THE BLOG
04/24/2014 05:41 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2014

Eating Is Not a Hobby

Thirty years ago I lost 140 pounds the right way after 25 years of being obese and trying to lose weight the wrong way. Fortunately, I'm one of the approximately 5 percent who have been able to keep it off. I've been teaching others how to do it since. (Click here for my HuffPost blog that ran several years ago.)

Here's one of the most important things I learned that has made me successful and I drill it into all my clients: the most important change that we need to make is giving up eating as a hobby. It's also one of the most difficult changes for us to make.

It's not that we thought of eating as a hobby or that we intended it to be that way, but for many of us, that's what it's become -and it's a hard hobby to give up.

Our Strange Relationship With Food

If you pay attention to food advertising, you'll see that food is marketed mainly as something that's fun to do. There is a restaurant in my area that has described what they sell as "Eatertainment", as if eating was a sport. If you need something that's fun and interesting to do, eat! What a great idea! And it's not like they have to do much convincing. Going out or staying in and getting something good to eat almost always sounds like a good idea. Of course, there's that nasty side effect -you get fat. There are calories in just about everything and you don't have to overeat a lot of calories on a regular basis to get real overweight. It's a hateful consequence of eating as your form of entertainment, as your hobby.

Now don't get me wrong. I really enjoy eating and I'm all in favor of making eating as enjoyable as possible. We need pleasure and enjoyment in life, just like we need nutrition. In fact, what we do to be successful with weight control depends on learning how to get better at enjoyment. However, like addicts, we have become overly dependent on food to give us pleasure that we should be getting in other ways. We use food to satisfy a lot of needs that have nothing to do with nutrition. For instance, some clients feel like coming home to eat at night is like coming home to a friend, or coming home to something that makes it all worthwhile. When they try to stop eating at night there is such a sense of loss that it's unbearable. The need they feel when they try to stop is overwhelming.

New Rules Are Needed

I don't care what kind of food you eat, your doctor's diet or health food, even vegan -if you're like me and your life allows for an unscheduled and unregulated flow of calories whenever you feel the need, you're going to be fat. You can use small plates, listen to your body (Ha!), eat small meals every two hours, work out at the gym like a maniac or get special counseling from a nutritionist. You can eat specially prepared diet foods, even have it delivered to your house. However, if you still allow yourself to eat whenever you feel like it, whenever it's offered, whenever you're "hungry" or whenever you feel the need, you'll never solve your weight problem.

The first week my clients work with me, they don't try to diet or even eat less. All they do is keep track of the calories they take in with their normal eating. What an eye-opener. Often, they find that they take in more calories when they are not eating -that is, when they are not at one of their meals. The "coffee break" they have with a friend is 1000 calories, half of what they need all day. The sodas and bag of taco chips they munch on all afternoon is another 1000. In their mind, they haven't really eaten yet when they leave work to go home for dinner. After dinner, the damage escalates with a constant flow of calories. Ice cream, cake or cookies after dinner are digested so quickly that within a short time, after a bit of TV, nuts, chips or cheese and some wine sounds good. After a week of accounting, my clients see that even if they eat perfectly at their meals, it will do nothing to help when they eat freely between meals.

The dieticians' suggestion to substitute healthy snacks is well-meaning, but useless. Munching on carrots and celery made me feel like I deserved something good after that. Trying to have small healthy snacks only lit a fuse that triggered more eating. Grapes and other fruit have calories and nuts have lots of calories. Mindlessly popping them results in a calorie count that will ruin any diet. For me and my clients, there is no way to control those calorie levels when we eat whenever we feel like it. When we eat as an activity, as a hobby to pass the time and to satisfy needs that have nothing to do with nutrition, we are doomed.

For me, the only way to limit the intake of calories was to limit my eating to a few times a day where I stopped everything else and ate something I liked, something that I planned ahead to fit a "budget" of reasonable calories. These very discreet episodes, my meals, did not necessarily coincide with what the experts thought was right, both in what they were and when. Some meals were a bag of popcorn and a diet soda. Sometimes my meals were late in the evening. But they were enjoyable to me, and they equaled the caloric total that made me successful. The rest of the time, I fasted, like a monk, nothing going into my mouth and body except non-caloric beverages, like water, coffee, tea, or diet soda.

For me and my successful clients, it's very black and white. A few times a day, the eating switch is on and we thoroughly enjoy the meal we've planned. The rest of the time, the eating switch is off and nothing goes in, except those non-caloric beverages. We will never again allow eating to be a mindless activity, a hobby, or something that we do when we feel like it. It's very deliberate and conscious. I've been successful and at my ideal body weight for 30 years after 25 years of out-of-control obesity, and I will never be overweight again.

A Key Behavior

I don't want you to think that success is a result of this all by itself. However, it's one of the most important of the key behaviors that I've discovered that successful "losers" adopt as a lifelong habit to keep them fit for life. If you are not ready to accept this requirement that we give up eating as a pastime or hobby, "freestyle" eating, you are not yet ready to solve your problem. Anything else you learn or do will be for naught. However, if you can let go of eating as a hobby, you might be ready to succeed.

William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He is the creator of "Therapeutic Psychogenics", which helped him lose 140 pounds permanently thirty years ago after years of obesity and dieting failure. He has written a book about it, The Anderson Method, and he is teaching these techniques to individuals and therapists all over the country.