09/04/2013 02:04 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

Trying to Lose Weight? Satisfy Your 'Real' Hungers

"Stop eating bread, pizza, donuts, snacks, sugar, hamburgers, ice-cream..." Sounds simple, "just do it." While this obvious counsel may help, the research is clear -- it's rarely sustainable. In addition, this kind of counsel tends to focus on individuals' inadequacies (lack of discipline, control, intention, purpose), rarely offers ways to deepen personal transformation, and often shames us in the process.

What's a person to do? Respect your hunger! The hunger for your favorite foods is wired to your hunger for life. Consider the following cases:

Case 1 -- Make Me One With Everything: A woman tries to lose weight but loves hamburgers. She tries to eat them without the bun, without the cheese, without the ketchup and mayonnaise mixture she loves, but it just makes her hungry for a "real" hamburger later. I say, "Tell me how good those hamburgers are; make me want one." She describes this fabulous hamburger with everything on it; her description makes me salivate. "Must you have everything on it -- can't you give up something?" I ask. She replies, "I always give up something; I never get exactly what I want in life." Her diet program began by helping her be less accommodating in her life. She wanted a "hamburger life" and until she created more of that, the power of an actual hamburger was too hard to fight. She not only lost weight, she changed her relationships and went back to school -- a life dream.

Case 2 -- And On the seventh Day, Haagen Dazs: A man who tries to lose weight but loves Haagen Dazs chocolate chip ice cream. He resists going down the frozen food aisle in the grocery store but goes out later to buy an ice cream cone down the street. Sometimes there is no ice cream in the house and he feels down and wakes up sad the next day. I say, "Tell me about eating chocolate chip ice cream." He replies, "It's the end of the day; my chores and work are over and I just want to sit back before bed. That's when it hits." I suggest, "Imagine your day is done and you have a spoonful in your hand. Taste it." He replies, "Mmm, it is good. The whole day feels good somehow." I say, "The whole day feels good?" He replies, "Yes, even God rested after the sixth day and looked upon his work and blessed it." He wanted a time of reflection, acknowledgment, and affirmation of his day. It was more than just a sweet reward; he was hungry for feeling good about how he spent his time and what he had accomplished. As he made time with his spouse to do this, not only did the "hunger" for ice cream diminish but a truer and deeper appreciation for his work and his contribution to his family grew.

These two people created diet programs that not only deprived them of the food they wanted, but the lives they wanted as well. Their approach was based on the same thinking that most diet programs are based on -- that they could somehow overpower, get rid of, or deny their hungers. However, the truth is that people's "hungers" contain profound intelligence. In fact, in working with dozens of people who wanted to lose weight, I haven't met a single person whose eating habits were not meaningful. And I haven't met a single person who knew, beforehand, what the meaning was -- what they were hungry for -- without deeper investigation.

Simply put, people are not lazy, stupid, or undisciplined. Nor are they simply suffering from low self-esteem or a lack of care for their bodies and health. The experience of tens of thousands of dieters shows that despite all the negatives that get heaped on people who are heavy or obese -- health problems, inner criticism and shame, outer criticism and prejudice -- the hungers that drive people to eat are even more powerful. And, despite the fact that many consider this bad news (because it makes losing weight a whole lot more difficult and less sustainable), there is more than a silver lining. Who we really are -- our deepest needs, wants and desires -- will not easily be ignored, silenced, or pushed aside regardless of the reason. Even under great adversity, our authentic selves prevail. Even under the gaze of critical eyes, we still assert ourselves (albeit not in the ideal way). In addition, the news gets even better: If we find out what are deeper hungers are and begin to create a life more consistent with those hungers, changing what we eat will not be so difficult.

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