This is Part 10 in a 10-Part Series on Common Obstacles to Losing Weight and Getting Fit.
In this final installment of our 10-part series, we’re going to be discussing two major hindrances to reaching your weight loss goals. And, as you’ll quickly see, these often go hand in hand. The first involves using food as a way to comfort yourself and cope with painful feelings. The second discusses the role depression can play in thwarting your efforts to lose weight – and why it might not be a good idea to try to lose weight until you’re in a better place emotionally.
19 ~ You use food to cope with negative feelings
If this is a weight loss obstacle for you, you’re definitely not alone! We learned as babies that food can be very soothing. How many times when you were fussy or crying did your parents give you a bottle? Or a cookie or lollipop when a favorite toy was lost or broken when you were a toddler? Associating food with near-instant comfort at an early age – and having that association reinforced over and over again all through childhood – is a powerful thing to learn. No wonder so many people soothe themselves with food – and end up overweight as a result!
Unfortunately, if food is the main way you comfort yourself when you’re experiencing any unwanted emotion – sadness, hurt, angry, frustration, disappointment, boredom, loneliness, or anxiety – then losing weight is going to be hard.
To complicate matters, excess weight often triggers a range of negative emotions for most people. So, if food is your go-to emotional pain reliever (and, of course, we’re probably not talking carrot sticks or apple slices!), then you’re likely to seek comfort in food when you’re feeling down about your weight. In other words, you end up doing the very thing that’s causing the problem in response to the problem! If that sounds irrational (which is nicer than saying “crazy”) it is, but as humans, we’re driven much more by emotion than logic. Lucky us!
The harsh reality is that painful emotions are a part of life. If you want to succeed at losing weight – and keeping it off – you have to find other ways to comfort yourself. Some people will find this easier than others, but it’s a rare person who doesn’t use food to cope at least occasionally.
- Start keeping a food diary. Don’t just write down what you eat and how much; include the time of day and, most importantly (at least for this issue) what you were feeling just before you ate. Pay close attention to the times you overeat, give into temptation, or eat even though you weren’t hungry. For example, are you most prone to? Do you reach for something salty and crunchy when you’re upset or angry? Your food log will help you identify patterns (e.g. reaching for chocolate when you’re feeling lonely or overwhelmed, or reaching for chips when you’re angry). This will give you valuable insight into the times and situations when you’re most vulnerable to using food for comfort.
- Make a list of at least 5 things (that don’t involve food) you can do to make yourself feel better when you’re experiencing any type of negative emotion. Be sure to include at least one or two physical activities, such as going for a walk, since exercise can reduce stress and boost your mood.
20 ~ You’re battling depression
It’s very difficult – and sometimes, downright impossible – to find the energy, focus, and motivation to work on any goal when you’re battling depression. But losing weight can be especially difficult if you’re depressed, for a number of different reasons.
One of the common symptoms of depression is a change in appetite. Now, for some individuals, depression leads to a significant loss of appetite, and weight comes off – whether it needs to or not – without any effort. However, a lot of people experience an increase in appetite. Combined with other symptoms of depression such as low energy, loss of motivation, and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness (which fuel thoughts of “why even bother”), unwanted weight gain frequently occurs as a result. To make things even worse, gaining weight often makes them feel even more depressed, so they turn to food for comfort. It can quickly become a vicious cycle.
Another way in which depression often hinders weight loss is the treatment itself. Many of the medications commonly used to treat depression have weight gain as a potential side effect. This can be especially frustrating if you’re already struggling with your weight but find that medication really helps alleviate your mood symptoms.
While there may be alternatives (e.g. switching medications, trying other types of treatments, etc.), depression is a serious condition. As much as you want to lose weight, it may be better to focus on treating your depression rather than trying to tackle both at once. Trying to lose weight is challenging enough; trying to do it when you’re depressed is a set up for failure – and that’s going to make you feel even worse.
- Make treating your depression your priority and consider setting your weight loss goals aside for now. Once you start feeling better (and most people do with proper treatment), you can focus on losing weight.
- Take a 20 to 30 minute brisk walk daily or several times a week – even if you don’t feel like it (which you won’t when you’re depressed). Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. Also, getting regular exercise may help prevent further weight gain.
- If you’re taking an antidepressant that has weight gain as a side effect, talk to your doctor about the possibility of changing medications. You may be able to find one that works just as well without this particular side effect.
If you’ve gotten through all ten parts of this series you definitely deserve to congratulate yourself. It took both courage and commitment to go through this process of self-discovery, look deep within, ask yourself some tough questions, and do the exercises in the “success tips” sections – you did do them, right?!
One of the primary reasons people don’t reach their goals is because they fail to take the time and effort to understand what’s really driving – or hindering – them, as well as the various ways they may be setting themselves up for failure. However, the more self-aware you are, and the more tools you have in your arsenal to help you overcome the challenges and obstacles that arise, the better your chances of success – and more importantly, long-term success – will be.
Everything you’ve learned about yourself here will help you on your journey – if you apply it. If you have the time and resources, consider hiring a weight loss or fitness coach, personal trainer, or therapist (if needed) to keep you on track, help you push through any challenges that may be keeping you stuck, and provide you with additional support.
Here’s to your success!