Weight as Protection
For some individuals, excess weight creates a protective barrier or shield to the outside world. Some individuals believe weight minimizes their looks and sexuality. Others, use weight as protection against future abuse. On sexual abuse and eating, Mary Anne Cohen, CSW, the director of the New York Center for Eating Disorders, writes:
What is the connection between sexual abuse and developing an eating disorder? The answer is guilt, shame, anesthesia, self-punishment, soothing, comfort, protection and rage.
Emotional eating is another factor in weight. Those who have been through much may choose to push down anger, anxiety, depression, pain, or confusion by using food to numb their feelings.
How Can I Help?
It is my experience that most individuals believe that being overweight or obese is a sign of weakness. The reality is that most are strong, intelligent, creative individuals. I believe in working with clients to help them discover hidden beliefs from their past. Often times, clients, especially those who have been through traumatic events, use “black and white” thinking. This type of thinking was a survival system that worked as a child, but is no longer useful in adulthood. I also help individuals understand how phrases and beliefs about “good and bad” foods or “I was bad or good because I ate_____” have impacted their life.
I believe in taking a gentle approach as client and counselor slowly peel away the layers. This can be a more peaceful approach without so much “efforting”. Healing can occur through empowerment and self-esteem building tools versus reliving old traumatic events.
Obesity and Weight Loss
Dr. Vincent Felitti founder of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine and director of its obesity-treatment program, was seeing good results, with clients losing 50 to over hundreds of pounds. However, Felitti discovered that those who were doing the best—those who were both the most obese and losing the most weight—kept dropping out. Felitti was baffled. Why were so many clients quitting the program just as they approached their healthy goal weight? One woman entered the program weighing 295 lbs. and had managed to reach a goal weight of 150 lbs. in six months. Instead of being happy she was experiencing anxiety attacks and stated that she was terrified. When questioned, the woman explained that she had been molested as a child, tried to escape by marrying at a young age, divorced after two years, only to repeat the marriage pattern again. In both marriages, her partners were jealous. For this woman, becoming overweight was a way of becoming less suspicious.
Felitta began a systematic study which included 268 obese individuals. He discovered that 50% had been sexually abused as children. This percentage is double of the rate that is reported. A more recent study in 2007 that included over 11,000 women found that those abused as children are 27% more likely to be obese as adults, compared to those who did not have a traumatic history.
Further discoveries by Felitti and colleagues have helped raise consciousness that experiences early in life, as early as in the womb, can have effects on health and behavior as individuals enter adulthood.
The Weight Loss Industry
According to the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA), more than one-third of U.S. adults (34.9%) are obese. The weight loss industry is big business that continues to grow despite the recession. According to Marketdata’s 11th edition of the U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market study, the worth of the weight loss industry was estimated to be $61 billion in 2010. Online companies such as Weight Watchers reported more than 1 million paid subscribers. Companies such as Nutrisystem deliver prepaid foods. Despite the current economy, Nutrisystem had a 55% share in the $924 million market share in 2010. Medically supervised weight loss centers grew from 60 centers to more than 450 over the last three years. It is estimated that approximately 60% of community hospitals now offer weight loss programs. Commercial weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers peaked at $2.73 billion in 2010. Why then, are so many individuals still struggling with weight?
Websites, Magazines, Media, and Books
Too often, websites, magazines, and books focus on tips that tell an individual “how to” lose weight. Examples include: How to lose 30 pounds in thirty days, how to build muscle without bulking up, how to work out with a busy schedule, and learn to love lunges and squats, etc. The media assumes that individuals don’t have the motivation, willpower, tools, or knowledge to lose weight. What is not usually addressed is the “why”.