Fat Loss Head Games – When Your Mind Makes Fat Loss Near Impossible.

July 13, 2010

Fat loss should be easy. It certainly looks easy on paper. What makes it tough is the fact that we tend to over complicate things. The human mind comes up with all sorts of ideas that seem legitimate at the time, but are really just excuses to avoid change. My goal in this post is to call out the common lame excuses that get in the way of hitting fat loss goals. I don’t want this to be some generic bland post. Let’s dig deep into excuses. I’ll list some ones that I see consistently, but would love for you guys to continue in the comment section. I love digging into the psychology of achievement, success, etc. This should be fun.

Fat Loss

[I honestly believe that successful fat loss is “all in your head” to a certain extent. While jamming a key in your ear isn’t recommended, take some time to read this post and see if you are victim of any of these tricks that the mind plays.]

“I Don’t Have Time to Get In Shape.”

I’m hesitant to put this excuse first for fear that this post might look like a generic fitness article. This is talked about all the time on fitness sites. I’m not going to give you the typical response about how “you have to make time”, or that you may have to watch less TV, etc. What I will say is that see if you can get in at least 1 intense exercise sessions per week…and make sure your diet is dialed in to the max. My buddy Martin Berkhan over at Lean Gains is one of the most ripped guys I know. He does brief and infrequent intense workouts…but has mastered his diet to get amazing results. Clarence Bass is another guy who trains just 1-2 times per week and is in better shape than 99.9% of the humans on earth.

“I Should Skip My Workout Today So I Don’t Over-Train.”

This is true to a certain extent, but happens much less than what people would have you believe. John Barban believes that this happens in high level athletes much more than the average gym-goer. Many people mistaken being under-conditioned as being overtrained. If you are training 5 days per week or less, this really shouldn’t be an issue. Don’t take this as an exact figure…it depends upon how intense your workouts are, how long, etc. The main thing is to not use this as an excuse simply because you feel tired. Here is the link to a podcast John recorded recently on the subject of over training: Are You Overtraining?

“I Need to Eat More Protein to Repair My Sore Muscles.”

Many people believe that if their muscles are sore, they can get away with eating more food. The thought process is that the extra protein and extra calories will go towards repairing the muscles and won’t impact body fat levels. This is a false assumption! Don’t ever base your food intake on being sore or lack of being sore. This is a fat loss head game for sure. I have been fooled by this one on more than one occasion. This is a bad one, because it “almost” seems logical. If you can defeat this particular head game, you will have a much easier time getting lean.

Fat Loss

[Unfortunately, the tricks that your mind plays on you don’t seem bizarre like this lizard lady. They seem perfectly normal and logical.]

“I Should Rest and Take A Nap to Insure My Muscles Grow.”

Don’t take it easy the rest of the day, just because you had a good workout. This kind of defeats the purpose of training. One of the benefits of a training is to burn calories “above and beyond” what you normally burn throughout the day. If you compensate by being less active than normal, you won’t get ahead very quickly. I have actually seen people go backwards in their fat loss efforts by resting much more than normal outside of the gym. Go about your day “as if” you didn’t have a tough workout for best results.

“I Need to Eat Every Few Hours to Insure A High Metabolism.”

Meal frequency doesn’t matter…it is all about calories. I like eating 1-2 times per day a lot of the time, my girlfriend likes to eat a little more often. We both stay lean because it is all about calories and not meal frequency. If you like to eat often, that is cool. If you like to eat less often, that is cool as well. The only problem is when people feel compelled to eat 6 times per day, because they think it is what they are suppose to do. If you eat every few hours you have to be extremely careful about portion size. Just one big meal mixed in with 5 other feedings will halt fat loss. If you are good at eating small portions then this will work. If you like bigger meals, lower your meal frequency accordingly. Note: There are some dieters who use the “6 meal per day” rule as a way to eat non-stop throughout the day and “appear” as if they are dieting. The biggest woman at my last job was a prime example of this.

“If I Feel Hungry When Dieting, Something Must Be Wrong.”

There is a stigma attached to allowing yourself to get hungry while dieting. I’m going to make a bold statement—> if you want to get lean, you will be hungry from time to time. Here’s another bold statement—> sometimes you will have low energy when dieting. Losing weight isn’t a miserable experience the entire time, but you do have to go through the occasional uncomfortable period. The best approach is to find a way to get into a calorie deficit that minimizes the discomfort. When you get hungry, remind yourself that you can’t avoid the discomfort 100% if you want to get lean.

“I Can Eat As Much XXXX As I Want on This Diet.”

The idea that you can eat as much of any food item as you want, is simply a bad strategy. If you eat to get stuffed, even if the food is low-cal like salad, you are teaching the body that you must be full to be satisfied. My belief is that you should train the habit of stopping before you are full on every meal. Training the habit of getting stuffed when eating means that your splurge meals become mega-calorie events. This has been something that I have tried to work on the past 6 months and it has been tough. I have no problem eating 8+ pieces of pizza, so stopping at 3-4 takes some strong mental discipline. What has helped is eating smaller salads, soups, etc. I just try to never get stuffed anymore, even if it close to zero calorie food like lettuce.

Fat Loss
[Yeah, the post was getting long…so room enough for another bizarre picture. I’m pretty sure my blog has been free of monkey men…until now…sorry if this article is responsible for nightmares!]

“I Look Lean in the Gym, So I Must Be Losing Body Fat.”

When you lift weights your muscles temporarily look larger than normal (even with low reps you will get a slight “pump”). Since your muscles are pumped a bit and your body fat levels stay the same, you will appear to be at a lower body fat percentage. This throws a lot of people off. When summer hits and they go to the beach they don’t look as lean as they thought they were when in the gym. Don’t ever judge your progress by what you look like in the mirror at the gym…during your workout or after your workout. Wait about 24 hours if you want a realistic view of your progress.

“I’m Losing Weight, But Look Flabbier. Something is Wrong!”

This is a bad fat loss “head game”. There are times when you diet where you will appear flabbier than normal. It will look like you are gaining fat instead of losing it. Here is what is happening: Your muscles are pumped up with less glycogen than normal when under a calorie deficit. This causes the muscles to shrink in size. This is a temporary state and they will quickly regain volume with enough calories. When your muscles are flattened out from dieting hard, it can appear as if you have gained body fat. Continue what you are doing and you will work through this awkward stage of getting lean.

So What Are Some Fat Loss Head Games You Have Observed?

I know I’m missing a bunch of fat loss mental blocks. I am hoping to get a large list in the comment section so people can realize that most of us go though the same mental struggles when trying to get lean. I’ve been guilty of almost all of these…and probably countless others. The best way to combat these excuses for eating more or skipping exercise is to identify them. Once you realize that your mind is playing tricks on you, you will be more able to ignore the thought and make positive progress.

Note: I don’t want to go all “Positive Mental Attitude” on you guys, but identifying head games for what they are helps with any goal you are trying to hit.

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{ 105 comments… read them below or add one }

Anita July 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I totally agree with you, Rusty – losing weight is all in the mind. And I like the way you’ve put it as a “mind game”.

We play games to make excuses, but we can just as well use “mind games” to benefit our weight loss.

I get really frustrated when diets address the nutrition, the exercise, and sometimes the motivation part, but they leave out the “glue” that holds it all together – the mind part of the equation.

IMHO the top 3 pitfalls, when it comes to making excuses for not working out or not being healthy overall, are:

1. Procrastination – man – that covers just about 60-70% of common excuses :o)
2. Not having a “WHY” – or a reason to be healthy or lose weight etc.
3. Not making yourself and your health a priority in your life! People always tend to think that their job is a priority, or their social life, or something else. The truth however, is that neither of the other priorities will exist if our health is not good…

Thanks for starting up a good debate :o)

Mark Marino July 20, 2010 at 7:43 pm

How about – It’s , I can “enjoy” myself, right!?

Unfortunately, the holidays, weekends, and other excuses start to become more frequent shortly thereafter.

Great post Rusty. The psychology behind diet and weight training is very intriguing indeed. Especially, since for the most part, we’re all aware of these excuses we come up for ourselves, yet fail to avoid them.

I think one thing I’d add to the conversation is we should not underestimate the role FEAR plays in weight loss. For a lot of people there is an emotional attachment to food. I don’t want to get too deep or philosophical here, but just Google “fear weight loss” and you’ll see what I’m referring to.


Mark Marino July 20, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Sorry – first line of my comment didn’t come through…meant to say:

How about: It’s —insert holiday here— I can “enjoy” myself, right!?

Dan July 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Great post Rusty. One thing I have found is getting caught up in trying to fit all the “healthy” foods in to meals. It can lead to a massive amount of food if you are trying to get all the benefits of all the different kinds of foods in the one day. Eating a varied mix of meals over a week is generally enough to get all the nutrients and vitamins you need, trying to cram it all in each day will just mess with your head!

Dan in Michigan July 21, 2010 at 11:50 am

Great post — cuts through a lot of crapola. As a 51-yr-old guy who’s been fighting the good fight against sloth and excess-poundage for a long time, I can tell you I’ve heard all of these trendy dodges a few times, and tried them all, too. It always comes back to the bottom-line issue of “calories-in vs. calories-out,” and the fitness thing you can do in hundreds of ways…just so long as you actually do it. And keep doing it, and don’t take long breaks from doing it. Break for injuries, don’t obsessively overtrain if you’re a pain-junkie, and work within reasonable parameters for your level of fitness, while always striving to be better.

Finally, I want to recommend the training program that worked the best for me: Joining the US Army at the age of 19. In boot camp I lost 25 lbs in 8 weeks, upped my strength tremendously, had ripped-abs for the first and last time in my life, and wore size 34 waist pants for the last time in my life. šŸ˜‰ I’m still in pretty decent shape, but I struggle to stay in the 36-inch waist pants.

What’s the Army secret? Well, it’s pretty simple. You don’t take days off, you start early in the morning and continue moving all day, and you mix it up with lots of different “fun” exercises, that force you to keep your head in the game. The pounds melt away as if by magic!

scott July 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Very thought provoking post indeed Rusty. Good for you.

I purchased Tom Venuto’s e-book “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle,” a few years back, and can’t begin to tell you what a valulable tool it has been. Tom does a GREAT job of addressing the psychology of fat loss, and how our subconscious mind is what dictates our actions on a daily basis.

It’s the thoughts and emotions fermenting within our subconscious mind that will ultimately determine whether we are successful in our battle of the bulge. If you can change your self-image, and rid yourself of the negative self-talk that keeps sabotaging your attempts at fat loss, then you can be successful.

That all comes about by reprogramming the subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind basically guides you like a missle in route to its target. By reprogamming it with positive thoughts and affirmations, you can harness the powers within and have your subconscious mind become a goal seeking machine.

It takes a great deal of repetition and positive reinforcement to get to that point, but once you do, the fat will start melting off of you so fat your head will spin LOL. No longer will you be your own worst enemy, and instead will achieve things you never thougt imaginable.

Jack July 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Amen, to that brother!

Alejandro "The Fittest Vegan" July 21, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Wow, I’ve used most of these excuses before… the challenge is training yourself to a level where you look for excuses to train rather than not train…. when you gain the habit to that level is when the difference is made.. I’m forwarding your post to about 20 people I know that I’ve heard these excuses from..

skunk1980 July 22, 2010 at 1:33 am

I wish someone would address the real problem of weight loss and dieting: sugar addiction.

Calorie restriction, satiety, will power and motivation are tremendously impeded because of sugar addiction. We all have time. We all know how to eat right and train right. But very, very few manage to part ways with junk food because its so addictive and gets you high. This is the real source of the mind games: dancing around with the guilt and rationalization of ones daily junk food splurge/binge.

If a successful method for getting the great drug of sugar out of our lives were created, it would end the mind games and clear the way for true fitness.

Engel July 22, 2010 at 10:03 am

The hardest thing for me was to cut the amount of sweets, crisps, chocolate etc. So I just made sure each week to cut the amount down until now I just have a pack of crisps and a chocolate bar at the weekend as a cheat.

I do the eat stop eat, train weights 3 times a week and just started the tacfit bodyexercises mentioned in another post.

I eat a lot more healthier now but if I want a macdonalds I will get one if I’m out.

As long as I eat less of what I already eat I know I will lose weight. I choose to eat healthier because I know it will get me into better shape quicker and make quicker gains. But most importantly I enjoy what I eat now because if I didn’t then I wouldn’t stand a chance.

Alex - Hardcore Natural Bodybuilding Tips July 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm


You are right about your point, trying to cram a bunch of exercises in a single day is not advisable.

I have read on a blog called rosstraining.com about an ex boxer who has a simple 6 day workout program, he does weight training on one day and on the next he would work on the heavy bag and run up a steep hill, he would repeat this 3 times a week.

Simple but effective, the guy is in his 40s and the blog author says that the guy looks great for his age.

-Alex Allmert

IPBrian July 23, 2010 at 9:43 am

I hate it when I hear people say something like, “I have already gone over my calorie range for the day, so I might as well go all out and eat everything in sight.” No people, those calories count as well!

Bryan July 24, 2010 at 3:28 am

Rusty, as far as upping your metabolism, what are you thoughts on working the large muscle groups?
Many people that I have talked to (or that have talked to me) seem to really get stuck on dieting or fat loss almost to the point of paralysis.
I have encouraged people, that while they are sorting out their eating strategies, work and train the large muscle groups in an effort to maximize the ability to burn calories.
Thoughts anyone?

gilbert II July 25, 2010 at 12:42 am

quick question..is it ok to use EZ BAR for military presses?

Jakson July 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm

this article have covered all the elements which are really done in our mind

Antonio Oroboro July 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Its awesome because I am a big fan of this blog and I came here after getting a big meal of junk food and I was wondering why the hell, after so much effort, expectation and commitment to my goal I find myself doing the opposite voluntarily. It just seems crazy.

I live in Mexico and here food (and how calorie heavy mexican food is!) plays a big role in family attachment and celebration. So in some degree, food must be present anytime you want to reward or celebrate something.

So food is like a Happiness Token. If you are unhappy, eat to be happy. If you are happy, eat to be even happier!

If my life goes bad, Im gonna break my diet and eat this! Anything its worthwile, my diet sucks, life sucks.

If my life goes well, Im gonna break my diet and eat this! Ive just earned it, my diet has going well, Im reaching my goal, I deserve it.

As a fun, happy and social person my most frequent mind trick is a sense of “Pleasure and Rewards Stacking”. Its weekend, Ive doing well at working out, Ive doing well at my personal projects, I find myself having fun, laughing, hitting on girls well, partying hard or just chilling out, being with my best friends feeling like a rockstar and sucessful and loved guy… just one more thing woul do things even better… TASTY FOOD! rejecting the chance to eat something delicious and forbidden would just ruin the perfect vibe! I must eat this and feel how awesome life is…

Thanks Rusty! My questions are…
you focus your nutrition posts at fasting and calories intake. But how the actual food that you take inside that fasting and calories affect you? Like… fasting then eating 800 cals of chicken and salad… VS fasting then eating 800 cals of ice cream, pasta, chocolate and cookies…

And… Do drinking tea or coffee breaks the fasting? Or do strenghet it?

Antonio Oroboro July 25, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Drinking tea or coffee during the fasting, I meant….

Michael Anders July 26, 2010 at 9:58 am

This is a fantastic post. I agree with most of it and have to say the list is pretty complete. Only thing I would add is that: Cheat days are not allowed because cheat days lead to cheat weeks.

Leif B July 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Michael A,
I have to somewhat disagree. I think scheduled cheat days are an earned right though, and as such should be avoided until discipline had been proven. I was on a discipline heavy diet and had practically not cheated at all for weeks straight (somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks, losing 20-30 lbs in that time frame) and I’d basically been burnt out.
I decided to schedule a once a week, one meal cheat agreement. That Saturday night (for dinner) I had a king size Snickers bar and a 24 oz Monster. It was awesome, it was rewarding, and when I stepped on the scale the next morning to see I had done slight, though reparable damage, it pumped me up in a way. It told me that I was doing the right thing, it was working and I could enjoy myself a little.

Cheating needs to be done in small, moderate, spaced out doses. Cheat “days” are too much if you ask me.

Holly August 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Have to say I agree that the cheat days lead to cheat weeks.( been there don’t that!)! If you have the will power… I guess it can work. The mind games are huge…. If you don’t believe that you can have a lean body it won’t ever happen! NO matter what you do…. You might get it for a while, but then you slack off…. and why the slack… what are you telling yourself? It is a never ending journey to think and do lean.

John Sorrels August 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I’m 5′-8″ and 145 lbs, age 48. Trying to loose those last few pounds in the belly, but now my face looks like a POW (was 160 at my heaviest). So I tell myself “your too thin”, (and so does everyone else!). I want my face to fill out, but I still have a gut. I’m built like a ruler so the stomach sticks out. What can I do? Is this just a head game or do I have to look sick inorder to have a flat stomach?

Badbanky August 12, 2010 at 10:31 am

HMMM…. definetly d 1 where i decide 2 diet den along d line i eat way 2 much of a particular meal nd den decide 2 eat every damn thing i see 4 d rest of d day nd den tell mi self dat i’ll burn it all off d nxt day. still struggling wit it though, i jst kant get ova d hunga craving no more. nd ve been training for 6months so y is dis happening 2 me naww!!?? i’ll try 2 get ova it in d cumming weeks b4 i head up 2 skul. but 4 wat its worth am gonna b eating gudddd 2dae lol!!

PreteMoiParis August 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Great post. I definitely need these tips after my culinary-rich summer vacation! Any post suggestions for tips on what exercises to do to lose body fat without gaining too much muscle mass?

Jason G August 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Good article. Prete I would do high intensity circuit training for weight loss. Excercise choice is not as important as intensity. Try to get a full body workout. I do mini circuits with dumbells: Each circuit I rotate exercises without rest.

Circuit 1
Wide-Grip Pullup
Dumbell Squat
Swiss-Ball Plank

Circuit 2
Close-Grip Pullup
Dumbell Fly
Swiss-Ball Crunch

Circuit 3
Incline Dumbell Fly
Hanging Knee Raises

Circuit 4
Dumbell Row
Calf Raises w/dumbells

Circuit 5

Jason G August 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Circuit 5
Shoulder Press
Triceps Extensions
Hammer Curls

Circuit 6
Dumbell Front Raise
Dumbell Kickback
Lateral Raise

Do three sets of each exercise in the circuit and finish each set in no more than five minutes. Take no longer than two minutes to recoup before beginning the next circuit(IDEALLY 1 MINUTE). Rest for your muscles is built into the routine with core exercises in the first three circuits and with alternating isolation exercises in circuit 5 and 6. This workout routine will boost your metabolism like HIIT training but also increase your metabolism for days like traditional weight lifting training. This is a full body workout that will be completed in no more than 40 minutes. Take two days off between workout sessions and enjoy life!

scott August 25, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Great post!!!!!!!!!! You summed it up perfectly. Just take action, measure your results, and allow said results to dictate your approach.

Mister fit September 5, 2010 at 7:46 am

Hey I think your personal opinions a pretty informative. I think you are very accurate with your info :)

Azri Miskal September 18, 2010 at 10:30 am

You summed up some pretty inappropriate schools of thinking when it comes to fat loss. I definitely agree with you on the note that fat loss, fitness, or anything else is purely a mind’s game. You need to put your heart into it, acknowledge that it is going to take some time before you start seeing results.

Ryan-MyFavoriteFitnessTips November 18, 2010 at 2:19 am

Glad that there are kind of self-help strategies here like this. One fault I think people encounter when fat loss seems more difficult is that they try to many things at the same time, like having short-attention span, especially when not seeing results in a few weeks or so.

Fat loss should be as simple as possible for us. We have to find a few guidelines that we can live by from reliable sources like Rusty’s blog and get consistent with it.

Hazel February 6, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Oh man. I know I’ve fallen for at least one of these at some point. And then like someone on the comment board said, there’s this one where you eat a few bad things and decide to keep eating bad since the calorie deficit for the day has been messed up anyway. I fall for that the most!!

Mark's Fat Burning Food and Fitness Blog April 8, 2011 at 10:09 am


this is incredibly interesting!
It all starts in the mind, doesn’t it?

Arnie always keeps saying:

“Make your mind work FOR you, instead of AGAINST you!”

I think it’s so important that I’m talking at length about this in my weight loss Mind Motivators and in the Psychology of Weight Loss articles.

Procrastination, lack of perseverance, but funny enough, also lack of the correct info are often responsible for failure.

Think about it:
Many actually bring up the will and motivation, but their efforts are not rewarded because they’re simply following the wrong information … and then they quit!

Imagine they had the best, most perfect and effective guidelines from the start, so would see rapid results straight away!

I’m sure a much higher % would actually pull it through then, don’t you agree?


Fitness Guy - How to put on muscle July 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I think everyone can relate to the head games. The worst one is when your losing weight and it looks like your flabbier because as soon as you think your doing something wrong you lose that consistency you had.

Regular body fat tests and outside opinions for the win.

d.Mark "Dave" Wheeler July 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

Great blog post! It fits right in with some of the ideas in my book, Fat is all in your Head: 101 Small Decisions for Amazing Health. If any of your readers are interested, they can get the first 50 pages of my book for Signing Up on the book’s website, http://www.FatisallinyourHead.com.

I’d also love to have you as guest blogger on the site if you are interested. You have my email address (as part of the comment system) if you want to work together !
Dave Wheeler
Mindset Training Expert

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