Have you tried and failed to loose weight? You started on a popular new diet, cutting out all the things you enjoy eating, lost a few kilos, then, after a stressful day at work, came home and had a pack of biscuits at once. Diet failed, you felt even more miserable and desperate than when you started.
After several similarly unsuccessful attempts you just gave up, hating yourself for the lack of will power.
Try to look at it differently.
Losing weight is not about dieting, depriving yourself of your favorite foods and feeling miserable. It is also not about trying to become someone else – a thin model in a magazine or a celebrity. To really loose weight you have to engage in a slow process of becoming yourself – learning to take care of your needs and listen to your body, starting to like yourself a bit more. As a counsellor, I would agree with the view of Ayurvedic medicine, which states that obesity is often an external manifestation of our emotional problems.
I would not even call this process “loosing weight”. It implies loss and has a negative connotation. I would rather say “getting into shape”, finding your natural weight and staying that way.
So where do we start?
For a start, I would advise to do what in psychotherapy is called “a reality check”. This means looking at your fantasies, anxieties and assumptions and seeing “what is really happening”. For instance – how do you see yourself? If you see yourself as fat, then how do you know that it is true? Is your judgment based on the facts – like your dress size or your BMI? Or is it part of your negative self-image, that is part of the bigger problem called low self-esteem? In that case, it would be advisable to work through your issues in counselling and then reassess the situation. Or maybe you are told you are overweight by your friends, family, partner? Was it always your role in the family – to be a “fat one”? Reality check will help you see things as they are, not as you imagine them to be.
But what if after careful consideration you have established that you are, indeed, overweight, and would benefit from losing a few pounds?
Then we will need to explore what is it that you are trying to lose?
What your extra weight is for you? On the surface, we might hate being fat and would love to loose weight as soon as possible. But quite often there is a hidden reason why we are staying fat. Unless we discover what it is that is holding us back, all our attempts at dieting will fail.
An example could be my client from Aylesbury, Sarah*, who tried many diets and always ended up putting on more weight that she had lost. When I suggested to Sarah that she imagines herself being thin, she got very anxious and was unable to focus. Exploring the roots of this anxiety, we discovered that, for Sarah, her weight was some kind of protection. Without it, she imagined herself being vulnerable in the hostile world. Working with this vulnerability and restoring my client’s self esteem allowed Sarah to psychologically let go of her extra pounds and she started losing weight slowly but permanently.
Another client, Helen* from Oxford, used her body shape as an excuse for not making changes in her life. She was putting up with a dead end job “because no one is going to hire somebody so fat”. She also avoided thinking about her abusive relationship, “because if she will leave no one else will want her”. Through therapy, Helen’s feeling of self-worth increased dramatically and she subsequently felt able to make necessary changes in her career and relationships. When she stopped using her extra pounds as an excuse for her passivity, she no longer needed them and lost weight naturally.
After you find out what being overweight means for you and achieve clarity, you can then start building a new relationship with food. Your first step will be to find out how is this relationship working at the moment.
*all names have been changed