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How to Lose Weight Without Dieting - Part 2

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.

Before this week’s practical tool, here are some useful links to help with maintaining a health body weight:

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting - Part 1

How to Create A Five-Point Rescue Plan

And now try this:

This is a Six Step reframe adapted by Resilient Practice, from the work of Bandler and Grinder[1], which is a tool often used for weight loss during Hypnotherapy.

Sit in a comfortable place where you will not be disturbed. You may wish to keep a pen and paper handy to record your thoughts and emotions for reference and processing.

  • Write down the behaviour you want to change. Be specific. Remain emotionally detached.

For example: I wish to stop eating as a result of being bored.

  • Now go to the part of your psyche that is running this behaviour. Sit quietly and you will be able to get a sense of where this is. Use your intuition and not your thinking.

  • Say either aloud or in your mind:

“I wish to change the behaviour of (eating when I am bored”)

“This is because this behaviour no longer suits me.”

“I recognise that this behaviour was put in place for all the right reasons at the time and that it has kept me safe up to now. I am grateful for that protection.”

“I acknowledge that this behaviour is only one way to manage (my boredom) and that there are other ways which are be more relevant for who I am today.”

“I would like to try some more relevant behaviours to address this need of (alleviating boredom) which will suit me better now.

Always ask permission from that part of the psyche to try a new approach.

  • Now find the creative part of your psyche. This is the ideas part.

Explain that you would like some suggestions of alternative behaviour for the situation (boredom) to replace the current one of (overeating.)

Pause and allow for suggestions to arise. Give yourself time. Do not overthink.

  • Select the alternative behaviours that appeal to you the most. Tell the part of you that is responsible for meeting the need (alleviating boredom) that you would like it to use one or more of the alternative strategies that have been suggested instead of overeating because they are more appropriate for you now. Explain it that any changes can be reversed if the new strategy does not appear to be working. Make sure that this part of the psyche if it is willing to take responsibility for this from now on.

Now create a clear picture of yourself the next time you are in the situation of (being bored.) Clearly visualise yourself using the new behaviours and strategies to fulfil that need, see and feel them at work. Watch the situation play out positively. See that you are safe when you respond in this way. Notice how it feels to use behaviour that suits you, without paying the price of the old behaviour. Take yourself forward by one week and do the same. Now fast-forward a month and so on. You will be able to see and feel the positive effects of releasing the unwanted behaviour (weight loss, better body image, improved confidence, improved self-esteem.) In seeing yourself six months ahead you will experience a new version of You.

Now bring all parts of the psyche together as a whole where each part has a say. Ensure that all parts are happy for this change to happen. If you sense that all parts agree then the reframe is done. If meet an obstacle, then return to step two and repeat the process from there addressing the resistance.

Self-observation and awareness, and making conscious choices are always the prerequisite for positive sustainable change.

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[1] Richard Bandler and John Grinder 1990, Frogs into Princes: Introduction to Neurolinguistic Programming. Eden Grove

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