The Uncomfortable Weight Loss Conversation

“What Do You Do For Work?”
I recently attended a gathering of a diverse group of wonderful women, and as you would imagine, one of the first questions we often ask each other is, “What do you do for work?” I always observe how people respond to my answer to that question and often vary my response depending on whose asking. If the young woman asking what I do is overweight, she may look down at the floor, shift uncomfortably in her chair, or become defensive almost immediately. If the gal asking regularly participates in exercise and feels she has things under control, her response is often, “Oh wow, that’s cool,” and we just move on.

To Answer, or Not To Answer
I admit that I have struggled with answering that question because breaching the topic of weight loss isn’t always easy. When I was obese, my weight was always in the forefront of my mind. It affected how I felt about myself and whether I believed I could achieve certain things. It affected my level of confidence and how I interacted with others. Being obese essentially ruled my life in every aspect and I literally felt that every negative reaction I received was because I was obese. While I was habitually on one diet or another, I was generally put off by anyone who dared to discuss the topic with me.

Hence, I can see how uncomfortable someone can feel if a discussion on weight loss is about to begin when the question was a simple one of what I do for work. She may feel judged and targeted because of how she feels about her own weight, or she may move on to a different topic. Sometimes it is easier to just say I am a researcher, which is only part of the truth. In fact, I am an independent researcher in obesity. I research strategies to combat it, prevent it and stabilize the trend! Yet an answer such as this may obscure my passion for helping others abandon the dieting merry-go-round and think about nutrition, weight loss and lifestyle changes in a different way.

The “Elimination” Diet
To continue, one of the young women present mentioned she was practicing an “elimination” diet for 30 days and her friends simply nodded in favor of her decision. It was 8:30pm and she ordered a cappuccino because she was falling asleep at the table. When she got up to leave an hour later, she could barely keep her eyes open and she was visibly weak. I almost asked her if she was okay to drive, but I didn’t want to alarm her friends. I longed to reach out to her, but I certainly didn’t want to overstep any boundaries.

I find it interesting that so many of us are willing to go it alone when it comes to achieving a healthy weight. Others are just as desperate as I was and have read every diet book written as they search for answers. They may get advice from the most unsuspecting places or consult with a friend who “heard” about this protocol that worked.

What Does It All Mean?
In all likelihood, she heard about this “elimination” diet either on television, a friend, or saw it in a magazine. I am guessing that no one discussed the potential consequences of her short-term decision when she decided to take on this dietary regimen. When I considered her “elimination” diet for 30 days, I wondered silently what she was eliminating and why. I also wondered why eliminate certain things for 30 days? Odds are that habits will resume as they were before. And then what happens once the 30 days have been completed?

For those who don’t work with an educated professional, they may find themselves in a depleted state of vital nutrients and energy. Without a doubt, dieting down to a healthy weight has a tremendous impact on physiology, but it can also affect one’s psychological state. Indeed, the brain does learn from things we “try” and will either associate pain or pleasure to each of those events. In other words, was that experience something you want to repeat in the future? Or, was the experience sufficiently painful that you likely won’t repeat it ever again? What type of associations were developed as a result of the dieting decision?

Tired, Hungry and Weak
Unfortunately, that young lady will likely recall this dieting attempt and how she felt during her “elimination” diet. Her brain will run the gamut on all sorts of feelings – feelings of tiredness, hunger, deprivation and her zombie-like state and will serve up that information at a later date. She may likely begin to associate all types of dietary practices with deprivation, tiredness and weakness, resisting possible future attempts to reduce her weight.

Coercion and Resistance
While the brain can be easily coerced into habits and trying new things, it has its own method of coercion and resistance based on its own recording and memory of events. It is important to know that the dietary regimen you try should be one that you are able to stick to in the long-term, unless you are well-armed with information and know what to expect.

A Multi-Faceted Problem
There are a myriad of ways to reach a healthy weight and it isn’t always easy letting go of poor dietary habits we have had for years. Many of those dietary habits can be replaced with healthier ones, or simply managed. It is important to find a reliable dietary regimen that works for you for the long haul but know that this may take time. Reaching a healthy weight is a multi-faceted problem and it must be treated as such. Simply looking at weight loss from one angle will keep you returning to square one over and over again. Work with someone you trust and make sure they are compassionate as you navigate the curves during your adventure.

Take a leap of faith – and never look back.

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