I am seeing some people who have gained all or much of the weight they had lost back during Covid. I have already written about the physiology and medical benefits of losing weight again. But, how does one approach the task of feeling like they are starting over? Today I am writing about the psychology of the “restart.”
Let me start by saying that I have complete faith that each person I see will again reach a healthier weight and the medical outcome will be optimal. I am inspired by each and every person that shows up. Many times, they tell me anecdotes in which they had been told by various other professionals that they will not successfully lose weight and keep it off. This may be at programs where they are told that “diets don’t work” and to accept their body at any size (which is not wrong, but the health risks are the concern), or it may be at programs associated with bariatric surgery programs where they are advised to have bariatric surgery (not that having surgery is wrong in any way, but it is not the only way.) Why were they told this? Well, statistically, those people are right. Statistically, going off the past studies, 85% of people who have lost weight gain it back. Now, there are many reasons why I do not believe those studies are prescriptive, but it is true that losing 20% of your body weight is hard. What I care about is how you can avoid becoming one of those statistics. You are not a statistic. You are an individual, and individuals make incredible changes that persist all of the time. So, how can you prove all those other doctors wrong, and me, right, and get the health you want and keep it?
For the purpose of this blog, let us assume that a person has access to a high quality medical obesity treatment program. This is a big assumption, since they are actually very rare. I believe that overweight/obesity is a medical condition with many different potential causes. I believe it is a spectrum of disease with many different disease types. I believe that each individual needs an evaluation of underlying contributing causes and then some way of addressing those causes, such as medical diagnosis, changing medications, addressing pain, etc. Additionally, a person need knowledge, resources, and access to the treatment plan including food, time to prepare it, access to medical care, mental health, and relief from any other barriers to these things. So, these are, of course, necessary prerequisites for the treatment of this condition, just like any other medical condition. A person can not have a good outcome with a cancer, for example, without adequate medical care and treatment. But, today’s blog is not about that. Today’s blog is about, assuming the opportunity is there, how does one go about the mindset of feeling like they are restarting? Obesity, while it is a medical condition, has additional challenges to treatment that other medical conditions do not have.
It turns out, the best predictor of achieving something difficult is not natural ability, intelligence, or resources, it is grit. Grit sounds cool, but it also is very vague and non specific. What exactly does it take to develop more grit? There are four.
1. Practice - practice is learning as you go. This is why doctors “practice” medicine, because they learn more and more over the years. This is why it is excellent to have a physician in their mid career (like me!) with a few gray hairs or wrinkles. This is also why losing weight the second time can be easier than the first time. This is how to view any “failures” during a weight loss journey: as learning opportunities. An example is the Space X flights or making. Light bulb. We have all told our kids as they were learning something that Thomas Edison made thousands of light bulbs before the one that worked. Viewing any “failures” as learning opportunities, and then learning from them to make changes next time, is the practice that leads to final success. So, examine the past process you have taken, with the open learning mindset of practice, not the closed mindset of failure, and those experiences will contribute to your long term success.
2. Purpose - purpose is anything you can develop an interest in over long term. With weight management, the purpose is health, so there is an intrinsic interest for most people in health. You can develop your sense of purpose by learning more and more about your health. This is where knowledge is power and inspiration. This is when learning to see your lab results and body composition, and investing the time to examine them, strengthens that sense of purpose.
3. Hope - since failure is inevitable, we must have hope that we can succeed next time. Hope allows us to believe that is alright to fail as long you do not give up or quit. You must start with hope, before you can develop purpose and practice achieving it. When you demonstrate hope, it is contagious, and allows others to hope. The most common reason I see a new patient is that they saw someone else do it, and that gave them hope. When you succeed, you are the source of hope to others. When we succeed, we change the statistics that the next person hears from their physician.
4. Time - time and health are your most precious resources, and they are linked in the weight management journey. You can have the best intentions, but hard things take time. Time is hard to come by in our society, but perhaps it is a little easier than it used to be. Perhaps, people have cut out extraneous things and are getting back to what is most important to them. If your health is one of those things, then you are in the right place.
I am inspired by the people with whom I get to work and am driven to work hard to provide each and every one of you the best program that I can. As many of you know, I am personally and professionally “restarting” in some ways, although I am going to officially retire that term from Rainier Medical and call the program previously known as the "Restart," "The Continuing Journey.” Thank you all for giving me the purpose that drives me to work hard and continue my practice to provide you the best program that I can. This is year six of Rainier Medical and we are in it together. It is a good thing that “Hope” is my middle name.
Take Back Your Health,
Valerie Hope Sutherland, MD
Melanie Faith Saulsbury