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The Anti-Weight Loss Calculator: Why Obesity & Weight Loss Are Not Simple Equations

June 1, 2015

It’s no secret that the diet industry makes billions of dollars every year selling weight loss products. However, when you take a look at research into the effectiveness of most weight loss solutions, the data tells us that most of them do not work in the long term. In fact, after five years, most people who lose a drastic amount of weight have already put the weight back on. I think that in large part this is due to the misuse of the formula that is shoved down our throats by so many personalities in the diet industry:

Calories in – Calories out + Dash of willpower + Self Discipline = Weight Loss

We’re told that following this formula will make us lose weight…and yet, only 5% of people who lose weight using this formula keep it off. Could it be that there’s more to obesity and weight loss than a simple equation?

The root of the problem

If you’ve been overweight your entire life, there is a root to the problem that must be addressed. We have to start looking at the ways we’ve been using food in unhealthy ways resulting in binge-eating patterns. Often, these binge-eating patterns are triggered responses to uncomfortable emotions.

When I help someone struggling to lose weight, I start by determining not only what negative emotions are triggering unhealthy eating patterns, but also the story behind those emotions.

Where’s there’s context there’s a level of understanding. Understanding leads to compassion, and having a deeper level of understanding of why you are using food for comfort is they key to you developing compassion for yourself that will help you move away from shame and towards healing.

For example, someone might make the following statement about why they engage in unhealthy eating patterns:

“When I become lonely I tend to run to food. Food’s my comforter. If I really look at the history of loneliness in my life, I know that this pattern started when I was a small kid. I was a latch-key kid and was left alone a lot. In those moments of loneliness and isolation food comforted me. Food has always been a reliable and dependable comforter when loneliness shows up.”

When you are able to understand the true reasons why you’ve used food to respond to certain negative emotions, then you can better heal and change your response patterns as you go through your weight loss transformation.

In other cases involving someone who has been chronically overweight, being overweight is central to their identity that so much so that it is uncomfortable for them not to be overweight—think of the stereotype of the “funny fat guy”, for example.

Changing the weight loss equation

Once we understand that the root of the problem we have in losing weight lies just as much in these psychological factors as with calorie intake, we can re-write the weight loss equation.   Instead of starting with “calories in – calories out”, we start with identifying and creating space to heal, process, and learn from the underlying factors that are contributing to the problem. Only then would we begin working on reducing calorie intake, increasing discipline, and everything else that is traditionally addressed by weight loss programs.

I can usually tell fairly early on when I start working with a new patient whether or not they will achieve long-term success. If they come in with the mindset that they need to figure out how to “eat less chocolate” so that they can shed some pounds, they might lose the weight but will probably fail at keeping it off long-term. However, if they come in ready to make a wholesale lifestyle change and know that while weight loss is a part of that process, it’s not everything….then they have a good chance at succeeding.

Those people are a living example of the new weight loss equation that I advocate and use in my practice. In order to make a physical transformation you must start by making an internal transformation. Weight loss journeys about “looking better” always run out of steam in weight loss maintenance. Weight loss journeys that are about discovering self love, healing and inner peace are they types of journeys that produce long-term weight loss success. Why? Because those journeys are not about weight loss. They are about something entirely different and much more impacting. Weight loss is simply the added bonus of this journey of self-love.

As one client put it, “I have lost the weight before only to gain it back a dozen times. Every time I got to my goal weight I was terrified. I didn’t believe I deserved to be thin. To be happy. I was still miserable inside and hated myself. So I gained the weight back. This time is different though. I’ve made a point to find love for myself. To stop treating myself like crap. To see the person in me that others often reflect back to me. This time there’s no going back because I know I deserve to be happy and healthy.”

My hope in sharing my research and my experience working with patients is to give people struggling with weight loss a sense of hope, and the knowledge that they are not alone in the problems that they face. Whether you work with me or a local counselor/therapist who is well-versed and trained on issues related to obesity and drastic weight loss, if you make the commitment to reforming diet and exercise, you will lose weight. However, if you commit to reforming these other pieces as well, commit to actually making yourself a priority, and start paying attention to these psychological and emotional aspects of weight loss, you’re going to be more set-up for long-term success.