Weight Loss
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Seeing A Mental Health Professional For Weight Control

Lesson 7

You’ve tried everything to get the better of your weight, but have you tried talking to a psychologist or mental health professional? There are situations in which talking to a mental health professional may be helpful and appropriate but there are other situations in which it may not really make sense. 

Maybe You Can Solve Your Own Problems

You are the first mental health expert that you can talk to. You may not have a degree or a lab coat, but no one knows you like you do, and no one is in a better condition to learn about you.

Many bad eating habits are just that – habits. One of the ways in which our minds creates habits is a way of simplifying common decisions. If you regularly do things in sequence, like hit a drive-through on the way home, it can be something that you feel like you have to do. The problem is that you might not even recognize that this is happening.

Breaking these habits requires identifying them and you can do that by keeping a detailed diary. Keep a diary for a week or so and then go through it. Highlight bad food decisions and try to identify trends between them. This can help you identify “triggers” that lead to bad decisions so that you can consciously try to avoid these triggers or interrupt the chain of events to break the habit.

Maybe Your Care Provider Can Help

Just like you shouldn’t think of psychologists as the only mental health experts in terms of your weight control, you should be taking full advantage of your relationship with your primary care provider and dietician if you have access to one.

 Some food habits and cravings have less to do with you as an individual and more to do with you as a human. The human body is hardwired to crave things that our ancient ancestors didn’t have as much access to, like carbs, sugars, and fats. 

Similarly, some cravings are at least partially caused by messenger molecules in your body - specifically the stress hormone cortisol. It doesn’t take a therapist or counselor to help you to navigate these relationships between you and your food.

Maybe You Need a Mental Health Expert

So, is it ever time to talk to a mental health professional about weight control? It can be. 

It’s true that you can learn about yourself and that doctors and dieticians may know more about “food psychology” than we tend to give them credit for. Sometimes the reasons that we can’t control our own weight go deeper and a psychologist is called for.

  • There are issues that may need to be resolved with a mental professional in order to facilitate weight loss success, such as low self-esteem, body shame and other deep seeded issues that can sabotage weight loss efforts. 
  • Therapy can be helpful in changing your relationship with food. For many an unhealthy relationship with food is the core issue of a lack of weight loss success.
  • Behavior modification and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is known to work well for those struggling with weight loss.
  • Mental health professionals can be extremely useful for and are often required for those with food addiction, binging eating and emotional eating issues.
  • Some therapists use hypnosis to help patients lose weight.
  • Cortisol issues. Cortisol is a chemical released into our bodies in times of stress that controls what foods we crave and how our bodies use the nutrients in those foods. That means, if you have a high level of stress you may need a mental health professional to help you to manage stress – especially if that stress is because of a mood disorder like anxiety. 
  • Similarly, people with depressive disorders may experience a lack of appetite and may not eat as much as they should. However, symptoms are different for everyone. Because depressive disorders often make it feel impossible to exercise, they can result in weight problems.

Working With A Mental Health Expert On Weight Control

One word about seeing a mental health professional about weight control: if your weight is aggravated by an underlying condition like depression or anxiety, a mental health expert will prioritize treating that condition. Sometimes this involves medication and sometimes this medication can contribute to weight problems. 

The good news is there are many treatment options for depression and anxiety so these may just be a temporary roadblock on your weight control journey rather than another permanent obstacle.

Further, some conditions like depression and anxiety can be worsened by body weight concerns and self-perception so while some mental health experts will focus on treating your mood disorder before your weight, others will see managing your weight as a way of managing your mood disorder. It all depends on your condition, your priorities, and your mental health provider.

Weight control problems don’t always stem from mental health problems. However, sometimes a mental health condition is a cause of your weight problem. In this case, identifying the problem and working with the appropriate experts can be a life changing or even life-saving experience.

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