DIETING
December 9, 2015

The Often-Overlooked Reason Why We Are Overweight

When we try to lose weight, most of us pay too little attention to this aspect of food and eating.

Every New Year’s Day, millions of Americans resolve to lose weight in the coming year. Sadly, only a few succeed. Estimates are that only about eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them.

Sure, some people will lose weight, but of those who do, most will gain it back. And studies show that the greater the weight loss, the greater the chance of not keeping it off.

The question is, why? Why do people fail so often at losing weight and keeping it off?

A national survey of over 1,000 people about weight loss has found that most people overlook one of the strongest motivators of overeating. The biggest barrier to weight loss was lack of exercise. Other obstacles were the expense of a healthy lifestyle, the foods you eat, and the time commitment involved in having a better diet and exercising.

We all have an emotional attachment to food.

But only 10 percent of those surveyed recognized the psychological component of weight loss, and that may explain why so many people struggle with their weight.

“Most people focus almost entirely on the physical aspects of weight loss, like diet and exercise. But there is an emotional component to food that the vast majority of people simply overlook and it can quickly sabotage their efforts,” Diana Robinson, a neuropsychologist and the Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health, said in a statement.

We all have an emotional attachment to food. Our parents used food to both console and reward us when we were growing up. Holidays, like Christmas, Passover, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day, focus on food. We celebrate our birthdays by eating cake. The scent of certain foods can trigger emotional connections that we recall all our lives.

This is why many people use food as much for comfort as for nourishment. There’s nothing wrong with that — if we are aware of it and eat moderately — but it can become a problem when we are not aware of the food-emotion connection and simply eat mindlessly. In fact, stress, anxiety, and depression have been linked to a higher body mass among people who overindulge to deal with negative emotions.

If you are an emotional eater, these tips may help:

  • When the urge to eat strikes, ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Do you feel the physical signs of hunger? If the answer is no, determine your motive for wanting to eat. Is it stress, depression, boredom? If so, drink a glass of water and go do something to take your mind elsewhere.
  • Make a list of foods that make you feel good, and write down your reason for eating them. Is it because they evoke a memory, or does an emotion make you crave those foods? Recognize which foods are comfort foods, and consciously eat those foods in appropriate portions.
  • Keep a daily food diary in which you log not only your food intake but your mood at the time you eat. Look for patterns that are unhealthy.
  • Just as there’s no shame in hiring a dietitian or joining a gym to help you lose weight, don’t be shy about seeking psychological help. “How about joining a support group or hiring a psychologist?” asked Dr. Robinson. “If getting your body in shape hasn't worked out yet, maybe this time start with your mind.”

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