Diets Work, People Don't

"Why do you want to lose weight?" - Shadrach Smith, MD

When someone comes to us wanting to lose weight, that's never all they want. We assume they want to lose weight in order to get something else. Patients skip the question, "Why do you want to lose weight?" Perversely, when asked, they look at the credentials on the wall and give a politically correct answer. "I want to be healthier," or "I want to lower my blood pressure." Gwen, in the first chapter, did not even know that she wanted to lose weight to serve her family even more. When you don't know why you want something, it's hard to keep going after it.

Motivation First

Perhaps an analogy will help. To drive your car to your destination, you need a good car, adequate fuel and inflated tires, among other things. But if you don't employ the steering wheel, you are in trouble. The steering, in the case of weight loss, is navigating a number of roadblocks that are different for different people and different at different times for the same person. You can get weight loss maps in every bookstore. What you need is to help to learn to steer for yourself.

Weight loss books, theories and strategies abound. Many are good, some are indifferent and a few dangerous. Most present the map that worked for themselves or some others. They usually have one or both of two flaws: either a new improved plan for eating healthier and exercising or a fad that employs chemicals or exotic menus that exclude what we usually eat.

Here's why the usual formulae have to be personally tailored, either by you or by a professional. The regimen that works for a math teacher 50 pounds overweight differs sharply from the one that a young mother needs to shed 30 pounds after pregnancy. And three mothers with different Enneagram styles, metabolisms and environments may also need different strategies.

And What Are These Motives?

Most weight loss programs assume motivation, similar metabolism and standard eating habits. Because those assumptions are all shaky or wrong, we see that most diets work but the people don't. Diets will usually work, IF and that's the big if, people can stick to them. A few can. They become the poster children. Most can't. They become discouraged and turn to comfort food for consolation, then tell their friends or therapists they suffer from lack of self-esteem.

We fail at weight control for a variety of reasons. Some have metabolic barriers; some have childhood habits, others use food as stress reduction and still others have private motives like the beautiful woman who learned her husband was unfaithful so she gained weight so he couldn't enjoy her beauty!

All the above motives have another layer that we will address extensively. Everyone's motivation is shaped by core beliefs, energy levels, attention habits, worldview and the strategies we all use to solve our problems. Yes, fat can be a strategy, among other things.

However, the good news is that the core reasons people in weight control are finite and really quite limited. The research shows that people fail in the same ways, for the same reasons, repeatedly across ethnic groups, age levels, economic strata and geography. The single parent on Medicaid in Oklahoma and the millionaire software designer in New Jersey have the same motives.

How the Enneagram Contributes

Enter the contribution of the Enneagram. If the single parent and the software designer are both style Two, like Gwen above, their patterns of behavior and their deepest desires are identical! Knowing that is an enormous help. Their external presentation and/or presenting symptoms may be worlds apart, but the structure of their inner experience is so identical that they can be helped in many of the same ways.

Gwen illustrates the importance of the Enneagram structure of her problem. She felt an obligation to be available 24/7 for her children, husband, community and boss. When I properly told her to exercise, I added to her burden. When could she find time to add that to her already overloaded schedule? And as for preparing healthy food, that would be just one more time-consuming task that would rob her of precious time to serve her loved ones! Her deepest desire, her authentic motivation was to be a better mother, wife, and worker. All my best medical advice sabotaged her motivation.

Gwen knew she shouldn't eat that ice cream at night, but she did not know that she was eating because she was unappreciated. On one level she knew how hard she worked and that she was not really recognized for her heroic efforts. But she was not able to see the connection between that and the lovely feeling that came over her as she polished off the pint of Homemade Vanilla Flavored self-reward. As a Nurturer she had long learned to suppress her own needs, so she did not see that they show up in strange containers.