weight regain

Weight Regain and the Return of Old Habits

October 13, 2016

Let’s just start with the bottom line. A return of the “old habits” results in the finding of lost weight. The dreaded weight regain. We all know what “old habits” means when it comes to the world of the weight loss roller coaster. Your “old habits” may be slightly different from his “old habits” or her “old habits,” but the thing all of your “old habits” have in common is a return to unhealthy eating behaviors (and probably a lack of exercise) and ultimately, the inevitable regaining of unwanted pounds.

You’ve heard all sorts of “how to's” for getting “back on track,” including:

  • Record your food intake
  • Have an accountability person/group
  • Remind yourself of the reasons you want to lose weight
  • Cut down on the carbs/sugar
  • Increase your protein
  • Do a “cleanse”
  • Attend support groups
  • Join a walking/exercise group
  • Set a timer for when you’re going to eat and don’t eat in between times
  • Increase water/calorie-free liquids

You’ll get no argument from me about any of those ways to get back on track. Which by the way, are also the ways to stay on track with a healthy lifestyle. But what if it seems you’re not able, for some reason, to follow through with those healthy behaviors? After all, you’ve heard versions of these tips your entire dieting life. Do they work when you work ‘em? Sure they do! So what happens that you don’t continue to engage in those behaviors? How is it that you somehow return to those “old (unhealthy) habits?” Even after having bariatric surgery, and having told yourself ahead of time, “Why would I go through a surgical procedure and then return to my old habits? I’d never do that!”

It’s time we look deeper, friends. If eating less, moving more, and using tips like those above were all it took, then everyone would lose weight and keep it off once and for all. So obviously, there’s more to the issue, which includes answering this question:

What is going on with me that I don’t follow through with the things proven to result in a healthier weight and improved quality of life – even after having bariatric surgery?

If you are courageous enough to look deep into yourself, to look at your present circumstances, your way of thinking, your deeply held attitudes and beliefs, your family patterns, your past, and your innermost feelings, then you may be able to change many things in your life for the better – and for the long haul. Including your ability to follow through with healthy behaviors that result in sustained weight loss.

Hmmm,” you may be thinking. “That sounds like it might take a long time and I just wanna get this weight back off.”

Commercial Diet Programs

You’ve tried it the diet industry’s way for years and years and years. And, as Dr. Rodney Voisine, a bariatric physician friend of mine says, “Commercial weight loss programs count on patients regaining weight and re-subscribing to their service.” Yes, we have been conned into failing and set up by big business to do so repeatedly.

So – you can keep on doing what you’ve been doing and get the same results or you can try something with more depth. Doing it differently takes a whole lot more effort than any commercial weight loss program or simply taking the time to attend a support group. It also takes more work than tracking food and exercise. But it just might work.

If you have struggled to follow through with the behaviors that are proven to keep weight off and have regained weight, particularly if you have gone to the length of having bariatric surgery and have regained, then please consider exploring these two things (which are very interrelated):

Heal the Relationship With Yourself

People who repeatedly self-harm (and yes, repeatedly eating to the point of regaining dangerous amounts of weight that lead to serious health problems is a form of self-harm), and who continue to sabotage their weight loss success by returning to “old habits,” need to consider healing their relationship with themselves. Doing so does take time and usually requires the help of a licensed therapist who has experience with family systems and/or addiction issues. In healing the relationship with self, you need to do things such as:

  • Consider people/places/things/feelings you are trying to avoid in your life (the pain of an unhappy marriage, the sadness of aging parents, the loss of a friendship, the fear of an empty nest, the loneliness of retirement, etc.)
  • Explore your history to include family patterns related to eating, the meaning of food in the family, attitudes toward weight/body image
  • Identify and grieve past and current unresolved losses to include friendships, jobs, dreams, childhood, geographic moves, pets, family members
  • Identify thoughts and feelings related to past neglect or abuse by bullies, peers, coaches, family, friends, self
  • Examine your thinking patterns, learn to identify and change negative self-talk (one of the most important aspects of healing the relationship with self)
  • Learn and implement ways to set healthy boundaries for self
  • Learn and practice healthy listening and communication skills
  • Develop compassion for self and others
  • Hold yourself accountable

Learning to love yourself by working through past issues, dealing effectively with present issues and implementing healthy communication and boundaries results in greater self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. And ultimately, translates into the desire and willingness to treat oneself better. Therefore, you are more willing to follow through with healthy behaviors and ultimately maintain a healthier weight.

Treat Your Food Addiction or Cross-Addiction

Weight loss surgery, nor any means of weight loss, will help long-term if you have an addiction to food or eating. If a person has an addiction, taking away the substance won’t do a thing to heal the addiction and underlying issues. Taking away the substance and not treating the addiction will likely only lead to abuse/dependence on another unhealthy behavior or substance.

You have seen this first-hand in the WLS community. I see and hear about it literally every day in my work… people who have had WLS and are now drinking too much, spending to the point of serious financial problems, abusing pain medications and becoming dependent on (meaning addicted to) other drugs, or sleeping around with just about anybody. Sadly, when people turn from one unhealthy behavior to another, they feel even more hopeless and helpless. Tragically, there is a higher than average rate of suicide in the post-op community.

What exactly is food addiction? You probably have an eating/food addiction if you know that food/eating has caused problems in your life (extra weight, issues in relationships, and/or health problems), WANTING to stop the unhealthy eating behaviors but NOT BEING ABLE TO DO SO, except for short periods of time.

Treating addiction includes healing your relationship with yourself. Addictions are ways to avoid yourself: your feelings (sadness, fear, anger), the realities you want to escape from (relationships, jobs, stress, finances, past, present), and being alone with yourself. Treating addiction means:

  • Learning to identify and accept your feelings
  • Learning to deal with feelings in healthy ways
  • Learning to let others help you, learning to help yourself
  • Learning to set healthy boundaries that protect you
  • Learning to take healthy risks in life
  • Learning to think of others and yourself in healthy ways and to consider the needs of yourself and those you love
  • Being compassionate of others
  • Accepting the things you cannot change, changing the things you can, and knowing which is which (if you’re familiar with 12-step programs, you’ll recognize these last few lines)

Treating addiction is learning to accept yourself and to treat yourself (and others) with respect, compassion, and goodness. Therefore, when you treat your addiction, you are less likely to harm yourself with food and are more likely to follow through with healthy behaviors because you value yourself more.

Avoid weight regain and the return of “old habits” by trying something new. Dig deep, get some help to heal your relationship with yourself. When you do, your relationship with food improves, as do your relationships with others. If you have a food addiction, you need to get help for that addiction. Weight loss surgery does not treat food addiction (this is the title of my next book)!

Get the help you need to stick with healthy new lifestyle habits. And enjoy your healthy weight and healthy life!

connie stapleton


Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and owner of Mind Body Health Services. She is the author of Eat It Up - The Complete Mind/Body/Spirit Guide to a Full Life After Weight Loss Surgery.

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