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Psychological Discomfort, One of Six Mental Roadblocks to Weight Loss.

Change: A Mental Makeover
Dr. John H. Sklare
Part II
Psychological Discomfort:

In my first blog post, of this six part series, I addressed Stress Eating which is the most common emotional eating trigger contributing to dieting frustration and weight loss failure.  Coming in second on the list of most common mental roadblocks to weight loss is an emotional eating trigger called Discomfort.  To get to the gist of how this issue impacts the average weight loss warrior, consider the following question:  How does the average dieter typically respond when that intense desire to eat something unhealthy begins to mentally consume them?

A person’s ability to withstand these strong and emotionally charged urges is critical for healthy lifestyle change.  Why?  Because weight loss success often hinges on one’s ability to withstand the Psychological Discomfort that inevitably accompanies dieting and weight loss.  Surrendering to temptation is a learned coping mechanism.  It also provides a strong indication of an individual’s unwillingness to suffer through the inescapable discomfort associated with dieting.  I used the word unwillingness deliberately because the real issue at play here is this.  What most people see as inability is almost always unwillingness!  The question isn’t – can you?  The real question is – will you?

My research with The Inner Diet reveals that 72% of dieters have a serious problem with Psychological Discomfort.  As a result, what lies between weight loss success and weight loss failure, for those with low discomfort thresholds, is an unwillingness to suffer through the discomfort that inevitable accompanies healthy lifestyle change.

This discomfort issue is often played out through a phenomena introduced by the late German psychologist Kurt Lewin called the Approach/Avoidance Conflict.  In short, Approach/Avoidance Conflicts result when a goal has both desirable and undesirable aspects attached to it.  As fate would have it, weight loss provides the perfect environment for this emotionally charged tug-of-war because it has both positive and negative elements.

On the one hand, one is moved to approach weight loss because of all the life enhancing and spirit lifting health benefits that it delivers.  However, after a period of time, most people begin to miss and desire their old comfort foods.  This leaves them wanting to avoid dieting in order to escape this mental turmoil (psychological discomfort).  Hence, the approach/avoidance conflict emerges.

These negative feelings then begin to grow rapidly creating a powerful psychological desire, within the dieter, to back away from weight loss in order to avoid these strong, uncomfortable feelings of discontent.  Then, as they begin to drift further away from dieting and start eating those old favorite unhealthy foods again, their discomfort eases.  As their negative feelings begin to abate, they feel the strength to approach weight loss again until these same feelings of negativity and avoidance again return, thereby motivating them to retreat once more.  This Approach/Avoidance behavior is the underlying psychology that is at the very heart of classical yo-yo dieting.

Having lunch out with friends provides a perfect example of this psychological discomfort dilemma and the approach/avoidance conflict.  Imagine that you’re on a weight loss program and are about to eat your on program food when you suddenly begin focusing on everyone else’s off program food.  You see all those comfort foods around you that you desperately want to eat and you just can’t seem to stop obsessing about them. The more you look at this food…the more mind consuming it becomes and the more desperate your desire to eat it!  For those with a low psychological discomfort threshold, dieting and lifestyle change seems like torture.  It is this strong and emotionally charged internal tug-of-war that creates this intense feeling of psychological discomfort.  In Approach/Avoidance terms, the dieter honestly wants to lose weight and eat healthy (Approach) while, at the same time, is consumed with the thought of wanting to eat those old foods they love and miss (Avoidance).

The key to interrupting this emotional roller coaster lies in learning how to identify, confront and manage this intense discomfort.  A good example of someone employing a cognitive strategy to address psychological discomfort comes from a client I had years ago.  Her discomfort always reared its nagging little head at dessert time when she was out to dinner entertaining business clients with her husband.  She said she did fine ordering dinner but that every time the waiter asked about dessert, she would feel her discomfort level begin to rise and her willpower begin to wane.  So here is what I suggested for her.  At these times, she would simply close her eyes for a brief moment, take a deep relaxing breath and mentally send her demanding inner child to her room.  This helped her to refocus, mentally separate from her discomfort and become the responsible adult she needed to be at that moment.  And as I always like to say, if you can manage that moment, you can solve this problem.  This is another example of a very simple but powerful cognitive technique used to assuage discomfort, maintain control and stay on track.

So think about this matter of psychological discomfort and see if you can’t identify people you know or work with who are struggling with this issue.  My research indicates that this mental roadblock is prevalent throughout the overweight population.  As a result, Discomfort simply must be addressed because long-term weight control is highly unlikely as long as the person’s discomfort level is high.  The reason is this:  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to do one thing while your mind is telling you to do something else.  However this is what people, with high of Discomfort levels, attempt to do every single day.  The more the individual understands about the underlying psycho dynamics that influence and drive their unhealthy eating choices…the better position they will be in to create real, life-altering and healthy lifestyle change.  Thank you for your time today and I look forward to seeing you in my next blog post where I will introduce you to what ranks third on my list of the most common mental roadblocks to weight loss called Perfectionism!

Wishing You Great Health,

Dr. John H. Sklare

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AuthorPsychological Discomfort, One of Six Mental Roadblocks to Weight Loss.