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Why I Think Tough Love Rarely Works When It Comes To Weight Management


After listening to thousands of people's stories when seeking help for weight loss and long-term weight management, a recurring sentiment is one of self-flagellation, self-loathing, incredibly high expectations of self, a lot of guilt, enormous shame and harsh criticism of self.

Year after year they berate them selves for not being more disciplined, for not trying hard enough, for being lazy, for not being compliant with prescribed diets and exercise routines.

I have observed that all this tough love towards self has never actually translated into weight loss or keeping weight off. So why is it that the same message keeps being delivered over and over from the weight loss industry that it is an entirely personal responsibility?

Without sounding "airy fairy" I encourage my clients to be less hard on themselves, more forgiving and that  showing some self-compassion might be worth trying. More often than not they have spent so much time blaming their struggles with their weight entirely on themselves believing that they are flawed and not disciplined enough, and that they should just try harder that it has never occurred to them that perhaps they are not to blame.

Unfortunately this is the message that they mostly receive through the current narrative of weight being simply a matter of eating less and moving more and that if they are not losing weight they must not be trying hard enough, or they are lying to others or themselves.

The amount of tears shed in my rooms with despair is staggering.

If over 200 genes are implicated in what controls weight then it is simply not possible that just being tougher on oneself will change that.

The other consideration is that managing weight does not happen in isolation or in a vacuum. Many people who tell me they are trying to lose weight, and are struggling, forget that life still goes on while they are trying. There are financial stressors, mental health struggles, ie depression and anxiety, relationship struggles, infertility struggles, grief, loss trauma, childhood sexual abuse, PTSD, huge work pressures, psychiatric medications that cause weight, menopause among many other life factors. Trying to meet the demands of a so called perfect way of eating (which doesn't exist) and a strict exercise regime often just adds an extra layer of stress and expectations they can not meet.

The try harder, do better, eat less, move more, stop making excuses mantras that are on a repeat loop have never, in my experience brought about any meaningful change in weight or inner contentment.

If we can replace tough love with compassion and gently guide our clients to the additional care with practitioners who understand obesity and can prescribe  if, appropriate medications, or surgery and help them to understand it is not their fault and that obesity is a chronic relapsing condition and has nothing to do with morality or being a unmotivated person. Being kind to ones self, not expecting perfection, talking to oneself as you would to someone you loved and removing the terrible self blame and negative inner critic, can go a long way to creating a foundation of less angst while trying to mange weight.

Ginette Lenham © November 2022

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