“Why can’t I lose weight?” asked the woman in front of me.
Actually, she yelled it, not because I’d failed her (we’d only just met) but because this was the ONE thing in this successful, vivacious, forty-something-year-old’s life that had her beat.
“I’ve tried every diet, every detox, every healthy eating plan. I’ve walked, jogged, played tennis and sweated through exercise classes; I’ve pumped, boxed, lifted and stretched. I’ve lost weight at times but always — always — it creeps on again. I get so upset, frustrated — defeated. Why can’t I do this? WHY?”
That is: you can’t achieve lasting change until you know what’s in the way. Then you can dismantle it.
It’s Not About the Body
These may come from your personal history, for example the way food was seen and used within your family, or a traumatic event. Or they may be a response to stress, fear, or the feedback you’ve had from the world.
There’s always a link to anxiety.
I’ve heard many stories from overweight and underweight people, a mix of gender, age, sexualities, ethnicity and culture. While each is unique in detail and depiction, there are themes, patterns, that show up over and over again — even amongst those who have very different weight and food struggles.
5 Myths That Stop You Losing Weight (Note: these also apply to underweight issues)
Myth 1. Food keeps me safe.
Food is a barrier between myself and past trauma, or things in the world that worry or distress me. I can use it to manipulate my size which enables me to avoid or escape things I fear.
Myth 2. Food gives me control.
By controlling what goes into my body I can take control of the chaotic world around me. This may relate to my immediate environment (i.e. home, school, work, sport), but it can also be about the broader environment and the struggle to achieve, or rebel against, societal ideals of beauty and thinness.
Myth 3. Food makes me visible.
Food gives me a unique identity; it brings me attention and approval through beauty, power or success. It may be my way of being special or standing out from a group or crowd.
Myth 4. Food makes me calm.
Food is my number one strategy for countering stress — I use certain foods to calm me in the moment (e.g. after a difficult day) or more broadly to counter confusion within myself or the world around me.
Myth 5. Food brings me love.
What’s really going on?
Believing in those myths is handing a lot of power to food, power that it has not earned nor asked for. Food does not have an agenda. It is not narcissistic or manipulative or needy or mean; it’s just hanging out on a shelf, or on a plate or in a bag, waiting for its destiny. It’s waiting for you to decide whether to eat it — or to deprive yourself of it.
Psychological work on food and weight issues looks to identify and tap into your core beliefs around food, body image — and yourself. Because who you are and your deepest needs often show up in the ways you use food.
Working out, being more active, reducing your portions, cutting out chocolate can all help you lose weight. But if you want more than a short-term fix, you need to figure out your food personality profile: your history, your unhealthy associations, your vulnerabilities and your strengths — the why and what and how and when of your relationship with food.
Only when you understand where your eating patterns are coming from, can you begin to change them.