yumyumRecently, a local news reporter interviewed me about why people gain weight.

Weight gain (and loss) is, for many of us, right up there with sex and money on the anxiety scale.  Anxiety and weight gain are linked.

As the level of general anxiety continues to rise in our society, the rate of obesity rises.

For many of us, food is comfort.  Anxiety is usually a symptom of possible change in our lives…and change is scary and uncomfortable.  So who’s your best friend that’s always there?  Just open the refrigerator!

Scary times encourage us to eat things we don’t need, when we really want comfort, not calories.

I had a client who – when her business got really busy and she was flying all over the country – would always gain 5-10 pounds.  We called this her “worry weight”, because it only appeared when she was overstressed or worried about her business.  Once things calmed down, she always lost her worry weight.  This is a perfect example of food as comfort.

Let’s look at the idea of “food as a friend”.  Food is nutrition.  It is not a companion.  Food is a sensory experience, not consolation for a lousy life.  The next time you go to the refrigerator, ask yourself, “What am I looking for here?” If you’re bored, sad, depressed, lonely or angry, food won’t help you.  Food is not your friend; it’s a substitute for a friend (and a poor one).

Weight is an emotionally-laden subject:  it’s hard not to worry that you don’t measure up to some unrealistic standard of beauty.  If you’re single, there’s so much pressure to look “hot” to attract the right man/woman, and if you’re in an intimate relationship, that’s anxiety-producing too.

In a workshop for couples, psychotherapist Stephen Levine said, “A monogamous relationship is the fastest way to personal growth because it brings up all your unresolved stuff faster than anything else.”  Gaining weight can also be a great way to avoid sex.  Really good, deep, loving sex requires vulnerability.  It’s easier to say “I’m too fat to have you see me naked” than to say, “I’m scared to death of how much I love you and how easily you can hurt me.”

Isn’t it ironic how weight gain is almost never about being hungry?   So what can you do?

When you gain weight, slow down and ask yourself:  what’s really going on with me?  Instead of rushing off to buy another diet book, take the time for some self-examination and find out the MOTIVATION behind your eating.

Focus on how you’re thinking and feeling, not how you look.  What you think determines how you feel, and how feel determines what, when and how often you eat.  Get in touch with your thoughts and feelings and get to the core of why you’re eating as you are.

In changing any behavior pattern, first comes inner change, then external change (e.g., losing weight).

Face the truth:  food is not your best friend.  It’s a substitute for a friend.  If you need friends, focus on building friendships, not eating.

For most people, gaining weight really isn’t about the weight, it’s about your happiness (or lack of it) in your life and relationships.  Address the real problem.

“Body dysmorphia” is a psychological term that describes a kind of distorted thinking about our bodies, e.g., we used to be heavy, but now, no matter how much we weigh, we can never be thin enough.  We see ourselves in a distorted way, like a fun house mirror.

Southern California is rife with body dysmorphia, it could almost be our unofficial motto, “You’ll never look good enough here: get over it.”  It’s not easy to hold onto your mental sanity against all the diet- and weight-loss related stuff shoved down our throats…but if we don’t change how we think about ourselves, any diet, exercise or weight-loss program will fail over time.  For many of us, It’s not so hard to lose weight, but keeping it off…that’s another story.

In her book, “The Only Diet There Is”, Sondra Ray says that only a “diet” of no negative thinking leads to long-term health and reasonable weight.  Unless we change how we think, we’re unlikely to change our weight or health, and the result is yo-yo dieting that trashes our self-esteem.  Change your thinking and your weight will follow.