The primary reason people are not able to successfully adopt and maintain weight loss plans has far more to do with psychology than expensive Done for You diet plans, picking the right food or doing the right kind of exercise. Millions of people worldwide vow each year to lose weight for a wide variety of reasons, sadly most will not only not reach their weight goals but many will end up gaining more weight and feeling worse for doing so. In fact, two-thirds of dieters who lose five percent of their total weight will gain it back, and surprisingly the more weight you lose the less chance you will have of keeping it off.
According to neuropsychologist and Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health Diane Robinson, “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.” A recent survey found that 31% of participants believed that the greatest barrier to weight loss is lack of exercise, with what you eat and cost of a healthy lifestyle coming in second and third. The time commitment necessary to effectively lose weight also weighs in at 12%.
Even further down the list of perceived reasons for not successfully losing weight is psychological well-being. “That may explain why so many of us struggle,” said Robinson. “In order to lose weight and keep it off long term, we need to do more than just think about what we eat, we also need to understand why we’re eating.” We learn from a young age to be emotionally attached to food that are used to console us when we are hurt or upset, reward us for good behavior, celebrate achievements and more. These are powerful anchors that are very seldom considered in the parenting best practice books, and if not understood can contribute to obesity and poor health starting at a very young age.
This conditioning is pervasive in our societies, and the end result is food and especially what is called comfort food releases the same dopamine neurotransmitters that are also released by sex, drugs, and other pleasurable activities. There are several problems with food providing a dopamine release. In modern society food is readily available and acceptable which is not necessarily the case for the other dopamine releasing triggers. There is also the tie back to early developmental behaviors where crying brought Mommy and food. In addition, there is a drive in mammals to consume sugar, salt, and fat that incentivizes us to eat food that is bad for us, in amounts that wreak havoc on our health.
Our Emotions Rule Us
So it is no surprise that there is a positive correlation between higher Body Mass Indexes and emotional problems like depression, anxiety, and stress. In my Facebook group as well as a program a partner and I ran specific to adopting Intermittent Fasting and the Mediterranean Diet I hear this frequently. Coping with disease, deaths in the family, workplace stress, family dysfunction and the many other stressors in our lives are often given as the reason for cheating on a diet, no matter how strict. The extra effort to exercise will power or deprive oneself by eating small portions of tasteless food can become too much at these times, and those comfort foods are an easy fix.
In one example, a dieter named Dee recognized the emotional attachment she had with food and started making the conscious choice to change. In a little over a year, she was able to lose over 100 pounds. “I tried countless diets and different exercises in theopast, but knew I had to make it stick this time,” she said. “By changing the way I thought about with my stress, anxiety, and emotions and how I react to those feelings I changed my habits for good.”
How to Break Free
The goal is to see food as nourishment and not as a coping mechanism or reward. While people have no problem joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer, they are reluctant to seek help from like-minded people through a support group. As Robinson puts it, “If getting your body in shape hasn’t worked out yet, maybe this time start with your mind.”
Here are some tips to recognizing the emotional connections to food:
Identify your comfort foods and if they have the fat, sugar, salt component that the body craves.
Stop before you eat a snack or meal and check in to see if you are actually hungry. If you are not hungry identify your motives for wanting to eat.
Keep a log of what you eat and drink every day and check for patterns of how you feel.
Don’t wait until you feel like it to get started, you never will so stop waiting for the perfect time and start right now.
The old adage is true, you are what you think about. Trying to suppress thoughts actually has the opposite effect. Those people trying to overcome emotional eating by thinking about the profound negative effect overeating and eating the wrong foods have on their health are steering toward the very thing they don’t want.
Instead imagine your new life with a healthier body at a healthier life and become that person. Focusing on the positive effect of the person you can be will have a dramatic positive effect.
Pay Attention. According to the latest research by Microsoft, the average attention span of a human is 8 seconds and falling. The primary reason that our ability to concentrate has fallen is the assault on our senses every day from a constant stream of media. Add to the fact that only 2% of us can effectively multitask the critical skill becomes drowning out the background stimuli that constantly vie for our attention. The strategy is to start with a small period of time like five minutes and only do one task. Additionally with that one task do more than you thought you could do and better than you thought you could do it. In terms of the Mediterranean Diet this might be preparing some of your food ahead of time or spending some focused time planning out meals.
You are not an imposter. When you dwell on past failures to lose weight permanently it is easy to doubt that you can effectively return to a healthy weight. Know that by just taking an inventory of your past successes wherever and whenever they may be will help you commit fully to the losing the weight and taking the steps necessary to do so.
There is another school of thought focuses on decisions, and in particular making and sticking with the hard decisions. The advocate of this process, Mel Robbins says things like “Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a just nanosecond, but that’s all it takes. That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that’s designed to stop you. And it happens in less than—you guessed it—five seconds” and .” “Your feelings don’t matter. The only thing that matters is what you DO. That’s what it takes to get what you want. Not big scary leaps once a year. It takes small, but irritating moves every single day.” Obviously she is big on taking action every day that will push us out of our comfort zone and into creating the healthy body we need. The saying of hers I like the most is “The more often that you choose courage, the more likely you’ll succeed”. Another great saying from Mel Robbins is “pushing yourself to take simple actions creates a chain reaction in your confidence and your productivity.”
So the chain reaction that you want to set off might very well be “regain my health through weight loss starting now”. If it is a true decision then waiting for a birthday party where there will be cake, or a Thanksgiving dinner or the a hundred other exceptions to start is not an option. This is similar to the practice of progressive extremism which systematically eliminates the things you do that need improvement. An example of progressive extremism was my former addiction to sweetened coffee that was making it challenging to properly do Intermittent Fasting. It was challenging because unsweetened coffee and tea accelerates autophagy, a good thing when fasting, but anything else bedsides water will stop the process of autophagy and the other benefits of fasting such as becoming fat adapted. So if I wanted to drink sweet coffee or tea I would need to consume it outside of my fasting window. The timing of this just did not work, so a choice had to be made to move to unsweetened beverages or have reduced fasting effects. Suddenly I was someone who did not drink sweet beverages.
The science demonstrates clearly that people in our society approach weight loss in a way that is not consistent with what actually works. Fad diets, expensive weight loss calorie counting and meal replacement plans just waste our time and money as we become heavier and sicker. Making the necessary changes using proven strategies from people who are expert in helping people making positive emotional changes in their lives is smart and has proven effectiveness.
For those who have tried without success to lose weight and regain their health it can seem daunting to begin the process. However if you use the more often you choose courage mindset and have a proven plan to follow then you can successfully adopt both Intermittent Fasting along with the Mediterranean Diet. Make the choice, get informed, then stick with it; you will look, feel, and be so much healthier and wonder why it took you so long.