Want to Lose Weight? Don't Focus on Food, Focus on Your Emotions

Shocked that a Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Certified Holistic Nutritionist does not want you to focus on what you eat for weight loss? Many years ago, I would have been shocked too. I've struggled with my weight my entire life. I never once thought the constant dieting, binging, food restriction, self-sabotaging and negative thoughts about myself was the root cause of my weight struggles.

woman crying in front of computer
Emotions impact our weight

I only came to this realization as I was participating in an annual winter to spring cleanse. The 21 day cleanse not only made me feel lighter by purging the physical waste from my body, it also made me realize I could challenge myself. I could decide not do anything that doesn't make me entirely happy. It wasn't like a light-bulb went off during the cleanse and I suddenly lost weight. This transformation has been years in the making. I just didn't know it.

Why is it I do not respect myself and treat myself better? Why do I repeat the same patterns over and over again? What would it take for me to start to heal myself? These are questions I started to ask and had the courage to dig deep to find the very painful answers. It turned out my childhood experiences held a lot of the answers.

Trauma is experienced by everyone throughout their lives. The trauma may be something extremely devastating, such as sexual abuse. The trauma may be something more subtle, such as the constant stress of growing up with an alcoholic parent or not being given the protection and affection every child deserves from their mother. Regardless of the type of trauma, how we process (or don't process) our experiences impacts every area of our lives.

One very physical result of trauma is weight gain and any number of disordered eating issues. Society has taught us that if we eat the right foods or follow the right diet, we will lose weight. Our lives will be better. Any shame we have about our bodies will be gone.

woman hiding her body

This is can be true for a short period of time. Think about yourself or someone in your life who paid for a weight loss program and lost a lot of weight. Was it sustainable? In a few months or even a few years, did they gain it all back again? The programs we pay for can be effective for a short while but they don't focus on teaching the skills we need to maintain a healthy weight for life.

There is very compelling research regarding trauma and its effects on weight and eating. A study called Project-EAT from the University of Minnesota focused on: "Childhood maltreatment (sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, emotional neglect) and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors (overeating, binge eating, extreme weight control behaviors, unhealthy weight control behaviors, chronic dieting, weight and shape concerns)."

The goal was to discover whether mistreatment in childhood (as the study defined it) was related to individual disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. The findings showed that a history of any childhood mistreatment was associated with more than 60% greater risk for chronic dieting and overeating, with additional associations found for binge eating, weight and shape concerns, and unhealthy weight control behaviors.

According to a news summary of the research: "These findings implicate childhood maltreatment, particularly emotional neglect, as a meaningful risk factor for problematic eating outcomes in both men and women during adulthood."