It is tempting to blame your metabolism, genetic make-up, or hormonal imbalances. However, often the problem is not rooted in the body, but in the mind, says Dr Nicola Davies.
Many people struggle to lose weight. The subconscious mind is more powerful than you can imagine, and your thoughts often impact your sense of reality. The following five states of mind reveal clues as to why you might be finding it difficult to lose weight and what you can do about it.
Depression, whether mild or chronic, can impact every area of your life, including your weight. One symptom of depression is overeating – also known as comfort eating. This is when you eat even if you have no physical need to do so, but because eating makes you feel better (for a while).
Self-assessment: If you have a constant hunger that is not satiated by food, you may be suffering from depression. Consider whether you have any other symptoms of depression: lethargy; disruptions in sleep; feelings of hopelessness or helplessness; periods of anxiety; a sense of emptiness that won’t go away; lack of focus or concentration; or even thoughts of death or suicide.
What can you do about it? It is important that you receive support for depression, so do get professional help from your general practitioner, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. This will ensure you receive the most appropriate treatment, whether that be medication and/or counselling.
2. Food addiction
Foods that are high in sugar and/or refined wheat may lead to food addiction. This includes pizza, chocolate, sweets, sugary breakfast cereals, and white bread. When you eat these foods, the reward centres of the brain are stimulated in much the same way as drug or alcohol use, leading to a real and dangerous addiction that seriously hampers your motivation and perseverance.
Self-assessment: Do you crave foods that you know are unhealthy, even after you’ve eaten a substantial meal? Do you hide your unhealthy eating from others? Are you unable to stick to rules you set for yourself regarding these foods? Do you feel like you can’t give up certain foods? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, it would be wise to investigate further.
What can you do about it? While everything is fine in moderation for some people, this isn’t necessarily the case for food addicts. One sugar-coated doughnut can send you spiralling out of control. It is best to cut all sugary edibles and foods containing refined wheat from your diet. You can, over time, evaluate which are your trigger foods and eliminate only them, reintroducing other foods slowly to avoid potential setbacks.
For some people, there is an underlying need to be overweight or obese. This secret need can be so buried in the mind that you don’t even know it’s there. For instance, it may be that you have been hurt in a previous relationship and are maintaining excess weight to try and deter relationships that may lead to further pain. This 'anti-motivation' provides you with excuses to not lose weight, and your subconscious mind sabotages all your conscious weight loss efforts.
Self-assessment: List the benefits of being overweight. Be honest with yourself and take a few days or weeks to think carefully about it. Anti-motivations can seem completely illogical, often being dismissed as irrelevant. Don’t dismiss anything that may come to mind when creating this list.
What can you do about it? Think about the impact of weight loss on those items on your list. The more painful they are to think about, the more effect they may be having on your subconscious desire to stay overweight.
4. Different priorities
We all have priorities that need to come before weight loss, such as family, friends, and sometimes work. This is often a good thing: if you put weight loss as your first priority, diet and exercise can become unhealthy obsessions. However, placing other things first can also interfere with your efforts to lose weight.
Self-assessment: Think back on your past day, and make a list of the things that consumed most of your time, energy, and thoughts. Extend that period to a week, and then a month. See if the list changes, evaluating again those matters that consistently take up most of your time and energy. This will help you identify your key priorities.
What can you do about it? Integrate healthy eating and exercise into your main priorities. For example, if your family is your priority, devise a healthy eating plan for the whole family, and start physical activities in which the whole family can participate.
Most diet plans include portion control, but when we're hungry we tend to underestimate the size or weight of a portion. Similarly, we can overestimate the impact of exercise.
Self-assessment: Ask yourself whether you are measuring or weighing food accurately, or whether you are just 'eyeballing' it to guess your intake.
What can you do about it? Weigh and measure everything, even if you think you are good at estimating portion sizes. It is helpful to pre-pack weighed portions for those times when you need to grab food for on the go.
It is important to remember that your body has a natural ‘set point’; if you've been overweight for a long time, your body adjusts and works to keep this weight. This is why so many people gain back the weight they have lost. To avoid this cycle, weight loss should be slow, resetting the natural set point to a weight that is healthy for you. Slow weight loss is much more sustainable than rapid weight loss. Finally, if none of these mental blocks ring true for you, there may be a different psychological barrier making weight loss harder than it needs to be. If so, seek help. Your mind is as unique as your fingerprints, meaning your mental blocks will be unique to you.
Dr Nicola Davies is a health psychologist and the author of I Can Beat Obesity! www.healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com