In 2000, the World Health Organization called obesity a global epidemic. By now, we all know overeating is fraught with risks. For example, The International Journal of Obesity, the American Obesity Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all state that obesity exposes us to an increased risk of developing gallbladder disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, cancer, gout, an impaired immune system, respiratory problems, difficulty healing from wounds, infertility, liver disease, back pain, gynecological complications, pancreatitis, and incontinence. Yet, many continue to overeat despite wanting to lose weight. Why is losing weight so hard to do? Let’s work our way through some of the many reasons and hopefully arrive at answers and solutions.
1. Psychological Reasons and Our Evolutionary Development
Why is it so hard to lose weight? It is because people are trying to use a logical solution to fight an emotional problem. Overeating is generally caused by emotional issues. That is, if something is troubling us and we don’t know how to resolve the problem, we turn to food for comfort. And it’s sugary or fatty foods that we turn to. They deliver the comfort we seek, but the fly in the ointment is the relief we sought is not only temporary, but is followed by guilt and feelings of failure, which cause more pain, increasing the need for more comfort eating. So, a horrible vicious cycle is created, one that can eventually lead to morbid obesity.
Why do we turn to food when we experience emotional pain? It all started in infancy. When we were uncomfortable, we cried. Our mother then held and breast or bottle fed us. So, in our moment of discomfort we were soothingly offered food, comfort, security, and love. Thus, a link between food and comfort was created. This powerful link remains with us today.
It is also worth mentioning that the term “weight loss” is a troublesome one because the moment we start thinking about it, we experience resistance, or automatically fight against it. This is because our subconscious doesn’t like the idea of losing anything (reputation, fame, money, etc.). All loss is seen as a negative and to be resisted. To avoid this problem, change the way you look at it; rather than trying to lose weight, think about releasing it. If it were a toxin that you were holding on to, wouldn’t you want to release it?
One hundred thousand years ago, food was scarce. To ensure that we would survive, we are hard-wired to eat and keep eating any food that is available. Moreover, we are programmed to eat foods rich in fat and sugar, while using a minimum amount of energy. And to help us survive in the event of famine, our bodies evolved to store food in the form of fat. But now that food is plentiful, our body’s primitive programming works against us.
2. Health Problems. Before embarking on a “weight release” program, it’s a good idea to get a physical exam and make sure you don’t have any health problems that could impede your success.
Examples of health problems include underactive thyroid, ovary syndrome, or a drop in testosterone. Also, stress increases triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in the blood, making it more difficult to lose weight.
3. Mental Health. Researchers believe that depression may be more prevalent than previously believed. We live in a very stressful world and those who find it difficult to cope may turn to food to numb the pain.
4. Medications. Some medications can cause one to gain weight. They may also induce fatigue, which leads to lack of exercise.
5. Advertising. Since childhood, we are bombarded with TV ads and the print media that use powerful techniques to reach our subconscious and convince us we need fatty and sugary food in large quantities to be happy.
6. AGE. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we are less active, both of which contribute to weight gain. To fight this trend, we need to eat less and exercise more.
7. Bad Habits. Afternoon snack time, deserts with meals, snacking while watching TV, and playing video games instead of playing sports are all examples of bad habits that foster weight gain.
8. Miscalculations. We normally underestimate how much exercise is required to lose weight. Thirty minutes a day is fine to remain fit, but to lose weight, we need to exercise about an hour a day, five days a week. Bear in mind, exercise is only half the formula for weight loss; the other half is food. That is, we have to eat less and exercise more. Another common ‘miscalculation’ is the belief that we don’t have enough time to exercise. If we have enough time to watch TV, we have enough time to exercise during TV or instead of TV. It’s not a matter of having time; we all have time. Rather, it’s a matter of setting time aside for what is really important.
9. Lack of Patience. We can gain weight quickly, but losing it takes time, so patience is a prerequisite. Two more important tools for success are commitment (the willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed) and self-discipline (the recognition that some things are too important to ignore).
10. Failure to understand that relapse is just part of the process. Overeating is a tough habit to break, so after experiencing some success, many later have a relapse. There’s nothing wrong with having one, but there is something wrong with believing a relapse is proof you cannot succeed and giving up as a result. Relapses are just part of the process. After you have one, pick yourself up and continue on your journey. Each time you trip and fall, you become stronger, and soon you will be able to continue without stumbling.
11. Not taking responsibility. The need for relief of emotional pain is very strong, so to justify the self-sabotage of overeating, you may come up with excuses such as, “I lack motivation. I don’t have any will power. I was born this way. I have poor genes.” Whatever the excuse, ignore it. Yield to your higher self, not your weaker self.
12. Believing there’s too much information and it’s conflicting and confusing. In case this article may lead you to have such thoughts, let me say that although there may be a bit of background material, the most important part of the article, the solution, is simple and straight forward. To win the battle of the bulging waistline, all you need to know is how to end emotional eating, and you will learn how to in the books found in my Recommended Reading section. I especially recommend the first book, Shrink Yourself.
13. Portion sizes are too large. After a 15 year stay in Japan, my Japanese wife (now Canadian), my children, and I were shocked by the size of the portions in our first meal in a Canadian restaurant. The portions were about twice the size of a Japanese meal. But guess what? Over time we became accustomed to the large meals and grew to consider them as normal. Now I know better, and I’m trying to teach my wife to feed me smaller portions.
14. Hormonal changes due to insufficient sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep the body produces more ghrelin and less leptin. The hormone ghrelin stimulates the appetite while the hormone leptin suppresses it. The result is weight gain.
15. Losing our food sensitivity. The more comfort eating we do, the more we lose our ability to recognize true hunger and the more difficult it becomes to stop eating. Also, the excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and fat found in comfort food dull our appetite for the subtle tastes of healthy food.
16. Misdirected focus. Our subconscious is programmed to deliver more of what we focus on. But some people focus on what they don’t want instead of focusing on what they want. For instance, someone who is overweight may be thinking throughout the day “I am too fat. I look terrible. I have no self-control…” Such thoughts just program the subconscious to bring more of the same. But if the person were to focus on what they wish to be instead of what they are at this moment, their subconscious would start working on their behalf, instead of against them.
For a brief introduction on how to overcome the biggest barrier to weight loss, emotional eating, visit: How to Stop Psychological Reasons for Overeating and How to Change Emotional Eating. But for a comprehensive explanation and detailed guidance, see the books in my Recommended Reading section.
There are some excellent software programs that serve as valuable weight loss tools. Here are some:
For more choices, do a Google search for weight loss software.
SHRINK YOURSELF: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever by Roger Gould
“With Shrink Yourself, renowned psychiatrist and emotional eating expert Dr. Roger Gould offers the first step-by-step analysis of the connection between eating and emotion. Dr. Gould explains why the connection is so powerful and shows you how to break the emotional eating cycle, shed all your excess pounds, and keep them off for good. Based on Dr. Gould’s unique method and his work involving more than twenty thousand people, this revolutionary eight-session program reveals that your uncontrollable hunger is connected to feelings of powerlessness in your life. You’ll discover the five layers of powerlessness and you’ll learn how to recognize and cope with each of them.” (From the book’s Inside Flap)
THE SOLUTION: For Safe, Healthy, and Permanent Weight Loss by Laurel Mellin.
“Dietary expert Laurel Mellin offers a scientifically proven, agony-free, breakthrough program for weight loss that doesn’t require deprivation or superhuman willpower. The Diet-Free Solution presents a practical six-step plan that succeeds where other diets fail because it identifies the psychological, physical, and lifestyle causes of weight problems: the powerful mind and body drives that lead to overeating and inactivity and offers the cure for each. You can change your body, and ultimately your whole life.” (Taken from the Amazon.com book description)
Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth
The Weight Loss Secret in as Few Words as Possible
1. Avoid processed food. Stick with natural food.
2. Exercise an hour a day, five days a week.
3. Eliminate any roadblocks that are preventing you from doing steps 1 and 2.