In a recent survey, psychologists named emotions as their clients’ “top obstacle” to weight loss. The 1300+ licensed psychologists, to fill in the picture, also cited emotional eating as well as food selection and exercise commitment among the common challenges their clients faced. Sure, it’s maybe little surprise that psychologists would emphasize the role emotional issues play in weight loss. It’s their profession after all, and their clients comprise a self-selected group of people who are interested in delving into the emotional dimensions of their weight management struggles. That said, I know plenty of trainers (myself included), doctors, and dietitians (Primally focused or otherwise) who would suggest psychology has figured prominently into many of their clients’ situations as well.
From my own perspective, I’ve worked with many people who honestly felt they didn’t deserve to be healthy, to be beautiful, to be happy. Every effort they’d made in the past to lose weight and improve their wellbeing had been sabotaged by psychological ghosts. Negative self-talk got the better of them even after they’d experienced substantial success in losing weight and/or achieving other health and fitness goals. When a number of these folks combined emotional work with their lifestyle changes, it was like the air cleared. Not overnight, but over time.
As much as I believe giving people accurate information (about diet, fitness, and other key lifestyle areas) can empower them to live healthier lives, there’s that more complex dimension. The body, after all, is pretty simple. Our metabolic functioning, for example, is fairly straightforward once you understand the basics of hormonal responses.
For many people, however, the physical side isn’t the issue. They get it – and they do it. It’s the psychological baggage that acts as the obstacle at some point (or points) along the way toward a healthier life. Maybe it’s a background of abuse, neglect, bullying, or depression. For some, food dulled some pretty harsh emotions in their histories, and the associations are hard to break. For others, there was something to the image of themselves itself that was protective: being overweight or sick was part of how they had defined their lives. For many, it could even be negative self-talk related to current stresses and circumstances.
By all means, if you feel emotional issues significantly affect your daily functioning or progress toward reasonable health goals, the expertise of a professional counselor is advisable. For anyone who’s interested in fostering the emotional side of their health journey or break past what might be a mental as opposed to a physical block, let me throw out a few suggestions. I hope you’ll add yours as well.
The journey toward better health – under any circumstances – offers plenty of fodder for great journaling. Use a journal or other tool to explore or record realizations, stumbling blocks, self-doubt, accomplishments, and motivational ideas. Reflect on the history you bring to your current health endeavor (previous weight loss attempts, disordered eating, etc.) as well as your day-to-day journey in the here and now.
Try to identify the roots of emotional issues at play and the current triggers that send you down the road of negative self-talk. Use your developing awareness to continually “catch” yourself earlier in the self-talk cycle and redirect your thoughts and activities before it even starts. Record what works in that redirecting.
Use whatever works for you: inspirational books, affirmations, close and supportive relationships, online forums, formal support groups, life coaching, and/or personal counseling. Social support is key to any life change, and it can be incredibly motivating whether or not you feel emotional issues figure into your health journey.
Even if you indulged in your share of self-soothing at the refrigerator, you may have denied yourself any meaningful self-care. Commit to self-care and consider what activities and choices have the power to really nourish your physical and mental health. Make a list of healthy indulgences that can take the place overeating or other unhealthy habits once held in your life. What other practices or activities can offer comfort? Research, for example, suggests relaxation training helps people avoid emotional eating and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
After a major weight loss or health change, some people continue to live with a distorted view of themselves. Even if you’re loving the transformation, it can be worth the effort to envision the future. Certain routines or even social connections might not play as big a part as they once did. Certain opportunities you never considered might seem worth pursuing.
The road to health and weight loss obliges a degree of striving. (Although a Primal life of bacon and leisurely bike rides isn’t such a hard existence really…) However, the process sometimes calls us to shed other things along the way – the self-talk as well as habits, the self-image as well as diet that just don’t work for us anymore (and in truth never did). In this sense, it’s about surrender as well as striving. We strive for a better, healthier life, but it’s important to ask ourselves what we need to let go of in the journey.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. I hope you’ll share your thoughts, perspectives, and experiences related to weight loss and health changes. Have a great weekend, everyone!