Center for Conscious Living

Lose Weight without the Yoyo

You are already thinking, "that's impossible", right? Well, actually not. BUT losing weight without gaining even more back requires a certain attention to REALITY; the reality of how your metabolism works.

Like it or not, your body is a product of evolution. It is genetically programmed to certain behaviors. Many complex activities run entirely on internal programs, such as heart rate and respiration. Contrary to certain politically incorrect jokes, we indeed do NOT need to think in order to breathe! Activities such as eating and sleeping are programmed genetically, but are more accessible to conscious and unconscious alteration. Unconsciously, worries can affect our eating and sleeping. Consciously, we can choose to eat more or less or go to sleep earlier or later. If these activities were as "hardwired" as heart rate, people would not tend to gain or lose weight excessively. Think how much less common it is for animals to get fat or become emaciated than for humans! As long as they have a proper diet, adequate room to exercise, and general good health, your pets do not need to go on a diet every spring!

With Choice Comes Responsibility

So, what is it that humans can do that animals cannot that allows so many of us to weigh more than we prefer? To begin with, for us, eating is more than just a necessity. We eat because we must, but we have choices of what, when, how much to eat, and even where and with whom. Let us look at these variables.

What should I eat? Over time, people have more and more choices of what to eat. When food is scarce, as once it always was, choice is more limited. When food is abundant, choices are nearly infinite. And, unlike beasts, people can choose to eat things that do not even fulfill their nutritional needs! In addition to developed preferences, we are driven by certain inborn programs in our food choices. For instance, most of us tend to like a sweet at the end of a meal. For those of us who were breastfed, this is only natural, as breast milk is sweeter at the end of a feeding to signal to the infant that the meal is over.

When we are cold, we tend to like richer, fattier foods. Such a preference is quite natural. In primitive living conditions, we would be building a layer of fat to help us survive the cold! Our taste buds tend to prefer rich foods for this reason-making sure there are enough calories to heat us through a cold season. Additionally, mere survival used to demand a much higher level of physical work, which used many of those fat calories. Hunters and gatherers of old did not need to go to health clubs to maintain physical conditioning! Thus the first problem of controlling weight is that since we now spend most of our time in heated buildings and do less intensely physical work, we do not use up those extra calories as people once did. It is easy to see how the inborn tendencies to eat a sweet after a meal before we feel finished and to eat more fat calories when we are cold can lead us to carry extra weight.

Listen to Your Body--Carefully

When should I eat? There is a secret to never putting on extra pounds. It is both very simple and incredibly difficult for most people. The secret is to NEVER eat unless you are hungry and always stop eating when you are full! Why it is simple is obvious. Why it is difficult refers back to the concept of programming. Unlike most animals, people can override the internal programming that tells them when to eat and when to stop. In fact, most overweight people with whom I work tell me that they cannot tell when they are full until it hurts and that they always feel like eating, though that might not mean they are actually feeling hungry.

Stress and Weight Gain

Another factor that affects the question of when to eat is stress. Most of us add stress to our systems, whether by worrying or overworking or not sleeping enough. It is a learned behavior to eat when we are under stress, whether to attempt to gain more energy to keep working longer than we should or to cover our feelings of tension or anxiety or depression. But substituting food for other systemic needs is a serious problem; first because it disguises the actual need, which thus is never getting met and second because it leads to obesity. Additionally, the stress hormone, cortisol, affects your weight. Thus a key factor in weight control is rooting out the sources of stress in your life and resolving them in healthy ways.

Stop Teaching Your Body to Store Fat

Additionally, it is essential to eat on a fairly regular schedule--if you skip breakfast, your body goes into famine mode--conserving calories in preparation for the food shortage that is biologically signalled by long periods without intake. You do not want your system to be conserving calories! That means storing fat. It also turns out that a diet high in carbohydrates decreases your sensitivity to insulin--a sugar-processing hormone whose other job is fat storage. Another thing that causes your system to learn to store fat is eating late night snacks. Eating is meant to fuel your body for what you have to do--not for what you just did. So when you eat late at night, your system will store those calories for tomorrow--and you have trained your body to store fat again, rather than to efficiently use the food as it is broken down during the day to provide for your needs. Eat frequent, small meals beginning soon after you awaken, and ending 2-3 hours before bed.

The Hazards of Plenty

How much do I need to eat? Of what? Many people are amazed at how much less food their systems actually needs than what they are in the habit of eating. When you eat only when you are hungry and only until you feel full, the amount you consume is likely to be surprisingly small. The portions served in most restaurants are too large, both in terms of actual volume of food and in terms of the volume of starches and sugars. Many of us just sit down to a meal and eat what is in front of us, letting our eyes and hands determine how much we eat instead of our internal hunger and satiation mechanisms. We eat because it is there, because it looks good, because we are intrigued by the taste. But when we do this, we tend to lose sight of what the true needs of our system really are. And because many modern foods are not really foods at all, but maufactured products that taste good but do not nourish, your system may still be craving certain nutrients even after eating quite a lot of calories. Potato chips just do not satisfy your need for protein and a wide variety of needed microntrients!

Social Food Cues

Where and with whom we eat can also affect our tendency to overdo it. When we eat out, we tend to eat what is placed in front of us, even when we are full, to avoid taking it home or insulting our host, while at home we are more likely to put away what is left. When we eat with others, there is a tendency to keep eating as long as they are eating. When we are chatting as we eat, it is easy to keep eating without noticing what we eat or that we have had enough. And here lies yet another trap-any time we eat without awareness, like chomping popcorn at the movies or potato chips in front of the TV with the kids, we will override our internal fullness signal because the activity is not yet over! If you actually count those potato chips, you will find that you cannot eat as many! Low-nutrient foods also can fail to signal fullness because while we have consumed quite a volume of food, we may still need nutrients not yet obtained. Yes, you can be obese and malnourished.

So, our bodies have certain built-in mechanisms, some of which make it tougher to control our weight and others make it easier. And then there are diets, myriad, confusing diets all claiming to be THE RIGHT WAY TO EAT.

Given the many opinions in the popular press about what the best diet is for humans, this part can get very tricky, but it is possible to derive a few simple principles for healthy eating from what you already know. As we have already discussed, we need fewer carbohydrate calories than most of us prefer to consume. The proportions can vary based upon individual differences in metabolism and activity levels. You actually need NO simple sugars. Eating fruits, vegetables, and minimizing grains and other sources of complex carbohydrates will fulfill your need for many micronutrients. But again, many of us feel unfinished if we do not have something sweet sometimes. Additionally, many popular diets substitute sugar for fat to add flavor to foods or lean heavily toward carbohydrates in general. With the current emphasis on low fat diets, many people end up eating a diet that is too rich in carbohydrates for good nutrition and health. Your body needs good fats to thrive. It does not need pure sugar.

The amount of protein you need is also complicated by many factors. It was once thought that only growing children needed significant protein in their diets, but we now know that protein is used not only for upward growth and development, but also for maintaining the body and for producing energy. Again, the actual amount of protein you need is determined by many individual factors, which a physician or dietician can help you to determine, but it is a fact that getting too little protein can lead to decreased energy and poor health overall, while getting too much can stress the digestive system.

The most confusing macronutrient in modern times is fat. Commercially prepared foods often contain poor quality fatty acids that can lead to poor digestion and poor health. However, good fats, such as olive oil, pure cream from grass-fed cows, coconut oil, and avocado oil are essential to your health. Low fat products or products with artificial; fats are not a good substiutute for real, whole foods.

The Basics

Controlling your weight boils down to a few simple principles. First, eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Second, eat regularly. Third, beware the tendency to consume extra calories when you are cold or tired. Fourth, be aware of what you eat. Pay attention to your food and enjoy it. Do not eat unconsciously. Fifth, eat food, real food, whole food, from plants and animals, not empty calories, also known as "junk" food. Sixth, do not crash diet or deprive yourself of things you love. Seventh, uncover the stressors that lead you to stray from principles one through three! And last, avoid guilt. We all overdo it sometimes. Give yourself a break. Given this biological approach to weight loss and a healthy maintenance diet plan created for your metabolism and activity level, you will lose weight gradually and keep it off.

Professional Help to get off the Roller Coaster

So, you are asking, what can a psychologist do to help you to control your weight? People often ask to by hypnotized not to be hungry. That is obviously not a very good plan. Kind of like a crash diet, it would be just another yoyo. One day you would wake up famished and put on more weight than you lost. But many people can use clinical hypnosis to enhance their awareness of those long-forgotten cues to hunger and fullness. You create an eating plan that allows you to enjoy eating without overdoing it, so that it is easy and natural to maintain forever. You use self-hypnosis to create a nice awareness of what you eat and when to eat. Psychotherapy can also help you uncover the stressors that maintain maladaptive eating habits. If you are a victim of the yoyo, consider using a permanent approach to weight loss. Based upon the biological and psychological realities of being human, the approach taught at the Center for Conscious Living can help you to finally put that up-and-down weight problem behind you.

Recommended Reading

Pollan, Michael (2008) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Pollan, Michael (2007) The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Resch, Elyse (2009) Intuitive Eating
Tribole, Evelyn & Resch, Elyse (2003) Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
Waters, Alice (2007) The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

 Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.  -Jean-Paul Sartre