Moderation in all things is a lovely concept, but when it comes to weight loss diets, portion-control alone works long-term for only a fraction of folks that want to lose weight.
For most of us, finding sustainable, healthy approaches to weight loss is a little more…personal.
If you’re a wellness professional, especially if you ever engage people in a conversation about weight loss, the word ‘deprivation’ is hard to avoid. If you’re overweight or obese and want to lose weight, it’s an easy word to fear.
Few consider that how and why we experience deprivation depends on what kind of eater we are.
Did you know there were three different kinds of eaters?
Well, there’s the first problem.
There are three different types of eaters. These three different types of eaters need completely different ‘solutions,’ assuming they’re overweight AND want to lose excess fat.
Aside: If someone is overweight or obese and they’re happy and healthy and their minds are peaceful and quiet and they feel good then that means they’re doing a helluva lot better than most of us and should be celebrated. If someone is overweight or obese and is uncomfortable or unhappy, or they’re in turmoil, and they feel like an unhealthy relationship to food or eating is contributing to that, the first step to finding a healthy, sustainable solution is to figure out what kind of eater they are.
1. The Blessed
There is really no such thing as ‘normal,’ so let’s call these folks the Blessed eaters. You may have heard tell of these folks around a campfire. They’re the ones who want to take off a few pounds, so they go to the doctor and get a nourishing, portion-controlled food plan. They eat as they were told. They lose weight and keep it off. Done.
The Blessed have what’s essentially an information-based problem. Someone gives them better information (how or what to eat), and their problem is solved. These are the folks for whom most weight loss diets actually work. This isn’t how it goes down for most overweight folks who want to lose weight. I know, I know – shocking. The overwhelming majority of diets that pop up can only ever work for Blessed eaters.
2. The Stressed
The Stressed have a coping strategy-based problem. They use food and eating to cope with emotions – positive, negative, and everything in between. Many have a trauma history, and many suffer from co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression.
Diets alone tend not to work for the Stressed, or, if they do, they work only for a short time before the weight gets regained. Progress toward healthy and sustainable weight loss for Stressed eaters may involve therapy and/or medication, or some other support around developing alternative coping strategies.
Once a Stressed eater has resolved old trauma and developed new, go-to coping mechanisms, they can adopt a nourishing, portion-controlled food plan. They lose the weight and keep it off. Done.
When most of us first decide to lose weight, we go on a diet. Almost all of us fail, either quitting before we reach our goal, or regaining everything we lost. Most do both. We quickly learn that we’re not Blessed eaters – that having a solid food plan just ain’t enough – though whether or not we choose to believe it is another story altogether. If we do accept that our problem with food isn’t just an information problem, most of us assume it’s one of strategy.
But is it?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Let’s say we think we’re Stressed eaters, and so we do the work to deal with out emotions in non-food-related ways: Therapy. Medication. Activities. Communities. Journaling up the wazoo. Yoga. Tapping. Needles. Bells. Chanting. Whatever else. OK, so what if we still can’t get a handle on our relationship to food? What if, every time we try to eat “proper portions of sensible foods,” we feel like we’re having the culinary equlivalent of an asthma attack – “(gasp)…Can’t….get…enough…food…” – so we end up bingeing and slide all the way back?
If this is our experience, then the question becomes:
How many therapists, how many different professionals, how many epiphanies, how many years, how much money, how much time, how much craziness, and how many alternative coping mechanisms need to prove ineffective before we allow ourselves to consider the possibility that, just maybe, we’re not Stressed eaters?
How many ‘solutions’ need to fail us before we become open to a more accurate diagnosis?
3. The Obsessed
Obsessed eaters, have a bio-chemical problem. Certain foods set off a bio-chemical cascade that inspires craving, obsession, bingeing, and ultimately, regret. 1
To develop a healthier relationship to food and eating, Obsessed eaters need to abstain from the foods that trigger craving in them. Science is emerging about the two most addictive types of foods – those containing sugar, and those containing a seemingly magical combination of sugar, salt and fat (‘hyperpalatable foods’).
If you’ve been assuming you’re a Stressed eater but seem incapable of losing weight or maintaining your prefered weight, it’s possible you’ve crossed the line into an addictive pattern or relationship to certain foods.
This doesn’t actually suck as much as you might imagine.
If and when we cross the line into addiction around certain foods, we become a new kind of Blessed. Uncertainty is stressful, but once we identify what foods trigger us, we can abstain from them, and in doing so, experience tremendous freedom.
Many who opt to abstain from their trigger foods feels worlds better on the inside after just a few days. And many find that there’s little else they need to do or change about how they’re eating to shed excess fat.
Many also find – and this is where Obsessed eaters win big – that deprivation becomes a non-issue, assuming triggering foods are being avoided completely.
If you’ve crossed the line into an addictive pattern with certain foods, abstinence may spell freedom from a sense of deprivation, from a sense of loss, and from feeling powerless to change.
Whichever eater we happen to be, we are all capable of eating nourishing foods in nourishing ways, and developing a healthier relationship to our precious, if particular, bodies.
Why we improve what and how we eat has to be a choice.
What that looks like depends on what kind of eater we are.
- Or, you know, incomprehensible demoralization. Tomayto / Tomahto. ↩