What Does Psychology Have to Do With Weight Loss?

New year. New goals. A fresh start. We often start a new year inspired with goals to practice healthy habits and lose weight.

Yet how often have your diet plans felt sabotaged? You start a diet and exercise program that you can’t maintain, or you lose weight and get discouraged when you gain the weight back again? It’s easy to end up feeling defeated and hopeless about ever maintaining a healthy weight. You aren’t alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 72% of the U.S. adult population is overweight, and 40% is obese. Childhood obesity is also a crucial issue.

What if there is more to weight loss than focusing on diets and exercise? What if you could successfully lose weight and keep it off by learning about the psychology behind your eating and how to master your thoughts and emotions?  

How Are Psychology and Weight Connected?

You may have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars buying the weight loss industry’s claim that your weight is linked to diets and exercise programs alone. But the truth is, your weight is inherently connected to your emotions and beliefs. There are many links between psychology and weight loss. We will discuss two common connections here: stress and trauma.

Stress

We all experience stressors in life. Stress impacts weight as it causes your adrenal glands to release excess stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Adrenaline reduces your desire to eat, but cortisol increases cravings for sweet and fatty foods. Elevated cortisol also affects your blood sugar regulation, which increases appetite and causes food cravings.

Stress tends to cause weight stored in your abdomen, called visceral fat or “belly fat,” which is more toxic to your body than other kinds of fat. For that reason, it’s particularly good for your physical health to reduce your stress and belly fat.

Mental health professionals can provide therapy and teach you effective tools to identify and manage stressors that are impacting your weight. Strategic tools might include:

  • Learning to identify your emotions before you eat
  • Learning to identify physical hunger from emotional hunger
  • Keeping a journal
  • Listening to your inner dialogue and changing negative thought patterns
  • Guided imagery to reduce stress
  • Learning to conquer “all or nothing” thinking

Trauma

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 70% of U.S. adults have experienced trauma. Obesity and eating disorder specialist, Michael D. Myers, M.D., estimates 40% of his obese patients suffer from trauma after a history of sexual abuse.

Trauma releases the same hormones as stress. Trauma also physically changes the brain, primarily the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These neurological changes cause many distressing symptoms, such as sleeplessness and depression, which are also tied to weight gain. A trauma-informed mental health professional can help by teaching you:

  • To identify trauma triggers
  • Tools to manage trauma triggers
  • To release guilt and shame
  • To restore self-love and confidence
  • To practice self-care

A therapist may also incorporate treatments such as EMDR or Cognitive Processing Therapy.

There is so much more to achieving your weight loss goals than diet and exercise. Psychology has much to do with weight loss, and Edgewood is here to help. Click the button below and get in touch!