Losing weight is the ultimate goal of 66% of Australian who are overweight or obese. We could say they want to become healthier, they want to run a 5k race or climb a mountain or what ever SMART goal they may have decided on but ultimately losing weight is the end goal. But its a tough ask because in order to do that they must change 20, 30 or 40 years of ingrained behaviour. PLUS to make things harder we have the fast food and pre-packaged food industry with seemingly endless budgets making it near impossible for people to move on to healthier choices. PLUS healthy food is so damn expensive. PLUS time makes healthy choices harder to contemplate, so choices make out of convenience often wins the day. PLUS people simply don’t know how to go about lifestyle change?
SO that’s where a PT comes in. She ask questions and builds a picture of the the persons life. She applies her knowledge and see’s a path through the forest. She provides practical steps that her client can follow and if they stick with the plan they should should sustainably lose 1-2 kilos a month and start noticing change in 2-3 months and start feeling better in 2-4 weeks.
BUT in order for this to happen a process of changes must occur in the client. Read here to find about the 5 stages of change.
The first stage of change is where the user does not want change or doesn’t accept there is anything wrong. They must either seek out or have information land in their lap to give them a “Conscious Raising” experience. This is the first of 10 processes they must go through. They wont seek this information out and will most likely reject what they are reading as unrealistic or unattainable or blatant lies.
Another event or process that may occur is an “Environmental Re-evaluation”. This is a very slow, painful often rejected realisation that their behaviours may affect or event influence others.
As a person slowly moves from pre-contemplation to contemplation (where they are now considering change), they start may start to fear change (or to let goes of the fear and anxiety that goes with change.) But as they become more hopeful and hear other stories of success or start to see the light through the trees, they have a “Dramatic Relief”. This emotion step is quite important as people are often emotional decision makers, particularly if they have eaten for comfort (which is an emotional crutch). This emotional stage allows for more “buy-in” to the change.
With improved health literacy, openness to change, and their emotions on board they may notice that society is supportive to change toward healthier behaviours. Support structures are in place, (so called “healthy alternatives” at fast food restaurants, cheap and easily accessible books on cheap and healthy eating, parks and open spaces for exercise etc.) which make change easier than it seems.
When a person makes a decision to change they accept the values that goes with that and decide to accept these as “Who they want to be”. This “self-reevaluation” is a necessary reflection in the process of creating a new self image. Visualisation is very important. Imagine the new you or who you want to be. What you will look like. What you will start doing. How others will notice etc.
Once this starts to happen a sense of “Self Liberation” will start to occur. The emotional changes, then newly found education, the visualisation of the new you will start to solidify the belief that you can succeed. You will take even more steps to reaffirm this and success will be even more guaranteed. This change will be be even more noticeable which feeds back into the process per above.
You will seek out people who will help you or at least are supportive of your quest for change. Surrounding your self with positive people is another step towards guaranteeing success. This is a well known and exploited fact in all success driven fields.
Replacing good habits for bad is called “counter conditioning” and an important part in change. Its no mistake that this Transtheoretical Model ( (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992) is used to assist recovery drug addicts from relapsing. Obesity is seen as a medical problem and the psychology behind the scenes is as much a part of the solution as it is part of the problem. Think of a friend you may have that was “once really bad, now they are a total gym junky”. An addictive personality will do things to the extreme….Eating, drugs, exercise. Now that they wish to improve their health, they will need to replace bad habits for good.
An often forgotten important part of the process is “reward management”. By rewarding yourself for good work you will be much less likely to relapse. As long as the rewards don’t offset benefits gained. The occasional wine, hamburger, night out etc.
A deeper method for controlling behaviours before they become an unmanageable problem is “stimulus control”. Similar to counter conditioning, instead of replacing good behaviours for bad, stimulus control replaces cues for unhealthy behaviours and replaces then with good ones. So that means not only remove the bad food from the kitchen , but also remove the triggers that drives you to quick unhealthy fixes. Such as, going for a walk after a stressful day instead of going home and comfort eating. Going to the gym straight after work will see you wanting to continue your efforts after you get home. Eating off a bread plates instead of dinner plates will assist eating smaller portions of food. Make new friends that have healthier habits that will support your choices will help nip bad choices in the bud.
More can be discovered on the psychology of what drives us to an unhealthy lifestyle and equally bad to good health. More on this can be found here.