Losing weight can be one of the hardest tasks a person must face. We could theorize that one of the reasons why people find it so hard to lose weight is because they are looking at the task from a completely physical point of view. This point of view would have us believing that weight loss is a simple matter of exercising more and changing our eating habits. Of course, this is true for some people, but not all. Some people may experience difficulty losing weight because of underlying psychological problems and/or irrational thinking. In these cases successful weight loss will likely only occur by dealing with both the physical and psychological problems.
Sometimes obesity and/or overeating are not the primary problems affecting a person’s well being, but are instead side effects of other underlying problems. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre many people who have eating problems also often have other problems such as alcohol/drug problems, depression, history of sexual abuse/abuse, and chronic anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Depression can lead to overeating and it can also make it difficult to implement and follow a weight loss plan. Sexual abuse/abuse may cause people to experience negative feelings such as “self-hate, fear, loss of control, shame and flashbacks,” which may lead to eating problems (National Eating Disorder Information Centre). Many abuse victims may also experience depression, which again may lead to eating problems. Others may use obesity as a defense mechanism hoping that if they are obese others will not find them physically attractive. The causes and effects of psychological problems such as these can be numerous and complex. When we are faced with such complex problems it is unlikely that we will be able to successfully lose weight and maintain a healthy weight without addressing these underlying issues.
Fortunately, these problems can be solved and the people who experience them can learn to live a better life. When facing problems of this magnitude, it is advisable to seek the help of a trained professional such as a psychologist who can put you on the right track and help you find the best resources to deal with your problems (National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Estronaut).
There are other psychological factors that may influence our ability to lose weight that do not necessarily require the assistance of a professional to deal with. Some of these factors are irrational thoughts that enter our minds when we attempt to lose weight. Psychology Today identified 7 irrational thoughts we often have that cause us to experience difficulty losing weight. The factors are:
1. Irrational obsession with becoming thin. If our thoughts are focused only on the need to become thin we may become desperate and our long term health goals may fail.
2. Irrational desire to eat until full. Food has become readily available and more accessible than it was in our past, which has led to many people believing that they must stuff themselves to the point where they cannot eat anymore.
3. Irrational desire for immediate results. Many people get caught up in the appeal of short term satisfaction which makes it difficult to commit to a long term program or goal. People are likely to think “why should I eat sensibly when the reward will not occur for some time and eating this cake will make me feel good right now?”
4. Irrational desire to eat for comfort. Many people eat to make themselves feel better. “Fatty and sugary food provides immediate comfort and distraction from other issues” (qtd in Brabham p. 62). Instead of eating you should try to resolve your problem.
5. Irrational pessimistic attitude. Many people who become obese may take on an “end of the world outlook”, which is not going to help them lose weight. You need to have a positive outlook on your ability to achieve your goal.
6. Irrational belief that dieting is too hard. “It’s just too hard to diet.” This thinking renders you helpless. People who are easily frustrated want easy solutions. We’re seduced by fad diets because they appeal to that immediacy. Yet people who rely on fad diets suffer high failure rates. When you diet with the short term in mind, you don’t learn strategies that require patience and persistence” (qtd in Brabham p. 62).
7. Irrational feelings of worthlessness. Many people view being overweight as a personal failure that makes them a weak and worthless person. Other people may irrationally believe that their value as a human being is determined by what they look like. These people have fallen victim to the media’s view that beauty is the same as thinness. When you feel like a failure you are not likely to be able to stick to a long term weight loss program.
These thoughts are all irrational thoughts that will adversely affect our ability to achieve our goals. We must learn to recognize and change these thoughts before we can be successful in our weight loss goals.
Whenever our own mind works against us it becomes much harder to achieve our goals. Whether you have a serious psychological problem that requires professional help or are a victim of your own irrational thoughts the first thing you must do is recognize that there is a psychological element to your problem. No one can solve a problem without first being aware of all of its elements.
Brabham, D. (2004, January-February). Is your head tripping you up?. Psychology Today. 61-64
National Eating Disorder Information Centre. (1997). Questions and Answers. Nedic.ca. Retrieved February 12, 2004 from http://nedic.ca/qa.html#13
Estronaut. (1999). Depression Due to Weight Problems. Womenshealth.org. Retrieved February 12, 2004 from http://www.womenshealth.org/a/depression_due_to_weight.htm