Ok, so most of us don’t like to contemplate our insides. That mass of tissue, organs and blood that most of the time feels totally disconnected to how we perceive ourselves. Hidden from view it’s often a case of out of sight out of mind, until we are forced to contemplate it because something goes wrong. Instead, the vast majority of us think of “the self” as a combination of that image staring back at us bleary eyed while we brush our teeth and the complex emotions, thoughts and behaviors that make up our unique personalities.
Maybe this is why so many of us fail to put our physical health at the top of the list of priorities, regardless of the very obvious fact that of our physical health fails it can have a devastating impact on our lives. Yet, it seems to me, it’s what we look like on the outside that takes up most of our headspace and this is most apparent when it comes to the question of weight loss.
There is no question that obesity has spiraled to epidemic levels in the last fifty years. The World Health Organization’s latest figures show as of 2008 1.4 billion people were classed as either ‘overweight or obese’. A similar study compiled in 2013 found globally that a staggering 42 million children under the age of five were in the same category. In the year 2000, a human landmark was reached; more people in the world were overweight than underweight, and whilst we all deplore seeing images of starving people struggling at the very edges of life and death, somehow we don’t seem to feel the same concern when confronted by the enormous threat to public health when it comes to the other end of the weight scale.
Having worked with many obese clients in the last two decades, I have had the opportunity to make some interesting observations when it comes to the psychology of losing weight. The first of these is that for the majority of people diets, in the sense of a temporary and restrictive program of eating, simply don’t work in the long term. This is because they are all about denial and when you’re dealing with people who generally don’t deny themselves anything and this is the reason they put on weight in the first place, it is most likely that without a shift in their thought processes around food, they will revert back to their old eating habits. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, most people focus their weight loss on improving the way they look rather than on gaining health. Now, I realize that it’s important to everybody’s psychological wellbeing to feel good about the way they look. I’m not disputing that it’s a significant motivating factor. However, when actually trying to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, I think this is “putting the cart before the horse.”
Improving the inside
We should be focusing on improving the inside, which will inevitably lead to a visible improvement on the outside. That mass of tissue, organs and blood should be regarded as the most precious thing we own. And once “gaining health” becomes your top priority, things start to fall into place psychologically as well as physically. That’s because the idea is inherently a positive one and it opens up a world of possibility. Shifting your mindset to what’s good for your insides will force you to think about the types of food you’re eating, how much exercise you actually do, whether you drink or smoke, how much stress you are under and how much sleep you get. Good health requires a holistic approach. It’s about the whole person and it’s about getting the balance right. And it means you gradually start to make small changes that can have a massive cumulative effect on the quality of your life and will be very much visible on the outside.
For example you could start by only eating fresh food that has been cooked from single ingredients wherever possible. This is what I call “clean food.” Eradicating as much processed food from your diet as you can (preferably all, but I’m nothing if not pragmatic) will mean your insides are not exposed to the overwhelming cocktail of chemicals that fast food and convenience food may contain. This is not to say you have to count calories or weigh stuff out, it’s simply a way of thinking about what you are putting into your body. It makes perfect sense to me that good cooking made from as much fresh and natural ingredients as possible is going to be far better for you and your family than anything a fast food chain has to offer.
Move more. Another simple idea, but one which has the weight of scientific research behind it. We spend half our lives sitting down and research has shown that it increases our chances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and premature death. So, it doesn’t matter how you move; go for a walk, dance around the living room, anything is better than nothing and you will find the knock on effects motivate you to do more.
There are so many small changes we can make which contribute to the ‘gain health’ philosophy. Whilst not so extreme as only eating cabbage soup or taking on the Iron Man challenge, they all add up and work towards creating balance. So next time you’re contemplating that fad diet, perhaps when like so many others, the clock strikes one minute past midnight on January 1, 2015, rethink… don’t lose, gain!