These days, it sometimes feels like it’s more common to meet people who are trying to lose weight than it is to find those who are content with their bodies. According to a Gallup poll, 51% of Americans say they want to lose weight. And globally, according to Business Insider, a recent report released by the non-profit research center SRI International found that the global spa and wellness industry is worth approximately $3.4 trillion. And, it found that a significant chunk of that money is spent on “nutrition and weight loss.”
Clearly, a lot of us have bought into the weight loss frenzy. But why is it so important? What are we hoping to achieve by slimming down? At first glance, the answers may seem obvious. With rates of obesity increasing, some of us are genuinely carrying around some extra weight. And many of us want to lose weight for a range of health reasons. But sometimes, the reasons run deeper. For example:
Often, when we’re working to lose weight, we’re trying to get our bodies to be something they simply can’t be. Maybe we want to get back to the weight we were at 30 years ago, when we were teenagers. Maybe we want to achieve the shape of someone who is naturally very slender, even though our body type is different. We all have unique bodies, and they change over time. Weight loss is one thing, but trying to transform our bodies into something entirely different from what they are will only lead to unbeneficial eating habits and low self-esteem.
It’s easy to become hyper-focused on the details of our appearance. When we fall into this trap, many of us start to feel that if we don’t lose a specific number of pounds, our weight loss efforts are a complete failure. Or we become overly concerned with particular body parts. For example, we might be determined to achieve a 27-inch waist, or we might feel we need to lose more body fat from our thighs. This kind of undue focus on minutiae often causes us to forget the bigger picture – at the end of the day, what we really want is to be happy and healthy.
It’s no surprise that messages from the media impact how we think about our bodies. What might be news is just how insidious these messages can be for some people. For those who struggle with body image concerns, it may begin to feel like their worth as human beings can be measured by how much they look like the retouched images in the media. As a result, they might see weight loss as something they have to do to become more lovable or valuable as a person.
Often, when we turn to weight loss to help us feel more valuable, there is something deeper going on, some underlying emotional concern or unmet need preventing us from feeling that we’re worthy as we are. Sometimes, we’ll use chronic dieting as a proxy for addressing the real issue. Rather than trying to figure out what is really making us unhappy – because that can be frightening and difficult – we focus instead on weight loss. We assume that we will be happier once we’ve lost the weight – but of course, the weight never really comes off, because we haven’t addressed the underlying issues that are blocking the way.
A lot of people diet and try to lose weight because everyone around them is doing it. It’s socially acceptable to be on an endless diet, and it gives us a way to relate to and connect with others who are doing the same thing. And even if the people around us aren’t doing it, dieting is often granted social approval because it is seen as a sign of discipline and self-control. But constantly dieting often sidetracks us, diverting our energy and attention away from the larger goals of achieving greater health and happiness.
None of these motivations for weight loss are likely to lead to the desired result. So what is the real key to losing weight? The secret is, love and respect yourself. Begin to treat yourself with compassion, and remember that you are a loveable person, exactly as you are right now. Eat real, natural foods that truly nourish you both physically and emotionally. Find ways to move and be physically active that you truly enjoy. In short, keep giving yourself love – with your thoughts and your actions – until you like what you see in the mirror!
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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