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  • Resilient Practice

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting - Part 2

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

In last week’s article we talked about how eating mindfully can help us to maintain a healthy body weight. This week we want to further that discussion by addressing eating as an unconscious behaviour or habit. Here we would like to go a step further into self-awareness and identify why we overeat.

This will bring us back to the tricky relationship between our weight and the food we consume.

What if we said that overeating was actually a set of behavioural strategies which is employed to fulfil a need?

Since we are talking about ‘overeating’ or ‘comfort eating’ rather than simply ‘eating,’ this need is not likely to be the expected one of fuel and nutrition.

This need is far more likely to have been generated by our childhood conditioning which is comprised of our parenting and early life experiences. Examples of this include being praised for and encouraged to finish our plateful, being rewarded with sweets, being given food as comfort, being chastised for being wasteful or being made to feel guilty because food costs money or because others are starving.

Each of these examples illustrates the kind of needs we might be addressing when we overeat. A need for reward or comfort, or a desire not to feel guilt or shame, when deeply embedded into the psyche at an early age, just as we are beginning to develop our model of the world can very easily drown out our body’s natural signals of hunger which indicate the need for sustenance and nutrition.

Eating can be a source of conflict within the family, particularly between parent and child and can, therefore, represent a behaviour where the child may gain control of a situation. They can appear to upset or appease the adult in question simply by eating more or less food.

Because these behaviours of ‘overeating’ or ‘comfort eating’ have been observed to work for us in the short term, in that they had the power to make us feel better (more in control, less guilty, treated, comforted or approved of;) they have become learned, and we continue to employ them whenever that need arises in our adult lives.

When we feel bored, sad, out of control, in need of praise or reward, or in need of alleviating guilt or shame, the behaviour of ‘overeating’ or ‘comfort eating’ is there, at our fingertips - already tried and tested.

The irony is, that ‘overeating’ itself invariably leads to feelings of shame and low self-worth, reinforcing our negative core beliefs and so we become stuck in a negative spiral of behaviours and outcomes.

When we ‘treat’ ourselves to excess, we may fall into the trap of believing that we are being good to ourselves and attracting abundance. When we believe this, the thought of dieting immediately points us toward the emotions and fear of denying ourselves food and luxury. We are, after all worthy of all those things, are we not? This fear heightens the original need and makes our compulsion to eat even stronger.

If we acknowledge, that by overindulgence, we are actually highlighting a need, then in reality we can see that our outmoded behaviour will only increase that need. This is why, when we start to diet, we immediately crave food. As soon as we begin to diet, we are giving attention to hardship and this intensifies the need.

The overall emphasis when embarking on a diet for weight loss is usually on lack of food or reduction in calories. People talk about ’willpower’ and ‘overcoming temptation.’ This type of language is alien to the psyche because it does not recognise negatives. When attempting to cut things out, the psyche will register words such as sugar, calories, treats, snacks, and fats, rather than the negative words that surround them.

Additionally, there are parts of the psyche whose entire purpose is to protect us and ensure that we ‘have enough’ and do not go without. As soon as we start talking or thinking in terms of depravation, rest assured that those unconscious processes will immediately kick in and resist our efforts to lose weight. We are then embarking upon a mighty battle with the Self, which is why losing weight through dieting can feel like a herculean effort, and why we often cannot sustain it.

As we have so often written, to achieve a desired outcome we should make conscious choices to give ourselves what we need rather than taking steps to deny that the need exists and move towards depravation.

When we understand what the exact nature of the need, we can choose to put something more relevant and fitting in place to fulfil it. For example, something that is connected to providing comfort, stimulating activity, improving mood, improving self-worth, taking control or raising self-esteem rather than something that is connected to food.

For a hypnotherapy based six step reframe and over 60 additional tools and techniques to help improve your mental wellbeing, reduce anxiety and allow you to take control of your life see our book 'How to Rise - A Complete Resilience Manual' from Sheldon Press.

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