‘Lasting weight loss is not about what you eat. It’s about why and how you eat.’
Extract from Artful Eating: The Psychology of Lasting Weight Loss
By Karina Melvin
Published by Black and White
‘Though no one can go back and make a brand new start,
anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.’
– Carl Bard
Having spent over ten years training and working as a psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist, I am naturally fascinated by the mind. While everyone is unique, there is a thread of likeness between each person I have the privilege of working with. In fact, it is part of the human condition. Our actions and behaviours constantly contradict what we say we want. This, to my understanding, is evidence of our divided nature. It is never more clearly articulated than in our relationship to our bodies. We say we want to lose weight and get healthy, yet so many people struggle to take action and achieve their goal. What’s even more curious about this contradiction is the fact that the people who struggle are adamant that they want to achieve their desired weight. In fact, they spend a lot of time, money and mental energy trying to do something about it. I know this because I hear it all the time. If you’re reading this, it probably sounds very familiar to you too. There is amazing information available now: television shows, blogs, books, scientifically backed diets, supplements, weight-loss clubs, fitness regimes. The list is endless, yet we are on average actually getting bigger. We are constantly told how to lose weight: eat less, eat healthily and move more. Then why isn’t that working? Despite the abundance of wonderful healthy-eating advocates, obesity is on the rise.
I think it’s time to acknowledge that ‘the diet’ is dead. Research from UCLA examined a wealth of studies on dieting and found that up to two thirds of diets fail, with several studies indicating that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain. One study found that people who participated in formal weight-loss programmes gained significantly more weight over a two-year period than those who had not. So the most likely outcome from going on a diet is ultimately putting on more weight than when you started! This leaves a very small proportion of dieters achieving lasting weight loss. If people actually acknowledged this fact, then I am absolutely sure they would never diet again.
Lasting weight loss is not about what you eat. It’s about why and how you eat. As a psychologist and psychotherapist I have come across so many people who are disillusioned and frustrated, feeling guilty about their body and their relationship with food. As a result, people have become obsessed with healthy eating. There are amazing cookbooks and blogs out there communicating the benefits of healthy eating, and while this is a very welcome and positive change, these nutritionists, bloggers and cooks are missing the most vital ingredient in the weight-loss battle: the mind.
By focusing solely on the symptom, the excess weight, we have lost sight of the cause. Take a moment to think about your own relationship with food and your body. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you like the reflection staring back at you? If not, is there any of it that you like? Can you say ‘I like my legs, my smile, my hair’? Or are you consumed with negative thoughts about your body? Are the words that come to mind unkind? Do you respect your body? Do you ever take the time to acknowledge how great it is that you can walk, talk, think, dance, work and share your life with friends and family? Or are you too busy thinking about the weight you want to lose, or all the clothes you can’t wear because of your size, or all the things you just don’t feel comfortable doing until you lose the weight? I want to introduce you to a client who gave me permission to share her weight struggle.
Liz’s story really highlights how our issues with weight go way beyond the simple ‘calories in, calories out’ approach. Liz had tried all kinds of diets, supplements and programmes. A pharmacist in her late twenties, she was well informed about health, how the body works and what she ‘should’ be doing. Liz came to see me at a point when she realised that, after spending years losing and gaining weight, her life was being controlled by food. She oscillated between being ‘good’ and only eating diet readymade meals, and being ‘bad’ and not sticking religiously to this very strict calorie-controlled regime. Being ‘bad’ resulted in bingeing, and the inevitable guilt that followed left her feeling low for days, until she returned to the controlled approach. Liz had completely lost touch with her body. This had a very damaging effect on her relationships, as she didn’t want anyone to truly know the extent of her struggle. On the surface she came across to friends as being carefree and confident, and kept her unhappiness and food issues completely hidden. Prior to engaging in the Artful Eating philosophy, she described herself as anxious, stressed, down and very selfconscious. She told me that she had withdrawn from social situations, refusing to eat out because she couldn’t stick to her diet. Liz was not enjoying food, her body or her life.
Initially I focused on showing Liz how to accept her body. Her preoccupation with the negative aspects of how she looked really affected her relationship with food. It was only by questioning her position and recognizing this that she came to understand she needed to reshape her own personal story. Liz was then able to identify unhelpful eating patterns, like controlling what she ate, eating too fast, eating because she felt stressed and not engaging with what she was actually eating. She learned that her relationship with food was not just about the food, but about other issues as well: her selfesteem, her lack of confidence and her inability to be kind to herself. I provided Liz with the skills and tools to help reshape her story, her relationship with food and, most importantly, her relationship with herself. Artful Eating helped Liz escape from masking her issues and identify the underlying cause of her struggle. It allowed her to finally feel a freedom around food and how she felt about herself. She no longer feels anxious around food and she has learned that it’s important to declutter and do things that make her feel good now rather than wait to feel good when she reaches her ideal weight. Instead, she learned to be happy and more at ease in herself, both mentally and physically.
Summarising Liz’s journey here, it sounds like this was a seamless transition, but she committed to doing the work, she was open to thinking differently and she was ready to approach weight loss in a different way. Sure, she was very nervous when I told her to ditch the diet food and forbade her to calorie count. She was alarmed when I encouraged her to order dessert when she was out with her friends. She was especially worried when I told her to give up the meal plan that she had been clinging to religiously for years, and begin to enjoy food. By taking off the straitjacket, she immediately felt less anxious around food. She completely slowed down and enjoyed food and flavours.
Artful Eating: The Psychology of Lasting Weight Loss by Karina Melvin is out now published by Black and White priced £16.99. Click above to check out Karina’s artful eating podcast.