Secondary Gain

By Dr. John H. Sklare

John Sklare, PhD

John Sklare, PhD

I received an email the other day that touched on a very interesting and serious issue related to loosing weight and getting healthy. The message was from a woman who had just completed a writing activity designed to increase her awareness regarding being overweight. This particular assignment asked her to write out 25 reasons “Why I want to be fat”! After completing the assignment, this dieter sent me a message asking for clarification. What follows is an excerpt from her message.

“After I had written 25 reasons I want to be fat I realized I have an ongoing serious issue that kept coming up again and again. I want to be fat because I feel safe being fat. I am not ogled (I assume every woman is), I am not stalked (which I have been as an adult) I am not sexually attacked (which I have been as a young teenager)…. I thought I had dealt with all these things but upon reflection of this exercise, I realized that my weight gain started the last time I had a boss, whom I trusted, jump me in my office. It was for me the last straw I think. I’m unsure what exactly the issue is that I should identify but I feel fairly certain it will happen again if I get thin… which is what made me think this must be crazy thinking on my part! Heavy topic sorry. I hope you can help me. I’m a well adjusted, happily married, successful woman. I want to be healthy and fit too”!


In my opinion, the issue this woman is referring to is one that I address with The Inner Diet called Secondary Gain. Secondary gain is a psychological term that means that a person has a hidden reason for holding onto an undesirable condition or behavior. More often than not this issue is unconscious and is most often uncovered during therapy or, as was true with this very introspective woman, can surface during certain awareness exercises.

With Secondary Gain, people are motivated to continue with their negative behavior because there is some kind of a payoff or benefit generated from that behavior. The payoff is usually indirect (secondary) and, often, the person is not even consciously aware of it. Once you become aware of this behavior and recognize what that secondary gain is, you are then in a perfect position to find an alternative way to fulfill that need. An alternative, I might add, that is both healthier and free of self-destructive behaviors.

As one online description states: “Secondary Gain is the mental equivalent of a “loss leader” in business, a strategy that sacrifices profit on the front end but subsequently yields a return. So a merchant may lose money on free samples in the hope that, later, he will gain income in the form of regular customers. In the personal realm, a loss leader is a behavior that, at first glance, seems to work against the individual. Often, it is described as self-defeating or even self-destructive. Examples include someone who stays in an abusive relationship, or who sets themselves up to lose their job or does nothing to address debilitating stress. Why do some people live in ways that clearly mire them in misery, conflict and angst? They are, after all, forfeiting something worthwhile — a chance at happiness, fulfillment or a better life. Why pursue a losing strategy? Often, the answer is Secondary Gain.”

For the woman who wrote me above, the payoff or Secondary Gain, for being overweight, is safety! If you feel that this may be an issue for you, I suggest you do a bit more research on the topic and, if you think this may be the reason that you are holding onto that extra weight, make an appointment with a therapist and get this solution on the fast track. Those that keep themselves overweight as a protection against the outside world often need a professional ear for guidance.

Wishing You Great Health!

Dr. Sklare

Dr. John H. Sklare
John Sklare received his doctorate in counseling from Northern Illinois University. He spent 15 years of his professional life seeing patients in private practice during which time he also served as a member of a medical team providing pre and post psychological services to surgical patients. He has served as a consultant to business and industry doing personality assessments and compatibility evaluations, taught psychology and learning theory to both graduate and undergraduate students and conducted numerous workshops and seminars on a variety of topics. Dr. Sklare has appeared on both radio and television and is also a USPTA certified tennis professional and is the feature writer for Atlanta Tennis Magazine. He also provides the “Daily Inspiration” wellness message for Lifescript.com, is a contributing author for the ASBP Medical Journal, and currently consults with Doctors, Dietitians and Corporate Wellness Programs on wellness, the psychology of lifestyle change and weight management. Dr. Sklare is also the author of The Inner Diet Personal Assessment System, a program that addresses emotional eating.

Be Sociable, Share!