Are you already struggling with your New Year’s resolution to lose weight? Jenny Radcliffe, consultant clinical psychologist in bariatrics (the study and treatment of obesity) at The Montefiore Hospital in Hove, has food for thought.
The saying goes that dieting makes you fat, and certainly going on a very restrictive diet is counterproductive. While you’ll initially lose weight, the body’s `starvation response’ kicks in, so you regain the weight often plus a bit more. Also, the moment we say “I am going on a diet” we have started making rules for ourselves. When the rules are broken, people are then vulnerable to losing control of their eating. Getting stuck in a cycle of losing and regaining weight leaves people feeling demoralised and hopeless…and more likely to comfort eat.
People with a healthy relationship with food eat when they are hungry and have a flexible approach to food. But physical hunger is not the only reason we eat - food is also a social experience and a source of pleasure and comfort. Many overweight people admit to emotional eating, looking to food to manage stress or upset, and we know there is a link between long-term stress and weight gain.
Difficult childhood experiences make it more likely that people will have a weight problem in adulthood due to long term changes in hormonal stress responses. Ongoing stress can also arise out of the impact of weight stigma and ‘helpful’ advice from others about how they should just “eat less and do more”.
Using food as the occasional pick-me-up or to celebrate isn’t a bad thing. But when eating becomes the first thing you turn to when you’re stressed, you can find yourself stuck in an unhealthy cycle and the real problem is never addressed.
How to help yourself:
- Avoid strict diet rules, instead aiming for three regular meals a day, full of protein and plenty of fruit and veg.
- Keeping a food diary will help you understand more about your relationship with food and promotes a sense of control and optimism, which is more likely to lead to a positive outcome.
- Record how hungry you feel before you eat, noting what and why you ate it. Was it for hunger, pleasure, comfort or a social occasion? Make a note of your thoughts and feelings alongside what you’ve eaten. Once or twice a week, look over your diary and ask yourself `what can I learn about my relationship with food?’
- If stress is a major trigger for over-eating, or you experience binge episodes, think about getting therapeutic help.
Jenny Radcliffe is a consultant clinical psychologist and is part of The Montefiore Hospital bariatric team. For more information about weight loss surgery, visit www.themontefiorehospital.co.uk or phone 01273 828 148.