The Best way to manage your weight? Exercise your MIND.
OK so this may not be as groundbreaking as the recent cosmos discovery, but did you know that your weight is directly related to the food that you eat and your relationship with that food? Yes we are stating the well-established obvious. This knowledge has been drummed into our psyches from as far back as any of us living on earth today can remember. However are you aware of just how ‘it’s complicated’ this relationship with food is? The therapists at iRise Psychology have pooled together to work on an exciting project examining the psychology of weight management. With a combination of clinical experience and evidence based psychotherapeutic models, they have been developing new ways of thinking about weight loss. In summary they have found that before you embark on a weight loss or management plan, you need to deconstruct and understand how to manage the factors that prevent successful and consistent weight management.
When looking at psychological factors at play with food, we realise just how primal and developmentally profound our relationship to food is. As babies we form just as strong an attachment to food than with any other early interpersonal attachments. In fact the emotional response to food can become confused with other nurturing attachments. For instance, when a baby is being fed, it is completely unable to work out if they feel better from food nurturance, eye contact or emotional closeness and warmth. So in reality food is perhaps the most logical choice when we are in need of comfort. This also expands into our cultural framework – when we celebrate in society, it usually involves eating.
Moreover, if as children our compassionate attachments were deficient, food becomes one of the most powerful ways of counteracting that deficiency. There are some extremely powerful forces influencing our relationship with food.
Clinical experience has shown how frequently problems with food are linked to psychological difficulties. “It’s definitely linked to my depression” was the response from one of our clients, who in treatment spoke of her unhappy marriage. “I tend to eat when I am unhappy, it gives me a pleasure that is missing. It’s like that numbing feeling you have after Sunday lunch, where you can’t move”. With many clients we see the use of food being inextricably linked to often valid reasons for unhappiness. It may start from a psychological issue but after time your physiology also changes, distorting your appetite control and pushing their weight into the higher levels of obesity.
Another client, referred to by their GP to us with weight related medical problems, also spoke of bad relationships and working nights as a cause for their weight gain. “When you feel stuck in a rut you have to have some comfort, and it’s better than drinking and smoking, right?” she said. The difference with food is that you can’t cut it out, thereby differentiating it from other common addictions and adding to the complexities.
Emotional eaters can tend to develop a number of triggers. Emotions, specific foods and situations can all set off a period where eating is no longer controllable. It is essential therefore that these triggers are understood and managed in ways that stop the person resorting to food. Triggers are where psychology comes in and begins to play the most important part in successful weight management.
The experience of trying to lose or manage your weight always brings the inevitable question: Why do most people fail to stick to weight loss programs, or why do people always put the weight back on? The reason we believe at Mentis Psychology is because of a missing ingredient in weight management protocols. This is no minor ingredient and is the essence of the whole dish!
As anyone who has struggled with their weight will tell you, losing weight is a MIND GAME. To lose weight and keep it off, the key is our mindset. If you don’t work on this first and get it right, then most diet plans and exercise programs will eventually expire. You will end up psychologically sabotaging your efforts. This approach to weight management begins with a key premise. Do not even being trying to lose weight until you have the right mindset, realistic expectations, and have learnt or are willing to learn from past experiences. The second apriorism to focus on is that weight gain is generally another symptom of an underlying issue. The reason why weight management fails is because (as is often the case with western healthcare) we only try to treat the symptom, not the underlying reason for weight gain. Success depends on understanding what the weight gain was a symptom of, or inevitable failure will follow.
The Importance of YOU
In a study carried out by Professor Kerrigan at the obesity clinic at The Countess of Chester Hospital, he found that out of 100 female patients 50% had experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse. Research also suggests that overweight African American women endure higher levels of racism than there lighter counterparts. These statistics can feel somewhat redundant as we are all too aware in our thin centic society the stigma and discrimination involved in being overweight. It all makes having the right mindset even more difficult to achieve. This is where working with a therapist on self-esteem and self-compassion is vital to your success. We believe self-compassion to be somewhat of a rising star in the world of psychological interventions. This TEDX talk by Dr Kristen Neff on self-esteem is really worth watching.
Breaking it down into three areas, Self kindness, Common Humanity and Mindfulness, she also speaks on how we think being critical is a way to motivate others, as well as ourselves. In reality it increases the likelihood of not even trying, of giving up, as we want to avoid the pain of being criticised again. This also taps into the ‘fear of failure’ we mentioned in our blog post on resolutions last year. This is so relevant to the pivotal issue of motivation in the psychology of weight loss, as so many clinicians and personal trainers (often unconsciously)try to shame and guilt people into losing weight.
Dr Piper, Clinical Service manager at iRise Psychology adds “A positive sense of self always plays a key role in any changes you are trying to make in your life. Very often people think they are unhappy because they are overweight, when in reality being unhappy has made them overweight. Speaking to a therapist to uncover these issues can have a profound effect on all areas of your life and make you more appreciative of yourself. Very often when people become more than comfortable with themselves and their body image they feel that loosing weight is not really an issue.