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What to do if your weight is getting you down

Does it ever feel like you've spent most of your adult life on a diet? While you may experience initial success with many of the popular weight loss programmes, sadly, the pounds typically creep back on. This can leave you beating yourself up and feeling depressed.

Breaking the cycle of yo-yo dieting is difficult, especially if it's become a habit. But, shifting your focus from the negative aspect of losing weight to the positive mindset of making healthy food choices in order to fuel your body can make a big improvement to your mental health.

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Diets and depression

Dieting really can impact your mental health, especially since it is all about rules and restrictions.

Psychotherapist, Carolyn Karoll, explains that anxiety and depression can increase when we categorise foods as 'good' vs 'bad'.

"Eating the right foods, losing weight, and keeping it off is considered 'success', while 'cheating' on your diet, not losing weight, and even gaining weight is associated with a lack of willpower," she reveals.

Karoll says this cycle is a setup, with a guarantee to leave you feeling like a failure. "The core belief that you are not good enough is most often the catalyst for the diet in the first place - failing at the diet simply reinforces this belief."

She explains there is also a connection between mood instability and malnutrition, and often sees her patients on restrictive diets experience difficulty concentrating, stress, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.

"Most if not all diets become binges, rebound weight gain, weight cycling, even eating disorders. And those who are 'successful' at weight suppression often suffer even more vicious physical and psychological damages as a result of long-term deprivation," adds Karoll.

Healthier ways to weight loss

So, what should you do if your weight is getting you down, but you're sick and tired of the crash diets which seem to always lead to losing and gaining the same 10, 20, or 30 pounds?

Firstly, you need to embrace the philosophy that good health is really attributed to a lifestyle you can maintain over time. "If a diet plan gets you to a goal, but you can't maintain it, it will likely make your weight and emotions yo-yo," suggests nutritionist Amy Goodson.

We also need to remember that as we age, our metabolism slows down and weight gain can be a normal part of the process; that's why therapist Kimberly Hershenson believes the key to a healthy weight loss is acceptance.

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Accept your genes

Karoll says we are all born with a genetic blueprint and while dieting and/or excessive exercise may allow you to manipulate your weight/shape, it is a temporary 'fix' with a whole host of negative consequences to both your physical and mental health. Instead, appreciate your body's natural shape and size - it is unique to you, a kind of legacy passed on from your ancestors.

She recommends focusing your energy on healthy choices that allow your body to return to its natural set point range and spending time learning how to accept your body, appreciate it, reconnect, or in some cases, connect with it for the first time.

"This entails accepting reality for how it is right now, not how you want it to be," explains Hershenson. For example, "I don't like my body, but I accept where I'm at today."

Don't deprive yourself

Hershenson says restricting food choices as to what you're 'allowed' to eat can actually lead to a binge. It's important to eat a balanced diet and recognise that all foods can fit into a healthy diet (given food allergies and dislikes).

Telling yourself "I'm not allowed to eat x" will only make you want it more. Instead, look for sustainable realistic changes that fit into your lifestyle, and take some time to learn how to plan meals that will give your body the nutrients it needs. This may be a major mindset shift, especially if you've spent years forcing your lifestyle to adapt to whatever diet you were on.

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Mindful eating

Pay attention, using all of your senses, to choose food that is both satisfying and nourishing to your body. Karoll says this means acknowledging responses to food (likes or dislikes) without judgement (ie good, bad, fattening, loaded with sugar, etc). She advises this also means learning to become attuned to the various stages of physical hunger and satiety (fullness) to enable you to listen to cues that will guide your decisions to plan to eat, eat, and stop eating.

Don't compare

You need to think about fitness as the outcome, not the goal. Karoll recommends finding movement that is fun, meditative, or social and avoid competitive exercise regimens since comparing your abilities to others often leads to despair. Goodson advocates planning three to four days a week on your calendar where you are focusing on 'bettering your body and energy'. If you are tired, take a yoga class instead of cardio. "Flip your attention to how exercise energises your body and helps you do the things you enjoy."

Karoll reminds us that health encompasses both physical and emotional wellness and weight is not necessarily a measure of health. "Understanding that health and fulfilment in life come from living in accordance with your values not from reaching a weight goal, is truly freeing."

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The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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