What is it about weight loss that makes it so difficult?

This article is for people who struggle with weight loss because they overeat. If your problem has, or might have, a medical cause, you must see your doctor.

FrustratedWeight loss is all about calories in and calories out, isn’t it?

Tell me something…

Have you ever known a “big eater”, someone who can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, in any quantity; they lounge about all day; and they never put on weight?

What about the “always-on watcher”, someone who watches their diet constantly, goes to gym religiously, and yet is always overweight?

So…

Is weight loss really about calories in and calories out?

If it were, those people simply wouldn’t exist!

Now, I’m not saying that calories are unimportant. But I am saying that the old mantra of “calories in, calories out” is not the whole story. It’s not a big part of the story. It’s not even an important part of the story.

The fact is that if you are seriously interested in losing weight, one of the obsessions that you have to let go of is calories. Calories aren’t the reason why you struggle.

The real reason why you struggle is quite different.

Weight loss isn’t about food

As you read that claim, “Weight loss isn’t about food,” you’re probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind! Not about food? What  could weight loss possibly be about, if not food?

Let me put it to you this way. Suppose that you have a persistent cough. You go to the doctor. The doctor says, “You have a cough. Take this cough medicine.” You take the cough medicine and go home. The cough stops.

Do you think that this is OK? That the doctor didn’t check why you are coughing? What if your coughing is caused by something serious? What happens when the cough medicine runs out? What if you start coughing again, but worse?

If this sounds familiar to a dieter, that’s because it is. You have excess weight. The solution, you are told, is to go on a diet. You go on a diet. You lose weight. What happens when your diet ends? That’s right: you put on all that weight again — and more. Every dieter knows this.

So, what are you supposed to do?

Solve the real reason behind weight gain

Just as a good doctor would always check what is causing the cough, realising that the cough isn’t the problem but rather the symptom, so it’s important to understand what’s causing your difficulty in controlling your eating. When you address the weight straight on (with a diet), it’s exactly the same as addressing a cough straight on (with cough medicine). It doesn’t address the underlying cause.

So…

It’s all about willpower, right?

The underlying problem is willpower, obviously.

Um…

No.

Think back to the big eater and the always-on watcher. Again, nothing to do with willpower.

Willpower is another myth that any dieter will find familiar. In fact, most dieters, at least in their earlier diets (the first hundred or so!), have the greatest willpower in the world! Dieters only lose that will after they have tried so many times that they become disillusioned.

Losing weight isn’t about food. It also isn’t about willpower. (Or greed. Or laziness. Just to be clear.)

That’s why when someone comes to me for weight loss and says, “Can’t you just make me dislike food?”

I tell them, “Maybe I can. But I won’t. Because it won’t stop you from overeating, and it will remove something precious and wonderful from your life. Wouldn’t you rather love food — really love food — but have a wonderful relationship with food?”

Weight loss is about overeating, which is about… what?

Watch any person who overeats. You might think that they love food, which is (you’d suppose) why they overeat. But the “big eater” probably loves food more than the overeater, who usually feels guilt, shame, remorse — those are hardly words that make you think of love!

Weight loss, like the coughing, is a symptom, not the actual problem.

It runs deeper. Overeating is also not the actual problem, because it too is a symptom. After all, what person in their full and right mind would willingly eat until it hurts?

Overeating is itself a symptom. But, a symptom of what?

What is the underlying cause of overeating?

Emotional painOvereating results from emotional pain. It always does, every time. Sometimes the pain is hidden, with the overeating (and sometimes other behaviours such as over-drinking alcohol) doing a great job of blocking the pain — temporarily. Other times the pain is obvious, such as when you feel angry and hurt, and turn to the tub of ice cream (or whatever) to “swallow” your feelings.

It runs deeper still. Everyone has times when they feel angry, hurt, disappointed, like a failure, or some other upsetting emotion. Abraham Maslow said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In the same way, when the only tool you have for dealing with that hurt is to put food into your mouth, every problem looks like hunger. That’s why you always feel hungry.  When the food doesn’t work and you keep on hurting, you keep on eating, more and more, until you feel ill, physical pain, and still you keep on eating until you literally cannot fit anything more in.

How do I stop overeating?

The solution to weight loss, then, isn’t a diet. You know what will happen. You haven’t addressed the problem, so your diet inevitably will end with repeat weight gain, even more than before.

The solution is to learn how to deal with emotions. How do you take anger and turn it into acceptance? Hurt into strength? Failure into “try again”? Insecurity into action? Self-sabotage into success?

When you change your mindset, you change your eating. (Obviously, there’s more to it than I could possibly fit into a short article, but this is a major part of the solution.)

This is why, when I help my clients to lose weight, the last thing — really, the last thing — that I talk about is food. Because weight loss isn’t about the food. It’s about your emotions and the tools that you have to deal with them.