If at first you don’t succeed, push more, try harder, and go faster, right? Manic movement with caloric deprivation seems to be the belief most people hold for losing weight, and for good reason. The media is filled with experts telling us to, “whip our bodies into shape, cut out “bad” foods, weigh our proteins and starches, workout more (or workout harder at a peak), sweat more, go harder, and faster to achieve “optimal results”. Phew, I think my stress hormones rose just writing that sentence!
Every day, I hear stories from various patients about how they are working out harder, cutting out more calories, avoiding allergens, and actually gaining more weight! Depressed from the lack of results after “doing everything right”, they invariably enter into a cycle of restrictive-binge eating patterns. These cycles cause their brain’s thermostat for weight maintenance and brain chemistry to become deregulated and mis-signal. The result is a vicious self-perpetuating cycle into what I call the “grumpy, dieter’s deprivation blues.”
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think a lot of us can relate to this concept in regards to exercise and the pursuit of an ideal body shape. It seems like insanity to continue this deprivation and fast paced rat race, yet it’s what we are programmed to believe we need to do. Most believe that this perfect body will help them attain a sense of a happiness or self-approval, but let me ask you this, have you ever seen a skinny, happy, dieter?
I’ve found that most dieters are obsessively preoccupied with their image, overweight, angry, and self-deprecating. A dieter’s life becomes a bookmark in a novel, in between the time space of fat and weight loss. Not a fun space to be in. Maybe most believe that this negative self talk will “motivate them to change”, however; it seems to be those with a more positive self-image to start are thinner to begin with. They tend to be more self-compassionate with less dysfunctional eating behavioral patterns.
Recently, I came across an article in the Vital Choice Newsletter which discussed the findings from a study linking self-compassion with healthy behaviors, including eating. Various other studies have reported on the brain effects and the paradox of binge eating after restriction with resultant weight gain. According to the article, researchers found that that those with a more self-accepting attitude had less restrictive eating patterns and better overall health. In fact, the non-restrictors ended up eating less than the restrictors in the long run!
Intrigued, I found the original study posted from the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. The abstract is as follows:
This study investigated the possibility that inducing a state of self-compassion would attenuate the tendency for restrained eaters to overeat after eating an unhealthy food preload (the disinhibition effect). College women completed measures of two components of rigid restrained eating: restrictive eating (desire and effort to avoid eating unhealthy foods) and eating guilt (tendency to feel guilty after eating unhealthily). Then, participants were asked either to eat an unhealthy food preload or not and were induced to think self-compassionately about their eating or given no intervening treatment. Results showed that the self-compassion induction reduced distress and attenuated eating following the preload among highly restrictive eaters. The findings highlight the importance of specific individual differences in restrained eating and suggest benefits of self-compassionate eating attitudes.
Another study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology provided an explanation on why self-compassion has been shown to have a positive effect on eating behavior and overall health. This study was done on 177 graduate students and found that those with more self-compassion also had higher personal initiative. Therefore, the characteristic of being kind to oneself can be a drive to want to choose healthy lifestyle and eating behaviors. After all, if you like yourself, why would you hurt yourself? Furthermore, self-compassion was linked to more happiness, optimism, brain function, and coping strategies.
According to the Journal article:
…feelings of compassion for self and others have been linked to higher levels of brain activation in the left prefrontal cortex, a region associated with joy and optimism (Lutz, Greischar, Rawlings, Ricard, & Davidson, 2004). Results indicated that self-compassionate individuals experienced significantly more positive and less negative mood generally. However, we do not interpret this to mean that self-compassion is merely a “Pollyanish” form of positive thinking. Although self-compassion is associated with positive affect, it stems from the ability to hold difficult negative emotions in non-judgmental awareness without denial or suppression (NeV et al., in press).
What these studies provided was observational data that the feelings of positive affect could biochemically trump stress producing hormones that create inflammation and resultant weight gain.
I want to take a minute to address another key factor for the 1/3rd of Americans who are overweight. For most, these tactics fall short in one big way; they don’t address not only the behavior and mind effects of weight loss but they ignore the physical aspects of metabolism and healthy weight management. The truth is that diet and exercise are only one factor to maintaining an overall healthy weight and body. Most overweight people are nutrient deprived, due to running on low quality fuel and inefficient adrenaline, and if resultant imbalances in their biochemistry aren’t also addressed, weight loss will be minimal at best.
Key areas for addressing weight loss resistance include balancing: