Why Losing Weight Turns Out to be so Tough

“Why can’t I lose weight?” “Why is it just me that can’t stop being greedy. I’ve seen the pictures of everyone else who seems to be able to do it. Why can’t I?” I often hear this from clients when I start working with them for weight loss. Let’s get one thing clear; the vast majority of people on diets do not lose weight long-term. The “successes” you see, are, to use a statistical term, “outliers”. They are the exceptions but they dominate the publicity material so much, we assume that they are the norm. Indeed, it is not uncommon for these “successes” to put the weight back on.

So, (and this is a starting point for most of my therapy), be kinder to yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Dieting is tough and there are good evolutionary reasons why our mind makes it so tough.

We are built for survival not for happiness. Whilst losing weight may make us happier, our subconscious is “panicking” because it knows we need to eat to stay alive. It will do everything it can to make us eat. For most of our history, food has been a very scarce resource and we are still programmed on this out of date setting. Food is now abundant but we respond subconsciously as if it is still rare.

Let me give you an example. There is cream cake in the fridge. You are in the living room watching telly. You are on a diet and have been “good” all day. Eating that cake is something you do not want to do but something strange is happening to you. All you can think about is that cake. You can barely concentrate on your tv programme. In the end, you give in and eat the cake. You feel bad and greedy but at least you can relax your mind.

What is happening here? Remember, that your subconscious thinks food is scarce. It knows there’s a cake in the fridge. When food is near, dopamine is increased. This motivates us to seek out a goal. It focuses our attention on nothing else except getting that “scarce” food. Therefore, you can’t stop thinking about it. You are not greedy. You are designed for survival.

This is just one of the many ways your subconscious reacts against you losing weight. Will-power can help, but ultimately, your subconscious is likely to win unless you understand what is going on and work with it.

And in the case of that cream cake. Don’t have it in the house and dopamine won’t be directing your thoughts. Leaving you free to enjoy the telly.

Published in the Eastbourne Herald on Friday 21st July 2017

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