Weight loss diets that work? Let’s see … “I can’t stand women who can’t get back to their original figure after having children.” That seemed like a ridiculous thing to say but somehow this throw-away comment fell onto fertile ground. Six months later – a starvation diet. It was easy enough. A week later, and 10 pounds were gone.
Then, a few years later, another innocuous remark, by another person. Another man, to be precise – quite likely, that’s important: “125 pounds? Well, you don’t need to weigh more.” It was probably forgotten the moment he turned back to his newspaper. And so it went, for years and years. Weight gain, weight loss, diets, exercising – a decade-long spiral.
Moments of emotional upheaval suggested food (and weight gain) just as those male voices suggested weight loss. And the food tasted good, the fullness in the stomach was reassuring, the slightly drugged feeling was a wonderful escape, the heaviness gave the feeling of groundedness that seemed otherwise so elusive. Then there were the occasional fantastic weight loss experiences!
But the spiral went up and up. This is what happens with yoyo dieting. Lose 10 pounds, gain 15. Lose 20 pounds, gain 30. Lose 30 pounds … you get the picture. It’s not just about losing weight but how to lose weight and keep it off.
When we analyze this little story, we see a number of things. Of course, they are not the only elements, and many of these elements are intricately intertwined. At any rate, looking at these elements can help untangle the web of obesity.
Expectations. Our culture is obsessed with weight and how much a person “should” weigh. Here’s a question. If you are reasonably healthy and fit, how much does your weight matter? There is a saying, “scales are for fish”. Let’s not let the scales dictate how we feel about our bodies.
Self esteem / self worth. So much of our self worth is tied up in what other people say about us (or worse yet, what we imagine they say about us). Even unimportant little comments can throw us for a loop if we already feel insecure in a certain area. For example, if I already feel insecure in my feminity or sexuality, a comment about my body shape by an important man in my life can inflict a wound that may fester for a long time.
Dieting. Weight loss diets don’t work for yoyo dieters. Dieting certainly works for some people, for example for the person who overdoes it a bit on Christmas and then goes on a diet to lose five pounds – and those five pounds stay off. Diets don’t work for most people with chronic weight problems. They need a lifestyle change.
Emotional eating. Being angry or lonely can trigger the desire to eat. Sadness, excitement, boredom, fear, resentments add to the list of triggers. Literally any feeling at all can be the reason to grab those chips, a couple of donuts, the bag of cookies, a chocolate bar, or bring on yet another trip to the fridge. Eating can simply be a response to emotions – a sort of companion – or it can be used to mask those feelings. Food can be a drug, a form of self medication.
The physical experience of eating. What can I say – food just tastes and feels good, and if something tastes and feels good, it’s natural to want more of it. Pretty much everyone knows the experience of eating more than necessary. But for the overeater, it just doesn’t stop. There is often an actual inability – learned or “wired in the brain” – to understand and react to the cues of hunger and fullness. It’s like a car alarm that never goes off, or one that can’t be turned off.
The weight. The experience of being a “weighty person” is more reassuring than most people would think. One feels like a “person of substance”, someone who can’t be pushed around. The weight feels like insulation – it’s harder to get hurt when there is an armour for protection.
So …. if you recognize yourself in any of this and you want a change in your life, what are some of your options?
Another weight loss diet. There is a slim possibility that you haven’t tried the right diet yet. If you need to try that again, make sure you use one that you can see yourself following for a long time. The more variety that diet has, the greater the chance it’ll work. Says diet expert M.L. Dansiger, “The key to success is finding a diet plan that you can stick to”.
Psychotherapy / counselling. As mentioned above, overeating may be connected to psychological issues such as low self esteem. Many people with weight problems have suffered abuse as children. A good counsellor can help sort out these problems. Just having someone listen to some things that have been kept hidden for a long time can be the beginning of weight release. If you feel that counselling might help, get in touch with me and we’ll see what we can do. You can also go to the American Psychological Association for more information.
Overeaters Anonymous. Similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, these are support groups of peers who “have been there, done that, got the t-shirt”. You can find people there who have struggled with their weight and successfully kept it off for many years. Many people find that underneath their eating problem is a “living problem”. While by no means religious, Overeaters Anonymous is a spiritual approach.
… and, last not least: men and weight issues. We seem to think that women are the only ones who struggle with weight. There are lots of men who have weight issues, too. Because of cultural factors, these tend to be hidden – with the result that usually, men are very isolated around their weight issues. First of all, there are probably more women who are overweight, and second, men find it much, much harder to come together for support around such problems. Stay tuned for a section on men and weight issues.