The Psychology Of Diet Preparation
We decide to lose weight because of any number of reasons: we don’t like the way we look, our clothes don’t fit, our health is in danger, our significant other is wandering, our job is at risk, or our kids are embarrassed. We tend to think of weight loss as something that involves only our body; surely no one ever decided to lose weight because of a fat brain or a bloated mind. Yet “we decide” is a mental function. When and why we make such a decision depends on our mind, not our body. We may make the decision when we are five pounds heavier than we would like, or after passing the two hundred pound mark and entering true medical obesity. The actual size of the body does not trigger the decision to lose weight, such a choice in made in the brain.
Since the start (and the continuation) of a diet program is a mental process, it would seem to be worthwhile to explore what factors might trigger such a decision. 1. Self-Image. Each of us has a dual image: the face we turn to the world and our internal idea of how we appear. Although we dress and groom ourselves in an effort to be seen as attractive by others, we are far less influenced by others than by our satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, with ourselves.
Explore this concept by observing yourself and others over the course of the next week. You will notice that you often receive compliments on clothes you wear that, to you, don’t feel “quite right.” Wear a favorite outfit that fits perfectly, that you think looks outstanding, and that makes you feel especially dashing – and no one notices! The same phenomenon occurs with a hairstyle. One morning, rushed for time, you can’t get your hair to do anything so you angrily pull it back with clips and hope that no one important sees you looking so awful. Voila! Three people comment that they like what you’ve done with your hair. There is the same disconnect when it comes to our weight. If we look good in our mind’s eye, we don’t feel fat, even if friends and coworkers are whispering about our steady weight gain. However, if we see ourselves as overweight, no amount of reassurance from those around us is going to make us feel less fat. Carried to the extreme, this mental picture of our body size can lead to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa in which painfully thin individuals continue to dangerously restrict their caloric intake because they consistently see themselves as too heavy. We decide to go on a diet, therefore, in response to our internal self-image.
Some of the benefits we envision that go along with being slim and fit do take others into account: I will be more attractive to the opposite sex; I’ll be noticed at work when it’s time for a promotion; my family and friends will be jealous and will have to re-evaluate me as a stronger person than they had thought. But the real payoff for getting in shape is what it does for us personally. It is the desire to feel great about ourselves that carries us through the pain and monotony of diet and exercise. It is the future vision of ourselves in our mind that spurs us toward our goal. Losing that vision, or concluding that we won’t feel that much better about ourselves, are the reasons we give up and fall back into the relative comfort of settling for just “okay.” 2. Body versus Mind dominance. We all wage a lifelong internal battle between our body and our mind. Each is dominant at different stages of development. As infants, we are little more than a collection of sensations.
We explore the exciting new world around us through touching everything within reach, tasting everything we can put into our mouths, watching the movements of everything around us, and listening to all the sounds we hear until we eventually learn to imitate them. As we move into our early school years, we start to concentrate on our minds. We voraciously devour immense amounts of information. We learn to read and our world expands its boundaries by a thousand percent. We learn to use the Internet and a limitless universe is at our fingertips. Then we move into puberty and, overnight, our appearance becomes the dominating factor in our everyday lives. We navigate the pitfalls and pleasures of adolescence where popularity and being cool are so much more vital than mere learning or mental development. We spend an inordinate amount of time on our bodies. We try new clothes, new hairstyles, and new makeup. We have body parts pierced and undergo the pain of a tattoo because it will make us stand out.
We primp, and groom, and force ourselves into the styles our peers have judged as “in.” As we mature, we seek to balance our mental and physical selves. While our bodies reign supreme in the attract-a-mate environment, we need to exercise our minds to advance our careers and to develop deep relationships that move far beyond mere physical attraction. It is when we settle down, and start to build the good life we want, that our efforts and energies turn towards things outside ourselves: children, significant others, friends, family, and work pursuits. We have so much happening around us and so much to do that we lose touch with both our bodies and our minds. We slip into our own comfort zone where so many of our needs are fulfilled by food. It eases our anxiety, relieves our frequent frustrations, and makes periodic bouts of the blues bearable. It oils our social interactions. It becomes a vital cog in how we demonstrate affection for those we love.
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