The One Thing Many People Losing Weight Forget

Action List

Planning to lose weight in the New Year? That’s great, and you probably have an action plan similar to mine. But a recent study(1) showed that that 2 out of 3 people who lose more than 5% of their total weight will gain it back, and the more you lose, the greater your chance of gaining it back. “That’s not surprising,” according to the study, as “Most people focus almost entirely on the physical aspects of weight loss, like diet and exercise. But there is an emotional component to food that the vast majority of people simply overlook and it can quickly sabotage their efforts.” 


In a survey of 1000 people(2), 31% saw a lack of exercise as the biggest barrier to weight loss, followed by what you eat (21%), lifestyle (17%) and lack of time (12%). Only 10% thought psychological wellbeing was a factor in establishing and maintaining a healthy weight. This might explain why so few of us are able to lose the weight and keep it off: we are not addressing why we are over-eating in first place. And if we don’t address that, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all tend to use food for pleasure and comfort as well as nutrition. We have and give treats, both to console and to reward. We use food to celebrate personal achievements and festive times. We often do the same with alcohol, too. A glass of wine after a stressful day might help up relax, but the calories in it soon mount up, making it harder to maintain our desired weight. There is nothing wrong with using food that way, as long as we acknowledge it and factor it into any weight management program. If we are using a food or drink as a reward, or as a comfort blanket, and we don’t take that into account, it can play havoc with any diet or exercise regime and ruin the chance of long-term success. 

Research(3) has found that there is a clear, complex link between emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and depression, and higher body mass indexes (BMI) / obesity. It’s so easy to overindulge in ‘happy-hour’ after a hard day at work, or to tuck into a tub if ice-cream or a bar or two of chocolate to help deal with bad news. Many of us get depressed about our increasing weight, or after ‘slipping’ in our diet, so indulge all the more. It becomes a vicious circle, so we give up. As the Mayo Clinic(4) puts it, "Sometimes the strongest food cravings hit when you're at your weakest point emotionally." 

That’s why it’s so important to address the emotional and psychological issues in weight management. There are some practical things you can do to help yourself. Things like:
  • Keeping a food diary, including what you eat, when, with whom and how you were feeling at the time. Then, using that to look for unhealthy patterns or places you are using food as a crutch.
  • Identify any foods that have an emotional attachment for you. Do they make you feel good or bad? Invoke a memory or a feeling? Or provide a way to deal with sadness, loneliness, stress or something else? How else could you address these discomforts?
  • Before you eat anything ask yourself, “am I eating this because I’m hungry?” if not, look for what’s driving you to eat that, then. Write it down and consider the underlying emotional needs. Look to see if there are healthier ways you can get those needs met. 
The goal is to remove the emotional attachment from eating, seeing food as nourishment rather than a reward or coping mechanism. If you’re struggling, or just want some support don’t be shy about finding help. Many of us have no problem joining a gym or engaging a personal trainer to help with the physical aspects of weight loss, or joining a ”fat-club” to help with diet, how about joining a support group or seeing a counsellor to help with the emotional aspects of weight loss? If getting your body in shape hasn’t work out yet, maybe this time start with your mind. 

Sources:

Comments

Weight loss

I think it's also important to remember that not everyone is overweight because of overeating - some people are overweight because of health issues or medication.

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