My Juicing Journey

Dealing with Change: The Psychology of Obesity and Beyond

If you are joining me on this Journey, whether you are morbidly obese, like I am, or are just trying to lose 20 lbs, it represents change.  Change is tough.  There is more to losing weight than simply getting the weight off.  I know because I am a veteran of about every program and gimmick out there.  But none of them lasted. So here I am on My Juicing Journey taking one more charge up the hill.

As I admitted at the outset, I am no expert unless a myriad of collected failures and what I have learned along the way qualifies one as an expert. But I have been fortunate to have met some incredibly smart and talented people along the way who will fill in my gaps.

That is why I am so excited to share today’s blog.  Today, I am speaking with nationally known Psychologist, Dr. Robin Newman. I wanted to talk to her about some of the changes that we will be facing as we forge a new lifestyle, a new “us”…a new “me” as I walk on this journey to wellness. If you are joining me, there are going to be changes.  They are not bad, but they are changes and we need to be prepared for them so we can plan on them in advance and take necessary steps to deal with them. 

If I were heading out West, It would be good for me to check the weather, look for hotel and food stops along the way, an if possible to talk with someone who has been where I am going. On my new journey, that is just as important.  I hope this helps some of you who may be walking the same path.

MJJ: Dr. Newman, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to join us for this interview.

RN:  Please, call me Robin.  Thank you for asking.  By the way, I have been following the blog and it looks like you are making some good progress.  Congratulations. Not on your relative success, but on being willing to even take that step. That can be the hardest part; just getting going.

MJJ: Robin, any kind of change requires commitment, what kind of commitment will a life change, like losing significant amounts of weight take?

RN: First, any person embarking on a change is going to have to have a strong network of support.  There are going to be times that they are weak, discouraged, frustrated…at those times you need help.

In a family system, that support should be the family; some have that, some don’t. If it is available for you, though, use those family members as your allies.

Whoever your support system is, you must talk to them.  There needs to be some conversation about what lies ahead and a time that you actually ask for their help and say, “Can I count on you?”

They are going to have to be on board for you to have success. To be fair, to the best of your ability you need to let them know about changes in the commitment of your time, your finances, eating habits, smoking…whatever it is.

This is true whether you are losing weight, going to the gym, or training for a marathon.

I have had a client in the past who determined to quit smoking. His wife was, a smoker, was not at the same place that he was and it made it very difficult. It was hard on him AND on her. She agreed to only smoke outside and to not smoke around him, but she did not want to give up smoking.  The challenge came when he was tired or stressed, the smell fo smoke was still around and it made it a constant temptation.

MJJ:  What kinds of changes should the family and the person on the journey anticipate?

RN: Well, I can relate form my personal experience. While I have not needed to lose an extreme amount of weight, I did recently determine to run my first 5k. I talked to my family about my goal and got buy-in form them before I started training.

For example, instead of coming home at 6 or 7 at night as usual, I had to go to the gym for an hour after work. My daughter had real problems with this at first. We had to compromise. I needed more understanding from her but I also had to give understanding TO her; I needed to meet HER needs.  She wanted time with her mom.  So I curtailed my training from 1.5 hours to 1 hour and when I could I took her with me to the gym.  That was a bit of a distraction but it helped in the overall process.

So those involved with change should expect changes in available time.  Additionally, for weight loss in particular, there may be a change in the kinds, types, and quantities of food kept in the house.  The person who is losing weight may experience mood swings, anger, headaches, and tiredness.

Psychologically speaking, any time  you are giving up any addictive behavior from alcohol or sex addiction to food and cigarettes there can be a profound sense of loss. You are in a very real sense giving up a friend; something that you have relied on to help you deal or enjoy life.

The good news is, these are just temporary changes.  As the new routine sets in, as the withdrawals subside, and they will, these negative will no longer be present. For some that process takes a couple of weeks, for others a couple of months but they will pass.

MJJ: What kind of specific changes should the person losing the weight expect to see?

RN: Fatigue, depression (not a dangerous depression or one that will require medication, just a general sense of depression as they experience this loss) these are two of the big ones.

In addition, they will have to face the question, “Now that I am not longer doing “X” (in this case eating) what am I going to do with my time?  You will have to find something to replace those hours or minutes that you used to spend preparing, eating, cleaning, going out to eat, whatever it is.  If you don’t replace it, it will be harder to deal with.

That is one of the reasons that I highly recommend journaling to all of my clients. It gives them something to do and to focus on. It also allows you an opportunity to get all of those emotions out and to process what you are experiencing.

You should also expect general lethargy, in ability to sleep at night and other symptoms.  However, on the positive side, if you can just push through this first stage, you can expect in more vibrancy, more patience, and a huge increase in self-esteem.  If you face these battles and win and realize you CAN conquer it, IT IS such a feeling of empowerment.

MJJ: You mentioned needing to replace those negative activities with positive ones.  In the bible Jesus tells a story of a man who had demons cast form his house, but did not rebuild or replace anything in his house.  In the end, when the demon saw the house was vacant he returned others and his final state was worse than when he had began.  Have you seen evidence of that in your practice?

RN:  Absolutely! If you do not determine from the outset what your game plan will be, you will likely turn to other, sometimes more harmful addictive behaviors. I have seen many people quit smoking only to begin overeating, eaters start smoking, porn addicts start drinking, etc. Some dieters actually become addicted to exercise and what started out as a good thing becomes addictive and destructive in their lives.

Find healthy ways to fill that void. Make yourself get involved in the lives of other people.  In religious circles we call that “Ministry,” but find something you can do to help other people.  It keeps the focus off of you and occupies your mind and time.  The key is to keep yourself busy so you do not go back to that dark place where the harmful behaviors start.

I tell everyone, “Nobody gets rid of a bad habit. They replace it with a healthy one.”

MJJ: Often those who quit smoking or lose excessive amounts of weight become a crusader for their new lifestyle. Successful dieters can seem to become the ‘food nazi’ for the house or for their overweight friends. How can you keep from becoming a jerk to those around you once you achieve your goal?

RN: The focus needs to be on compassion.  If you have achieved something like this it is important to remember where you came from.  You can be a big help to others, but you didn’t get here alone. Stay humble. Offer help.

In my experience, though, it is often not the person who has lost weight that is the problem.  Many times, those around are feeling challenged because you have threatened their excuses and have invaded their reality. So what happens in many cases is the currently overweight person or the one who is still struggling with addiction projects their own feelings of inadequacy or failure onto the one who has made changes. In effect they feel threatened or inferior so they accuse the other of acting superior.

Just remain helpful and don’t see every opportunity as a chance to evangelize or convert them to your new lifestyle.  You got to this point on your own time, allow them the same grace.

MJJ: If a couple is trying to lose together, how do you handle it when one seems to be having more success than the other?

RN: It’s hard, especially in weight loss. Women naturally lose weight slower than men do. Society is ‘okay’ with overweight men moreso than women; women are supposed to be thin. That is all that the less successful spouse is hearing from self-talk and form society in general.

In that case, the one who is having more success needs to show empathy. I would not advise the person to say, “I know how you feel.” Because, NO, you don’t and that will only trivialize what the person is facing on their journey.  But you can say, “I know it’s hard.

There may also be a need to change your definition of success.  Instead of looking at total pounds lost, look at percentage.  You may even want to change the metrics you are using to gauge your progress or change your goals.

For example, if you are spending time on the treadmill everyday and watching your diet but you are not losing weight, tell yourself what you are doing:  “I am strengthening my heart” “I am feeling better” “I am sleeping better at night” “My blood pressure is coming down.”  All of these are just as valid as losing weight.  The weight will come as you become healthier but be open to new definitions of success and celebrate those.

If you are the one who is not experiencing the success, this can be a real challenge. It sounds hard, but you have to pull yourself up by your own boot straps and just keep going.

It is really easy to become depressed during these times. Again, I mention journaling, but it can be a real asset. When you feel those dark feeling coming, get them out in the open.  If you prepared yourself for them at the outset by saying “These days may come,” then they will be easier to talk about in the future. Either in writing or in discussion, talk about your struggles.

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge and you can’t acknowledge what you are not aware of.

  • Start with awareness – be honest  (admit that you compare yourself to others and when I don’t compare favorably, I want to quit, for example)
  • Once aware, acknowledge – tell yourself the truth and then tell others. Let them know what you are going through.
  • Once acknowledged, plan for success – Change your metrics for success, stop the negative self-talk and replace it with positive talk about the things that are progressing. Get help and advice from others who have faced the same hurdles.

Finally, I would say.  If you feel depressed, feel depressed.  Occasionally give yourself permission to be discouraged.  It is okay.  David, the writer of Psalms did, frequently. The catch is, he didn’t stay there.  Visit depression, just don’t live there. Pick yourself up and move forward.

MJJ: For many of us who are morbidly obese, being fat is part of our identity both with ourselves and with others. How do you create the new identity and get others to accept it?

RN: That is the heart of change. That is why it is difficult. There is comfort with what is familiar; it may not be a healthy reality but it is our reality and because of that we want to stay there.

My struggle was not with obesity, but with crippling shyness.  When I decided to confront it I had to deal with the fear of the unknown. I knew what being shy was like.  What I didn’t know was what it was like to be outgoing.  Would people like the new “un-shy Robin”? Would I like me? I don’t like surprises.  If I stayed the same I knew what to expect, with change, I did not. It’s a risk.

Sometimes, we develop what we THINK our identity is and that is not always the same as how people ACTUALLY identify us.  You can imagine my surprise, when I found out a family member told me that they had always seen me as “the popular one”.  Since I didn’t hang out with the “in-crowd” at school I NEVER would have said that about myself. In fact, I saw myself as somewhat distant, quiet, and alone. But when they explained how I was always with friends and having people spend the night, I saw what they meant.

My perceived identity was different from my real identity to those closest to me. You may think that others see you only as the FAT PERSON, when in reality they may be aware of it but identify you as the good mother, the funny one, the hard-worker etc.

When you are making these changes, make them small at first.  Allow people to acclimate to the “new you.”  You will not only be changing your weight, but as your successes mount so will your confidence, your outgoing-ness, your attitude and more.  For example, you may have had a habit of wearing muted or even frumpy clothes to keep form being noticed or to try to hide and blend in, or because that was all that fit.  Suddenly you can start shopping for nicer and better clothing and your whole sense of fashion changes. This is a victory for you, but a change for others that they will have to acclimate to. Give them time.

If you believe that you are identified as “The Jolly Fat Guy”, you don’t have to change everything.  You can still be the Jolly Guy, you are just no longer fat.

Still the reality is some people will not like the new you.  That’s when you find out who your true friends are.

MJJ:  So, how do you know when it is time to jettison the old friends?

RN: Two answers to that.  First, I would say as soon as you realize it; some people are just toxic to you and to your journey. But secondly I would say, some you may just need to talk to. Tell them what you perceive as their negative attitude, tell them where you are heading, and try to get them to buy in and become part of your support.

I see this all the time with drug addicts.  There comes a time when you just have to say, “I can’t continue to hang out with you if you are going to tempt me, taunt me, or lead me to a place of negative thinking.”  Sometimes you will find that they really want to help you they just don’t know how. Talking can really help both of you.

MJJ: WOW! It sounds like this thing that we call losing weight or I have labeled “My Juicing Journey” is really more encompassing than a number on a scale.

RN: That is so right, David! You did not become over weight because you ate too many chips one night. There are some reasons. As you uncover those reasons it could lead to other changes. What starts as a desire to lose a few pounds could result in an overhaul of your life. 

All of this can become its own trigger; a reason to slip back into depression or into obesity.  You really need to monitor it closely, talk it out, and keep moving forward.

MJJ: I have noticed in my own life, and in others, that obesity is a great scapegoat. It becomes easy to say that I don’t have more friends because people are prejudice against fat people, or I didn’t get the promotion because of my weight. Whatever we are facing it is easy to say, “It’s due to my weight” and just walk away. Can we still have the same problems after our weight loss, but now with nothing to blame it on?  That seems like a scary place to be.

RN: It is.  That goes back to the fear of the unknown.  What happens if you lose the weight and find out that the real reason that you have no friend is because you are a jerk?

In my practice I deal with those addicted to pornography quite a bit.  What I find out, and what my clients have learned, is that there was an underlying problem. The sex addict believed they could never get a date, a wife, or have sex so they acted out to prove themselves.  The real issue was the underlying insecurity. We have to tackle that.  And that is why recovery takes longer than just losing the weight.

People are afraid, for example, so they gain weight to hide. They don’t want to be accepted because then they will have to deal with people, and that is what they are really trying to avoid. Then they tell themselves that they people don’t want to hang out with them because of their size.  That’s projecting and it’s not being honest. Perhaps the real reason that you didn’t get the promotion is because you are inefficient, too opinionated, or don’t fit with the team.

Back to the sex addiction situation. In one case, the husband was frustrated because he had given up his pornography yet the wife still wasn’t satisfied. The reality was he was still lying, being inattentive and all of these other things.  The pornography just gave both of them a lightening rod to point to as the problem.  The marriage had problems even after the pornography was gone. Only now, they had to deal with the heart issues.

The same will likely be true of weight issues.  So you need to begin now by talking honestly with a few people who truly care about you. Ask them about blind spots and things that you can work on.  This will help you handle your success better and help you move into your new life.

MJJ: This all represents a big change.  Not just in terms of weight, but in terms of outlook and overall behavior.  How can you make sure that the people who began the journey with you, your family, is still with you when you get to the other side?

RN: Again, it comes back to talking. Talk about it. What are your fears; what are their fears?  They may be afraid that there is no longer a place for them in your new reality.  They may fear that you will no longer find them attractive, especially if you lost weight and they didn’t.

You are better, once you reach your goal. You are not superior.  You are better because you are healthier and, if you did it right, you have dealt with the issues that led to your obesity along the way. But you are not better than your team members. Keep them on board and be there to listen to them.  Remember they are struggling with all of this change too, and possibly with profound guilt that you have achieved something that they have not.

MJJ: Robin, one last question before I let you go.  We have talked about process and planning.  What about failure.  Every journey has setbacks and obstacles.  I fully expect to have some along the way.  Those days when I don’t reach a described goal or when, despite my efforts I not only don’t lose weight, I gain a little.  Perhaps, life may overwhelm me and I return to my bad habits. How do you deal with those failures?

RN: First, acknowledge that it is going to happen.  There has only been one perfect person, and it wasn’t you. Sometimes your body just gets used to what you are doing and it fights you.  Your body doesn’t like change any more than you do, so if it can acclimate and adjust to the increased exercise or decreased calories, it will. Nature likes homeostasis; similarity and consistency.  You may need to alter your plan by temporality changing your tactics until you get past that hurdle.  It will happen, just remain consistent.

Use these times to talk to others who have been there.  There is great power in identifying with others who have succeeded.  Watch an episode of The Biggest Loser or watch an inspirational movie like “Rudy” or “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” By seeing others overcome obstacles, particularly those related to our own, we can begin to hope for a brighter future again.

As far as dealing with failures.  Admit that you have failed, but don’t let it define you.  “You have failed, you are not a failure!”  You will live up to or down to whatever you tell yourself. Refuse to believe the negative self talk.  In fact, don’t even go there.  When those thoughts come up, get them out either through talking or by journaling and then hold them up to the light of reality.  Make those negatives stare in the face of your successes. Just don’t live there.

Finally do not make this, or any setback a sweeping absolute. It is not an indictment on you as a whole, it’s not.  It is about one time, one day, one week. Acknowledge it and get back on your journey.

MJJ: Get back on your journey….Robin, that sounds like a great place for us to end.  Thank you for being gracious with your time and helping us understand some of what lies ahead on our individual journeys.

RN: Oh, my pleasure. It’s been fun. Thank you for including me and I look forward ot tracking your progress via your blog.

Folks, I hope this was of benefit to you.  Juice on; Join the Journey.

Dr. Newman is the author of That I Might Not Sin and maintains her practice Healing Hearts Therapy Center in Colorado where she lives with her husband, three kids, and assorted pets. She specializes in Children and Family Therapy with experience in helping families and individuals deal with and overcome addictive behaviors. She is available for on-line and phone counseling sessions in addition to traditional office appointments by calling 1-877-600-9844

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This entry was published on January 18, 2012 at 4:20 pm. It’s filed under Food Psychology, Juicing, weight loss and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Dealing with Change: The Psychology of Obesity and Beyond

  1. Thank you for this great post. My husband and I have a blog about losing weight together and this absolutely fits in with what we talk about. I likd the idea that change happens slowly and you need to allow people to adjust to the new you.
    Sara from http://www.losingtogether.com

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