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William Anderson, MA, LMHC

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How Dieting Makes People Obese

Posted: 08/13/2012 3:13 pm

I didn't have a weight problem until after my first diet. Then, gradually, with each diet, my weight and overeating became a bigger and bigger problem. I hear the same thing from most of my clients, women telling me about dieting when they were young girls who thought they were fat but weren't. As teens, they really weren't very overweight, but the dieting turned them into compulsive overeaters and they became food addicts who then became obese.

In my case, I was put on a doctor's diet when I was 7 because I was a bit "husky." I got that way eating what I was supposed to eat as a little kid, cleaning my plate. Up to that time, I had only eaten what my parents gave me and I had no bad habits of eating on my own. That was about to change.

The diet I was put on did not allow the regular good food the family usually enjoyed, especially desserts. I had to eat things I didn't like, and I was denied what I did like. At school, the teachers were alerted that I was on a restricted diet and I wasn't allowed to have candy on Valentine's Day or Halloween or have a piece of the cake at birthday parties. It was miserable.

Having the freedom to eat whatever I wanted was not an important issue before the diet, but it sure was after. The same with treats. Cookies, cakes and candies became highly valued needs, much more important to me than they were before the diet. Eating freely became the most important thing in my day, something that I soon did at every opportunity. I became an overeater, worsening with each diet. I became the "fat kid," the heaviest kid at the weigh-ins at school, 225 lbs. at 5'6" in junior high, and over 300 as an adult, until my early 30s when I solved the problem with behavioral medicine technique.

Dieting conditions or "programs" us to become obese.

Behavioral psychology looks at the way we feel and act not so much as a result of our will, but as a result of conditioning. It's like a robotic part of our mind gets programmed to act and feel a certain way, and once it's set on that course, there's no stopping it. It's like a computer that's been infected with a virus and does destructive things whether you like it or not. The typical dieting scenario I described above is actually one of the main reasons many people are obese, out of control with their eating. It creates impulsive and compulsive overeating that makes them more and more overweight with every passing year and every new diet.

Contrary to solving a person's weight problem, dieting makes them overweight by programming them to be a compulsive overeater. You couldn't do a better job of it if you had purposely trained a person to become overweight. Then, once the habits are set, it's very hard to change. Wanting to change things is a good start, but wanting it even desperately is nowhere near what is needed to solve the problem. Willpower is just no match for a thoroughly programmed compulsive overeating habit.

Behavioral therapy and behavioral medicine are the solution, not diets and dieting.

My work in behavioral psychology, counseling and addictions led me to the solution to my weight problem, and now I teach others. We reprogram ourselves to act and feel in ways to stay at the weight we want to be. It then can become as automatic to maintain a good weight as it did to constantly gain. I lost 140 pounds when I discovered the solution in 1984, and I've maintained my ideal body weight since, almost 30 years now, after 25 years of being overweight and out of control. You can do the same thing.

Our weight and our body are the product of the behavior we have. Regardless of the reasons we behave the way we do, if we change the behavior, the body will change.

Diets and dieting are not the solution to your stubborn weight problem. They are among the main causes. Learning how to eat well habitually, in a way that is more enjoyable than what you do now, is the solution -- and it is not just a matter of "willing" it. For those of us who got programmed to become obese, we need to learn how to reprogram ourselves to become and stay at the weight we want to be. That is the province of behavioral psychology, behavioral therapy and behavioral medicine. A new diet will not solve your problem. Reprogramming yourself to live well will.

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