“Dietophobia” is a common, yet hardly known fear. Joy Martina explains how it thrives amongst the overweight and is a key reason we fail at losing weight.
We live in a culture of extremes. At one end of the spectrum, we have “obesophobia”, also known as weight phobia – the persistent, abnormal fear of gaining weight. This is particularly prevalent in cultures that value thinness and is diagnosed as anorexia nervosa. Obesophobia is a rare disease but, at the other end of the spectrum lies the far more common fear – what I call dietophobia, the fear of dieting. Sufferers of dietophobia get stressed by merely thinking about dieting. Just mentioning the word “diet” triggers an avalanche of negative emotions and memories in a dietophobian that set in motion a wide range of limiting beliefs, sabotaging behavioral patterns and destructive habits. The effect is that, before dietophobians even start on a diet, they are doomed to failure.
This article explains how fear is connected to dieting and weight loss and shows ways to overcome the sabotage of fear. Before we delve into this topic, let’s conduct a short test. Think of the word “diet” and check which of the following words you connect it to most:
- Enjoying life
- Doom & Gloom
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do the words “diet” and “dieting” make you feel happy, light-hearted and excited or do they make you feel depressed, deprived and dreading? Is dieting a necessary evil or do you enjoy being on a diet?
- Does the idea of having of following a more or less strict and restrictive regimen ahead of you, fill you with desire and anticipation or do you secretly think that “once I have stuck through this diet and lost the weight I can go back to eating whatever I want and enjoy life again?”
95% of all the people I ever asked these questions, regardless of whether they were an overweight client in China, a slim business coaching client in Europe, a celebrity client in the US or a participant in one of my weight loss workshops answered something like:
“I hate diets – I dread not being able to eat what I want”
“I am scared I won’t be able to exert enough willpower, I’m scared of failing… of gaining weight rather than losing it, yo-yoing all my life.”
Why does the idea of dieting scare us and how does it affect our weight?
First of all, let’s look at fear: what is fear and when do we experience it?
Very simply put: The emotion of fear is a chemical reaction that our brain produces when we move outside (or are about to move outside) our comfort zone. Our comfort zone is basically our status quo. This means that whenever we go near the borderlines of what we are used to doing/saying/believing, our brain signals “alarm” and produces hormones similar to adrenaline. These hormones are then translated into messages, which we can interpret as either:
Negative stress – fear, anxiety, worry,
Positive stress – excitement, anticipation
How we interpret this message depends on our past experiences and that will influence the decisions we make and the actions we take.
Here’s an example of how this works from the business world:
Two businessmen have to make a speech in front of a board committee. Both feel stressed – they are both nervous about making a mistake and not winning the support of their colleagues. But as you will see, they each interpret the sensation of “fear” differently.
Mark has had bad experiences in the past when he had to speak in front of others. He feels nauseous, is starting to sweat and his breathing has become shallow. He wishes he could turn around and run home. When he finally starts speaking, fear sets in and he starts stumbling over his own words, then he starts panicking. He forgets what he wanted to say and by the time his speech is over, he leaves the stage feeling a failure.
Paul has had similar experiences. He decided to do some speech training and was taught how to overcome stage fright and construct a concise speech. He feels the sensation he calls “stage anticipation” and turns it into energy and motivation. He knows he might mess up the speech but he also knows that there is a good chance of him doing well and delivering his point. He also knows that every time he goes beyond his comfort zone, he comes out stronger – so he is able to see this uncomfortable sensation as a training to step more into his power.
What’s the difference between the two?
Mark got stuck in a downward spiral of low self-esteem, unhappiness, and failure. Because every time he had to give a speech his symptoms got worse, eventually he found a way to avoid public speaking altogether. He told himself “I just can’t do it, I’ll never be a public speaker” and gave up on his dream to be the CEO of the company he loved working for.
Paul, on the other hand, recognized his problem and felt a strong desire to change the situation so he sought professional help. His speech training taught him new ways to deal with his fear and helped him create new habits. He changed his way of thinking and went from being a passive victim to being a pro-active victor by turning a weakness into a strength and increasing his feelings of self-esteem.
How is this related to the fear of dieting?
Your memories of all the life experiences you’ve ever had are stored in your subconscious mind which connects these memories to emotions and bodily sensations thus determining whether a particular memory is happy or sad. So if you once went on a diet where you had to restrict your food intake to the point where you constantly felt hungry, slightly depressed, weak and deprived – guess how happy your memory of that time is going to be! Miserable, right? Add to this the fact that 95% of us have, at some time or another, failed at a diet. So now the memories we associate with the word “diet” are “failure”, “hunger”, “depression”, “weakness”, “deprivation” and “misery”.
The effect of this memory connection is that every time your brain hears the word “diet”, it pulls out the file “diet memories” and panics. Your body is flooded with stress hormones and the subconscious mind starts sending you messages to stop you from deciding to follow a diet. “Diet” is seen as a threat to the system so it screams “No don’t! You’ll suffer… no more cookies or fries ever again – never ever –you will be condemned to eating celery and spinach for the rest of your life!” And in an attempt to protect you, the system will sabotage your good intentions because of the status quo – being overweight and eating what you want – is comfortable and SAFE. And our brains like “safe”.
With willpower, you can overcome your inner feelings of dread and still start on your calorie-reduced regimen, but normally within a week, you will already be struggling. Your willpower is overpowered by the subconscious mind and you will lose the battle unless the fear associated with being overweight is greater than the fear of being on a diet.
How to train your brain to support your weight-loss efforts
The good news is that once you uncovered the brain’s tricks, you can use them in your favor and make your brain work FOR you. You can even make your brain enjoy eating healthily!
Here’s a fun way to train your brain to want you to diet.
Make a “Happy Body Board”
- What does being slim mean to YOU? How would YOU feel once you have reached that goal?
Make a vision board that reflects that feeling and shows all the benefits you can imagine having once you have reached your ideal weight. Cut out pictures from magazines of healthy, happy, slim and successful people – those that inspire YOU and follow your ideals.
Hang your vision board somewhere you will see it at least 3 times a day.
Tip: take a picture of it with your phone and have it as a screensaver on your computer!
- Every time you look at your “happy body vision board” think, feel and imagine what it will be like to reach your goal.
Close your eyes and allow yourself to fantasize, daydream and visualize. Smile! Take a deep breath in and out and say inside of yourself: “I can do this! I love eating healthy foods that energize my body! I lose weight easily and joyfully. I can sleep my fat away!”
Make a fist while saying this and speak with conviction – and you are anchoring this happy slim state in your subconscious mind and brain.
- Do this exercise as often as you can!
It takes 21 days to erase limiting thoughts and old, destructive/dysfunctional habits and create new synapses in your brain. If you do this exercise, 3 times a day for 3 weeks, you will be laying a solid foundation for new, health-promoting eating habits that can last you a lifetime.
Each time you need empowerment, you can just make a fist with your left hand and you will – within seconds – return to that happy slim state and feel empowered!
In our upcoming book Sleep Your Fat Away, my husband Roy Martina, MD and I explain in-depth how we sabotage ourselves in weight loss and show you ways to lose weight easily – without diets or deprivation.
In Sleep Your Fat Away we have developed a complete package to help you lose weight effortlessly by reconnecting you with the inborn intelligence of your body. No diet, no pills, and no willpower are needed. As part of this package, we have created a 25-minute audio recording to help train your brain. The easiest way of training your brain is to use subliminal messaging using audio recordings. All the conscious mind hears in these recordings is the relaxing music, while the subconscious mind (and that’s where the real sabotage is hiding!) is able to pick up all the hidden, valuable information that is lying quietly below the music to help you think and act like a naturally slim person. Click here to download this audio for free.
To get the maximum effect: Simply put the track on repeat and listen to it every day while you are busy doing something else (please don’t use it while driving!). We have also included a 5 min version if you prefer something shorter, where you can hear the affirmations consciously. Click here to download.
I’d also love to hear about your experiences with diets and your fears concerning weight loss. Please join our Facebook group to let us know!