Obesity is an issue that drives many resolutions each year. And while some who deal with it have underlying medical conditions that are to blame, for many more of us, it’s the way we eat. And for many of us, resolutions, diet and exercise may well only represent a temporary change.
Katrina Ubell believes the efforts most likely to succeed involve changing our relationship with food and hunger. Ubell is a pediatrician but left her practice. Her work now is in weight loss coaching, mainly in the healthcare field through her business called Healthy Weight in Healthcare.
Ubell says that at its root, weight issues are an "action problem." People over-eat, eat too often and eat the wrong foods. She says the true question is: Why do we do that?
Just as gaining weight is an action problem, most methods of weight loss are also geared towards actions. Restrictive diets and exercise plans can also set some people up for disappointment, says Ubell.
"If we are then just forcing ourselves to eat something else or do something differently then we're using willpower, and willpower is like a muscle - it fatigues," she explains. "Then three or four weeks into January we're already off it again."
If people are too focused on actions, taking the time to look at what caused the problem is often neglected. Ubell explains that if one can hone in on the problem, the solution can be tailored to the individual without needing to follow someone else's diet plan.
For example, when Ubell struggled with over-eating as a practicing doctor, she associated certain foods as a reward or motivator to get through a busy day.
"The donut doesn’t change the day," she says. "And it really doesn’t change my thoughts about the day. So it really is doing nothing for me, but it becomes this habit, and once you get that habit, the brain just thinks, 'Oh hey, so when you have that busy clinic day coming up, remember? We eat something before that.' And then before you know it, the weight is stacking on."
Ubells says there are two elements that lead to being overweight or over-eating:
- Hunger, and the belief that "it is very uncomfortable and needs to be dealt with immediately and is an emergency."
- Desire for food, which is often associated with entertainment and "an emotional love affair."
Through her work as a wellness coach, her tool in combating these issues is to shift the brain to believe that hunger is okay and tolerable. "Your body is designed to be able to manage hunger," says Ubell. Through this step, you can also reduce the constant desire for food, therefore changing your relationship with it for the better.
Working with a wellness coach on weight concerns, in addition to your doctor or perhaps even a personal trainer, can benefit you beyond the physical aspects. Often, Ubell notes that clients work through emotions and associations first.
"It's very much a peer-to-peer relationship," she explains. "It's very future-focused and we don't spend a lot of time looking into the past...we really look forward, coming up with a plan to get you the results that you want in the future."
Although her mindset towards food has changed, Ubell says she still loves food and allows one day a week for a "joy eat" (also known as a cheat day). While most foods are not as desirable as they had been in the past, she will never deny getting herself mint Oreo ice cream from Gilly's.