“Nothing works for me. I lose weight and it just comes back. It's got to be in my head."
Invariably, people come to my office saying this, but in the second breath, they ask for a diet that will make them lose their weight NOW.
Experts in weight management, whether researchers or clinicians, have been trying to communicate to the public for years that weight is complex, involving genetics, environment, psychology, nutrition, physical activity and habits. It's not just a matter of diet and exercise, and it's certainly not as simple as taking a pill or having surgery.
But this fact must compete with messages that the public finds more appealing — losing weight would be simple and easy if you just buy this one magical thing.
When we think that a weight problem will be solved with the next popular diet, exercise class, or product, we could not be farther from the truth.
The real answer is neither simple nor one-size-fits-all.
What's behind one person's weight problem may be totally different from that of another person. Let's take a look at just a few examples based on my clinical experiences (though these are not actual clients' names or details):
• Naomi loves vegetables and fruits and fixes nutritious meals. But her portions are very large. Naomi thinks she's active because she has a busy social schedule and is constantly driving her kids from one activity to another. In reality, she is sedentary because even though she's in motion, she is sitting.
• Bert is a hard worker, with a job that is stressful and time-consuming. Bert adds to the stress by constantly worrying about not providing enough to cover his kids' private schools and the cost of his family's large home. Pushing himself until he can't take the stress any longer, he feels that he deserves a reward. So he breaks down and gorges on pizza, doughnuts, and late night ice cream runs. Bert goes to a gym regularly, but it's not making up for the bingeing.
• Latisa can't remember a time when she wasn't overweight, starting from her days in school when her size made her an object of constant teasing. Latisa tried many diets through the years, losing weight but then regaining it — along with a few extra pounds. Each time Latisa's longstanding feelings of failure were confirmed. "I'm never going to be good enough. Nobody likes me. I'm just a fat pig," are the kinds of things she tells herself and others. Latisa's weight issues stem from poor self-esteem and a belief that she doesn't deserve good things. If her thinking doesn't change, she'll likely keep sabotaging her own efforts to correct her weight problem.
• Maria was always an "A" student. Always striving for perfection, she made sure that she didn't disappoint herself or others. Maria thinks anything less than 100 percent is not good enough, and this attitude has served her well in her profession, where she earns an exceptionally high salary. Maria has a secret, however. Every night, a few hours after she has gone to sleep, she wakes up and battles a compulsion to binge, destroying the day's "perfect'' eating pattern. Her weight has been going up and away from the weight she demands of herself. Maria's perfectionism is causing problems with eating and weight.
These are only a few examples of individual differences that can all lead to weight problems. Finding your own weight-related Achilles heel is essential for success. Take time to observe your patterns so you can zero in on the real problems rather than just treating symptoms with the latest fad.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Contact her through her website, fatmatters.com, or at (813) 240-9557.