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Secondary Gain, One of Six Mental Roadblocks to Weight Loss.

Change: A Mental Makeover
Dr. John H. Sklare
Part VI
Secondary Gain:

Welcome to the last entry of my six part series regarding the six most common mental roadblocks to successful weight loss.  In this post, I will address the 6th most common mental roadblock called Secondary Gain.  The essence of this issue, can be found in the following questions:

  • Does the person see any advantage or benefit to remaining overweight?
  • Does the person use their weight to avoid other issues in their life?
  • Does the person have some kind of emotional attachment to their weight?

From a motivational perspective, Secondary Gain may be the most interesting and most serious of all of the six mental roadblocks.  It is also the issue that statistically affects the least number of people.  As a matter of fact, my research with The Inner Diet shows that only about 5% of those who are overweight score HIGH or VERY HIGH on this issue.  My experience tells me that there are primarily two reasons why this number is so small.  First, secondary gain is often an unconscious issue.  That is, many who struggle with this issue are simply not aware that this is a problem for them.  And second, many others are aware of this issue but simply deny its existence.  This is called repression in psychological terms.  Let me begin this discussion with a brief explanation of what Secondary Gain is and how it affects dieting and weight loss.

People with Secondary Gain issues clearly believe that there are benefits or advantages to remaining overweight.  It’s almost as if they have two different personalities struggling for control inside of their head.  There’s the part of them that wants to eat better, feel better, look better and do the right things regarding their health and then there is this other part of them that doesn’t seem to care at all about what they eat, how they feel or how they look and is constantly making excuses that ultimately result in frustration, dieting failure and added weight gain.

There are a variety of factors that motivate people to remain overweight.  Some of these reasons are conscious and some of them are unconscious.  For example, many professional women believe they get taken more seriously in the workplace, if they are not a trim, thin and fit woman.  So for them, staying overweight, in a sense, is a career move.  Also, many housewives have told me that all of the attention, compliments and energy they get from losing weight is just too much for their husbands to handle.  So for these women, staying overweight is often a way to keep the peace at home and save their marriage.  These are two examples of conscious secondary gain.

An example of unconscious secondary gain can be found in those who have been sexually abused as children.  These people often use their weight as a safety mechanism.  They hold on to the misguided belief that being overweight will make them less attractive to the opposite sex and thus will help them avoid dealing with painful issues such as intimacy and sexuality.  This is often an unconscious issue for these people, having repressed this very traumatic and devastating memory.  People who have this experience in their background often benefit greatly from making professional counseling a part of their weight loss and wellness program.

Let me give you an example of secondary gain that was brought to my attention by a young woman at a presentation I conducted.  I had just completed my explanation of Secondary Gain when a woman said to me.  “You know, my roommate needs to hear this.  I think she has a Secondary Gain problem“.  She said that her roommate was an aspiring actress who was very overweight.  She studied hard to learn her craft, but every time an audition would come up, she would always say that she was too heavy for the part.  No matter how much encouragement she gave her roommate, she would never go to the auditions.  This young  lady concluded by saying “you know what, I’ll bet that she is using her weight as an excuse to avoid auditioning, so that she won’t have to deal with the disappointment should she not get the part!”  Well I never met her roommate so I don’t know if that is true but, if it is true, this scenario is an excellent example of Secondary Gain.

Addressing unconscious Secondary Gain issues often demands a psychotherapeutic component.  Some of the underlying circumstances that create the foundation for Secondary Gain require a professional therapist to navigate through.  In cases of conscious Secondary Gain, the key to change is often simple awareness.  Once the person is aware that this is an issue for them, they are in an ideal position to eliminate this weight loss hindrance.  The key to change is awareness and awareness alone will help some people to significantly decrease or eliminate this mental roadblock.  Simply put, the more aware you are of an issue, the greater the opportunity you have to control it.  One technique that I have found to be a very powerful awareness activity, for those people dealing with both conscious and unconscious Secondary Gain, is called Script Writing.

Well that brings this six part series to an end.  I hope you have found it both interesting and enlightening.  If I had to sum up this series in one sentence, I believe I would borrow my slogan from The Inner Diet and say this:  You Can’t Change Your Weight…Until You Change Your Mind!

Wishing You Great Health,

Dr. John H. Sklare

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Lesley AsendorfSecondary Gain, One of Six Mental Roadblocks to Weight Loss.