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The Thinking Habits You Need to Lose Weight

Dr. Gary Foster, author of The Shift and Chief Scientific Officer at Weight Watchers, discusses the evidence-based research that goes into his weight-loss philosophy. 

By
Gary Foster, Ph.D.
4-minute read

Gary Foster, PhD., joined Quick and Dirty Tips for a Q&A about the research in his book The Shift: 7 Powerful Mindset Changes for Lasting Weightloss.

What advice do you have for a person who has tried multiple diets and weight-loss fixes only to end up back where they started? 

What I've learned through my decades-long career as a clinical health psychologist focusing on obesity, is that what you eat and how much, along with levels of activity, may seem to be all that count in weight loss, and they do count, of course—but without another crucial component, they will not add up to long-term weight-loss success. That component is your mindset. How you think about yourself and how you think about the journey you’re on is a key component to lasting weight-loss.

How you think about yourself and how you think about the journey you’re on is a key component to lasting weight-loss.

What is the mindset people should acquire about weight loss? The Shift discusses building thinking habits to help you lose weight—what are those thoughts?

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There are several mindset shifts that I’ve identified in my book—seven altogether—but the overarching theme is one of self-compassion. The ideal way to think about yourself is to accept you as you are now; a great way to do that is to practice self-compassion. When I work with people that are hard on themselves, often cruel to themselves, after eating more than they’d planned, or a day that they claim they “failed,” I ask them one simple question: Would you act this way, or say those things, to a friend?

Talking to yourself as you would to a friend is a key step in cultivating self-compassion.

How do you envision readers interacting and engaging with The Shift?

This is not a diet book. Rather than telling you what to eat or not eat, The Shift focuses on your mindset and how you think, factors that are crucial to lasting weight-loss. Each chapter focuses on a different mindset shift, and  includes practical, actionable, and science-based techniques that help readers develop the skills for success. My greatest hope is that, in reading this book, that people will be inspired by the smart, caring scientists and researchers I consulted while writing The Shift, as well the real-life examples of people who have made their own meaningful shifts.

What are the 7 mindset changes for lasting weight loss discussed in The Shift?

In short, the seven shifts that I identify in the book are:

  • Embracing self-compassion
  • Seeing setbacks as opportunities to refocus
  • Taking small steps for big results
  • Leaning into your strengths
  • Valuing your body
  • Finding your people
  • Experiencing happiness and gratitude now

​Your weight is not your worth, and evaluating people based on their weight, shape or size is unjust and dehumanizing.

WW uses your approach in its weight loss strategy—what is your "bottom line" approach for the company?

Helping people change the way they think about themselves and the journey is a critical part of the WW approach, which has 4 pillars: Nutrition, Activity, Mindset, and Sleep. The Mindset pillar leverages the science and techniques described in The Shift to help our members think differently about themselves and the journey and to make weight loss livable and sustainable.

Have you ever been made to feel less than human based on your weight? Dr. Monica Johnson, the Savvy Psychologist, explains what sizeism is, and how you can deal with it in your everyday life, in her article "What is Sizeism, and How Can You Fight It?

What are a few easy changes a person could make in their life to make it easier to lose weight and keep it off?

The most impactful changes to make are the result of a true shift in mindset. Once that occurs, everything else falls into place. A few tips to help you get there:

  • Treat yourself with self-compassion
  • Celebrate everything your body does
  • Set goals that are specific and reasonable
  • Expect setbacks and recover from them quickly

Have you noticed conversations about weight loss changing recently? 

I absolutely have, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been the culture-wide shift that I think is necessary. There’s been a lot of talk about body positivity, and it’s absolutely been a positive change in sentiment. Your weight is not your worth, and evaluating people based on their weight, shape or size is unjust and dehumanizing. Unfortunately, weight-based stigma and discrimination still exist, and it comes in many forms, from family members, healthcare providers, teachers, and others. This pervasive, societal bias is often internalized by those affected by it. We need to debunk the myth that you have to hate your body to lose weight. Treating yourself and your body with kindness and compassion is fundamental for success.

We need to debunk the myth that you have to hate your body to lose weight.

What made you decide to write The Shift?

That might seem like an easy question, but as anyone can tell you, bookstores are full of diet and exercise books, and even more come out every week. But after 30 years of clinical experience and publishing over 250 scientific papers in my career, I’m truly convinced that each of those books and strategies are missing a crucial element: mindset. I found myself frustrated with the continued overemphasis on a “diet” mentality that solely focuses on eating and activity habits and ignore thinking habits. I’ve seen firsthand the effect that mindset shifts, in the form of self-compassion, valuing your body, and experiencing happiness and gratitude, can have on a weight loss journey, and I really wanted to share that with people.