Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

About That New Year's Resolution Diet

How to achieve your excess weight removal goals

The Romans named January in honor of their god of transitions, so reflecting on the past and assessing the future at this time of year is deeply rooted in the garden of Western culture.  Conversely, compulsive overeaters repeatedly making New Year’s resolutions to go on a diet is a recent, perennial weed.   Although well-intentioned, regrettably, the smart money says by Ground Hogs Day, those New Year’s resolutions will be as abandoned as lobotomy—just in time for the St. Valentine’s Day Chocolate Massacre.As a neuroscientist, and a person who has removed 500 pounds of excess weight, I have strong opinions about making weight-removal related New Year’s resolutions. 

First, do not even think about “going on a diet” because it is a prescription for failure. Ultimately, commercial, fad, and harsh, calorie-restrictive diets cannot address the key concerns of compulsive overeaters. If they could, nutritionists would have solved the obesity problem a hundred years ago. Instead, obesity has become a global pandemic. 

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 The reality is you are already on a diet, you always have been on a diet, and you always will be on a diet, like every other living creature on the planet—end of story. Therefore, the issue is not going on a diet, but re-evaluating your diet.  So, the question becomes does your diet serve your needs: if it does not then changes must occur. However, the brain is busy processing trillions of commands, so it is resistant to change because change increases its workload.  Thus, strategically introducing change in small increments is imperative to success.  This begins with conceptualizing and verbalizing the intended change. Thinking, or saying, I am “going on a diet” implies a major change that eventuates in “going off a diet” at some point, which is another change.  Your brain will be resistant to that. 

Second, do not add misery to your life. Misery and deprivation are easy to come by; you can find them all day long on any given street in any given town. Drastic diet modifications that are difficult to follow are punitive. Punishing yourself is not useful. Moving towards your excess weight removal goals cannot be a trudge down Misery Road or you will not reach your destiny. As counterintuitive as it seems, the path to success lies in never denying yourself. You deserve and should eat, whatever you want, whenever you want.  However, this luxury requires being able to correctly identify your actual wants.  That is, you have to be able to distinguish between “I want to eat a half a gallon of ice cream at midnight” and “I am lonely and want to know what love is.” 

This is where awareness and acceptance of self, others, and circumstance factor in. It requires courage, but when you move beyond the fear of seeing and accepting your self and your circumstances and the subsequent engendered feelings, the need to avoid your life disappears.  This honesty decreases the likelihood of incorrectly identifying your actual wants.  With that goes the need to distract your self with eating, or self-medicate with calorie-dense “comfort foods.” 

Third, you have to understand the difference between real food and drugs the major food companies present as food, e.g. white flour, refined sugars and many processed food additives.

The National Institute of Drug Addiction at The National Institutes of Health fined the major food companies for deliberately manufacturing addictive substances and calling them food.  The big food manufacturers are businesses. Wall Street’s god is profit, which is one of those circumstances we must accept.  However, accepting this is not commensurate with offering up our health as a sacrifice to Wall Street’s insatiable god.  In addition, I am not saying because I choose not to eat processed foods you have to do the same. 
I am just saying, if you do eat processed foods, be aware that you may not always be eating actual food, but rather doing drugs.  These foods utilize the same reward pathways in the brain as cocaine and alcohol.  Hence, like any other addictive substances, you run the risk of dependency and abuse by consuming them.

That said, on to some New Year’s resolutions that attack the primary concerns of compulsive overeaters.  Warning: this gets scary.  You have to be brutally honest with yourself. You have to admit to yourself, who you really are, why you are this person, and what, if anything, you want to do, or can do about it. In keeping with the New Year’s tradition of reflecting on the past, you must ask yourself: why am I not able to care enough about myself to correct this problem. Then assessing the future, you have to pose the questions: 1) am I able to care more about myself in the future than I have in the past, and 2) will that be enough to intervene on this problem. 

Then, because the past and future are only valid when they are the present, you have to ask: how can I show more love for myself, right here, right now. What does that look like? The answers to those questions will provide a list of potential changes, from which to choose one manageable New Year’s resolution. I reiterate, choose one thing from this mind and spirit improvement oriented list. 

Now make a second list of eating behaviors that promote removing excess weight.   Pick one thing from this list. I suggest starting with something easily doable like eating three meals a day, with nothing in between. These three meals can consist of anything you want, just as long as the meals have a definitive beginning and end.  This may seem like an implausible strategy for immediately removing excess weight quickly, but it is not for removing it permanently.  Be perfectly clear, Obesely-Speaking is about winning the war on compulsive overeating, not prevailing in a transient skirmish over losing so many pounds in a given time period.  Winning the war is not about what you eat, but rather how you eat. Therefore, the goal is to establish disciplined eating. Disciplined eating and compulsive eating are mutually exclusive concepts.  Once you establish disciplined eating, your meals will naturally and easily modify themselves to promote excess weight removal. Within a month, your meal size and content will drastically improve, because where the mind and soul leads, body and behavior will follow.    

Janus, The Roman God of Transition
As time goes on you gradually introduce other items from your two lists into your daily practices. Doing this took me from weighing over 1000 pounds to weighing 500 pounds, with continuing progress.  Granted, I am nowhere near out of the woods.  Additionally, the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train, but today I own this war. That is the second most important thing.  The most important thing is that reconstructing my mind, body, soul, and life in this manner is easy on me. I have had enough hardness in my life—hard times, hard drugs, hard liquor, hard luck and hard headedness. I need my life to be easier, not harder—how about you?  I need a kinder, gentler, more salubrious world—how about you?  Every day, I need to love and accept myself just as I am—how about you?  I need to be able to stumble but not fall, bend but not break, falter but not fail, and love myself through it all—how about you?

In many ways, being a compulsive overeater is like belonging to a powerful, ruthless pimp. You cannot walk away or run away.  You have to slip away and stay away. There in lies the cardinal resolve for any compulsive overeater, 24/7/365.  Happy New Year, from Obesely Speaking—remain fabulous and phenomenal!  

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Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is Chair of the Advisory Committee for Collective Concerns in Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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