Diet With An Attitude

An approach to weight control that delves into attitudes about weight, shape, appearance, and health. It requires a re-alignment of America's infatuation with food and painless dieting.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Psychology Of Dieting Part 1

This is another in a series of articles I wrote for a magazine. It was rather long so I have split it into distinct parts. This is part one. I hope you like it.

The Psychology Of Diet Preparation I

We decide to lose weight because of any number of reasons: we don't like the way we look, our clothes don't fit, our health is in danger, our significant other is wandering, our job is at risk, or our kids are embarrassed. We tend to think of weight loss as something that involves only our body; surely no one ever decided to lose weight because of a fat brain or a bloated mind.

Yet "we decide" is a mental function. When and why we make such a decision depends on our mind, not our body. We may make the decision when we are five pounds heavier than we would like, or after passing the two hundred pound mark and entering true medical obesity. The actual size of the body does not trigger the decision to lose weight, such a choice in made in the brain.

Since the start (and the continuation) of a diet program is a mental process, it would seem to be worthwhile to explore what factors might trigger such a decision.

1. Self-Image.

Each of us has a dual image: the face we turn to the world and our internal idea of how we appear. Although we dress and groom ourselves in an effort to be seen as attractive by others, we are far less influenced by others than by our satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, with ourselves.

Explore this concept by observing yourself and others over the course of the next week. You will notice that you often receive compliments on clothes you wear that, to you, don't feel "quite right." Wear a favorite outfit that fits perfectly, that you think looks outstanding, and that makes you feel especially dashing - and no one notices! The same phenomenon occurs with a hairstyle. One morning, rushed for time, you can't get your hair to do anything so you angrily pull it back with clips and hope that no one important sees you looking so awful. Voila! Three people comment that they like what you've done with your hair.

There is the same disconnect when it comes to our weight. If we look good in our mind's eye, we don't feel fat, even if friends and coworkers are whispering about our steady weight gain. However, if we see ourselves as overweight, no amount of reassurance from those around us is going to make us feel less fat. Carried to the extreme, this mental picture of our body size can lead to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa in which painfully thin individuals continue to dangerously restrict their caloric intake because they consistently see themselves as too heavy.

We decide to go on a diet, therefore, in response to our internal self-image. Some of the benefits we envision that go along with being slim and fit do take others into account: I will be more attractive to the opposite sex; I'll be noticed at work when it's time for a promotion; my family and friends will be jealous and will have to re-evaluate me as a stronger person than they had thought. But the real payoff for getting in shape is what it does for us personally. It is the desire to feel great about ourselves that carries us through the pain and monotony of diet and exercise. It is the future vision of ourselves in our mind that spurs us toward our goal.

Losing that vision, or concluding that we won't feel that much better about ourselves, are the reasons we give up and fall back into the relative comfort of settling for just "okay."

*****

I'll continue with the rest of the article later. See you then!

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