Why is it so Difficult to Lose Weight?
You want to lose weight. You feel like you have no control over your eating. You feel embarrassed that you let yourself get to the point you are at. Your self-confidence is not at its highest. So, you decide to lose weight, but after some time, you fall back into your old eating habits. Why is it so difficult to do something that YOU KNOW will get you to a better and healthier place? What do you need to do to succeed?
It is all About Habits
We’ve all heard the saying, “old habits are hard to break.” There is a good reason that our habits are hard to break. Our brain doesn’t want us to break them! Things become habitual when we do them repeatedly, because neural pathways are formed in our brains and those neural pathways allow us to perform that task using little energy. Our brains use a lot of energy and our conscious brains can only focus on one thing at a time. However, if something becomes a habit, our subconscious brain can handle it. So, in order to function efficiently and save energy, our brains try to guide us into doing things habitually.
Try an Experiment
A number of years ago, I attended a seminar on the latest in Alzheimer’s research. The presenter told us that one thing that people should do is to create new neural pathways in their brains by doing regular tasks differently. I decided that I would try doing that with my tooth brushing routine. We all have a specific way that we brush our teeth. We don’t really think about it. For me, I use an electric toothbrush and start at my left top teeth, work around the front and then the back. Then I brush my bottom teeth in the same way. So, all I was going to do was to reverse the order. Pretty simple, right? Well, here’s what happened. I woke up and started to brush my teeth the new way. My brain starts screaming at me, “you’re in a rush this morning. Just do it the old way today!” I was shocked to realize that my brain was pushing me, trying every trick that it had in its bag, to just keep doing what I was in the habit of doing.
How does this Relate to Eating?
We all have our reasons for overeating. Maybe you just LOVE food. Of course you do! You love food, but do you love broccoli? When you have a piece of broccoli, do you find that it leads you to eat way too much? Probably not, but cookies? Well, that’s another story… And it isn’t YOU. These processed, sugary, fatty, comfort foods cause our brains to release substances, like dopamine, that make us feel good! So maybe you don’t love food so much as you love the feeling that the food gives you and that’s why so many people overeat. It is something that people use to cope with the stresses of life. And, guess what? It works… well, for a few minutes. However, it only continues to work if you eat more.
So, how can I Change When Everything is Conspiring Against me?
In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need to change your habits around food. When trying to lose weight, most of the people that I see, try a “food-first” approach. They get a diet book or join a program and the first thing that they get is a food plan telling them exactly what and how much to eat. Since the food plan restricts their calorie intake, they generally start to lose weight right away (if they follow the diet). Many of these programs are very black and white, “eat this, never eat that” or “these foods are good and these foods are bad.” The problem I have observed is that most people are unable to stick to the restricted food plan for longer than a few months. Then, they start to “cheat” (eat foods that are not on the plan). Next, they feel guilty eating the “bad foods.” Perhaps, the number on the scale stops dropping or even goes up! Most people get frustrated at this point, and give up.
The other option is a person-first approach to weight loss. That involves looking at the whole person. Of course, this includes the person’s eating habits and relationship with food. However, it also looks at other areas of a person’s health, such as his/her mental health, stress levels, reaction and ability to handle stress, sleeping patterns, exercise habits, a person’s sense of purpose, etc. Food has a very powerful impact on us. Changing our habits where food is concerned takes time and mental energy. Sometimes, other areas must be dealt with before we can really focus effectively on food.
For example, many men that I work with have very busy and stressful work lives. It is difficult for some to even make any time to focus on themselves. These people may need to look at developing better strategies to cope with the stress or gain a more desirable work-life balance before they are ready to make time to focus on improving their eating habits.
So, a person-first weight loss program may not even start with a food plan. However, it will start building the core habits that will lead to greater overall health. Don’t worry, you will still need to deal with your eating habits, but you will do this through a habit-based approach. Working on building small habits and practices that help you to recognize the various reasons that you eat, help you tune into your internal signals and make healthier choices. Not only will these new habits cause you to lose weight, but, most importantly, you will have developed habits that will allow you to keep yourself at the healthy weight that you desire to be at.