A new way to see the emotional side of weight loss

When I talk to people about my weight loss story, I've noticed something interesting. When I challenge their beliefs about how to lose weight and the promises made by most weight loss programs (lose 30 pounds by summer!), I get an unexpected reaction–they seem relieved. When I tell them that it will take time and that this is a complex problem, and that you need to be healthy to lose weight not the other way around, they perk up and get interested. When I tell them that cravings and processed foods have more to do with their weight gain than weak will, they cheer. I would have thought they would defend their long held beliefs and what they are told by TV nutrition.

So why do they react this way? I think they are all just so sick and tired of the programs that fail them over and over (mine was Weight Watchers, 13 times in 25 years) and being told that “it is really very simple, so why can't you lose the weight?” It's a relief to hear that you are not crazy and that it is more complex than just “calories in, calories out.”

While I was going through my weight loss process, I read Dr. Amr Barrada's book Making Peace with Anxiety and Depression. He is a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders. I realized that so much of my thoughts about my weight were very similar to how I processed my feeling of anxiety; that is, I had a very all or nothing approach (if I can't do this perfectly, then I'm not going to do it at all!). I was also obsessed with food and my food rituals–all very nicely aligned with anxiety.

This way of processing my emotions around weight was also heavily reinforced by the diet plans that I had followed for years, which made my problems worse. Barrada's book helped me challenge the beliefs about how to process the emotions involved as I tried to lose weight for the long term.

Dr. Barrada talks about the widespread belief that emotional problems are simple, and are easy to overcome. Well I see the struggle with weight as a very emotional experience. I think it's safe to say that most people who struggle with weight don't feel good about the experience. But it was new for me to think about it in this way. He says:

People with emotional problems share the conviction that their problems are simple and easy to overcome. They are unwilling to see how complex their problems are despite ample evidence derived from their experience which tells them that their problems cannot be overcome by simplistic methods. They keep apply simplistic strategies and procedures to their problems that yield poor long-term results, but that they are convinced should work.

If you swap out “emotional problems” with “weight problems” can you see the connection to our deeply held beliefs about weight? We are bombarded by ads and messages around how simple it is to lose weight. It's as easy as “calories in, calories out.” And yet, in my experience, these simplistic diet plans and solutions NEVER worked. I had to challenge my long held beliefs about everything, while getting information personalized to my unique situation. A much more complex approach, but 90 pounds later, so much more effective long term.

 

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