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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why Can't We Just Lose the Weight Already?

Obesity is still a significant problem in this country. According to 2016 national data, adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in four states, 30 percent in 25 states and are above 20 percent in all states. Type 2 Diabetes, once an adult disease, is now found in children and teens. Regardless of actual weight, feelings of being overweight cause psychological stress for people of all ages. The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with a huge advertising budget. Many people can successfully lose weight with low-calorie or low-carb diets, but the majority regain the weight within a year or two. Here are some factors that make long-term weight loss difficult.

(1) Our Bodies Naturally Resist Weight Loss

Our bodies were designed to help us hang onto weight when calorie intake is suddenly lowered. Your body assumes that food is scarce and tries to stop you from starving to death by slowing down your metabolism so you burn calories more slowly.

(2)  Genetics Play a Large Role

If you have family genetics for large frames and excess weight, you're going to have a much harder time being thin. Perhaps in days gone by, these families were engaged in physical activities, such as farming, that required strength and endurance.

(3) Our Environments Don't Support Healthy Behavior

Most Americans work more hours and take fewer days of vacation than people in other countries. People living near large urban centers often spend hours commuting. Plane travel has become a way of life in the corporate world. Many poor people work more than one job, can't afford childcare, and have little leisure time. many poor urban neighborhoods lack parks or sidewalks. All of these limit opportunities for exercise and restrict time in a way that makes it challenging to cook and eat healthy foods.

(4) Fast Food is Cheap and Easy

Without advance preparation, it is all too easy after a full day or work and commuting to stop by the MacDonald'a drive through and get a high-fat burger, fries, and sugary soda for a quick and affordable fix.

(5) Emotional Eating

If you have a history of trauma, you may turn to food as a source of emotional comfort when other avenues are lacking. Food is always available because you need to eat, so it's more difficult to avoid triggers and abstinence is not an option.

 Long-term weight loss requires extensive and long-term lifestyle changes. Many people do not understand the complexity and difficulty of losing weight and tend to blame being overweight on lack of willpower. In fact, both biological and environmental factors make weight-loss difficult. Most obese people require nutritional counseling, increased activity, and cognitive-behavioral therapy for months or years in order to keep the weight off. Bariatric surgery can be effective, but often causes suffering due to medical complications. Without behavior change, the weight will be regained. Any long-term weight loss plan needs to address the reasons why YOU overeat, increase your  self-awareness,  and provide you with psychological coping tools well as information about diet and exercise.

Another option is to focus on body acceptance rather than weight loss.  Feeling self-compassionate and empowered can help protect you from stress due to societal stigma around weight. Even if you want to lose weight, it's just as important to focus on loving and accepting yourself as on food. That being said, avoiding processed food, too much sugar, sodas, and corn oils can improve your overall health and is a better strategy than stringent dieting.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Do Money and Status Really Make Us Happy?

Throughout the ages, popular wisdom has told us that money cannot buy happiness. As the below quotes illustrate, happiness has historically been seen as is a quality that lies within us, or as something we can cultivate by proper thoughts, good deeds, and commitment to a worthy cause. But is this really the case? 

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.Helen Keller

Happiness doesn't depend on any external conditions; it is governed by our mental attitude.Dale Carnegie

Money Is an Unstable Resource

Focusing too much on money, status, and external proof of your worthiness can lead to anxiety and obsession, because these aspects of life are not stable. You can be laid off, spend too much, lose our money in the stock market, or your house can suddenly be worth a lot less. This can result in a loss of status if you live in a community that overvalues these things. For many of us, lost status can translate into a loss of self-esteem, anger, and questioning of the foundation of your life. While money and status are unstable, loving relationships can be a significant source of stability and happiness. Feeling accepted, heard, and understood can make you  happier, regardless of circumstances. Meditation and a mindful approach to living can increase your happiness and resilience to life's ups and downs.

Money is a Necessary Evil

At the same time, living with little or no money can result in tremendous suffering in today’s world. Government programs, such as Social Security or Medicare are facing unprecedented crises and may no longer buffer you in old age. Mergers, acquisitions, age discrimination, and outsourcing threaten job stability. You need to look after your money to provide you with resources should you face unexpected life difficulties and in old age.

Making Money Involves Sacrifices That Affect Happiness

The relationship of money to happiness is complex and complicated. We need to find a balanced attitude to money, rather than a fear-based one. Look carefully at what sacrifices you make to earn money. How much do you sacrifice  time with family, self-respect, peace of mind, authenticity or independence for earning more money? Is this choice worth it to you?  What are your alternatives? Have you chosen your path mindfully, rather than following what everybody else is doing?

Therapy - Worth the Investment?

The topic of money comes up with almost all of my psychotherapy clients. The very act of entering psychotherapy involves spending money to take care of yourself in the present, rather than saving it for long-term security. Yet the lessons you learn in therapy can help you re-structure your life and invest in yourself so as to increase your overall psychological (and, sometimes, material) wealth, relationships, and quality of life.  

In my Psychology Today blog post, I examines research from the Gallup organization and top universities to see whether money buys happiness or depletes it. Read what I found out here.

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