portions so it’s gradual changes and your brain and body have time to adjust.

2. Try the 5 Second Rule to change your habits

Most people know exactly what to do to lose weight. However, our brain likes to operate on autopilot and takes the easy route. When you are weighing up the options between what you know you should be doing and what you feel like doing, most of the time your feelings will win. If you don’t feel like doing it, you won’t.

The 5 Second Rule is simply counting from 5 down to 1 and then taking action. This engages your pre-frontal cortex in your brain which controls your impulses. This is like switching gears from neutral to drive. When you are tempted to hit the snooze button instead of getting up to prepare healthy food for the day or exercise, count from 5 down to 1 and launch yourself out of bed. Or count and drive past the takeaways and buy something healthy instead.

3. Reprogram your subconscious mind

We know how to lose weight, but the second we get distracted, stressed or are thinking about something else, our subconscious mind takes over, goes on autopilot and repeats the same habits over and over again.

Tell yourself you love to eat healthy food and exercise. Tell yourself you like to eat smaller portions without feeling full. Tell yourself you have a fast metabolism. Say to yourself you weigh _______________(your ideal weight) over and over. Or picture and tell yourself you are a size ______________(your ideal size). Your subconscious mind believes everything you show and tell it, and does what it can to make it true.

The best way to do that is through visualisation which is the language of the subconscious. Picture yourself your ideal weight and feel how it feels to be fit and toned. You can go to a hypnotherapist, you can buy hypnosis MP3s online for very cheap, or you can watch guided visualisations on weight-loss on YouTube for free. 

Here is a link to one of my weight loss visualisations you can listen to for free.

4. Focus on eating healthy unprocessed foods without counting calories

We are addicted to sugar, wheat and processed foods and it takes a bit of time to reset your brain to stop craving those foods. I highly recommend The Whole 30 diet to do a reset to un-addict yourself from food.

When you feel yourself wanting or starting to overeat, stop and take a deep breath. Ask yourself, what are you feeling right now? Are you stressed, angry at your spouse, lonely or bored? There may be a part of you that believes that you are safer being overweight.

I believe every extra kilo you hold on your body may equal a kilo of emotional trauma you’re carrying in your heart (not to mention tummy, thighs and ass). Healing your pain and beliefs will help you shed the fat that’s protecting you. If you have been on several diets and still find yourself gain back the weight, there may be an underlying issue you’re not dealing with.

Sometimes we are aware of what’s causing us pain, other times we know we’re not happy, but don’t know why. You hide the pain and bury it. The problem is, pain is not normal and it doesn’t go away by pretending it’s not there, so we seek relief from our pain with food, alcohol and drugs, etc.

Getting in touch with the pain and letting it go, will help release your need to overeat, have extra weight for protection and feelings of self-blame and inadequacy. There is no separation from our mind and body. The more aware we are of what is affecting us and how to deal with it, the more control we have over our bodies and lives.

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, life coach and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at