Mental Obstacles of Fat Loss

Anyone who has read about fat loss has found the deceptively simple formula: burn more calories than you eat. However, emotional, social, and practical issues frequently cause many people to lose the battle. After determining a sensible approach to exercise and nutrition, you must develop a motivational plan. To develop a personalized and effective motivational plan, you must also keep a detailed food log. Right down everything you eat for at least one week. Track not only your calories and food choices, but also your emotional state (example: happy, depressed, bored), and physical state (example: energetic, tired, hungry). This will help you pinpoint what foods help keep you full for an extended period of time. But more importantly, it will help you identify WHY you eat. Physical hunger is easily overcome by making better food choices. Psychological hunger is much harder to conquer. You must write out and implement various strategies to help overcome these obstacles. Look at each possible scenario individually, the plan your action accordingly.

The primary factors individual’s must overcome during fat loss are as follows:

  1. Lack of Willpower
  2. Boredom
  3. Stress
  4. Depression
  5. Discouragement/Impatience
  6. Peer Pressure

Lack of Willpower

This may surprise many people, but I think a lack of willpower is the easiest obstacle to overcome. Strong willpower is only needed when attempting to follow some bland, prewritten diet from a magazine. Your nutrition plan should be tailored specifically for you. As stated before, better food choices can go a long way in making you feel completely satisfied at every meal. Got a sweet tooth? Try fruit. Breakfast leaves you hungery an hour later? Try more protein such as eggs or turkey. Meals too small? Eat more fibrous fruits and vegetables, drink more water, and eat less fat. Also realize that the longer you allow yourself to make healthier food choices, the more you will crave healthier foods and the less you will crave fast food, sweets, and soda. But do not tell yourself you have to avoid junk food all the time. This will only cause you to doubt your ability to stay on a strict diet and crave junk food even more. Decrease your intake of junk food, but allow yourself to have some on occassion to keep your sanity.


This is generally a powerful detractor from a weight loss program. I am not talking about boredom with the diet, but boredom in general. Realize that eating is only one of an infinite number of activities you could partake it. Read a book, play a game, take a walk, or do some work around the house. I’ve seen several people lose weight by accident because they became more busy with work. If you find you are eating because you are bored, write out alternative activities and implement them into your lifestyle.


Dealing with stress is possibly the hardest factor to overcome for most people. If you find yourself in stressful situations on a frequent basis, you must find ways to deal with it other than eating. Take a five minute walk if possible. Try chewing gum instead of eating. Group classes such as yoga and tai chai often teach breathing exercises that one can use anywhere to aid in relaxation. Perhaps most importantly, voice your opinions in a respectable fashion whenever possible. Keeping everthing bottled up is a great way to allow stress to build up inside. If you know you are chronically stressed out, read a couple of books or take some classes on stress relief.


If you “feel down”, there are several things you can do to improve your mood. The first and most obvious is exercise. While three sessions a week is plenty to improve your body, more frequent bouts may be more applicable to someone who needs the emotional boost derived from exercise. I would recommend 3 strength training sessions per week, only one or two of which should be an all-out effort. Daily cardiovascular exercise can help immensely in some cases, preferably something outdoors (when possible) that you enjoy such as walking, biking, or golf. Your cardiovascular activity should be of low intensity so it does not interfere with muscle recovery. Also, be aware that overtraining can exacerbate mild depression, so make sure you do not fall into the “more is better” trap.

Lack of Patience

Few people, if any, achieve permanent fat loss using quick fix methods such as starvation diets. People can, and often do lose tremendous amounts of weight in a short period of time by literally starving themselves and working out 2 or more hours a day. However, the majority of the weight they lose is lean tissue (water, muscle, glycogen). The stress caused by overtraining and starvation causes an increase in cortisol (which preferentially stores body fat while burning lean tissue for energy). This loss of lean tissue causes a reduction in metabolism, loss of energy, and a poor physique. Almost everyone who loses weight this way will gain it back and more within a few months. There a number of other health risks involved with extremely low calorie diets, but that is beyond the scop of this article. To lose weight effectively and permanently, most people should aim at 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week. This number can be slightly more for someone who is obese but only during the initial stages of weight loss. By emphasizing strength training, a moderate caloric reduction, and a reasonable amount of cardiovascular activity, one can virtually guarantee the he/she will not lose one ounce of precious muscle tissue. However, some people seem impatient at losing only 1 pound of fat per week and become discouraged. Consider this example: If a woman of 160 pounds at 35% body fat (clinically obese) lost only 1/2 pound of body fat per week while maintaining her muscle tissue, she would weigh 134 pounds at 22% body fat (an excellent percentage) in one year. More importanly, by losing weight using reasonable changes in diet and exercise make it very likely that this person could keep the weight off.

Peer Pressure

I’m not talking about the kind of peer pressure where a bunch of kids are standing around smoking and say, “Come one, man. Take a drag.” I’m talking about indirect pressure from the guy who always brings donuts and pizza to the office. Just because the food is there does mean you have to eat it. However, one donut or one piece of pizza on occassion won’t kill you either. Just be realistic. All-you-can-eat buffets may be the toughest challange. Simply allow yourself one plate and fill it up with healthy food first. Then allow yourself a small amount of junk food if you really want it. In some instances, such as at grandma’s house or a business meeting, it may be impolite to turn down an unhealthy appetizer. Just have one piece. But don’t get in the habit of eating just because the food is there or you’ll never succeed at fat loss. Having junk food on occassion will help keep you sane, but always remain in control.

Clare Louise