Of the tens of millions of Americans who try to lose weight every year, only 8% actually succeed, with even less keeping off the weight long term. Two out of 3 who lose 5% of their body weight will eventually gain it back, and the more weight you lose, the more likely this is to happen.
So where are we going wrong?
To look into the problem further and examine the possible weight loss barriers that many Americans are facing, Orlando Health commissioned a national survey of over 1000 participants, which showed that only 1 in 10 thought that an emotional connection to food was a factor in losing weight.
Neuropsychologist and Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health, Diane Robinson, believes this is why so many Americans are struggling with weight loss, and also weight gain: “most people focus almost entirely on the physical aspects of weight loss, like diet and exercise. But there is an emotional component to food that the vast majority of people simply overlook and it can quickly sabotage their efforts.
In order to lose weight and keep it off long term, we need to do more than just think about what we eat, we also need to understand why we’re eating.”
With nearly every holiday connected with food and even just the smell of food evoking strong emotions, Robinson believes that even if we are not aware of it, from an early age we are conditioned to use food not only for nourishment, but also for comfort and pleasure.
When we eat something pleasurable the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine as a response, making us feel good and strengthening the emotional connection.
“We feel good whenever that process is activated,” said Robinson, “but when we start to put food into that equation and it becomes our reward, it can have negative consequences.” To support Robinson’s theory, previous research has already found that a higher body mass index (BMI) is linked to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can lead to classic ‘comfort eating’ as a coping mechanism.
To help recognize a possible emotional connection to food, and help a weight loss plan, Robinson offers the following tips:
– Keep a daily diary recording your food and your mood to try and recognize any unhealthy patterns.
– Identify foods that make you feel good and write down why you eat them. Do they evoke a happy memory, or do they help you feel calmer when stressed?
– Before you have any snack or meal ask yourself: Am I eating this because I’m hungry? If the answer is no, look for the root of your motive.