December 31, 2015

Fat Loss Runs Deep

Over the last few weeks, a few friends have asked me my thoughts on their impending 2016 resolution of weight loss.  Interestingly, they are both male, both carrying a large amount of weight and, according to their medical professional, must begin to shed some fat before serious health consequences result (i.e. cardiac arrest, diabetes, disability due to joint pain).  Needless to say this is a big endeavor and not just a ten pound weight loss.  To add more challenge to their cases, both use food and alcohol to cope with stress.

You would think that because I have worked in the weight loss biz for over 25 years and have a ton of education and research in the area of behaviour change, it would be easy to provide my friends with a sound action plan. It's isn't that easy.  The more I understand, the less I know.  What I do know is the most important nugget in each of their stories is the fact that they both use food and booze to cope. This means that once the food is reduced (or changed) and the booze is restricted (or eliminated) they are left without coping strategies (and this stress/anxiety will cause lapses and relapses into old behaviours). Fat loss, for most people struggling with obesity, runs deeper than just behaviour changes.

Coping skills are like tools. By
keeping a full tool box, we may
strengthen our resilience and be
less apt to use food/alcohol as
a coping mechanism...hopefully.

For the doctors, nurses, dietitians, fitness trainers, health coaches, and health promoters out there...I'm directing this to you.  It is so important to discuss coping strategies for stress management BEFORE sending a client off with a plan for weight loss.  This is where counselling psychology fits into the weight loss process.  This is also why I believe permanent weight loss is completely possible if we address the deeper issues.  Right now the current understanding of the biology of weight loss STILL focuses on eating less and exercising more (coupled with understanding that the brain will do anything to gain that weight back)...and yes, based upon that old chestnut it is doomed for failure.

The first step to losing a significant amount of body fat would be addressing the reasons for eating/drinking and finding alternatives.  The second step would be slowly introducing a change in behaviour relating to only ONE variable (diet or physical activity)...but not both.  Changing health behaviour is very similar to coaxing a squirrel to take the nut. You move too fast and the squirrel will frighten and retreat. If you move very slowly and pay attention to the squirrel's body language and cues of resistance (combined with the patience of a saint) the squirrel may soon be eating out of your hand.

Significant weight loss is possible, but we need the right tools and understanding to be successful. At this point, I don't think practitioners and weight losers, alike, are considering the bigger, deeper picture, but I still hold onto hope that this will change.  If you are looking at a year of big change (i.e. significant weight loss) begin with asking yourself a few questions...

1. How does my eating and substance use (if that's applicable) serve me? What do I get from it?
The answers may relate to comfort, reduced negative feelings and stress, relief from boredom...etc.  It is important to acknowledge how our habits serve us before we can create a plan to change them.

2. How does my eating and substance use negatively effect me?
It could be that you feel overstuffed or sick after binging, feel shame and guilt after, it may get in the way of enjoying family time, or life in general (especially if you wake up hung over).

3. What feelings am I avoiding through eating and drinking?
From boredom, anger, sadness, depression, stress, and even happiness our emotions influence our eating behaviour. By understanding what emotions prompt you to reach for the munchies, you may be able to plan for future coping without the use of food.

4. How can I cope with my emotions without reaching for food, alcohol, drugs, etc.?
This is where the work begins. Start brainstorming and write down all the options that may help you cope. From taking a walk and drinking water to journaling your feelings and deep breaths, it is possible to find a plan that works for you.

There is so much more to losing weight (and keeping it off) than just changing a diet and walking more.  I strongly suggest to anyone considering a weight loss plan this year to address the questions above.  Perhaps they won't relate to you and it is really that simple, but my guess is for isn't.

Have a healthy, safe, and emotionally honest 2016!



No comments:

Post a Comment