The Emotional & Spiritual Side of Weight Loss

family praying before a meal

Ever wonder why so many people are unsuccessful at losing weight? They try different diets, various exercise regimens…over and over and over…only to give up and gain the weight back. Why is this?

Well, I would argue that so many people fail because they don’t realize that losing weight is much, much more than physical transformation. In order to be successful in the long term, I believe that often psychological, emotional, and even spiritual change is critical to sustainable weight loss, as well as physical and mental health.

In helping so many people on their weight loss journeys over the years, I have found that many of them were not mentally or emotionally ready to take on this monumental task. They lacked confidence and self-worth. They felt guilty, unloved, and unlovable. And they blamed themselves for their obesity, their deteriorating marriage or relationships, and their health problems.

Additionally, overweight or obese individuals have to admit some pretty harsh truths to themselves. It’s almost like hitting the same “rock bottom” that alcoholics and drug addicts often do before seeking treatment. I often harken back to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a program I wholeheartedly support and believe in. In their 12-step process, AA asks you 1) to admit you are powerless over your addiction and that your life has become unmanageable, and 2) to come to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.

What this tells you, in a nutshell, is that you cannot work on your physical self without also addressing your emotional and spiritual needs or problems. You must admit that you’ve hit rock bottom, yet still believe that you are worthy of a positive change and a happy, healthy life. If you are a religious or spiritual person, you also must turn to God to help guide your way.

The Hillsdale Church Diet

I know spirituality, combined with science-based approaches, can lead to successful weight loss because I’ve witnessed it with my own two eyes.

One of the most influential studies I’ve ever reviewed, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, showed the strong positive effects achieved when combining scientific and faith principles.

Several members who wanted to lose weight as the spring season approached asked a scientist, who was also a fellow churchgoer, for guidance, and he agreed.

About 100 people met once a week, and we went through a program that combined the diet, exercise, and spiritual principles that I have outlined below. Forty-one individuals (most of whom were in the obese category) agreed to allow the study to monitor their weight, body fat, body mass index, and waist and hip circumference as well as blood levels of lipids (such as cholesterol and triglycerides) and inflammatory messengers.

The results were amazing! After the eight weeks, the men lost an average of 13.1 pounds and women lost an average of 10.5 pounds. Other health issues also improved, including high blood pressure and waist and hip circumference, both risk factors for metabolic syndrome—a collection of factors that put you at higher risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. In fact, at the beginning of the study, 18 of 41 participants were classified as having metabolic syndrome, and after the intervention, that number had decreased to 10. That is incredible for an 8-week program!

The researchers concluded that a “multifaceted church-based wellness program,” such as the one used in this trial, can be extremely beneficial in helping people lose weight, as it connects like-minded individuals spiritually—with each other, and with God.

Spiritual Surrender

So how can you make sure you nurture your emotional and spiritual sides?

As they do in AA, I often tell people to take it one day (or, if needed, one minute) at a time. There will be days that you fail to meet your goals. That’s okay. Remember, the objective is not perfection, but progress. Look at any setbacks as opportunities to pause, recognize your mistakes, and do better the next time. As long as you make progress in the right direction, you will eventually change, and that change will become permanent.

Take responsibility. Another critical part of the weight loss process is to surrender your need to be right. When you admit that you are responsible and become accountable for your actions, you open the door to healing. It is another way of telling your God that you are ready to embrace change.

Pray. Talking to God regularly helps you to surrender your pain, confusion, and will. Thinking back on my own prayers, I’m amazed at how, over time, they morphed from selfish monologues to quiet, reflective moments where I simply asked God to guide me and uncover what He had intended for me when He designed me.

If you don’t believe in God or don’t pray, that’s okay. That’s where meditation comes in…

Meditate every day. To change deeply engraved behavioral patterns—such as overeating, making poor food choices, not exercising, etc.—you must be aware of them. And awareness starts with meditation and self-reflection. Being alone in your thoughts can be difficult at first, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes, and the more you learn to love, appreciate, and take care of yourself. There are countless CDs, DVDs, and online videos that guide you through meditation. These can be really beneficial, especially in the beginning when you’re learning how to quiet your mind.

Losing weight isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work and determination. Please give yourself the greatest chance of success by making sure you address the process holistically—body, mind, and spirit.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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