BREAKING ‘BAD’ THIS NEW YEAR – Focus on what is working to achieve your health goals

It’s the New Year. You swear to be “good” and lose those 20 unwanted pounds. You start being “good”. You dust off the gym membership and buy some vegetables.

The New Year starts and things are going well.  You are being “good”. Being “good” feels good to a certain degree, but the dark side is that there is a part of us that doesn’t quite believe that it will last. In fact, the more we focus on being “good”, the more nervous we get– because we know what is coming: “BAD”!

“Bad” happens.  You have a stressful day. You go to a party or away for the weekend. You go off your diet and binge on comfort food.   Now you’ve been “bad” which makes you feel “bad” and now you have “failed” your diet and so why not keep being “bad” and let loose until Monday in order to start again and be “good”.

And around and around we go in the endless “try to be ‘good’ falling into the ‘bad’” syndrome – until it’s 2016 when we resolve to start over, again!


Studies done on elementary school children found that when their parents praised them with terms like “good” and “great” it made the child self conscious and nervous. The focus on being “good” pulled the child out of their focus of what they were doing like painting a picture or playing baseball and focused them on themselves.

The study showed that when the parent reinforced the positive behavior that the child was doing, like “wow, you really put a lot of attention on detail in your painting, I can see everything very clearly” or “your practicing to hit the ball really helped you make those points for the team” there was greater success.

The child received the benefits of feeling a parent’s respect and approval, and at the same time kept their focus on what they were doing that prompted the praise. The child’s brain did not get nervous—it got the point, “when I pay attention to detail, it shows” or “When I practice, I improve my performance”.


When it comes to weight management, when we label ourselves as “good” or “bad”, it breaks our focus from the exploration of healthy choices.  It doesn’t allow us the confidence or trust to learn how we can create healthy behaviors (including problem solving) that work for our individual situation, our life, our ideal weight.

Let’s face it, anyone who has lost weight and kept it off will not tell you they did that as a result of “being good” continuously.  They did it as a result of focusing on developing and repeating habits that allowed them to move towards their goal.  When they overate or binged or got off track they made corrections, learned from their negative behavior and created a new strategy so that they would not have to repeat that negative behavior again.  They refocused on what was working and moved on towards their goal.  No drama. No name calling and definitely no starting over.

Here is a classic example: I recently saw a client who came to see me, upset with the fact that she gained weight over the weekend because, “I was bad and drank too much and then ate three desserts at my friend’s birthday party. I then felt so mad at myself that I ate all day Sunday and now am up 5 pounds on the scale. I just want to start over and fresh Monday I know I can be better this week”

I immediately stepped in and forced her to “break bad” and said, “There is no ‘bad’, just choices. Instead of sweeping the weekend under the rug, let’s learn from it.” Once we removed the label “bad”, it gave her the freedom and focus to really look at the choices she made, like going to the party both hungry and thirsty, drinking too much in the beginning, and then feeling starved and overeating.

We concluded that the next time she goes to a party, she needs to prepare and have a little to eat beforehand. She also learned that she needed to focus on having just two drinks and having water in between. She also figured out that if she only put a small piece of dessert on her plate and really savored it, she wouldn’t end up eating three pieces.

My client called me back the following Monday to report that not only had she gone to another party over the weekend and FOCUSED on her new behaviors, but that she discovered that when she used those new behaviors, it was really easy for her to manage her healthy eating choices at the party and that she was down another pound and a half from last week.

Here are some researched tips on how to keep the brain focused on achieving your weight goal for this year:

WRITE DOWN YOUR GOAL—GET CLEAR ON WHAT IT IS: Nothing turns your brain off more than “try” and “hope” to be good. That means nada to your mind. “I will release 10 pounds this spring by walking 45 minutes a day and cutting out refined flour and sugar.”

  1. MAP IT OUT DAILY-Research in the journal SCIENCE shows that our mind can only focus on about two things at a time. There are many components to your day and if weight release is one, it will help you to map out and remind yourself when you plan to exercise and when and what you plan to eat. Have a plan or plan to fail as the saying goes.  Give your brain a leg up and give it a cheat sheet for your day.  This is my #1 success tool for managing my weight.
  2. MAKE YOUR HEALTH A PRIORITY—Write down all the reasons why you want to change your health and keep a card with the list on your desk and by your bed. Include your goals of what your desired outcome is. Keep your health priority top of mind.
  3. MAKE YOUR ENVIRONMENT WORK FOR YOU—How can you focus in an unhealthy environment full of distracting foods that trigger you to eat more? Get your environment lined up with your goals—make it easy for yourself to stay focused and on task.
  4. GIVE YOURSELF REWARDS—It is important to set mini goals that you can achieve and celebrate. It helps keep your mind focused on the short term, do-able stuff and also builds confidence.
  5. KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR PROGRESS—Our mind quickly forgets our achievements. Track your weight release. Some weeks the scale may be flat line and that is frustrating so it helps to see that the overall trend is going down. Pull out some graph paper and keep track of your weight over time, it will keep you focused on moving down the scale when you can really see progress is being made—even if it is taking time.
  6. RECORD IT—yes recording your daily food and exercise keeps you focused and out of the “good” or “bad” syndrome. It’s a great tool for problem solving–removes the critic and brings out the scientist in you.

Resolve to break the “bad” habit and resolve to focus instead on is working for you.  Let that guide your path the success weight loss in this wonderful New Year.  Happy 2015 to YOU!


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