The UK and the rest of the world are in the grip of an obesity crisis. What is interesting is that if you were to go on to the streets of any city in the UK and ask people how they could lose weight and get healthier, they would be able to give you a fairly good answer.
A quick Google search on ‘diet and weight loss’ throws up 622 million hits, so there is no shortage of information. Every week there is some celebrity pushing their latest miracle cure. Yet for all these diets with their quick fixes, we still have an obesity crisis.
Some of our biggest health challenges at the moment are heart disease and diabetes. Both of these respond very well to an increase in exercise/activity and an improvement in diet. Yet despite all the misery that these conditions come with, we still see increases in both.
Why is this a conundrum? Well, consider this. If I could do a survey on the high street and ask people what is healthy eating, most people would be able to give me a reasonably close approximation of what this entails. I dare say they would say things like, reduce junk food, eat more fruit and vegetables, cut down of caffeine and alcohol and increase my water intake. All of these would be correct, and all would certainly improve their health.
If I were to ask what they should be doing exercise/activity-wise in conjunction with these, they most probably would come up with some good ideas. The question has to be if people know all this information “why don’t they do something about it”. It is this very question that generally, the government and public health organisations don’t want to ask. The reason for this is that all of the above require a change in lifestyle, and that is the difficult bit.
My favourite mantra when working with clients is “It’s your lifestyle that got you fat and only changing that lifestyle will reduce the body fat and get you healthier”. It sounds obvious, but it is not so easy to do. Any client who is overweight and/or unfit has generally not got to this point overnight. It is usually a whole host of factors that have contributed to the problem. Why people think that a quick fix is the answer is baffling. Its short-term reward but with very little, if any, long-term benefit.
If you think of any diet you have tried in the past what tends to happen is you make a whole raft of changes and for the first few weeks, these work and you see results. Now over time, your everyday life gets in the way and bit by bit, you give up on the changes. Ultimately you end up back with your old lifestyle habits, and you are back to square one.
Think of it as a pyramid that has a broad base that represents all the changes you initially make. Now over time (as you go up the pyramid) these get less and less (the pyramid gets narrower) until ultimately you reach the top and there are fewer changes being made. What we need to do from a lifestyle change perspective is turn this on its head (turn the pyramid upside down). We are going to start with a few small changes and see how we go.
One of the problems with this approach is that you don’t see spectacular results quickly. You have to buy into the fact that if the weight has gone on over the years it is most probably going to take a few years to get it off. When I work with clients, the first thing I do is explore their reasons for wanting to lose weight. Once these are clear, I can work on small steps that they feel are achievable. I use Motivational Interviewing (MI) when working with clients. This client-centred way of working allows people to explore their true feeling and beliefs about weight loss.
It is very important that people truly believe they can achieve a healthy weight loss. That may sound obvious, but very often when people talk about weight loss, this is their conscious desire we are hearing. If the underlying belief is that it is difficult and won’t work for them, they will always regress to that true belief.
In my research, I used psychometric testing to test whether men entering a weight loss programme were actually ready to change. What was interesting was that the psychometric tests showed that some of these men were not ready to change. Even more importantly, I could predict which men would fail to lose weight and drop out of the programme. Unless an individual is psychologically ready to lose weight, they will generally fail.
By assessing someone’s readiness to change, you can help them make progress. The significant advantage of MI is that you can work with a client who is ambivalent about change and help them move forward, so they are psychologically ready to change.