The importance of psychology in losing weight
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity and overweight have become two of the most important problems occurring in human societies worldwide.
These are health alterations with the capacity to wear down the quality of life of people through a wide variety of pathologies: hypertension, diabetes, wear and tear on the joints of the legs or hypercholesterolemia, to give just a few examples.
But beyond the conditions that are expressed in specific organs and cellular tissues, there are also other ways in which overweight affects us negatively, and that have to do with its psychological impact.
The Psychology of Weight Loss
Often, the main reasons why people with obesity want to lose weight are not so much to extend their life years, but to stop feeling bad about themselves, to the point where they feel very guilty about something they actually have less control over than they seem .
These psychological effects of obesity and overweight are usually anguish when looking in a mirror, insecurity when relating to others, fear of showing too much by wearing a swimsuit or going out to a party, the belief that you can’t please anyone physically, etc. In practice, these kinds of problems have as much or more persuasive power than biomedical reasons for deciding to try to lose weight.
However, this psychological factor is usually taken into account only when thinking about the reasons for burning fat and adopting a more defined appearance. The role played by psychological variables throughout the weight loss process is not so much talked about, although they are actually fundamental.
The importance of the psychological in combating overweight
The belief that losing weight simply by eating healthy food can leave us worse off than we were. The reason for this is that this strategy is based on the idea that overweight and obesity are a problem of lack of willpower, something that happens when you act improperly by giving in to impulses and not putting into practice what the theory of healthy eating says.
As a consequence of this, it tends to be overlooked that the tendency to accumulate more or less fat has a good part of its causes in genetics , so many people end up being unable to follow a diet with no other plan than to stick to it, and then the rebound effect appears and the feelings of guilt for ending up throwing in the towel.
Because of the lack of information on the link between genetics and fat storage propensities, they do not consider the possibility that their starting situation is significantly more disadvantageous than that of the models with which they want to be identified, and which therefore need more than a weekly food table as a reference.
Thus, any weight loss formula that relies on the need to follow a diet plan will be hopelessly lame , because it will miss two things. Firstly, it will ignore that the genetic make-up of each individual means that they can only stay under a certain weight consistently and without compromising their health.
Secondly, it will be overlooked that, under the idea that it is “will power” that should promote the transformation of the person, there are hundreds of psychological variables interacting with each other in a very complex way, and that if we can learn from them, getting close to the right weight is much easier than forcing oneself to eat certain things day by day.
In the long term, emphasizing the adoption of new habits and routines of general behavior and stress management is much more useful than blindly relying on diet, as if hanging a food table on the fridge will already lead us to follow that nutrition plan for several years in a row.
In the vast majority of cases, what overweight people lack is not information about what it is to eat healthy, but other habits, something that introduces them to the dynamics of having a healthier life, in the same way that knowing how a bicycle works does not make us capable of using it. The price of overlooking this can be not only feeling bad about leaving the “weight loss” diet dry, but also gaining even more weight than before starting the diet, because of the sudden rebound effect caused by the body’s reaction to adjusting to withdrawal.
What to do?
As we have seen, achieving consistent weight loss requires having a global vision of all the elements that come into play in the accumulation of fat : biological predispositions, food intake, exercise and behaviour patterns that can be modified from psychology. Concentrating on just one of these areas will not only not add up, but will add to the problems we already had before trying to be healthier.
As far as psychological variables are concerned, aspects as relevant as stress management, the existence or not of anxiety binges, sleep problems, expectations of success when trying to lose weight (modulated by the interpretation made of what happened in previous failures), work fatigue, level of self-esteem, and many more, must be taken into account.
This is especially important at the beginning of a weight loss program, since at that stage people experience how their focus tends to be more on anything related to high-calorie food. But is also essential to maintain a consistently healthy life over the years , because otherwise, you revert to a lifestyle where you don’t pay attention to what you touch to eat.
For all these reasons, when it comes to losing weight it is advisable to have the supervision of both nutritionists and psychologists, so that the biological and psychological variables are monitored and, consequently, our capacity for self-control has positive effects on the results we obtain in our body.