Despite all the diets (including doctor supervised programs), diet books, inexpensive gym memberships, innovative exercise equipment, and other products for weight loss, weight management, and fitness, there is a subset of people for whom none of these weight loss treatments address the root of their problem.

Take Bruce for example. Bruce is an intelligent man.  He knows that the way he treats his body with his unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyle can make him seriously ill and possibly kill him.  It’s not that he doesn’t care or doesn’t understand the connection between what he does and his health. He’s not in denial about any of these things.  Bruce has made multiple attempts to change his life for the better with respect to his weight and health.  He knows that fad diets don’t work and he knows quite a bit about nutrition.  But, for some reason, his attempts to take better care of himself never last – he never seems to make any headway.  Bruce usually finds himself filled with shame about his appearance and his failed attempts to conquer his health and weight loss problems.  Most of the time he feels caught in a struggle between what he knows to be true and a self-destructive urge that is no match for him.

Bruce is an example of how complicated obesity and dysfunctional eating can be and why people like him should not be treated with a cookie cutter diet and exercise program. Understanding the underlying reasons for the person’s symptoms of excess weight, abnormal eating, and other poor health habits is crucial to helping them be successful. Leading a person with these complications to believe that their problem can be addressed simply by following a diet (usually a rigid one) and having a weight goal is setting the person up for feelings of defeat and shame. And this approach usually will make it more difficult for them to try again.

Bruce, and others like him, usually have deeper-seated psychological barriers that can get more complicated to treat with each successive diet failure.  Sometimes even mental health professionals sometimes need help from other mental health professionals when they experience significant emotional events. This compounding effect is because it’s impossible to be completely objective about your own emotional issues. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect people like Bruce to be successful with weight loss while confronted with complicated psychological barriers when those psychological barriers aren’t treated. Despite the fact that psychological barriers take time to conquer and that the person has already been affected by too many weight loss failures in the past, there’s plenty of reason for hope.

The most common psychological barriers that get in the way of a person taking good care of themselves have to do with self-esteem and perfectionism. If you don’t think you’re worth caring about, you won’t take care of yourself. If you think nothing’s good enough unless it’s perfect, you’ll quit before you’re ahead. In these cases, the problem isn’t getting the weight off as soon as possible, but learning to accept yourself and life as imperfect. That’s where the hope lies.

As psychological barriers are torn down, Bruce is freer to use the healthy information he already knows, and has been taught, to finally better his health and fitness.

The weight and eating problems are just the way his body and mind expresses his problems – they are symptoms. They are not the problem. It’s like the difference between a fever and an infection. If you have an infection but only treat the symptom (the fever) you still have the infection (the underlying cause). Treating weight and eating problems by focusing only on the weight when there is a serious underlying “infection” serves only to keep the person in a never-ending cycle battling the weight.

People like Bruce are often suffering silently. The myriad of diet programs and even surgery often don’t address all the needs of someone like Bruce. Bruce is in a group of individuals who have problems with weight and eating that aren’t being adequately addressed by the weight loss industry. These same people often think that their lack of success with their weight and health is due to something that’s fundamentally wrong with who they are as a person. Instead, it is more likely that something is wrong with the approach they’re taking and/or the expectations they have of themselves and those placed upon them by others.

Instead of more of the same, like another diet, diet book, workout apparatus, or supplement, we need more programs that address the varying emotional needs of people with weight and eating problems. Because, as you see, the problem may look the same on the outside, but it’s what is inside that matters.