The recent COVID-19 lockdown has made many of us think about our health and fitness. I’ve taken up more exercise and am working to keep my weight within my target range. 

But it’s not that easy

A recent study showed that that 2 out of 3 people who lose more than 5% of their total weight would gain it back; and the more you lose, the higher 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, 31% saw a lack of exercise as the most significant 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 can lose weight and keep it off: we are not addressing why we are over-eating in the first place. And if we don’t address that, it is unlikely we’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight.

Food – reward, comfort blanket or pleasurable nutrition?

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, to console, reward, and celebrate personal achievements and festive times. We 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 and drink that way, as long as we acknowledge it and factor it into any weight management program. If we don’t, it can play havoc with any diet or exercise regime and ruin the chance of long-term success. 

The missing link in weight loss

Research 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 of ice-cream, or a bar or two of chocolate to help deal with bad news. 

Often we feel depressed about our increasing weight, or after ‘slipping’ in our diet, so we indulge all the more. It becomes a vicious circle, then we give up. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, “Sometimes the strongest food cravings hit when you’re at your weakest point emotionally.” 

What to do about it

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 reduce your emotional attachment to eating, seeing food as enjoyable nourishment rather than a reward or coping mechanism. 

Need a helping hand?

If you’re struggling, or just want some support, don’t be shy about finding help. You could consider joining (or forming) an emotional support group or seeing a counsellor. Contact us today or call 0151 329 3637. You can also email enquiries@counselling-matters.org.uk you like that bit more support. We would love to hear from you.

Image by happyveganfit from Pixabay