By Dr. John H. Sklare
What motivates one to overeat and consistently make poor nutritional choices is a very complex and confusing matter. Up until now, no one has been able to build that one perfect machine or create that incredible, body shaping, wonder drug that will immediately make you slim and happy. So, maybe the answer isn’t “outside” at all. Maybe it’s time to stop looking out there and start looking “inside”. Well, buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Even though consciously you may desperately want to eat healthier and make more responsible nutritional choices, there always seems to be this uncooperative other part of you that keeps getting in the way. I have had many people tell me that it’s like there are two totally different personalities living inside them fighting for control. One part of them wants to eat healthier, lose weight and take better care of their body, while this other part of them procrastinates, makes excuses and always finds a way to interfere and sabotage. This common internal conflict is simply an everyday part of human nature. It is also, fundamentally, at the very heart of this incredible struggle you have with weight control.
This mental debate that goes on inside of us is technically referred to as “internal dialogue”. As a mater of fact, if you stop and pay attention the next time you are struggling with an eating decision, you will actually be able to hear this debate going on inside your head. Don’t be alarmed though, it’s absolutely normal. Gaining a basic understanding and awareness of how this internal struggle operates will put you well on the road to successful weight management.
Psychology has long accepted and addressed this notion of internal dialoguing. For our purposes here, let’s call these two opposing internal characters the Adult and the Child. In other words, imagine that there is this responsible, conscientious part of you that cares deeply about how you feel, what you weight and what you eat. We’ll call this part the Adult. Conversely, imagine that there is also this irresponsible, impulsive part of you that doesn’t care about how you feel, what you weigh or what you eat. Let’s call this part the Child. I bet this is already starting to sound familiar to you.
The decision to eat involves many thoughts and behaviors. Some of which are conscious and some of which are unconscious. The first step involved in changing negative eating patterns, however, involves the process of discovery. Psychologists refer to this process as “awareness”. Awareness is like a beam of light in a dark room. It breaks through the darkness, shows the way and allows you to move with confidence. You see, awareness creates knowledge and knowledge creates power. One of the most important aspects of awareness is that it brings with it the ability to consciously direct your behavior. In today’s mind/body language, this is referred to as “mindfulness”.
The key to creating change and ultimately eliminating negative eating decisions lies in the development of a more powerful and mindful self. In order to successfully change the way that you treat and feed your body, you simply must make better choices. The solution lies in your mind not in your body. The simple fact that you are now aware, of the adult and child inside you fighting for control of your eating choices, should already change this pattern to some extent. Obviously you must be conscientious about what you eat and you must involve yourself in exercise, but if you don’t attend to this mental aspect as well, you will most likely just spin your wheels. There are plenty of statistics to verify this.
Traditionally, the weight loss industry has focused totally on the body. Directing efforts and resources at treating the symptom of overeating (the weight) while totally ignoring the causes of overeating (why you overeat) will never solve this problem. Let me give you a related example. When I was in private practice, verbal fighting was a common issue presented to me by couples seeking counseling. As a professional, I knew immediately that the fighting was not the problem. The fighting was only the symptom. Obviously I had to help these people stop fighting but if I didn’t help them understand why they were fighting they were doomed to fight again. This very same notion holds true for weight management. If you don’t understand why you are overeating, you will continue to overeat in the future. For example, let’s say that you are a stress eater. That is, whenever you feel stressed you overeat. This is a very common issue among overweight people. As a matter of fact, my research with The Inner Diet shows that 77% of all overweight individuals have a serious problem with stress eating. If you’re a stress eater and participate in a weight loss program without addressing the issue of stress eating, you are almost certain to regain any weight that you might lose. Understanding why something has happened in the past is the key to avoiding it in the future. That is precisely why we study history as a society—to avoid repeating mistakes that bring about catastrophic results.
Successful weight control simply must address both the body and the mind. The reality is that the physical act of eating always follows the mental decision to eat. There is no great mystery here about which comes first as in that great debate regarding the chicken and the egg. The thought always precedes the action. The decision to eat always comes before the actual eating. Eating is a choice! The tricky part about this “decision to eat” is that it is not always a conscious decision. Achieving successful weight control involves more than just monitoring everything that you eat, it must also involve an awareness and understanding of why you eat. After all, your goal is not just to lose weight, you want to lose it and keep it off! Following a sound exercise and nutritional program will safely and effectively reduce your weight and improve the health and fitness of your body. However, real success also demands improving the health and fitness of your mind. A healthy and fit body combined with a healthy and fit mind results in a healthy and fit lifestyle. In other words, I don’t want you to diet; I want you to live it!
The professional community now agrees that a complete and effective weight management program must address and actively involve the two major fundamental elements of an individual’s life. Those two elements are: the tangible or physical part of you (your body); and the intangible or thinking part of you (your mind). To address only your body, as almost all other weight management programs presently do, leaves the job undone. Perhaps an example would help!
Imagine that you have just purchased a new car. Let us further imagine that this new car is the first manual automobile that you have ever owned and operating a clutch is now part of your everyday driving experience. Having never had to shift a car before, you find yourself constantly grinding the gears and popping the clutch as you struggle with learning how to properly drive this vehicle. After a few months your car begins to make some very unpleasant sounds and eventually refuses to move from gear to gear. After having your car towed to your friendly neighborhood repair shop, the mechanic regretfully informs you that your car needs to have the clutch as well as all of the gears replaced. He tells you that they have been damaged beyond repair through irresponsible driving. So you tell him to make the repairs and to call you when the car is ready.
After the car is repaired, what do you think would happen if you were to continue to drive that car in exactly the same way that you did prior to the repairs? The answer seems very obvious, doesn’t it? Unless someone teaches you to drive that car more responsibly, you will undoubtedly end up in the repair shop again with the exact same problem! In other words, unless you get a little “drivers education” you will experience the exact same problem over and over again.
Now the reason for this story is to make this very important point. This same principle holds true in weight control. I mentioned earlier that our lives are comprised of two fundamental elements, the physical and the mental. As a matter of fact, the relationship between the physical and the mental are very much like the relationship between a car and its driver. That is, imagine the physical part of you (your body) as the car and the thinking part of you (your mind) as the driver of that car. Your mind is the driver of your body. Losing weight and working on your body (the car) is a very important part of weight control. However, unless you give a little “drivers education” to the thinking and decision-making part of yourself (the driver), you will most likely repeat those old thoughts and behaviors and end up in the repair shop again and again. This is commonly referred to as “yo-yo dieting”.
Yo-yo dieting is the result of repeating old self-defeating, unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Take the story about the man who goes to the doctor complaining of a sore arm? The doctor asks him what the problem seems to be and the gentleman explains that he feels a great deal of pain every time he raises his arm above his shoulder. The Doctors reply, without a moment’s hesitation is, “Well then stop raising your arm”. Even though this will eliminate the pain, it doesn’t solve the problem. The reason that this does not solve the problem is that it addresses the symptom only and ignores the problem completely.
People, who are trying to control their eating, constantly find themselves in the same situation. You are told to “just eat less” or to “follow this or that diet” or given some other bit of simplistic advice. This advice, well intended as it may be, also speaks only to the symptom, which is overeating, and ignores the problem, which is why they are overeating. Until you learn what motivates you to overeat, you are not likely to succeed at weight control. Understanding why you overeat is the key to changing old eating habits and ultimately eliminating yo-yo dieting. Remember, the physical act of eating always follows the mental decision to eat!
It is important that you prepare both your body and your mind for healthier living. After all, psychologists have demonstrated time and time again that what we do and what we feel are a direct result of what we think. Healthy and positive thinking, results in healthy and positive living. If consistently making healthy choices was easy, everyone would be successful. The reality, however, is that weight control is much more mental than physical. As a matter of fact, you are probably nodding your head in agreement right now as you read this. We both know that this is true. The answer lies in identifying and eliminating those repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are at the very heart of most weight control problems.
The answer to eliminating emotional eating is to become a more mindful and more purposeful eater and this is precisely why I developed The Inner Diet. You simply must change the way you look at and use food, if you are to succeed, because you will never become who you want to be by remaining who you are. The answer is change and the time is NOW!
Wishing You Great Health!
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.