Obesity isn’t Simply Eat Less, Move More, who knew? We did!
As I was preparing to drive my little to his hockey camp this morning, I happened to open the news app on my phone and lo and behold guess what I saw? Front page and center there was a news article stating that counting calories isn’t enough to make permanent and significant weight loss changes. Wait, what? That can’t be true, that’s what works, right? As I continued to read, the article goes on to state that the most important factors in treatment are understanding why food became a maladaptive (doesn’t help you to survive) coping tool. This means we have to factor in the roots of the behaviour, childhood traumas (adverse childhood experiences), and lastly why the person wants to lose the weight in the first place (“finding your why”). As per the article, this was all founded in a recent (peer-reviewed) research paper. There are times in my life that I like to be “right” and then there are times in my career that I feel so empowered and validated in my therapeutic approach that I scream and then want to cry, this morning I experienced the latter.
The article I am referring to is, “Fundamental shift in Obesity Treatment” by CTV News, which clearly reports that calorie counting, and physical activity are simply not enough. The article reports Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and trauma work (aka adverse childhood experiences being processed and resolved) are the way to resolve obesity and not simply the old adage “eat less, move more”. Why was I so excited? Well because Aspire Psychological Services and the Primary Care Network team in Spruce Grove began working from this perspective long before this research was released. I am so proud of our practice and the PCN for being ahead of the curve. We’ve been making the changes to be aligned with a trauma-informed approach to obesity. For the record, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve worked with client’s that believe they have no trauma only to have me explain that a bull’s whip or a wooden spoon is not meant to be used for discipline. I understand we have generational differences, I do, really! However, I also know that our brains are 99% the same as they were generations before. Therefore, fear is fear; pain is pain. Validation is the key to overcoming our trauma. Trauma work is not a blame game but rather a validation and acknowledgement for movement game.
To truly understand the gravity of this situation, let me tell you my clinical views on obesity. Firstly, obesity is a trauma related health problem. I know, many of us believe that trauma must mean that the person experienced some form of egregious sexual or physical abuse, this isn’t the case. Trauma, in my opinion, is simply any experience for which the brain was not prepared to handle. Now, let’s take perspective, sexual trauma is highly linked to obesity but equally, in my clinical experience, too high (and unrealistic) work/parenting/home/overall life, expectations are major exacerbating factors particularly in men’s obesity.
I believe I speak for both clinics when I say that have been impressed by the changes in our client’s, especially in non-food related ways since taking a trauma-informed approach. For example, clients who were experiencing higher levels of depression and isolation or anxiety with excessive fixations, are now engaging in groups, seeking social supports, and attending community counselling. For me, the most notable change is that I see client’s doing what I like to call “life’ing” which is not just the acting of living but rather living with intention and experiences. I have always been a firm believer that this is the end of obesity, this is the way out of this hamster wheel of weight gain and loss. Now, based on this research, it appears to be the perspective of the medical community as well. For my client’s reading this, please see this as confirmation of your work. Please see this as validation of the struggle. Please see this as your call to action to continue your work. Please see this as validation that we have to allow your body to release the weight when the reasons for the gain are recognized and resolved. For my client’s, hear me say, we’ve had this right and we’re on our way!
So, what do I want you to take away from this? Obesity is not easy. Obesity is not simple! Obesity is complex, engrained, and challenging. However, it does not have to be permanent and unmovable. Obesity is treatable and there is hope. So, let’s do the hard work. Let’s find the roots and let’s change from eating for feelings to eating for fuel. Let’s enjoy our “why’s, aka what will be different when the weight is gone”, and let’s enjoy our world. We’ve got this!