We Don’t Think What We Are Thinking About: why diets often fail

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Introduction

Diets fail largely because people often don’t think what they are thinking about. People fail to ask the ‘why’ questions?  When it comes to wanting to lose weight most people have what  I call ‘blind faith’.

To start with  many of us don’t understand why we are overweight. We simply accept that it’s because we eat too much and don’t exercise enough. Also, many set out on a weightloss journey (often for the umpteenth time!) without any real sense of conviction. Deep down many of us believe that we will not succeed because of a track record of weightloss failure. Not understanding the causes of  the weightloss problem and not being convicted that the problem can be overcome, leads to the fourth barrier, namely a lack of commitment.

If you want to lose weight then I suggest you start thinking what you are thinking about. To do this let’s  take a brief look  at the 4 abovementioned barriers to effective weightloss, which are seldom mentioned in any weightloss programme.

Why ?

What are the important ‘why’ questions? I think that these two questions are crucial for anyone serious about losing weight:   ‘Why am I overweight?’  and ‘Why is losing weight important to me?’

Health psychology and behavioural change research reveals that people have to be ready to change behaviour before taking any action. Importance is a key aspect of readiness. We are not going to be ready to change behaviour, e.g. change  our diet, unless we believe that doing so is important.  People will have a range of reasons why they may want to lose weight. The key in answering the question, ‘Why is losing weight important to me?’,  is to ensure that we spend enough time reflecting on the question.  We need to be sure that the answer we give signals that weightloss is  personally important.

Understanding

Understanding why I’m overweight and what to do about it?’ circles us back to the first ‘why’ question –  ‘Why am I overweight?’  As mentioned in the introduction, the standard answer is ‘because you eat too much and don’t exercise enough!’ Most of the weightloss programmes repeat this worn-out old refrain.  Many of those wanting to lose weight will have been down the ‘eat less – exercise more’ road and yet, sadly, most of us fail to arrive at our desired destination. In truth, we often end up back where we started, or even being worse off than before.

Those of us who are overweight may well eat too much and don’t exercise enough but it’s because we are overweight and not the other way round. In other words, eating too much and not exercising is the result of being overweight and not the cause! Sounds crazy, I know, but for many overweight people this is true.  Research shows clearly that a hormone dysfunction called insulin resistance may be the main hormonal driver in fostering abnormal weight gain. Insulin is the ‘fat building’ hormone which means that if our blood insulin levels are higher than they should be then we become really good at storing fat but not very efficient at burning it. While an energy-in and energy- out imbalance may well contribute to being overweight, it’s the fat-in and fat-out imbalance that mostly contributes to being overweight.  It stands to reason then,  that if we don’t address the insulin fat storage/burning imbalance, having less to eat and exercising more may not equal weightloss.

Conviction

The third weightloss barrier has to do with a lack of conviction that we can achieve realistic weightloss goals.  Conviction has a lot to do with confidence. Having decided that weight loss is important, and why it’s important, then the next question we need to ask is ‘am I confident that I can I set and achieve my weightloss goal?’  Unless we are confident that we can stick to whatever weightloss programme we follow, then the odds are that whatever we do ends up being nothing more than just another failed attempt.

Behavioural change is best achieved by a self-care process that includes goal setting. In addition to having adequate knowledge, the other major drivers in achieving  a weightloss goal are defining the goal as important, and having the confidence to do what has to be done. Having knowledge, high importance and confidence aligned, indicates that we are convicted and in a state of readiness to change behaviour.

Commitment

As we have already seen in this post, we need to be in a state of readiness if we are to achieve a weightloss goal.  This means knowing  why we want to lose weight (importance), understanding why we are overweight (knowledge), and then working at building our confidence (conviction) . There is a fourth and final step in the weightloss process: we need to commit to the action plan we decided to implement.

Dr GP Latham in his book on motivation published in 2007, defined commitment as “… a force that binds a person to a course of action that is relevant to a particular target (or goal). Hence commitment is a powerful source of motivation, and it can lead to persistence in a course of action, even in the face of opposing forces”.  To my mind, commitment is the fuel that drives sustainable goals. Other research has shown that adding positive interventions to the commitment we make, such as appropriate incentives, constructive feedback and persuasive messages, may help not only in getting us started on our weightloss journey but also, and maybe more importantly, in keeping us on track.

At UpForIt we have developed and assembled resource material that has helped many win the weightloss battle. If you would like some help then please visit our website www.upforit.co.za or email Lona at  lonab@upforit.co.za  and she will put you in touch with one of our trained coaches.

I’m Dr Peter Hill for UpForIt

 

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