Updated: Feb 25
I used to think that losing weight was all about diet and exercise. After all, we learned as doctors to give this simple advice to patients: “Eat less, exercise more.” You may also be familiar with the “Calories in, calories out” paradigm. Turns out our physiology is oh-so much more complicated.
I decided in middle school that fat was evil and that I must get me some leg warmers so I could be cool while doing my mom’s Jane Fonda exercise videos. I hated the way my body looked and taught myself that exercise was a good punishment for dietary indiscretions.
Furthermore, I must hide my self-loathing and eat “normally” in front of other people so that they wouldn’t know that I thought I was fat. As if they couldn’t see the truth for themselves . . .
I joined a weight loss program called Sound Health Solutions run by Dr Frances Gough in the 1990s that featured three components: nutrition counseling, exercise with a personal trainer, and mental health support.
I remember meeting with the psychotherapist and drawing a complete blank. Why was mental health part of a weight loss program? I didn’t get it.
Then in the early 2000s I remember doing cardio for 2-3 hours a day while training for triathlon and half-marathon races, but I was not losing much weight. What was going on?
I was certainly fit, but still fat. Now there was fear and confusion added to the frustration, self-loathing and punishment. Maybe my body was broken and could never be fixed.
Love is the answer
I had considered myself an integrative medicine practitioner on the basis of my training in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). But it wasn’t until I joined the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the Andrew Weil Center at the University of Arizona that I learned a truly holistic approach to self care that set me on the path to transformation.
I learned to love myself unconditionally, to accept and even to embrace my flaws.
I learned to give myself permission to explore new science, deciding for myself what was what through my own lens of critical analysis. I allowed myself to try new things, to listen to my own intuition, and most importantly to trust my body’s innate wisdom.
And I finally came back to Dr Gough’s idea that mental health is a critical component to weight loss. While I came to it through coaching rather than psychotherapy, my conclusion is that permanent sustainable weight loss is best addressed through mental health.
Coaching was the missing link through which I learned to love myself unconditionally, to accept and even to embrace my flaws. I’d encourage you to meet yourself wherever you are on the journey to self acceptance. Love really is the answer.
Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine (AZCIM) Integrative Health and Wellness Coaching (IHW) program is accredited online training program open to both health practitioners and non-health practitioners interested in joining the helping professions. Graduates are eligible to sit for the US National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) board examination.