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William Anderson, MA, LMHC Headshot

How the Fattest Kid in School Became the Weight Loss Guru

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"How on earth can you help me?" overweight clients would ask me when I first opened my practice, sure that I had never had a weight problem. There I was, at a perfect, ideal body weight, looking like a naturally-thin person. They didn't know that I had spent 25 years hopelessly out of control with my weight, morbidly obese, over 300 pounds, a chronic miserable failure at diets and exercise attempts.

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Most of my thousands of attempts to diet didn't last a day. I had no willpower. One year, I paid the whole year's membership at a gym, thinking it would make me go. I went only once, hated it and never went back. I was so ashamed. And it wasn't fair. It seemed like a lot of my friends ate just as badly as I did. They didn't go to gyms. But I got fat. They didn't.

Now I'm known as the "Weight Loss Guru" in Sarasota, Fla., ever since a TV news anchor dubbed me that. People don't wonder if I can help them now. They know I solved the problem and they know I have helped many others to solve it. Now, instead of skepticism and fear, they come with hope.

In 1984, as a behavior therapist and addictions counselor, I finally figured it out and lost 140 pounds in 18 months. There I've stayed, at my ideal body weight, over 25 years, something I didn't think possible most of my life. Now I'm helping others with this obesity problem, and I believe I have the real answers to our obesity epidemic.

If you can identify with some of the things I've said about being overweight, and you've been thinking, "No matter what I do, I can't lose weight," please stop. I guarantee that if you do what I teach my clients, you'll lose weight. Not one client, and I've worked with thousands, has not lost weight following my protocols. There is no mystery to how to lose weight. It's thermodynamics and food science. We know what needs to be done -- physically, anyway. The problem is that we have such a hard time getting ourselves to do what's required. We try and we fail. It seems impossible. We lose faith in ourselves. So we look for some way around reality, like a pill, or a magic diet food that makes the calories just disappear. You will not succeed with pills, magical diets, shots, or magic fairy dust on your food. But this problem can be solved, even if you're a hopeless case like I was. The solution is in behavioral medicine and behavioral therapy, a kind of magic where we can reprogram ourselves to think and live in a way that makes us thin and keeps us that way. Is it easy? No. But it is doable.

You've heard of "The Secret"? Well, it's not a secret. The methods to change ourselves, to change our reality, are known to behavioral medicine. Things like visualization and affirmation are known as cognitive techniques in psychotherapy. They are not hocus-pocus. They work, and they can be learned. And when you learn and practice them, your life can change. Your habits can change. Your body can change. You would be amazed at how they can change.

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I was 7 years old when I was put on my first diet. That was the beginning of the process that really started my obesity. I know now, because of my knowledge and training in psychology and behaviorism, how we have literally programmed ourselves to be obese. I became the fattest kid in school, a miserable way to live. I tried and failed to lose weight so many times that I came to hate life, hate being fat and hate what I had become. I was so mad at myself, my flaws and my weakness. I spent 25 years with that curse. But what can be programmed can be reprogrammed, even when it seems too late. When you know how to do the programming, just like with a computer, you can change the programs. When you don't know how, you don't stand a chance, even when you want it badly. Just wanting new programs or deciding to have them is not enough. You need to know how to do it.

I was so lucky to choose counseling and psychology as my field of interest. I learned how behavior and habits, even feelings, can be shaped, even when the subject, be it a child or a pet or even our own self, doesn't seem to want to cooperate. It was a godsend. By the time I was in my 30s I had assembled enough pieces of the puzzle and practiced with them enough to actually solve the problem. I finally found the solution and lost 140 pounds in 18 months, and it hasn't been too hard doing what needs to be done to maintain that success. I'm sure I would have died long ago if I hadn't learned about behavior medicine, behavior therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and self-hypnosis, among other things. (My clients don't know the names of all the things I teach, so don't let the jargon throw you. They just learn about some "tricks and ideas" and use them.)

So, if you are a "hopeless case" like I was, morbidly obese, a chronic failure for 25 years, start using a new script. Instead of saying "No matter what I do, I can't lose weight," start saying "I know I will lose weight if I can figure out how to get myself to do what we know works to lose weight." That will be a good start. There is a solution to our obesity. It is in behavioral medicine.

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