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Dieting, weight loss, weight management - Why would you need a psychologist?

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Most people in the world have, at some point in their lives, gone on a diet. Tried to lose weight. Tried to gain weight. Tried to change their body through diet.

These people probably set themselves a goal that is possibly attainable (albeit with a lot of effort) but probably not maintainable. This is a phenomenon that is easily understood - it simply comes from the extreme discrepancy between society's ideas of beauty and the body's ability to adapt to them.

Psychologically, the problem is not always the inability to lose or maintain weight. In fact, many other problems arise precisely from the success of losing and maintaining a low weight, a process based on extreme psychological rigidity. To achieve these unrealistic goals it is often necessary to condition a series of areas of life. Examples of these cases are the impossibility of socialising with others in the presence of food (dinner parties, events with food), time management in relation to physical exercise (occupying all free time with exercise, for example), etc.

In these cases, we consider the collaboration between a Psychologist and a Nutritionist or Dietitian to be very important. We are not against diets, on the contrary. “A healthy mind in a healthy body”! We will never be happy or feel good in a body that is not healthy. But neither will we be happy if we freely accept utopian ideals of weight or body shape.

Here are a few cases in which we consider this collaboration to be ideal:

a) Excess weight / obesity with recourse to food as a form of emotional regulation - that is, the cases in which there is compulsive eating or even an associated disorder (Binge Eating Disorder). In these cases, there is usually a long history of unsuccessful attempts to lose or maintain weight; people frequently resort to eating as a way of regulating their moods; they feel intense feelings of guilt and/or shame; and they are very resistant to following the proposed eating plan. The collaboration between professionals allows the Psychologist to motivate the patient to adhere to the eating plan, to promote awareness about emotional states and the use of alternative and effective emotional regulation strategies, to reinforce small achievements, to cultivate transparency in the therapeutic process, among others.

b) Eating Disorders / subclinical eating disorders - in Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, or similar symptoms in subclinical conditions, dietary restraint and restriction are the main predisposing and maintenance factors of pathological symptoms. However, individuals suffering from these conditions often resort to nutrition services with the desire to lose weight and to follow calorically restrictive diets. From the psychological point of view, the professional has the urgent task of stopping the restrictive behaviours, and should therefore inform the Nutritionist / Dietician of this urgency, so that both can work together on a balanced and feasible diet plan. Furthermore, the Psychologist must work on the promotion of psychological flexibility in relation to eating behaviour and body image, work which will be reflected in the adherence to therapy from the eating point of view.

c) Situations requiring the achievement and maintenance of a non-ideal weight for specific reasons, for example sports or medical reasons. The collaboration between the two professionals will allow for motivation, flexible behaviour, the celebration of small and big goals and the non prejudice of adjoining areas of life by the need for a greater focus on diet and food.

Other examples justify this collaboration and underline the importance of multidisciplinary work in health and wellbeing. On the part of professionals, all education, training and clinical practice should be geared towards openness to collaborative work, since the main aim of this is the effectiveness of the intervention to promote the patient's health and wellbeing.

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