You might be dieting and exercising to keep you trim – but the way you think could be holding you back.
New research from experts suggests that your psychology could well be the missing link to your weight problem.
You start with your diet, you lose a few pounds, you feel great and then the restrictive nature of your calorie counting begins to lose its appeal and the pounds go back on, and maybe you add a few more. Sound familiar?
After this happens the feelings of shame strike – and we’ll do anything to get rid, or avoid that feeling.
Dr Deborah Thomas, a clinical psychologist ran “shame awareness” workshops at the University of Sydney and she says: "Shame is regarded as the 'hidden emotion. It's a very normal emotion to experience but also very debilitating, and we'll do almost anything to avoid or get rid of it."
People keep feelings of shame bottled up because they are embarrassed about that feeling. And harsh criticism is not good for anyone trying to gain healthy weight and body image.
By failing at the weight loss programme you’ve set yourself, you then start to believe that you are a “loser” and you start to have a really low opinion of yourself, which exacerbates the issue.
Some experts believe that those in the medical profession ignore the psychological feelings involved with weight loss because they just don’t understand it and it’s such a complex issue. Many health experts would rather deal with the physical aspect of weight issues, and hope the mental side follows suit.
Now many people are turning to weight loss methods that address emotional issues. The psychology of why we might be overweight in the first place is being examined and this may include aspects such as habits learned in childhood, or trauma faced as an adolescent or adult. This works well alongside a diet and exercise regime.
People need to be able to “accept” themselves before they can successfully achieve their weight loss goal, or people can spiral into what is called a shame avoidance cycle when they try, and then fail to lose weight.
Ann Bailey is an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy practitioner and senior clinical psychologist. She says: "This therapy gets people in touch with their emotional struggle with food issues, through mindfulness. They then release their struggle through acceptance."
One of the problems with sorting out your mind before you sort out your body is that it takes a whole lot longer than just rushing in and hoping to lose weight at the gym. But the good news is that if you’re happy in yourself, then the effects, both mentally and physically will last.
One school of thought is that you can train your mind and body to avoid fatty foods and unhealthy lifestyles through meditation and relaxation sessions which focus you. The theory is also that if you are happy you won’t need to dull the pain of shame with food, as most of us tend to eat for comfort.
Looking at the perfect bodies in glossy magazines and beating ourselves up because we don’t match that body leads to feelings of self loathing, which leads to the cycle of eating and feeling low. As soon as we can stop trying to reach levels of unrealistic thinness and unnatural body shapes, and as soon as we realise that everybody is different – and not in a bad way, then we can start to love ourselves a bit more and live a happier life.
Exercises that are much kinder to our bodies and minds include yoga, which has a focus on meditation and breathing techniques. It is gentle enough to do at all levels and all ages can benefit from it. Pilates is more focused on stretching the muscles, but has a relaxation element and many classes will end on a meditation session where you focus on yourself.
More people are now becoming aware that there is benefit in tackling the psychological side of things before they set off on their weight loss journey. It’s important that you’re in the right frame of mind when you begin any programme of dieting or exercise and give yourself small achievable goals rather than huge unattainable ones that will leave you with that feeling of shame.
We all fall off the exercise and diet wagon occasionally but if you are in a good place psychologically then you are more likely to succeed, and success leads to feelings of wellbeing and happiness.
Speak to your doctor if you feel there is an underlying issue as to why you might be overweight, who will then be able to refer you to the correct professional to help you achieve your target weight in a safe and achievable way.
And before you start, why not give yourself a big hug!