How are we doing over there? Have you managed to make a dent on the mountain of snacks and nibbles that made your cupboard look like a post-apocalyptic food store (who knew the shops would only be closed for just one day, right?)
If you’re like most of the country, you’re probably wedged into an armchair watching The Sound of Music (which, by the way, you hate), ploughing through a tin of Quality Street you don’t need or want – because, well, it’s Christmas, dammit! – and muttering darkly about losing weight.
Over the past few weeks there’s been a lot of online chat about exactly this subject. How to rid yourself of the extra pounds that pile on while you digest the aperitif that is Christmas and await the entrée that is New Year. A time of year known by some as Twixtmas and by others as the somewhat ruder perineum. Go ahead and look that up. We’ll wait.
It occurred to me that there was a common theme to all the social media, blogs and online articles, which was the assumptions they made about what causes weight gain and what motivates us to then lose it.
By and large, the overriding message is a bit simplistic: if you really want to lose weight, just eat less.
Biologically, of course, that’s completely true. In the end, the metabolic science behind gaining and losing weight is about as simple as it gets:
If you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll put weight on. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. So far, so obvious.
Things get a bit more complicated – though only slightly, in truth – when you factor in individual metabolic rate (some people have a slow metabolism, others burn energy more quickly). And we can ramp up the complexity a bit more by adding in particular health conditions that impact the metabolism.
But in the end, the formula is the same and from a purely metabolic, biological perspective, if you adjust your calorie intake so that it’s either equal to or less than the calories you burn, you’ll either maintain or lose weight.
It may not suit the story we tell ourselves, but steroids, an underactive thyroid, Cushing’s Syndrome or diabetes – four common conditions often ‘blamed’ for unwanted weight gain – aren’t responsible alone for how you might look or feel. That’s down to how you mitigate their impact.
Shedding some of the mince pies you’ve consumed during the two weeks of Christmas is one thing, but habits like comfort or binge eating that you find impossible to change are quite another.
On the surface, it’s not difficult to see how obesity and the food consumption that leads to it can be interpreted as laziness or indifference.
Yet, what the ‘just stop eating so much’ brigade fail to either understand or acknowledge is that for many people who struggle with weight, their relationship with food isn’t about greed or gluttony. Neither is it an inability or disinclination to temper their eating habits.
It’s about a psychology that is so deeply and fundamentally ingrained they don’t even associate their ongoing weight issues with the state of their mental health.
Yes, on a visceral level, people who are chronically overweight probably have a sense that they’re not entirely happy in life.
Some, though not all, will struggle with the way they look and feel. If they step on the scales at all or look in the mirror (avoidance of both is actually far more likely), they won’t necessarily see that the extra pounds are the calling card of some distant emotional trauma or unresolved emotional disappointments that the subconscious has long-since erased from the memory.
These damaging experiences often, but not always, relate to pent-up disappointments in the vast library of a subconscious that remembers everything – particularly everything that is painful, confusing or negative.
Troubling or just flattening experiences in our past can become so deeply buried that we either have no longer have any recollection of them or we do have conscious recollection but just have no idea e haven’t processed the event or disappointment and moved on.
Then there are the unhelpful beliefs that shape our behaviour – old time classics like believing we’re not good enough, that nothing works out for us, that there’s something wrong with us, that we can’t get what we want in life.
We may not spend our daily lives consciously thinking these negative thoughts, yet they still sit lodged in our subconscious, perfectly formed hand grenades that were created by disappointing, flattening or even shattering experiences from which we have not fully healed.
(A word to the wise here: don’t believe what they tell you about time – it’s not always the great healer people like to believe it is because the subconscious has absolutely no concept of time whatsoever. As far as your subconscious is concerned, that damaging experience might just as well have happened yesterday).
The result is often a daily feeling of boredom – which, when you dig a bit deeper and investigate it properly, is usually impotent rage and/or frustration – flatness, mild or not so mild depression or anxiety.
And what do we do in response? We eat on!
The subconscious works hard to keep things that way, offering appealing (and sometimes not-so-appealing) distractions designed to block any prospect of having to face them down.
Food isn’t the only soother, but it’s often the drug of choice, especially for women. In many ways it’s the least harmful drug of choice – it’s obviously far better to be eating too many slices of pizza than banging the gak on a daily basis – but it’s still a life inhibitor.
If you don’t feel happy with your own eating habits and your body then the risk is a compromised sense of self-respect. And it can delay you actually living your life. Many people I work with put off doing things until they have ‘lost the weight’ – things like looking for a relationship, for example – so it can be a real life-stopper.
It’s important to love the body you’re in, and that’s fine as long as you do – but if you’re unhappy then it’s your prerogative to do something about it.
That doesn’t mean beating yourself up about how you look (that’s a whole other blog), but if you want positive change and want to feel good about yourself then that is absolutely something worth fighting for.
If losing weight healthily is part of that – and I want to stress the word healthily here, since so much emphasis is put on looks and body image, and the last thing I want to do here is add to that – then more power to you.
Any addictive or negative compulsive behaviour can be a candidate: alcohol is a common one; shopping, gambling and drugs are others among many.
Lots of us have a love/hate relationship with food and alcohol that manifests itself in weight gain and can probably be described as ‘normal’ even if it’s not exactly ideal and in those cases a healthier lifestyle is the important step that’s needed to get back into shape.
But where food consumption (and therefore weight) is governed by trauma, life becomes an emotionally draining rollercoaster of crash diets and punishing exercise regimes that work for a while until the subconscious pulls up the mental drawbridge and convinces you that what you really need is cake.
Food (or any other coping behaviour) becomes the currency of reward. Got through a challenging day? Well done, says the subconscious, you’ve earned a pizza.
To vandalise the art of Fat Boy Slim, it’s an exhausting and, ultimately, futile cycle of eat, sleep, crave, repeat that is destined to continue until we deal with what’s really causing us to behave as we do.
Trauma therapy untangles the carefully-constructed web the subconscious has weaved, supporting you to recognise and acknowledge what’s happened in the past and helping you to reach an acceptance that allows you to process the event or events.
The processing – or resolution – is central to the healing process and hypnotherapy for trauma or feelings you just don’t want to face facilitates this in a safe, secure environment designed to protect you.
However much we might like to believe it’s possible to change the way we respond to trauma without going through this process, I know from experience that it’s not. The only way is ‘through’.
Treating the symptoms might mask the problem for a while, helping you to convince yourself that you’re free from the shackles of food or drugs or bad financial decisions. But the thing about trauma or unresolved emotions is that eventually it will come calling again.
And it might be obvious, but we’ll say it again anyway: not all weight issues are linked to trauma. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds you’re struggling to shift but you’re broadly happy with yourself and your food relationships, then hypnotherapy for weight loss could be the little kickstart you need.
But if you’re eating even though you’re desperate not to, can recognise damaging patterns in when and how you eat, know your weight makes you camera-, mirror- and scales-shy and the problem is a daily issue, it could just be there’s something in your past that you need to deal with to be able to move on as you’d like.
By asking for help and support to resolve the issues you’re dealing with, you’ll find yourself better equipped to live life to the full and no longer compelled to ‘eat on your feelings’.
If you feel like you need help and support in your relationship with food, or if you simply want to shed a few pounds to shake off the excess of Christmas, then our amazing weight loss expert Sandy Robson is someone you need to spend some time with.
From tackling entrenched eating disorders to providing the small mindset change needed to kickstart a healthier lifestyle, Sandy offers tailored support, which can include the amazingly effective and non-invasive Virtual Gastric Band. You can find out more about Sandy and book a consultation with her by clicking here.