Part of me is desperate to lose weight and another part isn’t. I feel like 2 people!

Dear Helen,

I have been trying to lose weight for most of my life. I keep going round in a pattern of going on a diet and having success to start with, but then giving up and going back to square one.  I’ve tried to work out why this is and all I can say is that it feels as though I’m rebelling against something.  When I stop the diet I feel a huge sense of relief at being able to stop the restrictions on my eating, but quickly feel angry at myself for being weak and giving up.  I feel like I’m 2 different people!

Now the stakes are higher because I need to lose weight for health reasons. This makes me feel under pressure, and I’m worried that whatever diet I follow now, the rebellion will happen again and my health will worsen.  I can’t understand why I would rebel against dieting, when I know how important it is for me to lose weight.  Can you help?

Trudy

Dear Trudy,

Part of you desperately wants to lose weight and part of you hates restricting what you eat.  Both parts are simultaneously, genuinely true.  This is what psychologists call ambivalence.  Ambivalence produces cycling motivation, rather than smooth, straightforward motivation to do something.  If you’re not ambivalent, your mind can simply focus on your goal.  But when part of you objects to pursuing that goal (whether for good reasons or bad), sooner or later you’ll find yourself pulled backwards and giving up.  But because your goal is important to you, it won’t be long before you’re off on your next attempt to lose weight.

 

In order to overcome ambivalence:

You need to do some work on identifying what’s going on to produce this mental block. Don’t expect instant success, but focus your efforts on resolving your ambivalence rather than launching into another (doomed) diet.

  • Think about the problem in terms of 2 different aspects of yourself, and discover what these two parts of you are actually conflicted about
  • look at what you can do to reduce the conflict
  • if conflict still remains, don’t panic; recognizing and listening respectfully to each of the conflicting parts of yourself will help you to find a way to change your eating that will work for you

Let’s look at what this means for you personally Trudy.

From your letter it seems that the two parts of you are:

  • One food-loving part that enjoys eating and likes being relaxed around food.
  • Another stricter part which is willing to follow the rules of a diet.

It looks as though the rebellion is the food-lover reacting against being restricted in what to eat.  In the past, the strict part seems to have been able to get a diet started but perhaps it has had to squash the food-loving part into submission as each diet got going.  It’s likely that the stricter the dietary rules, the more inner conflict you’ll experience.  The more inner conflict, the more you are battling with yourself.  Not only is this draining, but it’s not helping you stick to the diet, and every time the food-lover wins in the end.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The strict side is self-critical and berates you for “weakness” and before long, you’re off again.

I’d suggest that your next step should be to call a truce and agree that you’ll wait to embark on another diet until you’ve got a plan which suits both the food-loving and strict sides of yourself.  There’s a simple exercise that may help you here.

Imagine the 2 parts of you like 2 separate people sitting on a bench on the seafront together looking out to sea.  You can fill in the details of the scene to make it just as you’d like the view to be.  As you sit and watch the world go by, take it in turns to talk about dieting and why it hasn’t worked before, and how you could make it work in future.  The key is for each part to talk just about their point of view and for the other part to listen respectfully.  Let each side have their say, in turn and keep going until each side has said all they want to.  This way you move away from the battle and towards diplomacy! Whatever you do around food, the two sides need to co-operate. If each one’s viewpoint is taken into consideration it’s more likely this can happen.

This exercise may throw light on what you can do to break the old yo-yo pattern.  If you’re finding it difficult to produce any ideas, try getting the 2 sides to agree on a compromise.  Such as a diet that’s easier to follow, like 5:2 where the strict part is in charge for 2 days a week and the food-loving side the other 5.

Or use Appetite Retraining to agree to stop dieting altogether and instead just focus on one eating habit change at a time.  It may help you to focus just on reducing the size of your evening meal by a quarter, every day, so that you aren’t over-restricting and you are still eating food you’ve always loved.  The food-loving side will be happy to eat delicious food and the strict side will be happy with reducing the meal size.  Once you get used to doing this and it feels easy, you can plan your next step-change in eating habits.  And remember to involve both parts of yourself in the planning.  Any time you need to, go back to that imaginary bench on the sea-front and listen to what each side of you thinks.

When you make progress and give both sides credit for the achievement, you’ll be able to feel happier and stronger than you ever did during those battles over dietary rules.  And whatever you do, acknowledge the 2 sides of yourself and the fact that both need to be taken into account.

If you have a question for Dr Helen McCarthy about eating and weight loss, email info@theappetitedoctor.co.uk

We cannot answer queries personally.  Advice given here does not constitute specific psychological or medical advice.  If you are unsure about anything to do with your own weight loss plan, please consult your own doctor.

 

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