Why Weight Loss Fails and What to Do About It
I’m sure that if you have had weight problems in your life, you have tried many things. Some of them actually worked but required you to totally alter your life, undertaking extreme measures of dieting, food restriction, counting, and other activities that kept you focused on the task at hand. And when you got to a point where you reached your goal, or could no longer go on, you stopped. And what happened? You may have held your weight for a time, but your old habits and programming ultimately took over, and you began to gain again.
I recently had a client who had tried everything. She had even tried to sign up for surgery and found out that the medical conditions that she had would prevent her from having a successful outcome. When she came to see me, she was incredibly committed to losing weight, and the gastric band was just what she wanted. She was convinced it would work for her.
As I do with every client, I explain that the band is not a magic bullet. Once it is installed, it must be tweaked, upgraded and tuned so that it works and continues to work. One of the aspects of the band is that if you decide you are going to throw all your resolve out the window, the band will begin to fail. After all, it is a device controlled by your subconscious, and if you are into undermining yourself, the band can play no role in that. Yes, yes, she understood all of this and wanted it. In doing her diet history and learning something about her life, many of her diets and other relationships seemed to run in 2-3 month cycles. We talked about this because it appeared to me that she had some sort of block to having long term success.
She did extremely well with the band over the course of several months, but one day contacted me to cancel her appointment because nothing was working the way that it had. I reminded her that what we were doing with the band required her continued commitment for it to work for her and reminded her to listen to the post-surgery CD that I provide for reinforcement. Over the next several weeks she would almost make appointments, but something was alwaysin the way, and finally she stopped communicating with me. As I looked at the amount of time, the band worked for her for almost exactly six weeks.
So what does this tell me? Each of us has stories we tell ourselves that are self- limiting. For whatever reason – generally stemming from sometime in early childhood – we develop these stories as means to explain the world to ourselves. If you think about the world as a baby, you don’t have a lot of information to work with – you don’t know much, or have an ability to communicate well, or have physical abilities that allow you to test the stories that you are creating. And because many of these form before we are able to speak, they reside in us as feelings rather than as overt stories, but this gives them no less power over our behavior.
And if you are a baby who decided that things you loved or wanted were removed from you at six weeks, you may have created a story for yourself that this was going to happen so you would never be committed to something or someone for longer than six weeks. It sounds bizarre when you put it in words, but it is very common to make these kinds of commitments to ourselves so that we can avoid pain and loss. (More information on this thought process and development appears in the work of Dr. Melanie Klein who investigated the impact of childhood on adult psychological development.)
And here you are 40+ years later, unable to sustain diets, relationships, and blaming whatever or whoever for this lack in your life. Once you are able to identify that this story is active in your life, then you can begin to remove its energy. And all this requires the willingness to accept responsibility for what is going on in your life rather than pushing responsibility away onto others. In every story, there is more than one side, and if it is your life, then you have a side. And if you decide to work in therapy on your weight, then not only will you need to be honest with yourself about your food and eating and exercise, you will also need to be willing to accept responsibility for other aspects of your life. And this is where therapy for weight loss tends to break down. As long as the client is focused on the problem and is doing limited problem-based work, things progress. When challenges arise – less weight loss than expected, feelings, other life issues that are being triggered by healthy living – then the tendency is to retreat and blame.
The therapist is not the cause of the challenges, successes or failures. Virtual surgery and any supportive hypnotherapy will work for you if you are committed to making change in your life and working through challenges as they arise. And some days the best you can do is show up and acknowledge that things could be better and use your opportunity and your therapist to help you find new directions and solutions.
Does any of this sound familiar? It is so defeating when you commit to yourself that you are going to take your eating and weight problems in hand and do something about it, only to find that things don’t go exactly as you planned. When we make changes in our eating routines, our bodies do react and sometimes not in the ways that we anticipated. So consider these questions and explanations.
1. What were you eating before? Foods move through your system at different speeds, so your diet does impact how long foods stay in your system. Foods that are low in fiber, such as processed foods, will stay in your system longer because there is less to push them through. Eating diet foods such as frozen diet entrees are generally fairly low fiber, so they take a long time to process. Also these foods tend to have reduced fat content, and fats are one of the things that “grease” the way for foods to slide through your intestinal tract. So if you are continuing to eat processed foods that also have reduced fat, you have the potential of foods sitting longer in your system, hence less weight loss while they are there. We tend to forget that our intestinal tracts can hold considerable weight in food, so you can actually gain as this matter is waiting to be eliminated.
2. Do you know what you are eating now? Reading labels is a habit I had to develop to know what I was putting into my body. Things that are processed may contain wheat, sugar, fat, salt and a whole slew of chemicals that may impede any progress that you might intend to make. Writing down what you are eating is a good habit so you are honest with yourself about what you are doing. We are so good at fooling ourselves into believing that we haven’t eaten anything, yet that little snack standing in front of the refrigerator conveniently slips our minds. Besides what you are eating, do you know how much you are eating in each serving? Learning how to portion food correctly is another habit that makes it easier in the future to maintain body weight because you will be eating less than you did previously.
3. What are you drinking? Are you drinking water? Drinking a considerable amount of water will help fill you up and help move food through you. I try to drink as close to 100 ounces of water a day when dieting because of these factors. If you are dehydrated or drinking fluids that your body is processing as food – such as milk – then you do not have that pushing power that water can provide. Alcohol can be a huge detractor when you are focusing on your weight. It contains 7 calories per gram, and your body processes it like sugar. Just for today, consider the importance of that drink and if the short term indulgence is worth the longer term body impact.
4. Fiber? So you’ve heard that you should be eating more fiber and have switched from what you were eating before to fiber rich foods. That switch will cause more food to be in your body initially, hence the potential of temporary weight gain. Continuing to eat high fiber foods such as veggies, fruits and whole grains and legumes will gradually shift your body into regular elimination and your weight will reflect that change while it’s happening.
5. Are you under stress in your life? Perhaps you have heard some of the weight loss ads about the role of cortisol in preventing weight loss. While these commercials are trying to sell you a gimmicky product that actually revolves around you restricting your food intake and increasing your exercise levels, cortisol is a major factor in weight loss prevention. When you are operating under stress, your body goes into a fight or flight mode to varying degrees. The longer you are under stress, the more your body is going to reserve energy so that you can fight or flee when you need to. We still have these chemical processes going on even though we are not fleeing wild animals to survive, so we have to figure out ways to alleviate stress in our lives if we want to lose weight.
6. How about exercise? I learned the hard way that diet without exercise usually isn’t enough, particularly when I am starting a reduced eating plan. Your body is used to holding onto weight, and exercise forces it to use energy, thus burning more calories. If I don’t exercise, my body wants to believe that I am starving to death and goes into a protective mode, storing every calorie it can, hence no weight loss. Taking a walk, or doing some moderate exercise that you like can help break through this stagnation.
There are many options ranging from exercise – even gentle exercise can reduce stress – to massage, to therapy, to recreation and crafts. Choosing something that allows you to relax and let go on a regular basis can greatly impact your body’s inclination to store fat reserves. I had no ability to lose weight when I was in an exceedingly high stress job. It was physically difficult on my body and was causing increasing problems with weight, blood pressure, and other disease such as skin and intestinal distress. Starting a yoga class helped immeasurably because I had a release for the energy, I was physically active instead of in my head, and I gave my body some of the release it needed to let go and begin functioning normally. A little recreation and TLC can go a long way to helping with stress issues, and without adding this consideration to your overall health plan, you will have a difficult time helping your body to release and burn the energy reserves it has been storing.
7. Consider the long-term impact of the change. When you start a diet, you are generally thinking short-term about how much weight you can lose now and in the next couple of weeks. Long-term weight loss and maintenance depends on changes in habits and routines, and some of these habits involve teaching your body to respond differently to food, hydration, stress and exercise. So even if your weight fluctuates from day to day, good eating and exercise habits will help you stabilize over time causing long term change to your metabolism and thus your weight.
Unfortunately there is no magic around reaching our healthy weight. We tend to think in terms of denial – losing weight, giving up foods that we love, and no eating plan can sustain denial long term. Today I do not deny myself and have reframed the concepts around food in my life. I let myself eat anything I want and like; however, what I want and like has changed as my body has changed. I want high fiber and low fat foods because my body feels better when I eat them. My body craves protein more, and I am now used to eating protein at every meal, even if I don’t eat much else. I don’t eat sugar very often because it makes me feel sleepy and sluggish. And if I get carried away one day and eat everything that I tell myself I will never eat again, I have a habitual eating routine that I go back to the next day that will cause my weight to remain within a stable healthy range. All this is the result of long-term habitual change.
8. Be aware and don’t give up. Habits take time to develop, and the positive ones mentioned here will last a lifetime once you develop them. Remember that your cravings are not you; they are habitual memories that you hold in your body. And you can change or eliminate them in ways that reinforce you.
So don’t give up on yourself. Look for the reasons why you might be challenged and make some modifications. Get someone to help you – I never could have done it on my own, so having a buddy helped me be honest with myself and show up every day. And, look to the long-term rather than feeling denied, deprived and depraved today. Your health is the most important thing, and making changes to your eating and exercise habits are major keys to sustaining a long and healthy life.
If you want more information or would like some support, I would be delighted to help. I now have regular appointments with clients via phone and Skype, so don’t feel you have to live near me to benefit from my help. Initial consultations are always free, so don’t hesitate. Sometimes that first call is the helping hand that will help you move forward. You can do it; we can help.