For some people, losing weight is a mystery. They know what to do, but for some reason can’t follow though. If this is you, counselor and life coach Colette Baron-Reid may have answers in her new book Weight Loss for People Who Feel Too Much. During her 23-year practice, she found that people who are extremely empathetic or sensitive often have food and weight issues, and she’s developed a program to overcome them. We caught up with Baron-Reid to learn more. (To find out if empathy could be affecting your weight, take our quiz.)
Books for Better Living: You really have pinpointed the strong connection between managing emotions and weight. Can you talk about how you uncovered it?
Colette Baron-Reid: Over the years, I noticed that I would swell rapidly under times of stress but drop weight as rapidly when I felt peaceful and happy. I would sometimes turn to food to calm myself down, but often times, it would happen even if I would eat clean or relatively clean.
Over the past 23 years, working as an intuitive counselor, coach and life strategist, I would meet many people that had the very same symptoms. I met many others who, like me, feel prey to inevitably falling into a shame and fear spiral from the whole experience. We had some important things in common: We tended to feel agitated from 4 p.m. on and turned to food to calm down when that point hit. We lost weight only when we dieted for positive reasons, but gained it when we dieted to control our bodies (self-hatred, etc.), and we were all empathetic by nature. So I began my search for answers.
BBL: Talk more about empathy: What is it?
CBR: Empathy is the ability to sense one’s environment, to connect with others at a deeper level than what we see on the surface. It is a sign of a highly sensitive person able to intuit the feelings of others, to sense how they feel as if their feelings were your own. You can imagine a person like this to have porous personal boundaries. Its difficult to discern where you end and others begin, and it’s easy for sensitive people to fall into empathy overload when they don’t know what or “who” they are tuned into—especially in the information overload of the modern world. I refer to empathic people as People Who Feel Too Much.
BBL: How big a factor do you think people’s emotions play in their “set points” for weight?
CBR: When we get stressed, we respond from the “fight or flight” part of our brain that reacts as if we were back in prehistoric times and being charged by a T. Rex and perhaps stuck in a cave with no food for a month. Our bodies are designed to survive by storing fat, but this becomes a problem when stress is the constant message being played. I know for myself, until I am relaxed and taking care that I don’t get overstressed, I will have a higher set point for my weight.
BBL: So what are the steps highly sensitive or empathic people can take to start healing their relationship with food and their bodies?
CBR: First, a person needs to identify and accept his or her sensitivity, then it comes time make a commitment to a new way of managing emotions, as outlined in the book: healthy boundaries, self-care and self-kindness, minimizing stressors, and working with the In-Vizion® process, and making better food choices.
BBL: You talk a lot about positive self-talk, positive visualization and the healthy management of emotions in your book? How is that helping people lose weight?
CBR: Fear and shame are the emotions that keep people who feel too much from losing weight, because feeling bad about yourself leads to self-sabotage. One of the ways people maintain their stress is by trying to control their bodies by hating them into being thin—deprivation diets, etc. that they can’t stick to. Fear forces you to find a way to feel safe, but when your thoughts are full of self-anger, you need to protect yourself from your self! It’s a vicious cycle.
Mindfulness, detaching from negative emotions and affirming positive, loving thoughts all are actions that encourage loving, positive behaviors. They relieve stress so the person can stick to healthier choices.
BBL: Much of the book deals with non-food issues in relation to weight. Do you have recommendations in the book on what to eat?
CBR: I don’t believe any food plan is one-size-fits-all, but I do have some suggestions. The people who have the most success with the program stick to three meals and two snacks a day—no grazing. I suggest a mostly plant-based diet, eating organic as much as you can, avoiding all GMOs, excito-toxins such as MSG and artificial sweeteners, and eliminating all processed flour and sugar.
I believe in moderation and empowering the person to want to do the best thing for his or her body. This program is about accountability and conscious, empowered, educated choice-making.