Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Get Rid of Those “Shoulds”

We have been talking about healthy thinking to help with your weight loss. It may not be a matter of trying harder, or more willpower, but, rather, changing how you think. In previous blogs, we discussed All-or-Nothing Thinking, and Labeling, as common thought errors that may lead to weight struggles. We can all identify with a third thought error: Should Statements. You will recognize the should habit in yourself if you tend to think, for instance, “I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of pie,“ or “I should’ve gone to the gym instead of shopping.”

Should (or must, ought to) statements cause you to feel pressured and resentful. Try to motivate yourself by substituting less guilt-ridden words. For example, telling yourself you shouldn’t eat something can feel depriving. Rather than seeing certain foods as forbidden, deciding to eat healthy on your own is much more liberating. How about, “I could eat that, but I choose not to.” Remind yourself of all the reasons you want to avoid sugary, fattening foods. For example, does a certain food make you feel tired or sluggish?, does it cause cravings, trouble concentrating, or headaches? Maybe it just leads to weight gain in the long run. If so, remembering that you feel worse afterwards (whether an hour later, the next morning, or when you don’t meet your weight loss goal) can empower you to resist that poor food choice.

Another example of shoulds is feeling obligated to have to exercise. It may feel like a burden to have to follow that exercise routine that you set up, perhaps when you were overzealous and didn’t take into account some realistic limits of time and energy. But if you are dreading that trip to the gym, or wherever you exercise, don’t give up. You are in charge of your own rules for living. Every bit of movement counts. Change your should to “I want to exercise and be physically active today because I know I will feel better afterwards“. Think how it will energize you, leave you feeling invigorated, lift your mood, or get rid of some stress. Any exercise will increase your metabolism and build muscle which burns more calories to help with weight loss.

Follow your lifestyle goals to the best of your ability each day. But, when you do end up eating that piece of pie or missing a workout, don’t beat yourself up. Just think about how you can make a better choice next time. You will do better in the long run by looking at what went wrong and planning ahead. Otherwise, when you don’t live up to your shoulds, the guilt and self-blame can cause a setback. You may end up eating more or stop your exercise routine completely! Instead, renew your commitment to your health, and get on with your weight loss journey.

To quote Dr. Albert Ellis, “Don’t should on yourself!”

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