02 Jun

PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF WEIGHT LOSS

Losing weight depends on a number of factors, just like anything. The medical point of view, the physiology and genetics of it, and the psychological aspetcs are all important parts of the concept. Let’s have a look at different psychological aspects about losing and maintaining weight.

Behaviours: Our eating behaviours are shaped when we are kids and teenagers, and as we reach adulthood those behaviours are mostly quite clear. Like eating fast or slowly, keeping busy while eating, eating regularly or snacking all day, rituals about preparing meals, certain habits about certain foods, etc. Each one of these behaviours and habits have a different effect on our eating and our weight/shape, and it is important to understand how they influence the way we eat. It is vital to explore which behaviours are helpful in terms of developing a regular, healthy and flexible eating pattern and it is crucial to reinforce those.

Emotions: The emotional connections we have with food directly influence the way we eat. Eating might be an intense emotional activity for us. It might be comforting, it might be stressfull or worrying. This emotional aspect reflects on how we feed ourselves. This may mean that eating is no longer a natural need, and eating may gain other meanings.

On the other hand, we may be using eating as a way of coping with stress or negative emotions. We might be eating when we feel lonely or upset or sad, and we may be using food to get over these feelings. When we have other useful ways and strategies that help us manage and cope with stress, turning to food for comfort occasionally does not hurt. However, when this is our only and main strategy, it becomes useless. We may feel good temporarily in the short-term, but in the long run it does not help, and we even find ourselves feeling guilty and regretful.

So eating is an emotional issue as much as it is physical. When we fail to understand and address this aspect of eating, we fail at our attempts to lose and maintain weight.

Thoughts: The rules and limits we have about food, or the beliefs and the information we have gathered so far about eating all have a strong influence on how we eat. Each of these thoughts, rules, beliefs and pieces of information have a different effect on us. These might become misleading knowledge, or rigid and extreme rules that we feel forced to follow, or show signs that our eating has become poorly. Things like ‘carbs are bad’, ‘I should not eat dinner’, ‘I must only have protein’, ‘I shouldn’t be having more than X calories’, ‘if I cannot control how much I eat that makes me worthless’, ‘I should weight myself everyday’ are all examples of these dysfunctional and misleading rules and beliefs. These make eating stressful and make it harder to lose and maintain weight.

Relationships: Since eating is also a social activity, eating and weight problems have a relational aspects as well. Also, as our bodies are visible to everyone, unfortunately it gives people a space to comment on what they see. In fact, our bodies being visible to everyone does not give them the right to say whatever they like about our bodies, just like people not having the right to say whatever they like about our personalities.

Hence, this imposes important questions: Where does food position us amongst other people, how does our eating effect our relationships, what are the meanings we and other people give to food and eating, how does what we experience in our relationships influence the way we eat? These questions and their possible answers are critical in terms of addressing weight issues.

Self-image: Weight concerns can have an impact on how we see ourselves. Thoughts such as ‘I am worhtless because I cannot lose weight’ or ‘I feel awful because I cannot lose weight’ are very common. When losing weight becomes the centre of life, the success or failure of losing weight becomes a personal attribution. So a person’s weight equals to person’s personality. However one’s body and weight is only one of many features. A person’s all other qualities, abilities, skills, successes, interests and features should not be put aside. Otherwise, only the weight and the body shape matter, and this is rather restrictive and stressful.

On a last note, the desire to lose weight – especially when health concerns are involved – is a valid and understandable desire. However, this desire becomes problematic when it puts life on hold until the goal is achieved. It causes meaninglessness, pressure and stress, and feelings of depression, hopelessness and anxiety.

As a result, it is possible to reach more realistic and functional goals, when losing and maintaining weight are addressed through these different psychological aspects. So it might be a good idea to seek for psychological support as well as medical and/or dietetic help.

 

02 Jun

A GUIDE TO EATING DISORDERS

What causes an eating disorder?

There is no single cause for eating disorders, but rather some factors that impose risk. For instance, during adolescence is a teenager may go trough many changes physical and emotional, yet s/he may experience changes in her daily life. These may come together with some family issues, perfectionism and the impact of media and social pressure, and may be in the background of developing an eating disorder. When excessive or compulsive exercise, once-innocent dieting, weight fluctuations, and preoccupation with weight and body shape and food can become the trigger(s) of an eating disorder.

How does an eating disorder begin?

Eating disorders typically emerge during adolesence, however it is common to see the onset in early puberty or early adulthood. Often, the person has a reason to be concerned with his/her weight/shape. This doesn not necessarily be a problematic concern nor a problematic start. For instance, the young person can decide to introduce a healthier eating style, or thinks it might be a good idea to lose that couple of extra kilos, or start exercising for health or body shaping purposes, etc. These all may look and be totally ‘innocent’ and healthy attempts. However they may come together with other challenging factors and may trigger the onset of the eating disorder. For example, getting negative comments about s/he looks, having some stressfull or hard issues that need dealing with or being exposed to misleading information about the idealised body shape can all distort the initial innocent and healthy intent. Losing weight can gradually become central in the person’s life, s/he becomes more and more concerned and preoccupied with shape, weight, food and dieting, losing weight may feel good temporarily but quickly is replaced with more discontent with body shape and losing more weight becomes highly important; s/he may do things that risk health, may go great lengths to achieve wieght loss goals. All this is believed to be done with ‘health’ purposes, while the reality being they only risk the person’s health and make him/her more and more unhealth and unhappy. By this time, restrictive dieting begins, unhealthy and inappropriate weight control behaviours emerge, binge eating may start, self-induced vomiting or excessive exercising in order to compensate the wieght gain may develop. These are the signs of an eating disorder.

How to recognize and help if a person has an eating disorder?

Eating diorders are generally very secretive. This is mainly connected to feelings of shame about one’s weight or eating behaviours. Even when a person does not recognize that s/he has an eating disorder, they are aware that their attitude about eating and body shape is not like everyone else’s and they tend to keep this discrete. Therefore, it might be difficult to recognize an eating disorder. Yet, there are some important signs:

  • Rapid and extreme weight loss,
  • Becoming more and more interested/concerned/preoccupied about nutrition, eating, dieting, calories, etc,
  • Having lost interest in different areas/activities/hobbies in life and becoming more and more focused on healthy eating, dieting, exercise and body shape,
  • Avoiding eating in front of others, or looking tense and stressed when s/he does,
  • Going to the toilet after every meal,
  • Having bruises on knockles (due to self-vomiting),
  • Hair getting thin, skin getting pale and almost transparent, dental problems,
  • Constipation,
  • Eatin almost nothing, starving him/herself,
  • Big amounts of food/snacks disappearing from the cupboards/fridge,
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise,
  • Fear of gaining weight, unhappiness or anxiety about body shape.

If these signs exist, it is best to avoid shameful and blaming confrontations, and it is important to adopt a supportive and empathatic style. Through this support, the person should be referred to professional help as soon as possible.

Treatment in eating disorders

The treatment initially focuses on harm reduction through planning weight gain and adopting a regular eating. In the meantime, emotional empowerment, enhancing coping skils, supporting cognitive structures, balancing weight and eating are all addressed.

Different subtypes of different eating disorders require different attention and aspects in treatment. However in general, the initial focus is on regulating the eating and weight issues, and then moving along to body and self image, emotinal coping abilities, self-esteem, mood regulation, and so on.

It is crucial for any eating disorder to seek help sooner than later, and the support of family is also recommended.