Psychologist’s opinion about the Transformation Programme
Interview with Ms Katarzyna Kucewicz – psychologist and psychotherapist, a founder of the Center for Psychotherapy and Coaching INNER GARDEN, located in Warsaw.
Katarzyna Kucewicz: For almost a decade, I’ve been working with people who have problems with emotions and self-esteem, with those who have trouble in relationships and dream about living a full life. I also work with people who have difficulty in controlling behavioral addictions, including addiction to food. I am a psychology populariser, I run a Facebook fan-page Katarzyna Kucewicz psycholog-psychoterapeuta, on which I post interesting texts in the field of psychology and psychotherapy.
Work on the psyche of a person slimming down with the Transformation Programme
Mrs Psychologist, The Transformation Programme is a method of slimming, which treats a person in a holistic way and sees the sources of their weight problems not only in their eating habits, but also in their convictions, decisions and actions, which often reflect various aspects of life. Do you think that the cause of being overweight or obese may lie … in the psyche?
K.K.: There are many medical reasons why a part of society struggles with extra kilos. It is not uncommon for the cause of obesity to lie not in a health problem but in one’s psyche. A lot can hide under the term „psyche” – weight gain can be caused by depression, compulsive eating, it can result from self-hatred, from the desire to punish oneself or from the inability to reward oneself in a different way than by overeating. It often results from bad habits that are related to childhood.
For example: a person longs for the warmth of family home, and the only way to recall the familiar feeling is while eating, cooking and feasting at the table. It usually happens without restraint, without control. The inability to control hunger is the “merit” of our psyche. In psychotherapy, we recognize that a person who impulsively overeats has a lot of a child in them; it is child’s behavior – limited to satisfying the “here and now” need without thinking of the consequences. In my therapy sessions, it is important for me to teach my patients the behaviours of adults, mature behaviours, because they simply make life easier.
How can being overweight or obese affect the psyche? What qualities, attitudes and beliefs can it generate or deepen?
K.K.: Unfortunately, the society imposes certain canons of beauty. People outside those canons often feel different, worse, less attractive. Obesity often causes lowered mobility, painful joints, problems with sex, which also frustrates and causes a depressed mood.
Of course, it is not always that being overweight goes hand in hand with low self-esteem. There are many plus size people who feel and look thriving in their size. But for many, excess kilogrammes are a reason for isolation, aversion to self, loneliness. I know many stories about how girls gave up dating, going to the swimming pool, wearing mini skirts, all because they felt repulsed with their bodies.
It is often the case that an overweight person defines themselves through the prism of their weight. I knew a person who, phoning me, would say: „Good morning Kasia, Ola speaking, the chubby one”. As if being overweight was her only feature. Do people define themselves as „the slim one” or „the size M one’? Rather not, because a person doesn’t focus on their size but on other features. Often, people struggling with excess kilos have the feeling that it’s their main feature – if they do not like it in themselves, they feel terrible. It’s hard to be confident, smiling, sexy when we do not like our reflection in the mirror.
Can being overweight or obese interlink with addictions?
K.K.: Of course it can, and on several different levels. We are talking about behavioural addiction here – eating addiction. Some wonder how it is possible to become addicted to something that we have to do every day anyway. But the definition is that a behavioural addiction is a state where one responds to the tension with compulsive behaviour. It can be shopping, sex, gaming or, for example, eating sweets. The addiction is not about satisfying an ordinary need, but about satisfying the need resulting from overwhelming tension, nerves, acute emotions. Any person who has a tendency to eat while in crisis, is potentially at risk that one day he or she will become addicted to controlling their feelings by binge eating. It is best to avoid, as behavioural addictions are relatively difficult to treat – it is a hard and exhausting psychological journey. However if in need, it is always worth taking that path.
When I talked about several levels, I meant that obesity often appears as a symptom of other emotional problems – other addictions or depression, anxiety disorders or deep psychological crises.
That is why, I believe, it is very important to answer the question „why am I obese’?
What prevents people with excess kilos from trying to lose them?
K.K.: There may be infinite reasons, starting with those related to internal motivation, right to those deep-seated ones, located deep in the psyche. Usually we are prevented by our resistance to change and modification of old habits. We are simply terrified by the thought of having to cook in a different way, switching to other flavours, putting more effort into preparing dishes. Obesity usually goes hand in hand with eating unhealthy, sweet and fatty foods. Diet is an entry into the circle of different flavours, sometimes those to which the body has become unaccustomed and which are initially difficult „to swallow”. This can cause reluctance and can make people think that they will never enjoy healthy food or new flavours – they are mistaken.
Another thing which may prevent us from change, is the aversion to internal discipline. In psychotherapy, we use a term such as “inner child”. This child in us can be sad, angry, demanding. The inner child is the sensitive part of our personality, the remnant of our childhood. If it is not happy, it will look for ways to be happy without any reflection – and find them (seemingly) in sweets. Because sweets are substitute objects, remedies for sorrows. A binge eating adult is like a child, without an internal control system, without reflection on the consequences.
The reasons for reluctance to diets may be more difficult to grasp. In any case it is always worth cooperating with a psychologist, who will be able to help us to pin point what causes our subconscious apprehension and what it is that prevents us from losing weight, despite declaring such a need. For example, some people come to the conclusion that they do not want to lose weight because they are afraid of being overwhelmed by their attractiveness. Others have the impression that if they were to lose weight, they would disappear. Some others think that they might resemble their parents in a slim version, which frightens them.
Why do we fail to achieve our goal so often? Why do we give up encountering first failures or challenges?
K.K.: The reason for giving up easily, is that, when slimming, we start from the position of a child. We want to see spectacular results NOW / INSTANTLY, and preferably with the smallest effort put in. When we encounter an uphill road, instead of facing the difficulties, we say: „ Nah, it’s not for me, I’m out”.
If we are to succeed, the approach to weight loss must be mature. We need to plan it well, deliberately analyse various issues, which might surface on our slimming journey. Losing weight can be compared to the climbing Giewont Mountain – you can not do it in flip-flops and a swimming suit, right? You need good shoes, and the right equipment. It is the same with slimming – the most important is preparation. Otherwise, we will get stuck halfway or even at the very beginning of our journey; we will turn back frustrated at the first stumble.
Another reason for giving up easily, is inability to cope with frustration – and it often seems to be a key problem. Those who give up, are often unable to deal with psychological tension because no-one in their childhood thought them to wait. They are adults, who as children, had what they wanted without any effort; whose parents would say: „Ok, I’ll get you this chocolate, just stop crying”.
What impact on the psyche of people who are overweight or obese have unsuccessful attempts to lose weight?
K.K.: They have a strong impact, as failures can be seen as a confirmation of the belief that slimming is pointless; that clearly it must be impossible to lose weight, if once again we were defeated. But it is a waste of time to live in a state of discouragement. How many times did Michael Jordan have to miss, before becoming a world-famous basketball player? I’m sure it was hundreds of times. Failures are integral part of achieving success, they can not be avoided. They are a natural element of our development, so they should be treated as stops on our journey, but not as final stops. I don’t know what would Monika say about it, but I would redefine the term “unsuccessful attempts to lose weight” – I think there is no such thing. I believe it is slimming, which has stopped, and we can not move on. However once we started the process of slimming, it means that the first step was already taken, and now we just have to get ourselves together and continue on our journey.
Can diet, understood as a temporary change of eating habits, can permanently solve the problem of being overweight or obese?
K.K.: I am not an expert when it comes to diets, but from a psychologist’s perspective I would say that if the diet is temporary, then we usually obsessively fantasize about the end of it. And what is at the end? We imagine a big doughnut or kebab, which we’ll be able to finally eat after weeks of fasting.
Temporary diets help lose kilograms, but they don’t teach us how to change our attitudes, nutrition habits and lifestyle. I think that during a short diet, some people make an examination of their conscience, and go into a ‚healthy mode’. But after weeks of sacrifice most of them returns to bad habits and later despair over the yo-yo effect. And the yo-yo effect is a normal thing if we give the body too little, then too much. We are not machines, therefore we shouldn’t expect our bodies to behave like on a veggie based diet, while being fed fatty foods. I have the impression that many people treat their bodies in a very negligent way, first demanding, punishing, hating, and then comforting with sweets. It’s wrong. The body (whether obese or thin) must be our beloved friend. We must care for it, supply it with what’s best for it and not leftovers, fast food or punishments in the form of vomiting or starvation.
In the Transformation Programme, we start the weight loss process from the head – that is, from changing our thinking about ourselves, our attitude. What do you think about this?
K.K.: It is a wise presumption that weight loss begins in our mind. I agree with the fact that attitudes and proper mind-set are extremely helpful, because obesity is above all a state of the soul. It’s an emotional problem, so let’s not forget about the psyche if we’re serious about slimming. Many people, fighting with kilograms, completely disconnect from their emotions and ignore them – it’s a lost battle. The basis for changing our eating habits, lies in a deep understanding of ourselves, our reactions. We need to answer a question „what does this corpulence mean to me?”. Is it my armor? A hide away? Is it a habit and a justification for failures?
An important aspect of the Transformation Programme is the support provided by Monika Honory through various communication channels and tools. The support is also shared by the members of the Zupomania® group – slimming with Monika Honory. It would be ideal if people trying to lose weight could count on the support of their loved ones. Is it a good idea, and if it is, then how should one include those closest to them in the weight loss process?
K.K.: Obesity, in my opinion is a systemic problem – a problem of the entire family system and not only obese person’s. Therefore, the closest family should participate in the weight loss process in an active way – support, encourage and not obstruct. It is good to tell the other family members what is expected of them, how they can help. Do not order the whole family to go on the diet, such help would be terror. Remember the limits – our own and others’. It wouldn’t be terror if you asked your family not to eat sweets in your presence, or not to leave chocolate on the kitchen counter, because it tempts you. On the other hand, it must be respected that relatives have the right to eat this chocolate, and you must learn to control yourself. I knew a lady who forbade herself and her husband to go to their favorite Italian restaurant because she there were too many temptations there. It ended in a marital conflict, because he felt ignored. He felt that his needs did not matter. That is not the way either.
Why the environment may not be supportive?
K.K.: As I said, being overweight / obesity are systemic problems, and when something changes in the system, the entire balance of power in the family shifts. The whole family undergoes a kind of transformation – not everyone might like it. People get used to functioning within certain frames and when these frames begin to change, they can try to go back to the old order by force. Hence the behaviour of family members, such as ignoring a person slimming down or even sabotaging their efforts.
What to do if the environment does not provide support, negates or interferes?
K.K.: Above all it must be remembered that for a family, a close relative who is slimming down, is a person who disturbs the system. That is why in many families such a person is either condemned or rejected by ridicules or unnecessary temptations. For example: a daughter who never ate crisps at home suddenly began to eat them in front of her mother when the latter started a diet. Why? Because subconsciously she is afraid of what her slim mother will be. How much will change? She tries to prevent the imagined catastrophe – on the unconscious level. If you find yourself with such a daughter or other household member, then instead of fussing and arguing, just focus on yourself. Stay strong and concentrated on your new habits. Losing weight should be treated as a personal, intimate experience. We do not have to involve anybody else or fight for anyone’s attention. It’s important to be attentive to yourself, that’s enough.
Being overweight and obese can be not only the cause of serious health problems, but also psychological issues. One of them is depression. How can we recognise that problem and what actions should we take if we notice the symptoms?
K.K.: Depression is associated with enormous psychological pain. That pain should be relived and not camouflaged; one shouldn’t pretend that everything is fine. People who are overweight are often said to be “so funny, so happy”, but often it is the mask under which lies suffering, lack of self-acceptance, sadness.
Most people who are overweight, more that likely aren’t depressed but rather go through depressive states. It is worth recognising these states and alleviating them according to our needs – it may be by having a conversation with another person, more relaxation, returning to pleasant activities. It is good to find time for even small pleasures in life, even if we have children and work to take care of.
If our sadness is accompanied by apathy, weariness, lack of will to live and it lasts for weeks, then we shouldn’t be ashamed to seek the advice of a specialist – psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Perhaps this is a depression in clinical sense, meaning a disease that can be treated under medical control. It is nothing scary or shameful. It’s a disease like any other and like any other requires professional consultation.
Finally: do you have universal advice for people who want to start or are in the process of losing weight?
K.K.: I always tell my patients that to be happy in their body, this body must become their friend and not an enemy they defame. Regardless of whether we are size S or XXL, we should refer to our bodies with respect and love. Hatred blocks the weight loss process, slows down digestion, and takes away motivation. Only when we love ourselves, we are able to truly take care of ourselves. And this is what I wish to everyone.