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.