Getting fit and losing weight are consistently in the top three New Year’s resolutions year after year, on virtually any list you can find. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Most people would simply blame our superficial society and the heavy emphasis on appearance across almost all demographic groups. This is certainly a part of it. Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe it is just plain hard? The answer is yes, losing weight can be very difficult for many individuals for a number of different reasons. Now difficult, by no means, indicates that it is impossible. Difficult means that without a strategic, methodical, well thought out plan, weight loss is either hard to achieve or not sustainable beyond a short period of time. An essential part of a well thought out plan that is often overlooked is to analyze the less obvious reasons that may make losing weight more difficult for any particular individual, as well as the general population. The most significant psychological factor that most people are oblivious to is the depth of the instant gratification fixation. We all know about instant gratification, having dealt with it since childhood. What we may not realize is that this seemingly simple principle has many layers of complexity that develop as we reach adulthood. The depth that I am referring to is best exemplified in the almost compulsive tendency of people to chase fad diet after fad diet. Fad dieting does not work. If it did you would not be reading this. Fad diets are immensely successful at generating revenue for the companies that promote them, yet abysmal failures when it comes to sustainable weight loss for the great majority of the population. How can that be possible? They capitalize on the natural human preference for instant gratification. Unless we are trained otherwise, we humans will consistently pick instant gratification over delayed gratification. We can further intensify this tendency by repeatedly making immediately gratifying choices. In situations involving obesity, more often than not, there are long standing patterns of instantly gratifying self-indulgence with food. Due to the frequency of the physiologic need to eat, the opportunity to make these types of choices comes along rather often. When food becomes a vehicle for quick gratification, whether it is for pleasure or to quell emotions, the behavior can become deeply ingrained. This tendency is easily transferred over to fad dieting, due to the quick results often seen. Fad diets yield quick results and no one can argue that. The problem lies in that the results are not sustainable and the several pounds of fat, muscle and bone that are lost are fully regained in the form of mostly body fat. The greater problem really lies in that the very behavior we are trying to retrain, repetitive instant gratification, is actually reinforced by fad dieting. That type of dieting, despite being presented as a solution for the problem, actually makes the problem worse at the very core of the human behavioral drive. The ultimate solution does involve the human behavioral drive, but not in the manner affected by fad diets. The key to success in weight loss involves retraining the individual to thrive on delayed gratification while implementing a personalized nutritional plan that avoids triggering hunger and caters to the individual’s metabolic profile. The specificity of the meal plan to the needs of the individual is of critical importance. Certain foods that work well for one person may not be nearly as effective for someone else. These trends are not governed by simple rules but can be effectively identified by an experienced nutritionist. This is where professional consultation can really make a difference. The correct meal plan, together with a consistent exercise regimen, results in a sustainable loss of body fat with preservation of muscle and bone mass. This type of weight loss does not happen as quickly as what you would see with a fad diet, but it also does not trigger a rebound weight gain. Doing it the right way does take some work and patience, but when you get there you are much more likely to stay there. The steady weight loss also provides the delayed gratification we seek. You can harness even more gratification by shifting your focus away from a “target weight” and actually settling in and enjoying the journey. The process of learning and embracing a healthy lifestyle can actually be immensely pleasurable in and of itself. Make it fun. Make it something you look forward to rather than looking at it as work. You may actually experience more satisfaction and happiness from the positive life changes than from the actual weight loss. Raul J Rodriguez MD is the founder and Medical Director of the Delray Center for Healing, as well as the director of the Chrysalis Weight Loss Program that is featured at the center.
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