4 Common Psychological Reasons for Weight Gain
Is there a reason why we're struggling to manage our weight? Why does it seem like we're eating well, perhaps even less than our friends, but we're the ones wearing bigger clothes?
We have a powerful subconscious mind that controls our body. That subconscious mind has evolved in response to our own unique experience of, and response to, life.
For some of us, our subconscious mind is holding onto a belief that being heavier will help us in some way. You won’t be consciously aware of what your subconscious beliefs are, but they exist nonetheless.
Everyone has had unique life experiences, and these unique experiences have created differing beliefs. However, there are patterns that emerge, and I see 4 common (subconscious) beliefs that come up time and time again, and which explain why many people struggle to manage their weight.
1. BEING BIGGER IS BETTER: The first reason your subconscious may be stopping you from losing weight is because at some point in your life your subconscious mind formed a belief that being bigger was in your best interests.
Usually a belief like this is caused by experiences of feeling small and helpless, insignificant and vulnerable as a child. Perhaps you were bullied or had a traumatic experience, that you didn’t realise your subconscious had latched on to.
Your mind may have decided that being bigger would help you:
- Help you to get noticed, so that you could get the attention you needed as a child. Or perhaps it believed that being bigger would
- Protect you from a threat.
As an adult you no longer need to be bigger to meet your emotional needs or to keep yourself safe. But your subconscious still carries deep-rooted childhood beliefs, and this may be influencing your body now.
2. FOOD IS LOVE: The second reason your subconscious could be stopping you from losing weight is because Your subconscious may have formed an association with over-eating, and feeling happy, connected and loved.
Perhaps you felt the warmth of your Grandmother’s love while she made you cake. Or the seaside was a happy place and you always got ice creams there.
As an adult your mind still tries to re-create those positive feelings with food. Especially when you feel sad, lonely, stressed etc.
The feelings created by the food don’t last long, which means that you eat more and more food to try to get those feelings back.
But as an adult you can create new patterns of love and happiness without food. Because all the cake in the world can’t make you feel loved.
3. I AM NOT ENOUGH: The third reason our subconscious often influences eating patterns is caused by Feelings of not being enough – not pretty enough, not clever enough, not funny enough, not interesting enough not good enough etc etc - Feelings of not being enough can leave you feeling empty.
Your subconscious may have formed a belief that you’re not enough when you were a child, perhaps when you were being criticised, or when you didn’t get the praise and recognition you craved.
A feeling of lack or emptiness can lead to over eating when we attempt to fill the void inside of us with food. When you believe that you are enough, you don’t need more.
And as an adult you can fill and nourish yourself with things other than food. You can do this with powerful positive words.
Tell yourself “I am enough” as often as possible! Show your subconscious that you are enough already.
And finally …
4. I'M NOT IMPORTANT: Experiences of having our needs ignored or overridden can lead to a subconscious belief that we don’t matter.
If you have difficulty expressing your needs then you may have a subconscious belief that you aren’t important. Do you find yourself always putting others first? Sacrificing your own needs to keep others happy? Carrying the weight of other people’s problems?
When we don’t express our needs and feelings verbally, we hold them inside of ourselves and then we can end up swallowing them down with food. Your body becomes a physical expression of the hurt you’re carrying.
The answers you are seeking lie inside of you. Not in a new diet or a new weight loss pill … Diets and pills and shakes are all external solutions, and when you stop doing the diet or taking the pill, you gradually return to the weight that your subconscious mind thinks is best. That’s why most diets fail. They’re an external solution. Diets are like trying to plant a new garden without first clearing the weeds. They don’t deal with the root of the issue, which lies within you.
If you have time, it's worth reading the extract below from Johann Hari's incredible book "Lost Connections" where he recounts Felitti's 2008 study:
"When the patients first came into Felitti’s office, some of them found it hard to fit through the door. They were in the most severe stages of obesity, and they were assigned here, to his clinic, as their last chance. Felitti had been commissioned by the medical provider Kaiser Permanente to figure out how to genuinely solve the company’s exploding obesity costs. Start from scratch, they said. Try anything.
One day, Felitti had a maddening simple idea. He asked: What if these severely overweight people simply stopped eating, and lived off the fat stores they’d built up in their bodies – with monitored nutrition supplements – until they were down to a normal weight? What would happen? Cautiously, they tried it, with a lot of medical supervision – and, startlingly, it worked. The patients were shedding weight, and returning to healthy bodies.
Once the numbers were added up, they seemed unbelievable.
But then something strange happened. In the program, there were some stars ― people who shed incredible amounts of weight, and the medical team ― and all their friends ― expected these people to react with joy, but the people who did best were often thrown into a brutal depression, or panic, or rage. Some of them became suicidal. Without their bulk, they felt unbelievably vulnerable. They often fled the program, gorged on fast food, and put their weight back on very fast.
Felitti was baffled ― until he talked with one 28-year-old woman. In 51 weeks, Felitti had taken her down from 408 pounds to 132 pounds. Then ― quite suddenly, for no reason anyone could see ― she put on 37 pounds in the space of a few weeks. Before long, she was back above 400 pounds. So Felitti asked her gently what had changed when she started to lose weight. It seemed mysterious to both of them. They talked for a long time. There was, she said eventually, one thing. When she was obese, men never hit on her ― but when she got down to a healthy weight, for the first time in a long time, she was propositioned by a man. She fled, and right away began to eat compulsively, and she couldn’t stop.
This was when Felitti thought to ask a question he hadn’t asked before. When did you start to put on weight? She thought about the question. When she was 11 years old, she said. So he asked: Was there anything else that happened in your life when you were 11? Well, she replied ― that was when my grandfather began to rape me.
As Felitti spoke to the 183 people in the program, he found 55 percent had been sexually abused. One woman said she put on weight after she was raped because “overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be.” It turned out many of these women had been making themselves obese for an unconscious reason: to protect themselves from the attention of men, who they believed would hurt them. Felitti suddenly realized: “What we had perceived as the problem ― major obesity ― was in fact, very frequently, the solution to problems that the rest of us knew nothing about.”
The act of releasing your shame is – in itself – healing. So I went back to people I trusted, and I began to talk about what had happened to me when I was younger. Far from shaming me, far from thinking it showed I was broken, they showed love, and helped me to grieve for what I had gone through … When people are behaving in apparently self-destructive ways, “it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with them,” he said, “and time to start asking what happened to them.”