Mental health and why weight problems start with your thoughts.
Updated: Jun 14
All of the weight loss programs out there are useless without one basic thing- mental health. Losing weight, or making any major change in your life like stopping smoking or drinking, conquering depression or anxiety, or beating a drug habit, takes mental clarity and energy.
Without the clarity that shows you what to do and the mental strength to do it, people can stagnate in a self-reinforcing spiral of failure and frustration.
There are two ways that mental difficulties can sabotage weight loss or anything else. First, if you have a mental picture of yourself as fat, you will stay fat no matter what you do. If your deep-seated beliefs tell you to be obese, there's nothing you can do except to challenge those beliefs. And second, for those who suffer depression or other debilitating mental illnesses, even the simplest changes seem impossible. To make significant changes takes will power, determination, and the ability to resist distractions and temptations. Mental fitness is central to these two challenges.
In one fascinating study detailed in Lost Connections by Johann Hari, a group of obese people were put on a strict fasting diet with remarkable results. But instead of being happy, the women became depressed and panicked. Some became suicidal. It turned out that many of the participants had been sexually abused as children, and their obesity was a shield they had used (subconsciously) to protect themselves from rape and become invisible. Trauma in childhood had led to many of their weight problems, even among the men. They found that extra weight, while stigmatizing them, also was sexually and physically protective, while reducing expectations and saving them the effort of dealing with their feelings.
Certainly there are some people who are genetically predisposed to pack on pounds. (Look at their family tree.) And there are some who have addictive personalities who can't resist fattening foods. But there's an unknown intriguing segment of obese people whose problems are behavioral, going back to childhood or later.
According to mental health professionals, there are three recognized disorders that involve food and eating.
1- Anorexia. This includes self-starving and excessive weight loss. People tend to obsess over their weight, worrying about the smallest amounts of weight gain. They skip meals regularly and deny themselves food in unhealthy ways.
2- Bulimia. Similar to Anorexia with the disturbing addition that people (usually women) binge eat and then feel guilty enough to induce vomiting, compulsively exercise, or take laxatives.
3- Binge Eating Disorder. Binge eaters can down large quantities of food in short periods of time, without regard to actual hunger or needs. They feel out of control during an episode and guilty and remorseful afterwards.
Any of these disorders require treatment by professionals and can be hard to notice if the person experiencing them is ashamed and hiding them. If you know someone who seems obsessed with food or weight in an unhealthy manner, you may want to ask them more questions about how this is effecting them.
Certainly there are severe eating disorders, but can other mental health issues cause problems that threaten our body's health over longer periods? I would say absolutely. Mental health and physical health are intricately connected. If one falters, the other is right behind. Excess weight makes depression and social isolation worse, and childhood trauma or adult depression can result in all sorts of physical ailments, including weight gain. Untangling this mess can take a lifetime, even with the help of a competent doctor and therapist. Let's go deeper and look into some of the biggest mental health challenges and see how we can improve total health in one big package.
Now that the weight challenge is ending, what have we learned? I've learned to not trust advertising and packaging when it comes to food. Watch what you eat, when you eat it, and how much you eat. Unprocessed plant-based foods are better than sugar-laden processed foods. And the food companies, diet industry, and my tongue are all liars. I've manage to knock my BMI down from 32.5 to 30, right at the borderline for me to no longer be obese. I haven't weighed this little in over ten years and it's encouraging, even as Covid still afflicts folks all around me. At least I did something about it.
Weight loss tip #25- Don't forget to look to your beliefs, emotions, mental blocks, and mental health to complete your journey to a better you. Just because you are skinny many not make you happy.
Bottom line- love yourself even if you're fat. Even us fatties deserve health, love, and happiness. Work towards getting better but realize there are no easy fixes and magical diet plans. Eat a little healthier every year, learn more about your body every year, and eventually you'll be in a better place. Thank you for reading. And now on to the next challenge- mental health!