Psychological Barriers and Solutions to Crushing Your Fitness Goals

23.11.21 04:33 PM By Theresa Yu

  • Psychological Thoughts to Crushing Your Fitness Goals

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    Have you been trying to lose weight but it does not seem to come off? Are you stepping on the scale every day to see your weight fluctuate or even increase, no matter how small you portion your meals or how much water you drink? Are you working out for two hours a day and not see your body size change to the way that you want it?

    Chances are, some of these psychological shifts I mention in this post may be the answer to these questions. To be clear, I am not de-emphasizing the importance of eating nutritious food, exercise, getting proper sleep and decreasing stress as main factors of health improvement, which ultimately leads to whatever your fitness goals may be. The bottom line is, if you want your fitness and body composition to change, your actions and habits need to change along with it; the mind can have big role to play in these areas to move you along with the plan.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33% of adults in the nation are overweight and an additional 36% of adults are obese. Most people generally already know that the key to losing weight, is in some cases all about food portion control and introducing more activity throughout the day. However, not everybody thinks about managing your thoughts and emotions to getting your weight under control, especially in the long-term.

    I have found that on the psychological level, it all comes down to a few things to promote healthy changes, no matter if your goal is to lose weight or even gain weight. It boils down to habit change, self-discipline, and your “why” for changing. If you can get these stronger than your worries, criticisms, and complaints (yes, we all have them), then you are well on your way to success. This is MORE than just keeping a food log, counting calories, or tracking your activity. For all you data experts out there, yes, I’m talking to you, this is more than the hard, fast numbers, and the quantitative size of things. This is the qualitative data—the cushy feelings, the stress meter, the obscure “sleep score”…not from your fitness tracker. Let’s dig deeper:

-  This is the bullying from your teen friends because you weren’t “skinny” to fit in with them

-  This is the shame you and your “trusted” companions brought onto yourself when you didn’t win the body-building competition

-  This is the childhood trauma you had when a family member told you that you were too fat, too skinny, or anything in-between and restricted your diet.

    Long-lasting change is more than just short-term actions. It is addressing the root cause of the problem to where you can then eventually grow something worth-while with enough time, love and nutrients. This will take a lot of time, but the outcome will be much more sustainable and satisfying.

Four psychological barriers to crushing your fitness goals:

    1.  Emotional eating. I don’t want to demonize the extra square of chocolate you sneak in after a meal or the occasional Starbucks vanilla latte to treat yourself every weekend. These are all totally fine! Emotional eating can come in all forms, such as eating while stressed (I have this problem) or eating when bored. Truth of the matter is, it can be hard to notice the additional calories you’re sneaking in while you do so and those add up.

    The first thing to do here is to actually realize when you’re emotionally eating. Notice what you think about and how you feel every time you do eat, and if you’re slow and mindfully eating or if you have to rush through your meal. Are you actually hungry? If so, what are you craving? When you’re rushing, your gut doesn’t have the time to send signals to your brain that you’re full, so in these circumstances, you could overeat. If you’re feeling sad or depressed and you find yourself reaching for the snack cabinet, it could be a sign that your brain is looking for a dopamine-rush. Studies show that just a few minutes of exercise could also release those dopamine chemicals to improve your mood. This could be an alternative if you find yourself eating away your feelings.

    We all find comfort in food; however, if you find that your root issue is emotional eating, then being mindful about it is the first step to beat it!


     2.  Habit-change is really hard. Have you tried to get out of bed within five minutes of your alarm clock and failed? Have you ever tried to get a teenager to achieve this? It’s super hard work to change a habit! Humans are creatures of routine and habit. Doing something else other than your set routine would just be too uncomfortable. This also goes for creating healthy habits.

    Some of us may not be accustomed to working out 4 times a week or going for that 20- minute walk in the evenings. The key is to not look at the climb when you’re on the foot of the mountain. When you take it one-step at a time, the progress will seem easier and easier. If you have a habit of just working out once a week, you can progress to two times per week. If you have a habit of eating sweets after each meal, shoot for eating them after one meal.

    The idea is to be able to change slowly and make progress one step at a time. After a few weeks, you may even see noticeable change in your habits after progressively repeating the behavior.


    3.  Impatience. Changing habits ultimately takes a lot of time. Many of us, particularly women and young adults where their minds are impressionable, are influenced by the way we should look as portrayed by the media and social media. The truth of the matter is, many of the images are photoshopped and edited in a way that is unnatural for any person to look like that. This is damaging to the consumers’ mental health and it makes them believe that we need to look a certain way for our bodies to be accepted. With the speed of communication and information on the Internet these days, more and more people are under the pressure to achieve results right away.

    Review your “why” again and see if it aligns with your ultimate health goals. Are you doing it because of media influence? Aesthetic reasons? Or, are you doing it for yourself or to benefit your health? Remember that all things worthwhile take time and you’d have to work up patiently to achieve those goals; models on tabloids and magazines want to influence you to conform to their ways, but do not let it sway your “why.”


    4.  Negative self-talk, perceptions, and emotions. It’s that negative self-talk that’s creeping in again, every time you couldn’t complete a rep or when you reach for your kid’s Halloween candy. The criticism settles when you’re “not supposed to do something” and break your own rules. As often as this may happen in our daily lives, it is harmful to your confidence and ability to accomplish something. Every time we talk ourselves down on every mistake we make, it’s a potential set-back. It’s pretty hard to push the negative talk and emotions away after it happens; it could even be inevitable that we will continue to have them to matter what. It’s a touchy subject as much of these thoughts can come from childhood trauma and experiences that we carry into our adult lives.

    You don’t have to unfold the past and dig up old dirt to understand why the negative self-talk creeps in in the first place. What you can do is realize when negative self-talk occurs. This can be recognized through mindfulness practices, deep reflection, and pausing every time a negative emotion occurs. We may not be able to notice the negative self-talk occurring immediately, but the thoughts and emotions that come after could come to light after pausing after each situation. I talk more about pausing in a video and how to prevent immediate negativity to my subscribers. You can click here to get the guide.


    I’ll admit, not being able to lose the weight after tons of hard work sucks. Even if you had a plan and stuck to it for an amount of time, these mental factors can be crippling. The truth is, progress is just as practical as it is abstract. If your goal was to lose X amount of weight, you can track all the calories in and out you want but those negative emotions, self-talk, and the like are not really trackable, even if you see the scale fluctuate. Tackling the behaviors and mental triggers first can be beneficial to your goal and can spark positive change in your mental health too.


For more posts like this, check out:

Practice: How to fail with grace:


Your cells are listening: how negative thoughts can affect your state of being:


The power of prevention:

Theresa Yu