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The psychology of fat



We all know you have to eat less and exercise more to lose weight, so why do so few succeed? Kimberley Willis explains why a slim, healthy body is all in the mind

Weight loss is a complicated business. There are, of course, people who have never had a weight problem who can't imagine any difficulty with food and helpfully say: "Why don't you eat less and exercise more?"

Yes, that is what needs to be done. It's so easy to say, less easy to do.

I am a therapist and my job is helping people overcome whatever it is that is keeping them overweight, using a number of techniques including hypnosis and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping).

I am usually a dieter's last resort.

When people come to see me for help with weight loss, they do so because they have tried everything else. They think, 'Sure, what have I got to lose?'

It's great to start off with such low expectations!

But I know that I can help them to feel more confident, teach them how to overcome cravings, deal with past issues and feel motivated to exercise more and to become slimmer and healthier.

I listen to people's stories and help them to identify what is really stopping them from breaking the chains attaching them to that excess weight.

Part of my drive to help people comes from the fact that I lost a close relative to the effects of long-term obesity and it's something that I want to help prevent happening to other people.

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The reality is that people know what they need to do -- they just need the help and support to do it.

I don't include a diet plan in my book because what might suit one person won't suit another, so I leave people to choose the way they want to proceed with their diet.

It might be a plan or just healthy eating. Whatever they choose, I want them to be able to make positive changes that will last a lifetime and not walk a diet tightrope which they will fall off, leaving them feeling as if they have failed.

So much of dieting is negative, but it doesn't have to be. You can feel positive and still lose weight; your weight-loss journey should be a positive path, not one full of guilt and feelings of failure. One of my clients recently said that it was so strange to be feeling happy and positive and still lose weight.

If you are feeling positive, you are more likely to achieve and maintain your goal.

The techniques that I have learned have also helped me. Years ago I was a research chemist, then I had children and I needed a new career.

In fact, I needed a life coach. At the time, I couldn't afford one, so instead I trained as one.

This began a journey into a world of therapy and self-help that I had never before encountered being a sceptical scientist. And this world was fantastic.

I didn't know that you could be in charge of your moods, of your thoughts; that there were ways of feeling more confident, of turning down food cravings and so much more.

It was an amazing journey. Now, I get to use these skills to help other people become slimmer and feel more positive about themselves and their life. What a great job.

So, how do I help people achieve this?

I use a combination of techniques, and this is what I have put in 'The Little Book of Diet Help'. I use hypnosis, tapping, language, education, yoga and acupressure.

All of these techniques combine to help people break free of negative emotions, feel more positive, overcome cravings and, most of all, to lose weight.

EFT or tapping is very useful as it helps the body rebalance its energy. In traditional Chinese medicine, the body has a number of meridians, or energy lines.

When there has been an upset, there can be a disturbance in the flow of this energy. This energy imbalance can be present long after the event.

Tapping can settle the upset, allowing the flow of energy and the rebalance of the emotions.

Roger Callahan, a psychologist, discovered this effect in the 1980s. He had been working with someone who suffered from a severe water phobia, and had helped her to make only a small amount of progress.

At the same time, Dr Callahan was studying acupuncture. One day, his client came in with a stomach ache. He wondered if tapping on the meridian relating to the stomach -- which is found under the eye -- would help.

As he did this, she said, "It's gone." He thought she meant the stomach ache, but in fact she meant the water phobia. She was free of her fear and it never came back.

This effect is the basis of EFT.

I also teach acupressure techniques, which can help people reduce food cravings, boost energy and much more. These are based on acupuncture points.

And I find that when I teach some basic knowledge about what is happening with the chemicals in the body, you can see a light going on in people's eyes.

They know everything about dieting, but, for example, they didn't know that there were foods you could eat to promote the feel-good chemicals in your brain.

Here are some of the most common reasons I have found for people to stay overweight:

1 Emotional issues from the past, which are subconsciously still causing problems

You might not be consciously aware of the issues or events that are keeping you attached to that excess weight.

All you know is that you start to lose weight, then you gain the weight back.

EFT can help clear up the energy imbalances that are making you repeat this unwanted behaviour over and over again.

2 A vicious circle of low moods and cravings caused by food choices

Many people find they are feeling low. They are unhappy about the way they look and are constantly craving foods that they know aren't going to help them lose weight, but they can't seem to break free.

When you are feeling unhappy, your mind searches through its knowledge for something that will make you feel better -- it only knows what you have done before.

It might come up with cake, so it makes you crave this.

What it doesn't know is that this only gives you a temporary boost followed by a drop in blood sugar. In the long term, this is making you overweight and unhappy.

I get my clients to start retraining their brains, not by cutting out everything but by including more of the foods that will make you feel good.

For example, including more foods in their diet that are high in tryptophan -- a chemical that your body needs to make serotonin, the 'feel-good chemical'.

In order to lower unwanted food cravings, I also teach specific acupressure points and tapping techniques. Your mind and body then starts to learn that there are other things that will make you feel better.

3 Habits

Your mind loves habits and it can find it hard to let them go. We all have habits that make up our lives, but your food habits might be the ones that are keeping that weight on.

You might always have a take-away on a Friday night, have a biscuit with your tea or finish the kids' toast.

To make a change, you have to recognise these habits and then, using a combination of EFT, acupressure and thought techniques, you can create new positive habits.

4 Ignoring your body

You might hate your body and want to pretend that it's not really there. If you hate your body and keep ignoring it, it isn't going to want to work with you.

Paying attention to your body, getting to know it again and caring for yourself is important. When you love and respect your body, you will care about what you put into it.

5 Fear of the future

Your plans for the future might be making you nervous. But what negatives could there possibly be about becoming slimmer and healthier?

I have come across many reasons to explain why people's subconscious minds hold on to excess weight.

For example, you might have had a painful break-up, and now keeping that weight on is keeping a protective barrier between you and any potential new partners. That weight is keeping you safe.

You need to become aware of what is going on and then take the necessary steps to feel more confident about the future.

My aim is to empower people by giving them a toolbox of techniques so that they have the skills to deal with events that might have caused them, in the past, to overeat.

'The Little Book of Diet Help' by Kimberley Willis is out now. www.kimberlywillis.co.uk

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