The Fitness Zone

Eating Your Emotions? Barriers to weight loss

Jul 24, 2023 | by Shaun Radford
Unlocking the Secrets to Lasting Weight Loss: Overcoming Emotional Eating, Social Media Traps, and More!

Losing weight can be a challenging journey that requires dedication and persistence. While many people focus on diet and exercise as the key components of weight loss, there are often underlying emotional and psychological factors that contribute to difficulties in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. In this article, we will explore various barriers to weight loss, including emotional eating, misinformation, social media influence, exercise, work/life balance, fad diets, and the importance of seeking professional guidance. By understanding these obstacles and adopting effective strategies, individuals can overcome these challenges and achieve long-term success in their weight loss goals.

Emotional Eating: Understanding the Connection between Emotions and Food

The article “When food is more than nutrition” by Kemp et. al [1] starts with this quote from a participant called Margaret:

“Every day I get up with the intention of trying to eat better. I honestly do. I want to eat better. I want to be healthy…But food is comfort to me. If I am sad, I want chips, fried food or gumbo…I try not to eat these things, but I do.”

Time and time again, often I hear clients talk this way. They have the best intentions but things happen. Before they know it, they have completely blown their diet for the day. And this can lead to spiralling. Now take a moment to reflect and put yourself in Margarets’ shoes…does this resonate with you or a situation you have been in with a client?

Emotional eating is a common barrier to weight loss that involves using food as a way to cope with negative emotions such as stress, sadness, or boredom. Many people turn to food for comfort, seeking solace in high-calorie, sugary, or fatty foods [1]. Ozier et al. (2008) cited in [1] found a positive relationship between emotional eating and both obesity and overweight. Further issues lie in the fact that these individuals often do not recognise the risk of this connection and do not seek professional help to overcome it [1]. We will explore referral procedures later. However, in the early stages, to overcome emotional eating, it is essential to develop a deeper understanding of the emotional triggers and learn healthier coping mechanisms. Some effective strategies include:

  1.  Self-awareness: Identifying emotions and recognizing the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
  2.  Finding alternative coping mechanisms: Engaging in activities such as exercise, practising relaxation techniques, or seeking support from friends and family.
  3.  Building a supportive environment: Surrounding oneself with positive influences, such as joining a support group or seeking therapy, to address emotional issues.
The Influence of Misinformation on Weight Loss

In today’s digital age, where information is readily available, it can be challenging to distinguish reliable weight loss advice from misinformation. We often find stories, sponsored ads and adverts on social media flaunting quick-fix claims for weight loss, like a miracle pill. And in today’s fast-paced life, why can we also fast-track weight loss? In one study, social media was found to have highly misleading information on many subjects surrounding our health, not just weight management [2]. No wonder our clients have trouble finding the truth. More on social media specifics later. Misleading claims, fad diets, and miracle weight loss products can create confusion and hinder progress. To overcome the influence of misinformation, it is important to:

  1. Verify sources: Rely on reputable sources such as scientific journals, registered dietitians, and trusted health organisations.
  2. Consult professionals: Seek guidance from medical and allied health professionals who can provide evidence-based advice tailored to individual needs.
  3. Develop critical thinking skills: Learn to question and evaluate the credibility of weight loss claims and assess if they align with established scientific knowledge.
Social Media Influence and Weight Loss

Social media platforms can have a significant impact on weight loss efforts, both positively and negatively. While they can provide motivation and support, they can also contribute to body image issues and unrealistic expectations. To navigate social media’s influence on weight loss effectively:

  1. Curate a positive feed: Follow accounts that promote body positivity, healthy living, and evidence-based information.
  2. Engage with supportive communities: Participate in online communities or support groups where individuals share similar goals and experiences.
  3. Limit screen time: Set boundaries to avoid excessive exposure to potentially harmful content and prioritise real-life interactions.
Exercise: The Key to a Balanced and Sustainable Weight Loss Journey

If you are reading this, you are one of two people:

  1. An exercise professional
  2. An exercise enthusiast

Whichever you are, or neither, we all know the benefit an increase in physical activity can have on our bodies, both physically and mentally. 

Regular physical activity plays a crucial role in weight loss by burning calories, improving overall fitness, and enhancing mental well-being. It is so crucial that the Department of Health has specific guidelines for each age group about the minimal amount of physical activity one should accomplish. These are as follows:

  • Infants – birth to 12 months:
    • Supervise interactive floor-based activities
    • At least 30 mins of ‘tummy time’ over the day
    • Reaching/grasping for objects
  • Toddlers – one to two years
    • At least three hours of various physical activities including energetic play
    • This is accumulative over the day 
    • Physical activity for this age group should be fun, encourage exploration and discovery
  • Preschoolers – three to five years
    • At least three hours of various physical activities including one hour of energetic play
  • For all age groups above:
    • Limit time sitting or restrained
  • Children and young people – five to 17 years
    • Accumulate 60 mins of activity each day
    • At least three days a week include vigorous physical activity
    • Include 60 mins of strength training activity three days per week
    • Limit time sitting
  • Adults 18 to 64 years
    • Either:
      • 2.5 – 5 hours of moderate physical activity
        OR
      • 1.25 – 2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity
    • Include muscle-strengthening activities
    • Limit sitting and lying down time

(Source: Physical activity and exercise guidelines of all Australians [3])

These guidelines also outline minimum physical activity requirements for older adults, people during pregnancy and those with disabilities and chronic diseases. For more information on these guidelines head here to explore more.

Even with these minimal requirements outlined by the Department of Health, people often find incorporating exercise into a daily routine can still be challenging. To overcome this barrier:

  1. Find enjoyable activities: Engage in exercises that you genuinely enjoy, such as dancing, swimming, cycling, or hiking, to increase motivation and adherence.
  2. Set realistic goals: Start with small, achievable exercise goals and gradually increase intensity and duration over time.
  3. Seek professional guidance: Consult with a certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist to design a personalised workout plan that suits your needs and abilities.
Striking a Work/Life Balance for Weight Loss Success

Balancing work and personal life can be demanding, often leaving little time and energy for healthy lifestyle choices. Not to mention if your work comes home with you via tasks or work from home. Today we are more ‘plugged in’ than ever and we find it hard to turn off at the end of the day. To achieve weight loss goals while managing work-related stress and responsibilities:

  1. Prioritise self-care: Allocate time for activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as mindfulness exercises, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.
  2. Plan and prepare meals: Plan ahead to ensure access to nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day, reducing the reliance on unhealthy options.
  3. Incorporate physical activity into daily routines: Utilise breaks to take short walks or stretch, and consider incorporating active commuting options when possible.
The Risks of Fad Diets and the Importance of Professional Guidance

Fad diets promise quick and dramatic weight loss results but often lack scientific evidence and sustainability [4]. These diets can pose significant health risks and lead to nutritional deficiencies. To avoid falling into the trap of fad diets:

  1. Consult a registered dietitian: Seek the expertise of a qualified professional who can provide personalised nutrition advice based on individual needs and goals.
  2. Focus on a balanced approach: Emphasise a well-rounded diet consisting of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
  3. Aim for gradual, sustainable changes: Adopt a long-term mindset that prioritises gradual weight loss, making permanent lifestyle changes that are maintainable over time.
Conclusion

Overcoming emotional eating and other barriers to weight loss requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the psychological, social, and physical aspects of individuals’ lives. By understanding the role of emotional eating, critically evaluating information, navigating social media influences, prioritising exercise, maintaining work/life balance, and seeking professional guidance, individuals can achieve sustainable weight loss and improve overall well-being. Remember, weight loss is a journey, and focusing on long-term health and well-being should be the ultimate goal.

REFERENCES

  1. Kemp, E., Bui, M., & Grier, S. (2013). When food is more than nutrition: Understanding emotional eating and overconsumption. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 12(3), 204–213. doi:10.1002/cb.1413 
  2. Suarez-Lledo V, Alvarez-Galvez J. Prevalence of Health Misinformation on Social Media: Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res 2021;23(1):e17187. URL: https://www.jmir.org/2021/1/e17187. DOI: 10.2196/17187
  3. Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians. (2021, May 7). Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://www.health.gov.au/topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians
  4. Weight loss and fad diets. (n.d.). Better Health Channel. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/weight-loss-and-fad-diets
Shaun Radford

Shaun Radford

Having worked and studied in the fitness industry in both New Zealand and Australia for over fourteen years, Shaun has held positions as a group exercise instructor, personal trainer, educator and mentor for personal trainers and training clients. With a passion for education and strong teams, Shaun revels in empowering future personal trainers and businesses to expand their minds and think differently. In recent years Shaun presents at conferences and for businesses on how to take their clients and teams to the next level, aiming for goals to be hit and client retention through inclusive practices and mental health support.

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