The Challenge of Weight Management

“You have put on weight!”

“You are looking very ‘healthy’ these days.”

“You are too thin, are you dieting?”

Comments about weight, body shape and size can be discouraging or hurtful, whether it is coming from someone else, or what we are telling ourselves. Some of this may be true - we could have put on or lost a lot of weight in a short period of time and this could have a negative impact on our health. Most of the time, these remarks come from unrealistic beauty standards which we and our well-wishers hold us to, and have nothing to do with our actual health and fitness.

All of this has an impact on how we view ourselves and our bodies. Our self-esteem tends to be closely connected to our weight, and our weight tends to be connected to our emotions, beliefs, and habits.

India’s weight problem

Being overweight and obesity are problems in India. According to the National Health Survey 2019-2021, more than 23% of adults (15-49 years) are overweight or obese. It is far more prevalent in urban areas than rural, and this number has been steadily growing since the 1990s. Obesity is a factor in many health issues including cardiovascular diseases (heart attack and stroke), diabetes, PCOD, and some types of cancers.

No matter what our actual weight is, most of us are constantly trying to manage our weight by dieting, skipping meals, working out or even taking medications. Despite these efforts, weight management often continues to be challenging.

Weight control is more

…than sticking to a number of calories and an exercise regimen. Here are some psychological aspects to consider when we are trying to manage our weight.

Stress management: When we experience stress, it impacts our ability to successfully manage our weight. This could be external stress due to a busy life, or internal stress like the expectations we have of ourselves and our lives. Struggling to control weight can be stressful. When we feel stressed on a regular basis, our body stores fat and slows down metabolism as part of the survival response. Taking specific steps to manage stress could, therefore, be part of a weight management plan

Focusing on the process of eating: A lot of the time, we could be eating while watching television or otherwise distracted and miss the signals from the body that we are full. When we instead focus on what we are eating, we give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy food, listen to cues that we have eaten enough and make choices that support our health and fitness.

Forming habits: Rather than thinking in terms of how much exercise or what foods to eat and what to avoid, it would help to think about why one’s weight has changed over time, and if there are nutritional or psychological reasons for this. The key to weight management is to create an environment that makes it smoother to change our habits and create a healthier lifestyle. This might include changing schedules, new shopping lists and menus, and maybe different ways of cooking.

Here are some changes you could consider making:

  • Manage stress. Address the source of the stress, help the body relax through techniques like deep breathing and get enough sleep.
  • Plan your meals. Make a menu for a few days at a time, and buy only what is needed for that.
  • Anticipate hunger for snacks. There are certain times in the day when we tend to feel hungry, and we tend to eat snacks and sugars because they are easily available. It helps to make nutritious food easily available.
  • Avoid emotional eating. Many of us eat when we are stressed or upset, as a way of coping. Rather than viewing certain foods as ‘rewards’ or as comfort (“if I’m good, I can eat this”, “I will treat myself”), try giving yourself non-food related rewards like watching a favourite show, chatting with a friend, or planning a fun outing. We could also eat when we are bored, so it helps to find other ways to engage ourselves when we feel bored.
  • Stop criticising yourself.  We tend to be our harshest critics. If you eat something you have been attempting to avoid or missed a workout, don’t be harsh with yourself. You’ll end up feeling discouraged and view the change negatively. Instead, look for what will help you keep to the habit next time.
  • Exercise! Even for just a little while each day. If you already exercise regularly, keep in mind that your diet and lifestyle also need to support the weight management.
  • Get support. Talk to a nutritionist about what meal plan will help you achieve your weight goals. Also reach out to a psychological counsellor for help with managing stress, adapting your schedule to facilitate these changes, and for other help in this journey.

Remember, weight control is not a punishment in the way we think about it, and act on it or a ‘discipline’ we impose on ourselves. It is a lifelong commitment to health and fitness.

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