With Oprah continuing to have difficulties managing her weight- and wouldn’t we all feel better if she finally got it right since we all like her and want her to succeed – it opens up the weight discussion once again. So I’m going to try to add a bit to the discussion that some people might find useful. Hopefully, I can provide a point of view that may allow some individuals to view their experience through a different lens, and, in doing so, allow for a new pattern or two to emerge.
I’m going to do this in two parts. The first part focuses on problem eating, the second on the critical differences between losing weight and managing that weight loss. Weight loss and weight loss management are two totally different psychological states even though, ironically, the behaviors needed to succeed at both are identical. And the difference between the two is where the action is. But first things first – eating.
The following are the problem eating categories and some suggested solutions:
This refers to people who know nothing about nutrition. I know it’s hard to believe given the amount of available information – books, magazines, TV, internet, etc. – but some people still have very little nutritional literacy. Spend some time looking at the size of some of the people walking around Disney World, and you’ll get the picture. If you fall into this category, you are, depending on you age, 30-100 lb. overweight, and on your way to a variety of serious diseases.
Solution: Read Mehmet Oz or the host of other nutritional experts who can tell you what you don’t know. Take the time to learn a little bit about food, for a little bit can go a long way.
Trance eating refers to a form of negative multitasking. While doing something else – reading, watching TV, e-mailing, etc. – you’re eating, completely oblivious to what you’re doing. Eating in a movie theater is trance eating at its most obvious. It’s remarkable how someone can walk into a theater with a container of popcorn the size of Volkswagen, sit down, put the container in their lap and eat every last kernel without any consciousness. Oops, that ‘s not entirely correct. They pause, momentarily, to wash it down with sips from a gallon container of coke, the size that allows them a free refill.
One other note about trance eating. If you’re compelled to finish everything on your plate, it’s probably the consequences of your mom telling you when you were a child a variation on the theme “there are children starving in Uganda”. Over time this maternal command functions as an unconscious hypnotic suggestion, and you follow it regardless of the fact that you feel as if you are so full, you are about to explode. Trance states are not always good things.
Solution: WAKE UP! FROM THIS MOMENT ON…….YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF………BYPASSING THE CONCESSION COUNTER AT THE MOVIE THEATER……. AND NEVER EATING WHILE WATCHING TV…..OR AT THE COMPUTER…… OR ANY OTHER ACTIVITY. Oh, and you don’t need to finish the food on your plate. Put it in the refrigerator, or take it home from the restaurant. This way you save the food, thus satisfying mom’s command of not wasting it.
Of all the substances that we ingest to make ourselves feel better, food is most often the drug of choice. We eat when we’re anxious, sad, depressed, angry, worried, annoyed, ashamed or guilty. There are probably a few others that I missed, but I think you get the point. Coping with difficult emotional states is no easy task, but that’s no excuse for constant abuse of food. Obviously – and I’m hardly the first person to say this- learning productive coping skills to deal with negative emotions is an essential skill for weight management.
Solution: Start saying NO more often and take exercise very seriously.
Sleep Deprived Eating
One of the lesser-known facts about sleep deprivation is its effect on appetite. For reasons not fully understand – maybe the brain’s need for more glucose due to fatigue – lack of sleep wrecks havoc with the hormones connected to appetite. In short, you eat more and gain weight. Enough said.
Solution: You need 7 1/2 hrs. I know you enjoy watching Leno, Letterman and Conan, but your health is more important than their ratings. This is not negotiable.
This is the “well intentioned” form of problem eating, but equally useless. Diets fall into a category of experience that is doomed to failure. The moment you choose to engage in a weight loss strategy that is time limited, you can’t possibly succeed. The only difference between this kind of eating and the others is the belief that something good will come of it. It won’t.
Solution: Stop doing diets now unless you’ve chosen one that you intend to be a permanent life style change!
In part II of this essay, the focus will be on issues that typically get ignored or misunderstood. I’m going to argue that anxiety and OCD are, not only useful, but essential components of a successful weight loss strategy. In addition, you will learn about how to avoid the subtle dangers of Pavlovian conditioning. I’ll also be talking a bit about exercise.
In the interim, if you are person who should be losing weight, ask yourself the question – Am I really ready to do this? Am I ready to commit to incorporating everything I need to do and everything I need to know into what probably will be as courageous as anything I’ve done do date in my life.
Successfully losing weight is a big deal – no pun intended.