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Psychology of Weight Loss

Psychology of Weight Loss

Oct
10

Many people in different age groups pursue their ideal body shapes. Physicians have taught us that balanced diet and adequate physical exercises are required to attain weight loss. There are plenty of ‘miracle tips’ for weight loss available on the Internet. However, many people found th ...

Many people in different age groups pursue their ideal body shapes. Physicians have taught us that balanced diet and adequate physical exercises are required to attain weight loss. There are plenty of ‘miracle tips’ for weight loss available on the Internet. However, many people found that their weight bounds back within a period after achieving their weight loss goal. It makes them feel frustrated. According to research in 2004 and 2010, people usually regain a third of their weight loss within a year and the rest within 3-5 years. Other than doing physical exercises and changing diet habits, psychologists suggested some points that we should be aware of in order to maintain weight:

1. Be aware of dichotomous thinking

In order to achieve the weight loss goals, some people would do exercises frequently and also restrict their diet strictly. For instance, they tend to label food dichotomously as ‘healthy’ vs ‘unhealthy’, ‘can eat’ vs ‘can’t eat’, and evaluate themselves as ‘standard’ vs ‘fat’. It sounds that they are very determined so they should have relatively successful results. However, when they once fail their harsh dietary rules, they tend to have ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking. They may think that ‘Well, I have already broken the rules, I won’t accomplish my weight loss plan’. After that they may terminate their diet plan and start overeating. They then commonly prefer food in high energy value as well as sugar content level. They may also resume eating food which they restrained in dietary plan before. For example, they could eat 5 packs of French fries and 6 pieces of cake at once, compensating what they were deprived of before. After they have satisfied the desire for that food, they feel regret and anxious about their act. Neglecting our food preference too harshly may show a significant effectiveness in a short term, but it is difficult to maintain and thus may lead to weight regain in a long term.

2. Weight Loss in Mindfulness

i. Mindful eating

A well-modified diet is needed to achieve weight loss. Food with high fat, salt and sugar content should be avoided as much as possible, while healthy food is more preferred in a diet. Some people may think that healthy food is healthy, but is less tasty than the unhealthy food. In fact, healthy food can also be made delicious by various cooking methods. On the other hand, let’s introspect: have we ever savored the food thoroughly? In general, people nowadays eat very fast. They even multi-task when eating (like using mobile phone and watching TV when they are having dinner). The result is that we cannot really enjoy the food which we are eating. Mindful eating helps us appreciate food with refreshing experiences. Moreover, we can know more about our physical needs through mindful eating. Mindful eating requires us to start eating when feeling hungry and stop eating when feeling full. It prevents us from over-dieting and overeating certain kinds of food.

ii. Non-judgmental awareness of eating habits

Not only our body tells us when to eat, our eating frequency and preference may also be influenced by environmental and emotional factors. Some people eat when they feel stressed, doubt their self-worth and are confronted with negative emotions. They eat to escape from anxiety. They usually tend to choose food with high energy value and sugar content. After overeating, they may have guilt and anxiety. A vicious cycle is thus formed. Therefore, if we want to get rid of such a vicious cycle, we should enhance our awareness of present emotions and thoughts, understanding that the desire for food comes from negative emotions and stress actually. After that, we may embrace these emotions and thoughts with an open and accepting attitude. It helps us fight against overeating.

3. Self-compassion

Why do we want to lose weight? For a healthier body? To achieve our own ideal image? To cater to social standard of beauty? If we do for the first reason, weight loss is a beneficial goal which should be supported and encouraged. If we do for the second and the third reasons, we better reassess our actual need of weight loss. Maybe what we really need is self-compassion instead of becoming prettier. Love our healthy body, be more self-appreciating and self-accepting. Being healthy and confident is also a kind of beauty.

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Attachment & Self-compassion

Attachment & Self-compassion

Sep
11

It is mentioned in the previous article ‘Chinese Style Romantic Relationship’ that how our caregivers respond to our needs in childhood can be critical to our development of attachment style in the future and to how we relate with others in adulthood. If caregivers respond inconsistently ...

It is mentioned in the previous article ‘Chinese Style Romantic Relationship’ that how our caregivers respond to our needs in childhood can be critical to our development of attachment style in the future and to how we relate with others in adulthood. If caregivers respond inconsistently or coldly, children may develop into ‘avoidant attachment’ or ‘anxious attachment’ accordingly. People who are of avoidant attachment tend to have negative views of others, treating others as untrustworthy and feeling uncomfortable with others getting closer to them. On the other hand, people in anxious attachment style tend to have negative views of themselves. They are afraid of being rejected or abandoned, so they would pay more efforts to seek for attention and approval from the significant ones.

It is found in numerous psychological studies that children in these two insecure attachment styles may have difficulty in developing healthy and stable relationship with others and could be more vulnerable to depression as well as anxiety in the future. Meanwhile, they may tend to resist self-compassion because of having inadequate affection and care. They may think that they do not have the right to be kind to themselves, being self-compassionate means being self-indulgent, or they could be afraid of recalling shameful memories. The fear of self-compassion could also worsen their depression or anxiety.

Some psychologists from South Korea conducted a research, studying how fear of self-compassion and self-compassion mediate in the relationship between insecure attachment and individuals’ emotional distress. 473 college students were recruited for the research. They were asked to complete online self-report surveys to assess their attachment styles, fear of self-compassion, self-compassion, depression and anxiety.

The results show that compare with people in secure attachment, people in insecure attachment tend to be less self-compassionate while associate with more depression and anxiety. It is found in previous studies that individuals with higher self-compassion tend to have lower depression and greater happiness. Therefore, it can be deduced that individuals in insecure attachment can be more able to manage depression and anxiety if they can exercise self-kindness and mindfulness, and perceive that their pain and struggle are the same pain and struggle experienced by all humanity, understanding the meaning of self-compassion. Before cultivating higher self-compassion, the most important thing is to correct the wrong attitude toward self-compassion and to learn how we can benefit from being self-compassionate. In fact, it is generally accepted that self-compassion can bring us plenty of advantages, such as enhancing mental well-being and motivating us to make improvements.

Life can’t be perfect, and the unpleasant memories can hardly be erased. Yet, we can still live in a happier and more relaxing way by being kind to our self. We have no reasons to reject it.

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Always be kind, especially to ourselves

Always be kind, especially to ourselves

Aug
31

Self-compassion has been a hot topic for decades in field of psychology. There are numerous psychologists pointed out that self-compassion can bring a significant positive influence to our mental well-being. It is found that individuals with higher self-compassion tend to have higher life satisfacti ...

Self-compassion has been a hot topic for decades in field of psychology. There are numerous psychologists pointed out that self-compassion can bring a significant positive influence to our mental well-being. It is found that individuals with higher self-compassion tend to have higher life satisfaction, be less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, and have more equanimous reactions to negative events. Moreover, they tend to cope with physical discomfort and even chronical illnesses better. They are also associated positively with optimism, wisdom, initiative, curiosity and agreeableness. The benefits of self-compassion are obvious, but there are still some people prefer treating themselves critically.

In our society, we are expected to have a virtue of being kind to others and critical to ourselves. Parents and teachers have also taught us in this way so that we can both get along well with others and be motivated to achieve. Some people therefore tend to be self-critical and resist self-compassion due to educational and cultural factors. Some research found that individuals who resist self-compassion tend to value stoicism and personal accountability more. They perceive self-compassion as a sign of weakness, self-indulgence and inability to handle setbacks. In 2015, a team of psychologists from the USA, Canada and Germany conducted a research, studying how self-critical individuals perceive self-compassion.

161 participants were recruited from university for the research. First of all, they were asked to complete an assessment about how they would evaluate themselves after reacting in a self-compassionate and self-critical way respectively. They were instructed to read a paragraph and imagine what it would be like if they thought, felt, and behaved in the way that the paragraph described. Half of the participants first imagined responding in a self-compassionate manner, such as to treat themselves in a warm and caring way; telling themselves that failures and setbacks were inevitable and were part of life; not to treat themselves too critically. The other half first imagined responding in a self-critical way, such as to treat themselves in a cold and critical way; telling themselves that failures and setbacks should be avoided; not to treat themselves too kindly.

After each visualization, participants rated how they would perceive themselves on pairs of extreme characteristics, for instance how confident and insecure they would perceive themselves. They were also asked to rate how easy or difficult it was to imagine themselves in the situation as it was described, and to what extent the situation they imagined could describe how they generally approach negative events.

The results found that individuals with lower trait self-compassion saw themselves as less motivated and conscientious when they imagined behaving self-compassionately, whereas individuals with higher trait self-compassion did not share this view that treating themselves kindly would undermine their performance. Researchers explained that although people with lower trait self-compassion did not expect positive outcomes from self-critical behavior, they did tend to perceive self-criticism as a sign of strength and responsibility. It was suspected that they had the belief that negative emotions and self-criticism help to keep people’s behavior in line and that people who do not castigate themselves and feel badly will not be motivated to behave as they should. On the other hand, it was suggested that for people who have not received adequate care and affection from significant others in the past, self-compassion could cause feelings of vulnerability and threat.

It is very normal to pursue success. However, it requires not only appropriate strategies and planning, but also requires us to enhance mental well-being. It is not shameful to be kind to ourselves, but a responsible manner to care about our mental states. We should be kind to both others as well as ourselves. Let’s keep on our life journey in a more relaxed way with greater self-compassion.

Written by Crystal Ho & Dr. Cindy Chan

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Does Facebook make you unhappier?

Does Facebook make you unhappier?

Aug
14

Facebook has been published since 2004 and it immediately has become the most popular online social network in the world. Most people have at least one Facebook account. It is true that Facebook has given us a lot of fun in daily life, but there are also some invisible risks which we should be conce ...

Facebook has been published since 2004 and it immediately has become the most popular online social network in the world. Most people have at least one Facebook account. It is true that Facebook has given us a lot of fun in daily life, but there are also some invisible risks which we should be concerned. In recent years, other than the issues of ‘Facebook addiction’, psychologists are also studying how Facebook can affect our well-being.

Everyone uses Facebook for different reasons. Some people enjoy sharing their status with friends; posting interesting photos, videos and news. They also ‘like’ or comment on others’ posts. Some people, however, only use Facebook to obtain news and knowledges by looking through friends’ posts and news. They seldom share their status proactively or give comments on others’ posts.

Some American psychologists had conducted a research in 2014 and invited 80 university students to participate in it. First of all, participants were asked to rate their affect, loneliness, and life satisfaction before the experiment. Their motivation for using Facebook was also assessed. Then, participants were randomly assigned to ‘active group’ or ‘passive group’. The active group was required to use Facebook proactively in 10 minutes, such as actively sharing posts and commenting on others’ posts. The passive group was asked to use Facebook passively in 10 minutes, i.e. they could only view others’ posts but could not reply. After using Facebook for 10 minutes, participants were asked about their affect, loneliness, how connected to others they felt and how better or worse they thought their life seemed compared to others. At 9 pm on that day, they were required to do the same questionnaire again.

It was found that both groups did not show immediate alteration in moods. However, when they completed the questionnaire again at 9 pm on that day, the passive group showed a significant decline in moods. It implied that using Facebook passively may cause negative moods and this impact could only be observed after a while. Researchers had conducted another similar survey and found out that passive usage of Facebook might lead to envy, and envy made people feel down.

A group of German psychologists had conducted a research with 89 participants. After assessment, 44 participants were found to be suffering depression while the others were not. All participants were asked to look through 4 Facebook profiles. The owners of the profiles were chosen to roughly fall into the age group of the participant. Two of the owners, 1 male and 1 female, had more attractive appearance. Participants were asked to rate for each owner: how attractive they thought the profile owner was, how happy they thought the profile owner was, and how happy they thought the profile owner was compared to themselves. Moreover, participants were asked to indicate how envious and inferior they felt after faced with the profile. Their depressiveness and self-esteem were also measured. The results showed that depressed participants rated any profile owner happier relative to themselves, while non-depressed participants only rated attractive owners happier. Moreover, in general, envy was higher after seeing an attractive profile, and depressed participants were more envious.

Psychologists explained that depressed individuals reported more feelings of inferiority in the social comparison, and inferiority could predict envy substantially. Envy was furthermore correlated with depressive symptoms and negative with self-esteem. Envy is a normal affect, but it may sustain depressive mood.

Facebook is definitely a very useful and interesting social media which helps us interact with friends as well as learn new things. Nevertheless, we should be aware of our usage of Facebook to prevent addiction. Furthermore, we should not compare with others on Facebook. We can have a happier life with more self-acceptance and self-compassion. We do not need to prove it and let others see it on Facebook.

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Be Bright with Self-compassion

Be Bright with Self-compassion

Jun
5

American singer Ariana Grande hosted her concert in Manchester, the UK, on 22 May this year. When it came to the passionate end of the event, a horrifying bomb attack happened, causing 23 died and 62 injured in audience. Ariana Grande felt deeply sorrowful and guilty after the incident. She cancelle ...

American singer Ariana Grande hosted her concert in Manchester, the UK, on 22 May this year. When it came to the passionate end of the event, a horrifying bomb attack happened, causing 23 died and 62 injured in audience. Ariana Grande felt deeply sorrowful and guilty after the incident. She cancelled the following shows in other places and came back to USA immediately with a gaunt and grievous face. The incident came as a violent shock to her. However, Ariana Grande has gathered herself up very soon. She returned to Manchester 2 weeks after the incident, hosting a benefit concert to raise money for the victims and their families.

Ariana Grande is able to overcome the adversity positively and it may be attributed to her self-compassion. Psychologist Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as ‘being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience’.[1] It is also mentioned that self-compassion consists of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

Psychologists pointed out that people who are self-compassionate tend to be more resilient, optimistic and higher in positive affectivity. When they are confront with negative events, they are still able to react with self-direct understanding and kindness. Oppositely, people who are self-critical tend to have lower self-esteem, to be more depressed and perfectionistic.

Some people think that encouraging self-compassion means to promote self-indulgence, which could undermine personality responsibility for one’s problems. It could also turn an individual into being self-centered, selfish, narcissistic and less motivated to strive for success. However, numerous research show that self-compassion is positively associated with our emotional well-beings through improving life satisfaction, reducing depressive mood and anxiety, and enabling us react to negative events more equanimously. Moreover, it is positively related to optimism, wisdom, initiative, curiosity and agreeableness. Since the self-compassionate individuals do not interpret trying and failing as threatening, they tend to be more motivated to strive for success and to encounter obstacles toward goal progression.

Over self-criticism is not the right track towards success.  It could suffocate us with overloading stress. On the contrary, being self-compassionate can bring us a happy and fruitful life.

 

[1] Neff, K. D. (2003a). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 224.

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