How Behavioral Counseling Helps with Weight Loss

May 19, 2011

If there is one key component involved in not only losing weight but also in keeping it off, I???d say it was behavioral counseling, hands down.

Surprised? I find many people are when they hear me say this. For years we???ve heard a lot about weight and calories, exercise, fat, carbs, and even trendy fad diets ??? but something that seems to be overlooked all too often is how all the seemingly small choices we make on a daily basis affect our weight.

I have a favorite saying that goes like this, ???Losing weight is easy. Keeping it off is hard.???

Once again, this statement often takes people off-guard. Of course there is no doubt that losing weight takes considerable dedication and effort, and when people are starting their journey, the last thing they probably want to think about is that after the weight is gone, the challenge has really just begun.

But facing this reality, examining one???s problem behaviors, and learning new ways to approach life is all part of successfully leaving excess weight behind once and for all.

For example, perhaps you know someone who has successfully lost weight multiple times only to return to his or her old ways once the diet is ???over??? and slowly but steadily regain the weight. Maybe that person is even you!

Just like the old ways didn???t work before that person lost the weight ??? using food as a way to cope with stress, having trigger foods around when you know you can???t eat them in moderation, spending more time on the couch than out and about, failing to plan ahead so you find yourself opting for the drive-thru when hunger hits ??? these old ways won???t suddenly start working any better once the weight is lost.

But sometimes these actions and reactions are so ingrained, they become almost invisible to us. That???s where behavioral counseling comes in. Invisible patterns are made visible, and you and someone who can see things more clearly from the outside can make a plan to handle these same old situations in a brand new way that will work.

For example, one patient of mine, a man in his 50s, lost 200 pounds about 8 years ago. I continue to see him on an occasional basis to check in on how he???s doing and make sure the weight isn???t creeping back on. Sure enough, his weight tends to fluctuate by 20 to 30 pounds per year, and when we start to see that he???s regaining weight, we sit down together and figure out why and what to do about it.

Recently his father was admitted into a nursing home and he was under a lot of stress because of the situation. Sure enough, his weight started going up. We looked at why and discovered he had returned to eating a lot of dairy products, something that he used to comfort himself in the past. Likewise he???d stopped walking on his treadmill, saying he ???didn???t have time.???

When I pointed out some of these things, knowing him so well over the years, it clicked and he realized he was returning to old patterns ??? patterns that didn???t work. Sure enough, after he became aware of what he was doing, he was able to stop the cycle and get his weight back to where he wanted it to be.

Remember, obesity is a complex disease process, not a sign of weakness or insecurity. Learning about yourself, what works for you and what works against you, is a big part of managing any disease.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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