Humans need some denial and rationalization just to function in life. If you didn’t have these psychological defenses you’d be full of anxiety all the time and never leave your house. For example, driving your car is one of the most dangerous modes of transportation, but many people are very dependent on automobiles to manage their everyday responsibilities and need to use their cars on a regular basis. So they deny the level of risk they’re under every time they drive so that they’re able to be productive by getting to their jobs, buy food, and just get from one location to another.
However, too much denial is a dangerous thing. If you totally deny the danger of driving your car, you’re likely to drive recklessly and put yourself and others in even more danger and possibly lose your life.
In the case of weight management, too much denial can get in the way of success with weight loss, health, and fitness.
Jerry, for example, denied that he was a heart attack ready to happen. He was overweight, unfit, put little thought into what and when he ate, got little sleep or rest, and surrounded himself with stressful situations. He had a large gut and always looked puffy and flushed. He reacted to his doctor’s negative feedback about his health as if the doctor was talking about someone else, not him. And once he left the doctor’s office, he just checked it off his “to do” list and went on to the next thing he felt he had to do. Bad things happen to other people, not him. He was fine. After all, he was still functioning, wasn’t he?
Brenda denied that her own thinking was what was making her fail at losing weight. She actively looked for negative things in her life to blame for her weight problems. “Nothing ever works out for me. I have the worst luck. Things are always going wrong in my life. Something’s always getting in the way so I can’t be consistent with my diet and exercise,” she would continually say to herself. Brenda denied to herself that there was anything wrong with her outlook. Yet, that was exactly what was keeping her from being healthy and trim.
George and Pam, as a couple, were usually either on a strict diet and extreme exercise program or going to the other extreme of being sedentary and overindulgent with eating. As a result, they were continually in a cycle of weight loss and regain. When they were on a roll with diet and exercise, they would spend excessive amounts of money on the latest craze of diet and exercise gadgets only to quickly retire them to the dust pile with gadgets bought during previous attempts at weight loss. George and Pam denied to themselves that they had a dysfunctional pattern. They were looking for a panacea of quick weight loss instead of approaching weight loss from a more realistic and long-term perspective that would have produced greater and more permanent weight loss with time.
Had each of these people stopped denying that something in the way they were approaching their lives was the reason why they weren’t being successful with weight loss and health in general, it would have motivated them to change. Sure it’s hard to stop denying and take responsibility but, it’s one of the best things you can do to turn your life around – not just with respect to weight management, but in general.
During psychological therapy for weight and eating problems, one of the first goals of change is to stop denying. Only by doing this can you get a clear picture of what’s going on – what’s getting in the way of you getting what you really want with weight issues. Only then will you know what you need to do to stop the pattern of repeated failures with weight and fitness.
Sure, denial can make you feel better at the moment. After all, if you can convince yourself that you don’t have a problem, that someone or something else is the reason for your problem, or that life just isn’t being fair to you, you’ll certainly feel better immediately – but you’ll be doing so at a considerable cost. In the case of weight management, that cost may be that you never get a handle on your weight problems, your health continues to deteriorate, and it can even cost you your life. On the other hand, deciding not to deny anymore may feel badly at first – owning up can be difficult when you’re not used to it. But if you do it, you’ll have a clear view of the connections between how you act and your fitness level so that you can finally do something that works and you won’t need to deny.
Previously published in the Tampa Bay Times