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Book review: “Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering psychological barriers to weight management”

Posted Aug 08 2010 11:56pm

By Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Review by Scott Keith

It’s a no-brainer when it comes to losing weight. You select a diet plan (with your doctor’s approval) that works for you. You join a fitness club and start working your abs, biceps and triceps. You cut out nightly snacks, invest in a good bathroom scale, and see if all your hard work pays off.

It may not be as cut and dry as you think. When it comes to weight loss, a clinical psychologist, and expert in weight management, believes we are overlooking a critical part of our body: Our brain. In her book, “Mind Over Fat Matters,” Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez says psychological barriers get in the way of our ability to shed pounds. According to Rodriguez, the human brain is a great tool; we must know how to use it. She writes in Chapter 1, If not used wisely and skillfully, it can be a detriment rather than an aid. In no other area does this ring as true as in trying to achieve a healthy and lean body.

Rodriguez, in an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, says she began researching obesity as a graduate student. Eventually she started treating eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.  ”I noticed that our society, in general, was becoming more and more preoccupied with dieting, weight, and appearance, yet the general public was becoming more and more overweight,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez decided to educate the general public on why most fad diets don’t work and why it’s not the individual’s fault. The result is a splendid book that will change your way of thinking when it comes to how to achieve and maintain a healthy, trim body.

“Mind Over Fat Matters” explains how the brain can become your friend or enemy in the battle against obesity. Rodriguez says the brain “doesn’t like to feel deprived. It doesn’t like any rigidity. It doesn’t like feeling overwhelmed. Those three things are very characteristic of fad diets. They tend to deprive you of those things that you like.” On the flip side, “your brain can be your friend if you supply it with flexibility…it loves praise and reinforcement.” She says it’s important to set up a weight loss program that you know you can follow for the rest of your life – one that’s flexible and feels good.

In Chapter 5, Rodriguez shares her feelings about dieting: “Diet” is today’s four-letter word. We use it about as frequently as some of our other “naughty” words. “Typically, when we say ‘diet,’ we’re talking about some type of fad diet…diet is something that’s short term. If you’re going to go on a diet, you’re going to go off a diet. It has a beginning and it has an end,” says Rodriguez, adding that if you want someone to eat more nutritiously, you need to make it simple for them.

Another word we should stop using is “exercise.” According to her book, The word “exercise” has too many negative things associated with it and the word implies that only certain activities qualify as “exercise.” Try to catch yourself when using the word and consciously say, “Moving is all I want to do. Any form of movement is good for the life I want.” Rodriguez suggests we pick an activity (movement) we enjoy and not feel we have to jog in the wee hours of the morning just because our neighbor does it. While engaging in activity, it’s best to have fun and forget about weight loss. “The more active you are, even when you’re not on your regular exercise, the easier it’s going to be for you to maintain your weight throughout your lifetime.”

Diets are rigid, says Rodriguez. Diets have “all or nothing” rules, such as no carbs or no sugar. She says as you try to follow these rules, you develop “psychological deprivation,”  adding that, “The longer you’re trying to stay away from the very things you like, these things become overvalued and you’re actually more attracted and more preoccupied with it.” The result can be a loss of control, which can lead to binging or compulsive overeating.

We need to “savor” our meals, points out Rodriguez. “We’re such a fast-paced society…that we’ve lost touch with the ability of savoring.” She says if we simply shove meals down, we’re missing the smell, texture, taste and color of food. “All of these different senses are very important for the messages to get to your brain that say, ‘Mmm. I’m satisfied, thank you very much.’” According to Rodriguez, this can encourage overeating, because the brain is still feeling hungry.

We know what we should do to improve our appearance: Limit calories, eat healthful foods and get fit. What “Mind Over Fat Matters” teaches us is that we need to ease up, “chill out,” and have some fun as we attempt to melt away our excess pounds.

Softcover, 141 pages, $14.95, iUniverse Books. Available at Amazon.com and www.fatmatters.com . You may also order at bookstores.

Visit Dr. Rodriguez at www.fatmatters.com


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