Health Alert: Experts say weight loss is mind over matter - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Health Alert: Experts say weight loss is mind over matter

Health experts say mental focus is just as important as physical exercise if you're trying to lose weight. (Source: WOIO) Health experts say mental focus is just as important as physical exercise if you're trying to lose weight. (Source: WOIO)
(WOIO) -

If you want to get your body in better shape, you may want to start with your mind. A new study is bringing new life to the idea that psychology plays a big role in weight loss. That's very important when you consider out of the millions of Americans who make the New Year's resolution to lose weight, only 8 percent are successful.

As a mental health counselor, Shekyra Decree talks to students almost every day about ways to handle stress. But for years, she was completely unaware that the way she handled stress was eating.

"That would be my go ­to. So even the time of day, me coming home from work, that was something I emotionally associated with time to eat," she explained.

Thanks to a change in her diet and exercise routine, in one year, Shekyra lost 100 pounds. But experts say she's keeping it off because she learned a simple secret most people don't: Your brain can help make you fat.

That’s what neuropsychologist Dr. Diane Robinson says, adding when it comes to losing weight, most people focus only on the physical side.

A national survey by Orlando Health asked people to name the biggest barriers to weight loss, and found nearly 6 out of 10 said diet and exercise. Only 1 in 10 mentioned the mental aspect, which is simply this: Food can release dopamine in the brain's pleasure center, the same as drugs or alcohol, causing a strong, emotional connection.

"Our brain actually recognizes it as a reward and it can become very difficult to separate that kind of emotion and the physiological response that food can have in us," explained Robinson. 

To break those emotional connections, Robinson suggests keeping a journal to track your food and mood, plus identify foods that make you feel good and list the reasons why. She also says before every snack or meal, ask yourself, "Am I eating because I’m hungry?" 

"Then you really know there's a strong emotional component here and it's giving yourself a clue to say, 'What's going on with me?'" Robinson said.

It was only when Decree learned to spot those clues that she was able to make a change for the better.

"The fact that I was able to overcome that struggle, that's the thing, mentally, that is so freeing," said Decree.

In addition to keeping a food diary, experts also recommend joining a support group or meeting with a psychologist to help you identify the emotional connections to food that are the most unhealthy for you in particular.

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