Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Weight Loss

Some circumstances beyond human control have caused people to experience drastic weight loss. For example illness, extreme exercise (forced marches), imprisonment, famine, wars and religious fasting have caused people to lose weight.

Losing weight was not good for the survival of the human race. Long ago, people who lost too much weight did not survive long enough to pass on their genes. People who were better at keeping their bellies full were able to more effectively pass on their genes to later generations.

This is our heritage — to eat more than we need so that we can survive times of famine and food scarcity. We are programmed to eat this way. The only problem is that in the world of today, famine is a rare occurrence. We have become so efficient at making food available, even people with limited financial means can stay alive by eating enough. Our brains have gotten us to eat more than we need by making it one of the more pleasurable human pastimes.

In the course of history, eating has become associated with many other human activities. In the ancient world, offering food and drink to a stranger was a form of hospitality that almost had the force of law. Today, holidays are often spent with family and friends and enormous amounts of food. We eat with people we want to know; we eat with others as a way of staying connected; we offer food to people as a way of showing gratitude; food is often provided at meetings and conferences. Food has become the hub of social activities. Eating has become a social event.

For many people, hunger is merely a momentary sensation prior to filling our stomachs. Eating has recently become a habit that successfully takes away personal discomfort like boredom and loneliness. We have become a people who eat any time we want. Food is everywhere. The workplace is often filled with snacks. When we stay at a hotel, breakfast is often provided the next morning. We can find food at gas stations. Snack machines are conveniently available as we travel our nation’s roads.

So now we are told that we have an obesity epidemic. Nearly sixty years ago, thirty-one percent of the population thought they needed to lose weight. Today, fifty-eight percent think they need to lose weight. The irony is that half of us want to lose but less than a third of us really try to lose weight.

It gets even stranger — two-thirds of people who are trying to take off the pounds have no plan in mind for how they are going to pull it off. There is definitely a disconnect between our wanting to lose weight and our actual willingness to put the effort into it.

One of the major components of our super-sizing population is less and less exercise. Extreme athletes can consume thousands of calories a day and not gain weight. Without exercise as a weight control component, our metabolism slows down which means we have to eat less food.

Eating less makes our brain think we are in a famine and slows our metabolism down even more. At some point we just give in and start eating again which makes it even worse because our body has now adjusted itself to fewer calories.

Solving overweight problems can be complex. The contribution of psychology has been to show people how to manage their thought life regarding eating. Since our behaviors are often controlled and maintained by our self-talk, we need to understand what we say to ourselves when we try to eat more healthy. Dieters often sabotage their eating plans with continual mythological monologues.

  • If I don’t get rid of this hunger right now, I just won’t be able to stand the discomfort.
  • Since I have done so well with my eating this week, I’ll reward myself on the weekend with the food I didn’t allow myself to eat during the week.
  • If I just eat until I feel full, then I won’t overeat.
  • I’ve had such a rotten day that I deserve to feel better by eating.
  • I don’t want to diet any more because it’s too painful.
I call these self statements myths because they are not true. Can you spot the distortions in these beliefs? To be successful in losing weight these Voice messages must be defeated and replaced with a perspective that is more in line with reality. Here some examples of replacement thoughts that successful eaters have used.
  • I really enjoy the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day when I have stuck to my eating plan.
  • I have other methods for defeating hunger instead of not following my plan.
  • My body is programmed to overeat, therefore I must use my brain to overcome this programming.
  • Instead of using food as a reward, I have a long list of non-food rewards I can earn by following my plan.
  • The longer I am successful, the easier it gets.

These "affirmations" are not very effective until you have cleaned out the mental garbage in your brain. The best sequence is to follow Voice fighting with affirmations. Realistic self-talk is a powerful tool for anyone who is trying to change their behavior.

1 comment:

Patrick Philbrick said...

One great form of positive self-talk for dieting came from a good friend recently: "Being thin feels better than being full."
Works for me....