Q&A: Weight loss and self-esteem



If you recognise yourself in this, the good news is that your level of self-esteem is in your own hands, at least to a very large extent. Understanding the problem is the first step, but many people get stuck there because they assume that self-esteem is an unavoidable consequence of their childhood experience. Do you think that your level of self-esteem is cast in stone, and that nothing you do in the present time has any impact on that?

It’s not that how you were treated as a child doesn’t have a huge impact on your self-esteem. Maybe you were given the message that you just aren’t good enough. Or your ideas and interests were acknowledged, and your unique qualities recognised. Perhaps you were raised with strong demands: never to appear lazy or stupid, never to make mistakes. Or to be successful or slim?

Loss of control with food – periods of overeating or binging – are in a great many cases directly related to a loss of esteem. It might have begun with a poor exam grade, a bad business decision, or a fight with a friend. The dent in esteem leads to familiar ideas that you’re not worth bothering about, so why take care of yourself, why eat healthy food, why aspire to any degree of self-control? This is precisely when any addictive desire feels most compelling.

The solution is in acknowledging that once the mistake has been made there will be some degree of regret. What you do have control of is whether you continue to reinforce it – or whether you begin the process of restoring your self-esteem. One of the most exciting things about addictive behaviours, especially eating, is that this source of self-esteem, the one that lives within your relationship with food is (at least potentially) entirely within your control. So the exam still got a poor grade, the effects of the bad business decision continue, or the friend continues to alienate you. There may not be much you can do about these. So you either live, at least for now, with this hateful situation and perpetuate the lower self-esteem by overeating. Or you live, at least for now, with this hateful situation and take control of one area of your life that can begin to make a positive impact on your self-esteem.

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  1. Maria

    Thank you for another very useful article. I find it very motivating to get deeper into the essence of self-esteem and the relationship with food. Dealing with mistakes is really crucial. I’ve made huge improvement in this area and articles like this really help. Further insight into coping with failure would definitely be of interest for me.

  2. Reenee

    Dear Gillian

    My issue is a common one. I have read too many books on how to transform my relationship with food and feel utterly confused. I am also a senior psychiatrist and there are different held opinions regarding whether to view overeating and binge eating as an addiction. The book that seems to have come closest to my observations of myself is yours. And yet I resist to make plans and times, the word ‘should’ stubbornly sits in my mind and my life is so busy that my dopamine system is screaming for an extra helping of food at 8pm when I finally sit down after a 6am start.

  3. Marilyn

    I DO appreciate your articles every month – this one in particular, Gillian. Prior to the summer I was 14, although I had questionable dietary habits and overate to soothe myself on occasion, I didn’t have a weight problem. But once I’d been fired for no apparent reason from my first job, I gained 20 pounds in very short order. Rampant hormones? Perhaps partially, but mostly SHAME for having been fired, FEAR that life was unfair and made no sense, ANGER at my own powerlessness and FRUSTRATION over my failure to understand why. I’ve buried these emotions under varying degrees of excess weight for almost 50 years now. Your advice to appreciate the immediate benefits of better eating behavior BESIDES ultimately losing weight makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you for continuing to expand on the ideas in your excellent book DITCHING DIETS.

  4. Robynne

    I love your articles. They bring me new insights and remind me of old ones. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into researching and writing them. In this article this point really resonated with me and is something I’m working on: “When it comes to connecting with your motivation to control overeating, it’s considerably more effective for you to appreciate that more immediate feedback. This happens when you value any benefit you get from “being in control” at least as much as “losing weight” – and preferably considerably more.” I’m working on “losing weight” not being the ultimate goal, but a side effect of a healthier lifestyle where *I’m* in control, not my addictive urges. Thanks again for your insights!

  5. Debs

    I really appreciate the regular newsletter. The articles are thought provoking and challenge me to think deeper about the ways in which I can face my addictive desire to overeat. The articles help me get back on track each time I give into the desire and each time I can sustain it for longer. After many years of being obsessed about my appearance I am finally seeing the benefits and the motivating power of using health and wellbeing as my immediate goals. Basically when I eat well I feel better psychologically and physically…..who doesn’t want more of that?

  6. sandy

    For me, this week, the benefit of being “in control” equals peace. I’ve had a rough weekend, feeling low and disappointed in myself and I realised on Sunday that above all else I need to feel peace inside. So when faced with the urge to overeat rather than it being about losing weight, or avoiding bloating, or having more energy, it’s definitely all about the feeling of peace inside when I’ve chosen not to give in; for this week, anyway.

  7. Sharon

    Your article couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I read it this morning having been dipping in and out of ‘binge’ mode all morning. My self-esteem is something I’ve been working on for a couple of years and I’ve made huge strides in that area following one of your seminars. This morning I received an email which made me lose confidence in my personal life – I didn’t even realise where the urge to binge had come from, until I read your article!

    Thanks so much, Gillian. Please don’t ever feel we aren’t listening. You do an amazing job and you have changed my life HUGELY!

  8. Clare

    I would like to echo all the positive comments that other people have written: your articles are really helpful and thought-provoking and all the research you clearly do and share with us is brilliant- thank you.

    Thanks again for all your help.

  9. zoe

    I would also like to add my Thanks for these Monthly articles Gillian. I appreciate them enormously, not just for the information and advice contained, but for being a gentle Monthly reminder of your brilliant eating method.

    It took me a long time to really absorb your teaching and learn to apply it, but now I have its there in my head, and in my actions as second nature (not to say I eat perfectly all the time – I still do binge occassionally – but I manage it better).
    So the Newsletters serve as just a little hint to re-evaluate how I’m eating and to adjust accordingly.

    With huge thanks

  10. Jane

    I bought your book Eating Less the other day and read it in one sitting, so gripped was I! I will now read it again more slowly to really absorb what you say, but already my thinking has changed a lot. I feel like I’m in the process of “making peace” with the elements of my hungers that are rooted in my lifelong compulsive eating.

    This blog post about self-esteem is really helpful in underlining one of the key messages in your book. My BMI is around 28.5 and I’d dearly love to get it down to 25 for my health and comfort (appearance has never been a huge deal for me, but not being a healthy weight has been a huge deal). I’m on my third day of sitting with my compulsive eating desires rather than eating/distracting myself so I don;t have to sit with them, and on my third day of eating more healthily rather than trying to stick to a certain calorie intake… and already my skin looks better, the whites of my eyes are whiter, and I feel calmer about food, and more energetic. I doubt my weight has changed in 3 days but lots of other things have, including my self-esteem!

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