Monday, October 19, 2009

Smokers. Overweight Individuals. Twins.

"I am so ashamed that I smoke."

I received those words the other day from an avid reader and close friend in Canada.

I have also heard that same phrase from a thousand readers who say they are ashamed they are excessively overweight.

Let's tackle the two related ideas that flow from those conversations.

Smoking is an addiction.

We all know that smoking is an addiction. We accept that. We know that there is a substance in tobacco that hooks smokers, and makes it very difficult to get unhooked.

So, while we may not enjoy being around people while they are smoking, we give them a certain "pass" because we know they are addicted. We usually don't think of smokers as having a character defect.

Smokers get a "will=power" pass. We know that smokers can delay smoking for only so long. Then the urge to light up is overwhelming, and they have to give in and smoke. No one has to tell us that. We just know smokers are a special case – they are addicted.

Being overweight, however, is too often viewed as a character defect. Most people think overweight people choose to overeat. The thinking goes that if they would just push themselves back from the table, or eat differently, they would not be overweight. Sadly, men especially believe this way, about women, and about themselves.

In fact, I belong to a LinkedIn group of weight loss professionals that just had that discussion. They all agreed that overweight people lack self-discipline – (mostly only men commenting, I might add).

But what about overweight people? Don't most people just assume they willingly over-eat? Don't most people blame excess weight on some kind of character defect in the overweight person? There is even a very old and well-recognized group called Overeaters Anonymous that was founded on the premise that you can "just say no" to over-eating.

The biggest problem with this "lack-of-self-discipline" thinking is that many, perhaps most, overweight people believe it. They have bought into the myth that being overweight is simply a problem of lacking self-restraint.

It is a false premise. And a damaging one.

Overeating is an addiction.

Eating too much, or eating the wrong foods, is the result of chemicals acting on your body in exactly the same way that smoking does. It is an addiction. Some of the same body chemicals are involved. Said another way, overeating is an addiction in the same way that smoking is an addiction. It's being hooked on a chemical – a chemical dependency that is extremely difficult to overcome.

Because of the chemical dependency, you can't just delay eating any more than smokers can delay smoking, and expect the urge to go away. It doesn't. The longer you delay eating to fight the urge, the larger your appetite becomes. Sooner or later you will have to given-in, and when you do, you will over eat much more than if you hadn't delayed eating in the first place.

So, if you want to understand why you are excessively overweight, you have to start there. You have to understand it is a problem of chemical dependency – it most certainly is not a problem with your character. And if you don't start there, you will end up in the wrong place. You will regain lost weight every time you try to lose weight.

The path out of addiction.

Which brings me back to my smoker friend. The route out of smoking addiction begins with a commitment to self. It starts with an overwhelming reason to want to quit. Absent that, every route to permanent smoking cessation will be stymied. The withdrawal from an addictive substance sucks out your will-power. It destroys your good intent. It makes a mockery of your self-control.

Overcoming smoking addiction has to begin with getting very clear about your reasons to quit. It is all about finding not one, but many very strong reasons to quit – then understanding them deeply. It is about visualizing very vividly how your life would be different by not smoking.

The research shows that there are only two kinds of reasons that work as sufficient motivators to break free of addiction. Both are deeply personal:

(1) How do you view yourself, and and how you feel about your self-worth. And...
(2) How you think your present actions, and your future success in changing them, will affect significant others in your life

If you can't find enough personal reasons to quit smoking, if they are not deep and personal enough, you will TRY to quit. With the destructive force of chemical dependency working against you, TRYING to quit is the prescription for failure. You cannot try. You can only do. Or not do. (Thanks to Master Yoda for that clear distinction.)

Kicking the addiction that leads to excess weight.

Successfully losing significant excess weight is precisely the same process. In fact, all the best research shows that the emotional and psychological path to losing a lot of weight, and keeping it off, is precisely the same as for kicking smoking addiction.

You have to have a reason beyond pounds to lose weight permanently. You have to have a reason beyond health to take the weight off.

Overcoming smoking and overcoming bad eating patterns begin in finding increasingly strong reasons to do them.

Overcoming these twin addictions is about increasing your sense of self-worth – and about openly understanding your impact on others – both when you are not successful in achieving your goals, and when you are.

Yet these actions alone do not always equal success. You MUST take into account that you are battling a chemical dependency. You CANNOT fight chemical withdrawal by will power along. You need help, and helping relationships.

You need accurate information about what you are up against. Most of all, once that is all "on board" your mind, and firmly secured for the stormy passage ahead, you need a science-based strategy that can deliver you to success.

All the will-power in the universe cannot get you past chemical dependency by itself.

We all know that about people who need to quit smoking. We know they need help overcoming chemical dependency. We accept it is not that they just lack character.

You need to know – you need to accept – that losing excessive weight and keeping it off permanently is exactly the same as smoking cessation.

You need to overcome chemical dependency, and for that you need help, and helping relationships. Quit blaming your lack of will power for your repeated failures at keeping the pounds off. Quit thinking you have some special kind of character defect.

You may have been overweight for a long time, but there is nothing wrong with you that accurate information and a correct "overcoming chemical dependency" strategy won't cure.

Smokers. Excessively overweight individuals. They are twins.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in being either. You are hooked on a chemical dependency. You are in the process of overcoming that dependency. You are to be applauded for that effort – you need to give yourself credit for doing something about it, instead of wrapping yourself in self-described shame.

Self-shame, in fact, lowers your self-esteem, giving yourself reason to fail yet again.

Get past shame, and get on to your success.

Once you start thinking about being overweight is like being a smoker, you are on the path to permanent weight loss success. Isn't that what you want?

VP Programs Development, ScaleDown for Life
VP Education, GoZonkers Inc.
Curb Your Appetite – Stop Your Cravings

©2009 Laura Gontchar. All Rights Reserved.