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Discover Why a Diet won’t last

diet blog photo

The dilemma about diets is that we are afraid that if we don’t diet, we won’t lose weight and we feel we need to diet for our health and wellbeing.  However, we also know from experience that we will just put the weight back on and slip back onto the rollercoaster of weight gain and loss. Did you know that 95% of diets fail and most people regain their weight within 1 to 5 years? (Source: Statistics on Weight Discrimination: A Waste of Talent, The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination) 

Why go on a diet?

The underlying reasons of why and what we eat are not addressed when we go on a diet or on weight loss/diet programmes. Rather food is divided up into ‘good and bad’ food rather than dealing with the fact that many people just keep eating too much as well as being addicted to sugar laden food and drinks. Why?
For the last few decades we have been increasingly conditioned to think we should look a certain way, rather than understanding that human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Also the recent emphasis solely on evidence of BMI has placed many of us in the overweight category when we are in fact quite fit and healthy.  Of course eating healthy food and doing some exercise is recommended.

However we use food for many different reasons including comfort eating, rewarding ourselves and stress relief. We eat to manage our boredom, anxiety, anger, depression and stress. We eat because the food is there or we worry we will get hungry later. We eat out of habit and all the food on our plate whether we are hungry or not. We need to relearn the difference between physical hunger and emotional eating. However even this term, emotional eating tends to make us feel there is something wrong with us. The subtext is, ‘Oh, if only you could learn to manage your emotions more, you would stop eating so much.’ Of course we go on a diet because we wish to lose weight and yet, that is at the most simplistic level. if we could just diwt and lose weight, we would have been successful long ago. The way we think and feel about ourself is paramount to successful weight loss.

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Weight Loss

Let’s have a look at some startling figures. Australians spend over one million dollars a day on diets and research shows that dieting is the single most important risk factor for developing an eating disorder. (Dying to diet takes on a more sinister tone here.) According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 70.0% of Australian males and 56.2% of females are overweight or obese.  In America, 80% of ten year old girls say they have been on a diet and over two thirds of adults are now overweight or obese. In England the figure is 62%.

Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt in a recent TED talk explores the science of why a diet is likely to do more harm than good.  She says that even at its best, dieting is a waste of time and energy. ‘Your brain works in responding to weight loss by using powerful tools to push your body back to what it considers normal. If you lose a lot of weight, your brain reacts as if you were starving whether you started out fat or thin. Your brain actually can’t tell whether you need to lose weight or not.’

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Which Diet to Choose?

There are thousands of diets. Here are just a few; high fibre diet, low fat, salt free, Atkins, grapefruit, Mediterranean, South Beach, Zone, raw food, calorie controlled, Dukan, Beverley Hills, cabbage soup, Dr Hay, Okinawa, Scarsdale, Shangri –La, Macrobiotic, 5/2 diet etc. The list goes on.  It is puzzling as well as confusing that we have the options of thousands of diets. Surely if a diet works why would we need so many? The multi – billion diet and keep fit industry keeps peddling us the same old myth. ie. if we diet and exercise we will lose weight. Sounds simple. Yet again I ask, why doesn’t it work?

There are television programmes like ‘The Biggest Loser’ which personifies the mainstream thinking by taking a punishing attitude reflected in, for example, numerous comments such as “this training session is going to be a flogging”. People already suffer from and punish themselves with self- hatred, shame, guilt and low self-esteem which leads them to eat more. ‘Just do it’ is the catch cry. Well if it was as simple as that, why can’t we all just do it? Then there wouldn’t be a need for an industry anymore that feeds on the insecurities of millions who are increasingly brainwashed that they need to look like ‘airbrushed celebrities’ and models who are painfully thin.

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What are you hungry for?

So why don’t we take some of the focus off diet and weight and discover the deeper real reasons why we put on weight and find it difficult to lose.  A Process Oriented Psychology colleague of mine in America, David Bedrick (J.D. Dipl. Process Work, author of ‘Talking Back to Dr. Phil. Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology’) has recently written articles in the Huffington Post and Psychology today.  He writes about the Process Oriented Psychology way of working with people and why they eat. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-bedrick/why-she-ate-a-diet-story_b_4809556.html)

David has inspired me to talk more openly about my experiences as a therapist with hundreds of people over thirty years.  What are we hungry for? People have told me that they are hungry for love, relationship and connection with others. They eat because it helps them bury the feelings of fear, loneliness, unhappiness and rejection and failure. They use food to numb themselves or to fill up the emptiness inside. They eat to drown their self – hatred and sadness but end up hating themselves more. They push down their feelings of shame and guilt, anxiety and anger. They wish to shove away their uncomfortable and difficult emotions or feel they cannot break the habits of a lifetime. Other people have told me they love ‘the buzzy high’ they get on energy sugar drinks and from junk food. Some people feel angry and rebellious about being told constantly they need to look a certain way to be happy or if they want to find a partner.

Food is the only thing they can just give themselves when the rest of their live feels out of their control. Some women feel physically and emotionally safer being larger and it gives them more presence and power. Their size allows them to have more of a ‘voice’. It also protects them from only being seen and related to as a sexual person or prevents sexual harassment. Here are a few examples of how I work with people who have tried to lose weight and lost heart.

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How to lose weight

A woman I worked with told me that she ate healthy food in moderation during the day and that she was disciplined in her eating. However at night after dinner she couldn’t stop eating chocolate. “Dark chocolate,” she said, so it’s still healthy.” One part of her was disciplined and healthy. The more unknown part, the chocolate eater as she called it, was out of her control. She suppressed and marginalised the chocolate eater during the day but it took her over at night. When we explored the chocolate eater, she said she felt tired and it helped her relax after a stressful day and it was her reward. However that didn’t completely explain why she couldn’t stop eating it.

As we explored further she said with tears in her eyes, “I need more sweetness in me. I feel like I have to be a demanding, determined tough business manager all day and I have to make hard decisions about people. The chocolate fills me up with gooey softness. It melts in my mouth and the taste is soft and comforting. I don’t want to stop filling myself up with this sweetness. Then I can feel happy and satisfied.”

We then talked about how she could do her job in a different way that could include both parts of her personality. She identified more with being a hard and driven person but needed to embody her softness in an appropriate way in her workplace. The disciplinarian was marginalising the more caring, happy, satisfied and loving side of her personality which she was scared to embody during the day. The extra weight also made her body softer and rounder which she didn’t like until she realised that her softness needed more expression in her life. As she was able to integrate more softness and sweetness in her personality, she just stopped eating the chocolate at night and the weight naturally fell off her.

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The Meaning of Comfort Eating

I talked with a guy who was putting on a lot of weight and couldn’t work out why. After much discussion and with some embarrassment he said, “well, I can’t stop eating liquorice, but that can’t be the problem, could it?” Yes, it certainly could when he said he ate 3 large packets of liquorice a day. That’s over 1000 calories a day on top of normal meals. I asked him what it was about liquorice that was so fantastic?  He replied that it had a strong heavy taste and smell and reminded him of his childhood. “How come?” I asked. “When I was young it came as a stick of liquorice and I used to chew that stick for such a long time. The liquorice stick gave me a feeling of comfort and security when my brother was born and I got paid less attention.”
“What sort of comfort are you looking for now in your life?” I asked. His answer surprised me. “I feel like I need a sense of meaning and purpose in my life rather than just operating on a superficial level and ‘treading water’. I want to be creative and write and draw and help people. I’d like to be a specialist worker with kids with disabilities. You know the one’s that get left behind and need a lift up.”
Once he realised that he needed to create more meaning in his life his desire for so much liquorice decreased quite quickly. He became more passionate about following his creativity in his daily life and started to paint and attended an art class where he met new people.  He  needed to start to pay attention to himself and his dreaming process so he could lift himself up. Finding more meaning gave him comfort and security.

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Facing Obesity

Another man I saw who was at great risk of dying due to his serious ill health and obesity described how he had been very unhappy in his marriage for years. He had stayed because he loved his children so much. He said that food helped him stay because when he ate he felt less miserable and it became his ‘prop’. He felt stuck in the marriage and stuck with eating.  So he couldn’t physically move much anymore so he couldn’t leave his marriage and move out of the home. He said he did everything for his children and had resigned himself to the fact that his life was never going to be different.

We talked about his marriage at length and he realised that he actually felt stuck in all areas of his life. “Go ahead and feel totally stuck and don’t move at all,” I invited him.  This had an instant reaction. ‘Oh I hate staying stuck but I can’t rock the boat.’  He felt terrified that bad things would happen if he left and if he didn’t take care of everyone else. Paradoxically everyone now had to take care of him because of his ill health and obesity.

He said many times that he couldn’t lose weight for himself, which is why all diets had failed.  He realised though that he could, if it helped his children so they didn’t have to look after him so much. He did lose some weight  and then moved out of the family home. The weight had ensured that he couldn’t break free because of his deeply held beliefs that his family wouldn’t survive without him. The impact of his leaving his family astonished him. It also allowed them to move out, became independent and moved forward with their lives.

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Done with Diets

The reason I called this blog the Discovery Diet is because we need to discover, acknowledge and process the deeper reasons why we keep eating rather than feeling that we are failing or using ‘band aid’ solutions that don’t last.  Then we can make choices that are more sustainable over time and we can be ‘done with diets’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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