I’m always amazed when I notice things in our culture that are marketed well, but in reality just don’t work so well. It seems to me that people don’t care so much that they might not get what they are paying for, or more importantly they might not get what they are looking for. This happens with so many things in life, but it occurs to me that there is nothing more disappointing than weight loss products, and their ability to give lasting effects. Now the industry would say that it’s the fault of the consumer, and part of this is true. However, they know the statistics and they know most people might lose weight at first, following their regimen, but they also know that most people will not keep it off. Billions of dollars are spent every year on weight loss magic, and so often the results are short lived or not seen at all. Pills, potions, diets, and all types of experts claim to have the answer, but I have found the results are rarely long lasting.
In my opinion there are two parts to understanding how to achieve successful weight loss, physiological and psychological, and yet most of the world just looks at the first part and doesn’t much address the second.
Physiologically we need a certain number of calories to live, and if we eat more calories than we need to live it is stored as fat. (weight gain) If we eat less calories than we need to live our bodies turn to our fat storage for calories and starts to use some of the fat. (weight loss)
For the most part, that is it. Pretty simple. Eat too much and you gain weight.
So people take pills to cut their appetite, eat “fake foods” to fool themselves into eating the same amount but reduced caloric totals, speak to dietitians about how foods work together to make you gain weight, etc. etc. etc.
While there are instances where things such as metabolism, and individual health might make it more difficult to lose weight, for the most part it’s a matter of how much you eat.
So how do we eat the amount of calories our bodies need and no more? If we could easily eat less or healthier we certainly would. I believe that success lies in the understanding of why some people have no trouble eating less and some find it so difficult.
I always used to look at the skinny guy who seems to be able to eat anything he wants and still maintain his weight. I figured he had my enormous love of food and appetite but just never gained weight. I thought he was given a gift, and I was always jealous. However, research shows us that they don’t eat more, they just eat better. The reason why they eat better is because they were raised to eat healthier. They are not immune to the physiological rules of caloric need. They don’t eat huge portions, tons of cake and ice cream, or snack when they are upset. I believe that they just don’t medicate or sooth themselves with food. They are not psychologically more fit, but just deal with their psychological needs in a different way. One study showed that thinner people walk more, stand around instead of sit and just fidget more. Is fidgeting their way of soothing themselves? I mean that somewhat sarcastically, but studies have shown that thin people are less sedentary that heavier people. So often babies are given extra bottles when they cry and at that early age they get soothed with food. Isn’t it a fair conclusion that eating when you are upset or anxious is a learned behavior? How many young children are rewarded or worse yet controlled with sugary foods? Candy, ice cream, cupcakes etc. Our parents have linked good feelings to unhealthy food and for us the link usually lasts forever. I don’t mean to put the blame on our parents. I am also to blame, having followed my parents lead. Yet this link of soothing with food is rarely explored or addressed when attempting weight loss. So what do we do?
As with so much of our lives, living with awareness opens our eyes and makes living a happy life more possible. I compare overeating to drug addiction. Some people can control their intake of drugs and alcohol and some cannot. I believe it’s the same with food addiction, and this is the reason why so many people cannot control their eating. As the drug addict often soothes with drugs, the food addict soothes with food. Instead of facing this as what it is, a form of a self-medicating psychological soothing technique/compulsion, we look to easier answers such as dieticians who say they have figured out “the answer”. They have food supplements, their own expensive portion controlled meals, and drinking your meals. It is all a substitute for a lack of control of a food compulsion (addiction). Truly being aware of this can give people the strength to control themselves. In an aware state recently I noticed that whenever I am anxious I go to look for a snack. Now if I just took a few cashews that would be fine. But I am not hungry. I am upset, or anxious, or nervous, so since I am not looking to satiate my hunger but fill an emotional void, I eat and eat and eat. Sometimes after I eat I feel better emotionally, but cannot remember what or why I ate. Of course, in reality food has nothing to do with being emotionally upset. Now, when I get the urge to eat, and I know I am not hungry, I become aware of this being an emotional reaction, and I think of it as such. If it’s not meal time, then before I put something in my mouth I think of what’s behind my urge to eat. It helps me control the desire for food.
So I am in the middle of having changed my eating habits. I’ve almost completely stopped eating red meat because I believe that it is not natural for humans to eat meat. Our digestive system is not built for meat digestion as are that of carnivores. Since I stopped I feel much better. Also, since I stopped overeating and recognized my food compulsion (addiction) I feel so much better. It’s not cool in our culture to admit to an addiction. We try to hide from seeing it for what it is. If, however, I am correct about overeating being an addiction, then all the comfortable answers and remedies that people use to lose weight would not work.
How many people know someone who lost a lot of weight and then gained it back. (relapse) The cycle that people get into, of losing and gaining weight is what happens almost all the time. This is similar to the cycle of drug addiction. Drug addicts might go to rehab many, many times before having long lasting benefits. Our societies approach is all wrong. When someone loses a sizable amount of weight and keeps it off they are more than just following a diet, or listening to some nutritionist tell them what to eat. These fortunate people have changed their general eating habits as well as themselves emotionally. They have found the reason to change and the benefits from change greater than their satisfaction of soothing themselves with food. This process, as you can imagine is far more difficult than “going on a diet.” They have become better eaters of course, and learned to eat like thin people eat, and fortunately for them they got past the emotional ditch they kept falling into in relation to food.
Our culture has monetized everything. Instead of getting to the core reason for overeating we have figured ways of making money on weight loss. This profit incentive keeps us from doing the very hard work which is what is necessary to understand what we need to do to lose weight. We want the quick fix. A more intelligent idea is to consider the reason for eating more than your body needs. Become aware of what’s happening to you. I eat well now because I want to stay healthy, do what comes naturally to myself and my body, by eating well. When I get the urge to overindulge I think of how if I indulge myself in that moment I will be hurting myself. So I don’t. We all need incentive to stop bad habits. Overeating is a bad habit. Understanding why we do it is the beginning of any desired change.