Psychologist Reveals The Truth About “Why Diets Fail”

3967455172_5b27628bae_bby Dr Cheryl Meier

Well, January has just passed us by, another year, another 3-4 weeks of people already hitting the gym and cutting back their beer intake!  (That might actually work for the men, somehow!)  

Well, I , for one, am sick of it!

I’m sick of diet plans, counting calories, veggie drinks, years without carbs, and doing every work-out on the market…only to gain the weight back!    

In my search for understanding –of why diets don’t “work”– I came across some really profound insights!

I’ve been doing this “therapy thing” for over 20 years now, so you would think that I would have an idea about the psychological dynamics of dieting…but really, it has been my own personal struggles that have brought me to my knees, begging for the insight that I have now gained!

I don’t want to hoard all this understanding for myself, so I’m writing this for you. First, so that you know that you are not alone. And second, with the goal of describing how to free ourselves, which is the most important element of this weight-diet-drama!

Of course achieving actual weight loss and getting ourselves to a healthy weight would be lovely as well.  

I am sure you have heard people say:

“Diets don’t fail, people do!”  

These “well meaning people” are missing some information in their critical generalization! Putting ourselves down about this process is not an effective way to create lasting change.

Their criticism, however, can become a gift to us– because it reveals the exact reason why the weight doesn’t stay off– shame!

Shame is the fuel of all addictions!

We so often go on a diet expecting the weight loss to equal the shame loss — but we just end up losing the weight, if that, and not the shame!  I see this happening with people who have had cosmetic surgeries as well!  They just keep thinking “maybe the next surgery will take away my insecurities.”  

Right after the new diet starts working, or after some kind of surgery, the excitement of the weight loss keeps the shame at bay for a few months or years, then it starts surfacing again…and the weight creeps back on!

Diets are like relationships!

You find one, it promises you everything, you fall in love and dive in!  You are so excited at the prospect of all of your dreams coming true — this excitement gives you the extra energy to put forth the effort (one more time) then…all of our own personal dynamics and old wounds begin to make their appearance. (Specially when you hit a weight loss plateau and stop losing for an extended amount of time.)

When you fall in love, certain chemicals are released  — we think that new person is going to keep making us feel this initial bliss, indestructibility– and take away all of our shame forever and completely…but then we start creating the same relationship dynamics with this new person. I remember reading in Harville Hendrix book: “Keeping the Love You Find” that the power struggle begins, and the “romantic phase” ends, anywhere from two hours to two years into the relationship!)

Eventually, if we want to get healthy, we have to begin to start dealing with, and taking responsibility for, our own underlying feelings, wounds, and behaviors that emerge after the romantic phase begins to wear off.

So you see, we could blame the diets, but when we stay in a blaming mode — we place the power outside of ourselves, and remain perpetual victims.

Truly, the power to change all of this is not outside of ourselves. Not in the sense that some “man” or some “woman” will take away all of our insecurities.  Some drug or drink won’t give us an everlasting, sustaining high.  Some specific weight or new look will not magically erase the pains from childhood, just like “money can’t buy me love.”

I just thought of these lyrics that capture this idea so well:

I don’t want another pretender
To disillusion me one more time
Whispering words of forever
Playing with my mind

~ Mariah Carey

Elliott’s Lyrics come to my mind simultaneously:

God don’t make no junk
but its plain to see he still made me…

~Elliott Smith

Look at the juxtaposition of these two song lyrics, these two ideas!

This is like the conflict I have with diets and the drama of losing weight!  There is always a paradox in it, just like in life!  

How can I be innately loved, worth loving, worth someone showing up to offer me true love and yet still deal with this imperfect state of my being? —I’m overweight (by their charts), I’m not saint-like (by my own estimation), and I’m not chiseled (Ha! That’s not even on my goal list!).

If no human-soul is here by accident, and none of us are “junk”, then how do I offer love to myself in this imperfect state?

I have all these old wounds I don’t know how to heal yet. I have anger and shame from the past that I transfer onto my husband and that my kids provoke daily.  I love their dear souls, my kids, and I work to teach them good boundaries and how to treat themselves and others with dignity and respect, yet I fall short of my aspirations constantly!

I do not want to be the “pretender” from Mariah Carey’s song, disillusioning myself one more time.  Promising I will be loving and kind to myself for the rest of my life, and playing with my own mind!  

I’ve looked for every way around this, to try to lose weight and keep it off, without dealing with the underlying shame that surfaces, but this is something we cannot escape.

So, if we must face and rid ourselves of this shame, let’s understand it, to heal it, so that it doesn’t keep fueling our addictions and self sabotage!

Now we see that we have this paradox:

We are loved, and yet we are not perfect.

To act as if we are perfect — is to lie, and disillusion ourselves.  

I am not perfect. No, but I am also not hopeless!

I could say: “forget it, I will never be perfected, so I’m just going to stay in this shame and perpetual state of brokenness, see myself as a helpless victim, numb myself, hide behind my weight, underneath my weight… choose to keep using food to sooth my pain, to fill my emptiness, to console my rejection, to create a sense of togetherness and the union I’ve always longed for…

But this is a lie as well!

Both of these:

pretend to be perfect already


tell myself I am lost forever in shame

is to betray the truth.  This betrayal perpetuates our shame and repeats the environment of our childhood! (In other words: It keeps the weight on!)

To act as if we are already perfect is to make ourselves into a kind of idol.  Sometimes we make “the perfect weight” an idol. As if achieving that will certainly fulfill our ultimate happiness.

To hate ourselves and see ourselves as perpetually unlovable, unredeemable, un-healable, is to perpetuate an old lie.  As we choose to withhold love from this person of ourselves, who is meant to be loved, we reject following the path of right action.

“What is this ‘right action‘?” You may ask…

Just like there are patterns and universal truths in Math that Pythagoras and Einstein have discovered, consider:

 What if there are universal truths regarding the nature of Love and the nature of beingness?

What if the highest truths are hidden within the depth of our being?  …Truths we have somehow forgotten in the course of thousands of years of love mixed with brokenness, trauma, imperfection, darkness, shame, hurt, lies…and whatever else has separated us from aligning ourselves with the Highest Love?

As a psychologist, I study the soul, that is what I consider myself a scientist of:

Psyche = “soul” in Greek

ology= “the study of”

Therapy= healing.

So I work with people to bring healing to their souls.  I see these truths over and over in my office.

When we, as children, experienced behavior that was not aligned with love, it created shame, anger, and sadness.  We forgot our true value and worth. If the old saying is true that “God don’t make no junk” and yet we were treated in a worthless way in childhood, then the “truth” we experienced does not correlate with the TRUTH of our real value.  

For my clients who aren’t sure if there is a Creator, God, or Divine Love etc. No need to worry!  I have them imagine this:

If you were on a deserted island and a little baby washes up ashore in a basket — would you let that baby die or love him/her and raise him the best you could?  Are you loving this baby girl because you think she’ll achieve all of these amazing things when she grows up on the island or because you realize she is just innately worth valuing and loving?

Or for you animal lovers, if a basket of puppies washed up, wouldn’t you raise them the best you could –with love, playfulness, and training?

If we would offer this love to a stranger, a newborn child…or offer this unconditional kindness to dogs…why are we so “allergic” to be this genuinely kind and consistent with ourselves?

What if to “Live according to Love and truth” is to willingly engage on a journey of faith, walking on a path where you trust that you are redeemable and worth loving?  You are stepping out in faith that there is a Love and a truth that is higher than, or more than, the “truth” you experienced in your parent’s broken choices and mistakes (miss-takes).  They are precisely miss-takes because they were not aligned with perfect love!

My understanding thus far, is that we are actually loved by a Creator — but because of our past hurts we don’t trust this– so we keep trying to find our own ways to create our own controllable mini-gods like “that perfect weight” — or food as a drug, the “perfect comforter”!

However, to pretend something is something that it actually isn’t will always end in that thing breaking our hearts one way or another!

CS Lewis reiterates this so well!

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things…are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

It may seem like a much less painful way to interact with the world, if I just have me and my “drug” — instead of dealing with learning how to receive Love from a Loving Creator– or learning how to love myself, and others — (those imperfect others!).  How am I possibly asked to learn how to stay connected to them and yet protect myself from their destruction —- without having to use a shield of 25, 50, 100+ extra pounds wrapped around my body?

It looks like I am saying:

In order to lose weight, basically, we need a savior to heal our shame!

Shaming ourselves and demanding that we lose weight is not going to do it.  I cannot speak to you from anywhere but my own journey.

All of the steps I just outlined are a kind of salvation from our shame.  We are essentially aligning ourselves with the deepest truths within our very souls.  Most of us have just lost the art of creating silence within us, to hear these same ideas that I just expressed! I was sort of brought to this silence, not from the most lofty efforts of my ego but through utter desperation, brokenness, and general pissed-offed-ness that I had for the perpetually returning weight and shame!

I love the healing and honesty that pours forth from Lauryn Hill’s lyrics:

You love me despite myself,
sometimes I fight myself
I just can’t believe that you,
would have anything to do
With someone so insecure,
someone so immature
Oh you inspire me, to be the higher me
You make my desire pure…
You are my peace of mind,
that old me is left behind.

I forget sometimes, that I can ask the Creator, to help me heal this shame.  I read so many books and grow in insights, knowledge, and skills at helping others get free from these old wounds and I forget that we can stop and move into the silence and ask God.  Of course we have all sorts of mixed up, broken, wounded ideas of God, so that presents as a problem, because we want Him to just magically eliminate and fix all of this shame too, but that is for another article….Let’s go back to what we can do about weight loss.

I actually brought up weight loss to my priest only last week, and he looked at me confusedly like:

“It seems to be a matter of just consuming less calories and exercising more, right?”

It was really funny, in a way:  “A psychologist and a priest were talking about weight loss…the priest says…”

It sounds like a set up for a good joke…but it is not a joke for people who have had a painful relationship with their body and weight for as long as they can remember.  When we experience a violation of our personal, physical boundaries as a child, some of us learn to detach from and/or hate our very bodies.

It is hard for others to understand this.  But our parents actions, or the actions of those who abused us, conveyed the message:

“Your body is not worth treating well, protecting, honoring, respecting…”

Instead of a healthy, loving communication, the message to us is:

“Your body is meant to be used, like an object –to satisfy me in this one moment that I steal it from you…It’s fine to mistreat this body of yours.  Discipline, self restraint, and respecting of your physical boundaries and your soul’s boundaries don’t apply…not for you they don’t.”

No wonder it is hard to consistently have good boundaries with food and our own body!  It has become a vehicle that carries and holds the signature of the shame done to us.

When I interned my last year of graduate school, my mentor/teacher in Montreal, Dr. Allen Surkis, would say:

“It’s as hard (to change) as you resist.”  

It’s hard for us to change because we resist treating our bodies with good boundaries and respect. What we really resist is risking being disloyal to our parents, to the lie that they portrayed as a truth.

We were taught that we were not worth the effort, that a more loving path is impossible! We stay loyal to that old teaching. We resist breaking free from that old lie.

I’ve got to break free
God knows,
God knows I want to break free

~ Freddy Mercury (Queen)

I may not have perfect style and grammar in this article, I know I don’t! …but please know that I write this to you with love in my heart.  I give that love to you freely.  

As you continue in your journey — know that this relationship you have with your body, food, and weight, is communicating to you the brokenness that is still inside.  It is YOU, wanting true healing to be brought to yourself.  We cannot wait for our parents, the world, or our spouses to “get” this.

Just because others did not have the courage to face their own shadow-self and deal with their own pain — does not mean that we are stuck on that same path.  You are worth loving.  You were always worth loving.

Be conscious that you do not have to act like you are perfect and you also are not lost forever in your shame and pain.  Our wounds keep surfacing under each layer of weight-loss because they are asking for more than a superficial healing.

You are worth bringing love, awareness, and healing to these painful places.

twitter: @DrCherylM ( )


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