What are subconscous reasons people resist losing weight?

Katie Rickel, PhD
When a new client comes into my office for weight-loss counseling, I begin by asking two questions to assess his or her motivation: How is your weight hurting you, and how is your weight helping you? Most people can easily respond to the first question, but almost everyone is puzzled by the second.

There are actually a multitude of secondary gains that stem from being overweight or obese, and these so-called benefits can cause people to be subconsciously resistant to losing excess weight. In fact, an individual’s obesity is often a hidden factor that keeps a couple together. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario one: “We are not having sex because I’m fat.”

When sexual intimacy has become infrequent, it is often easier to blame the lack of sex on something superficial (like weight) than it is to discuss the real underlying issue. For instance, some overweight women use this reasoning to protect the egos of male partners who struggle with sexual dysfunction.

Alternatively, overweight individuals might use the “I’m too fat” excuse when sex is physically uncomfortable or unsatisfying. Or a couple might not be having sex because they have fallen out of love. In each of these cases, as long as the weight stays on, the partnership can continue without sex.

Scenario two: “My relationship is unsatisfying, but I can’t leave because I’m overweight and no one else will want me.”

Leaving a romantic relationship can be a painful and complicated process for many reasons. The thought of potentially ending a current partnership to pursue a more fulfilling one can be frightening.

Because of this, people often use their weight—and their belief that they would not have success on the dating scene—as a way to justify (to themselves) staying in an unhappy relationship. Some fear that if they do lose weight and start to receive more sexual attention from other potential partners, they might be tempted to end their current relationship and then be forced to cope with the aftermath.

When I learn that one or both of these scenarios is true, I bring the issue to light. In most cases, individuals are unaware of the subconscious reasons that they may remain overweight, so awareness can be transformative. Then I encourage my clients to deal directly with the relationship issue at hand. After that, weight loss may naturally follow.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.