Many people struggle with being overweight. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that currently over 2/3 of adults in the US are overweight. There is a lot of information available to help people attain and maintain a healthy weight.
· Dietary plans and programs to lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight.
· Exercise programs to safely increase metabolism.
· Techniques and strategies for controlling food intake, and managing cravings to overeat.
· Support group programs to help with information and motivation.
Yet many people have difficulty making use of these resources on a consistent basis so they can achieve success. The following are factors that often interfere with success and are not typically addressed by weight loss programs. A brief description of how a psychotherapist can help with each of these factors is also provided.
1. Demoralization, a sense of hopelessness about the problem, lack of faith they can succeed.
Many people have developed a reliance upon eating as a source of comfort that has become second nature to them, and they feel helpless to change it. People who view themselves negatively as weak or lacking in willpower can have a hard time feeling hopeful that they are capable of success. In addition, people who have experienced abusive treatment earlier in their lives may unconsciously use their weight as a protective shield to keep others distant, to avoid further hurt. People who have been sexually abused or exploited may use weight as a means of shielding themselves from unwanted sexual interest from others.
- A therapist can help people gain an understanding of the origins of their overeating - to soothe painful feelings, fill a void of unmet emotional needs, provide relief from hurtful experiences earlier in their lives. This makes it possible for people to see their overeating as an understandable coping response to difficult and painful circumstances, rather than something about which they should feel shame. It allows people to view their habits as behaviors they can begin to manage rather than something beyond their control.
- A therapist can help people understand how their low self-regard and lack of confidence is a consequence of prior experiences of people responding to their difficulties (including their weight) in harsh, punitive, coercive, or shaming ways, and not a reflection of their capabilities.
- A therapist understands that a big change in altering eating habits and improving health can involve anxiety and fear about letting go of established habits and the comfort they have depended on. Having a therapist, interested in understanding their fears and self-doubts, accompanying them on this journey to health makes it possible for people to begin to face them with hope. This is in itself a step towards releasing the grip on them of past traumatic and humiliating experiences. With the therapist’s supportive presence, people can decide for themselves if their fears are valid in their current lives, and if they are ready to push themselves to make changes.
2. Procrastinating about getting started or jumping into action without enough preparation.
Making an important change like developing healthy eating habits and getting to a healthy weight can create anxiety that may lead to endless procrastination about starting or to jumping into action without sufficient planning. In addition, past unsuccessful attempts to lose weight can make it difficult for people to want to try again.
- A therapist can help people see that their anxiety about a big change like altering eating habits is a normal part of the process and not a sign of weakness or that failure is inevitable. Therapy sessions can be a place where the fears are examined and understood - generally relating to challenges that will need to be addressed in order to succeed. The therapist can assist people to commit to the changes and the challenges and sacrifices they will entail.
- A therapist can help people gain an awareness of how their habit of overeating will be triggered by the circumstances and experiences in their daily lives. The therapist will help them adopt alternative coping responses to these high-risk times so they will be able to free themselves from their habit. This is an important step in people gaining confidence in taking control of their habit.
- A therapist can help people realize that past unsuccessful attempts at weight loss are learning experiences, not failures, from which important information will be gleaned that will help in being better prepared for the next attempt. This will help in building confidence that success is possible.
3. Fears of being open to support from others.
Prior experiences of important people responding to them, and to their weight, in harsh, punitive, or humiliating ways can make it very difficult for people who want to lose weight to reach out to others (healthcare providers, family, friends, fitness experts) for needed support for fear of encountering further disappointment. They may fear that important people in their lives will view them as selfish and resent or abandon them for their efforts to turn their lives around. These fears can lead to what appears to be a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the serious implications of their weight and overeating and to resist any appeals by others to make changes. It can also result in the approach some take of trying to do it alone, of hiding their efforts to lose weight. This will be counterproductive, as they will be missing the benefits of concrete support from people who can really help.
- In therapy sessions, people have a direct experience of the therapist’s understanding and expertise in helping them overcome this daunting challenge. This experience of their problem being dealt with skillfully, without judgment or disapproval, will give people hope that they can experience similar support from others in their lives.
4. Staying with it, dealing with setbacks.
An important factor in success is not giving up when the inevitable setback or lapses into overeating do occur.
- A therapist is committed to being with clients on this journey, so when they slip or fall, the therapist is right there to help them get back up and continue on this journey towards improved health. A therapist views lapses into old habits as potential learning experiences and opportunities to improve or refine plans rather than failures or evidence of weakness. This approach is an important factor in people not giving up, viewing themselves as failures and weak when lapses do occur.
- A therapist will keep in mind that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a life-long process, not a short-term goal. This will be important in helping people set achievable goals about weight loss that they can sustain for their lifetime.
- A therapist can help prevent people from adopting a restrictive, self-depriving attitude towards food and eating that will undermine motivation over the long haul. A therapist will assist people to not succumb to the idea that food is the enemy and help them make good food and healthy eating a part of a fully satisfying life.
To talk more about this challenging topic, you can contact me at either paulboscolcsw.com or (302) 832-1282 X204