Traci Stein Ph.D., MPH

The Integrationist

What's Your Healthy Weight? How to Know & How to Reach It

Your healthiest weight represents more than a number on a scale.

Posted Oct 23, 2018

 Creative Commons Image via Pixabay.
Source: Creative Commons Image via Pixabay.

Issues of overweight, overeating, comfort eating, and weight loss are common. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of people who have struggled with eating, weight, and self-love – including those who have had 100 or more pounds to lose. Although people often believe that weight loss will make them feel happier, there is evidence that just thinking about dieting can make people feel worse about themselves.

The Number 1 Myth About Weight Management

Perhaps the biggest myth about achieving a healthy weight is that it is somehow divorced from other aspects of health. It isn’t. If your weight changes at the expense of your mental health, friendships (because you’re always so focused on weight), energy levels, or your sense of self-worth, something is way out of balance. And, even if you achieve the goal weight you’ve idealized, this alone won’t make you feel happy, loved, or worthy.

The good news is there are several things you can do to achieve a healthy weight and feel better overall.

Healthy Weight Management is a Body, Mind, Spirit Issue

It’s probably no surprise that eating is intimately tied to our emotions, such as anxiety, anger, fear, and sadness. Often, what and how much we eat are automatic, and partly or largely divorced from either conscious awareness or our healthiest goals for ourselves. I’ve found that most people who struggle with weight are actually pretty knowledgeable about what foods they should eat more of and which they should limit and avoid. They know exercise is an important part of the healthy weight equation. Yet, for millions of people, the struggle is ongoing and may seem both overwhelming and futile. 

My advice: do not give up. Weight management is part of a larger, whole-person, body-mind-spirit approach to good overall health. Keep in mind that your best weight will not necessarily be your lowest weight, or the one that keeps you in the size clothing that a part of you feels you must fit into in order to meet some “ideal” – especially as you age. 

An important an often overlooked part of the process is understanding how you’ll know when you’ve reached your particular healthy weight – and even more important, when your health is balanced – mind, body, and spirit. 

You’ll know you’re at your healthy weight – and healthier in general – when:

Physically:

1.    Your sleep and overall energy improve.

2.    Your general health improves. This may be reflected in results on medical tests, as well by improvement in physical symptoms such as joint or back pain, fatigue, muscle strength, mental clarity, etc.

3.    In general, your body is better able to do the things you need and want to do on a daily basis. 

Emotionally:

1.    You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished, but your weight does not define you.

2.    You are more aware of how specific foods make you feel – and how your feelings in the moment affect your eating one way or the other.

3.    In general, you find yourself thinking about your weight less often.

4.    You view eating as a tool for proper nutrition and self-care.

5.    You think about exercise as a way to feel healthy – have good energy, feel strong, and do something that is self-loving. 

6.    You know that the point of exercise is not to punish yourself for eating something or failing to achieve a weight goal.

7.    You understand that almost no one else is fixated on whether you are a size up or down. And even if they are, it’s their issue. You don’t need to make their issue your issue.

8.    You know that you can’t make everyone else happy – and that it’s not a worthwhile goal to try to do so.

Spiritually:

1.    You remember that your body – its appearance, function, and size – are a part of who you are – but not the only or even the most important aspect of who you are. You are far more than your body alone.

2.    You believe that you are here for a reason – and you have goals that are in line with your sense of purpose.

3.    You remember that how you relate to your body will impact those who look up to you – your children, grandchildren, and others. Your self-acceptance will help others to love and accept themselves.

How You Can Achieve Your Healthiest Weight and Best Overall Health:

So, what tools can help you better navigate the ups and downs of eating and weight management? 

  • If previous weight management efforts have felt insufficient, consider an appointment with a registered dietitian who can help you come up with a plan that is tailored to you.
  • Keep a journal to see what thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations (such as thirst or fatigue) tend to trigger reactive eating.
  • Practice mindfulness to help you de-couple these thoughts, feelings and sensations from eating behaviors. Mindfulness can help you observe cravings without needing to act on them.
  • Consider guided imagery or hypnosis to help you change your response to cravings, and reframe how you view yourself, eating, and your ability to reach your goals. Guided imagery has been shown to decrease the intensity and frequency of food cravings and also decrease craving-related food consumption. Hypnosis has been shown to help with weight loss both when used as a stand-alone treatment and when paired with cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Psychotherapy can help you understand when eating serves a hidden purpose, such as being a way either to self-soothe or covertly rebel against others in your life who are critical of you or your weight.

Be well.

References

Milling, L. S., Gover, M. C., & Moriarty, C. L. (2018). The effectiveness of hypnosis as an intervention for obesity: A meta-analytic review. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 5(1), 29-45.

Rogers, J. M., Ferrari, M., Mosely, K., Lang, C. P., and Brennan, L. (2017). Mindfulness‐based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: a meta‐analysis of physical and psychological health outcomes. Obesity Reviews, 18, 51–67.

Sarfan, L. D., Clerkin, E. M., Teachman, B. A., & Smith, A. R. (In progress; in print 2019). Do thoughts about dieting matter? Testing the relationship between thoughts about dieting, body shape concerns, and state self-esteem. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 62, 7-14.

Schumacher, S., Kemps, E., & Tiggemann, M. (2018). Cognitive defusion and guided imagery tasks reduce naturalistic food cravings and consumption: A field study. Appetite, 197, 393-399.