The Link Between Being Stuck and Losing Weight

by Roger Gould, MD
Roger GouldNinety-five percent of dieters who lose weight gain it all back, plus some. This depressing statistic prompted the formation of a group called the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance. Comprised of researchers at Brown University and the University of Colorado, they are interested in determining what brings success to that five percent of people who are able to lose weight and keep it off.  What they found was that the people who kept the weight off didn’t just change their eating patterns, they also changed their life.
Maybe you know someone who has lost weight and kept it off. When you inquired into how they succeeded, you may have heard them say something like: "I was ready to start having fun in life", “it was time to get my career into high gear”, "I was going through a divorce", or "I lost someone dear to me and realized it was time take care of myself."
How they succeeded
The place where these people were stuck wasn’t just related to their weight, it was related to some other aspect of their life. When people are stuck, they’re emotionally hungry. They try to fill this emotional hunger with food, but it never works for very long. People who have dieted successfully got fed up with being emotionally hungry.
By dealing with the underlying issues that fueled their emotional hunger, they were able to turn off their Hunger Switch. Their physical hunger became manageable. They were able to adhere to a sensible eating plan and lose weight and keep it off without dieting.
This didn’t happen all at once. They had to contend with the realization it wasn’t just that they felt emotionally hungry. It was that they felt powerless to do anything about their emotional hunger. They didn’t believe they could affect any change in the parts of their lives that were unsatisfying. They had to prove to themselves that it wasn’t true, that they weren’t powerless.
In 2007, Shrink Yourself conducted an online survey of 7,500 people. The results indicated that there is a strong relationship between being overweight and feeling stuck. For roughly two thirds of serious dieters, going on a diet was part of their attempt to do something positive about their life. A way to get unstuck, so to speak.
If you feel stuck in life, you’re not alone. Twenty-eight million people in this country are on anti-depressants. Most of them are on medication for sub-clinical depression. What are the areas in your life where you feel stuck?
Being stuck can be like having one foot on the gas pedal and another foot on the brake. Your foot is on the gas pedal because you desperately want to go somewhere -- that somewhere in the future where it feels like your life is going to be on track. But your foot is on the brake because you’re afraid.
Emotional hunger indicates where you need to make changes
Emotional hunger is there to indicate where you need to make a change. When a person eats because emotional hunger is too uncomfortable, they disable their body’s internal guidance system. They no longer have an inner compass leading them toward the things they want or leading them away from the things they don’t want. Once this happens, they are more likely to get stuck.
For example, one of our online users has a husband who works nights. He was home for the first night in awhile and was watching football. She felt emotionally hungry. Her hunger switch got turned on and she felt like she wanted to go to the fridge and binge. But, she stopped herself. She thought, I could say something stupid like, “You never spend any time with me.” But she didn’t. She thought things through. She realized what feeling was fueling her emotional hunger and she said, “I miss you.” Her husband turned off the TV. She was able to get unstuck in her relationship with her husband by being honest with her feelings. When she did that she could see that even if she ate everything in her fridge, it couldn’t have filled the space of wanting to connect with her husband.
By taking the first steps to get unstuck (cleaning out your closets, resolving things with a sibling you haven’t spoken to in years, managing your finances, organizing your DVDs or photos), you start moving out of your rut.  The efficacy of this was proven in a study that the National Weight Control Registry conducted.
Be honest with yourself. Are you ready to get unstuck? Take your foot off the brake and you’ll begin to move forward. Once you’re moving you can steer yourself where you want to go.
Shrink YourselfAbout the Author:
Dr. Roger Gould, creator of Shrink and author of Shrink Yourself, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA.  Dr. Gould has pioneered the use of online therapy sessions focusing on weight loss and other issues, and has been acknowledged by the Smithsonian Institute as a pioneer in the innovative use of computers in psychiatry. Dr. Gould’s work has been featured on national television & covered in Time Magazine, The New York Times, Prevention, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, MSN Health. For more information visit