The Psychology of Weight Loss

Ask any exercise teacher what is the most common question they get asked and the answer will be: ‘How can I tone up and lose weight?’ or: ‘How can I make my bottom/tummy/thighs/hips smaller?’ In other words, it is about the desire to change body shape and look different.

Food inevitably dominates our lives in that we need to eat in order to live. However, the pressure to get thin and stay thin are enormous and have led to the use and abuse of food as a controllable factor in a perhaps otherwise uncontrollable life.

Unfortunately, when it comes to actually making choices about what to eat and when to eat, objective knowledge is only one part of the influence and usually very minor part at that.

Far more important is the cultural and sociological environment we live in and the resultant pressures to conform to stereotypical body shapes; stereotypes established and maintained through media images, advertising and marketing.

We live in a society and in a time where ‘thin’ is valued and seen as attractive and desirable and ‘fat’ is the opposite. Developing from this is an inherent prejudice against overweight people, leading to discrimination in all aspects of daily life. A great number of people are trying to lose weight on a daily basis and weight loss is one of the primary goals of many peoples’ change in diet and exercise lifestyle.

There are plenty of seemingly glamorous female role models provided for us in the media in the form of ultra slim usually tall models who are used to advertise designer clothes and of course an enormous range of other products. Male role models often conform to the well built and defined body that is usually unrealistic and difficult to achieve.

Individuals eat (or don’t eat) as a response for a whole range of life events to deal with the subsequent emotions and feelings. If the eating behavior results in over eating and therefore a gain in weight, then the eating behavior comes to be seen as the cause rather than the symptom of psychological distress. This is often translated into ‘if only I could get my eating under control and get thin, then I would be happy and everything would be alright’.

What this means is that in order to restore normal/desirable body weight we have to:

  • Address any underlying psychological problems that made us use eating as comfort or control
  • Re-establish healthy diet and lifestyle patterns that are sustainable for the rest of our lives
  • Learn to listen to our body’s natural signs and messages

When these are put down as bullet points like above it all looks easy, but of course it is not and demands determination, commitment, help and support, both short and long term.

Many people with the desire to change are very unsure how to go about getting the help they need. It is very easy at this point to be swayed by magazines, advertisements or recommendations from friends about the latest wonder diet or product that will make the pounds drop off overnight with very little pain or effort. Nearly all diets are based on calorie restriction, no matter how they are dressed up.

Of course the best way to change your appearance is by changing your outlook towards yourself and towards life. Strive to be fit and healthy rather than having a super model figure. When you change your lifestyle for good in order to be healthier, the happiness of being leaner, stronger and more energetic will follow automatically.

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