Which comes first - weight loss or self esteem?

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I was watching a show up here in Canada called "Taking it Off", where participants are followed for six months in their quest to lose weight (not a competition, just a documentary style program that follows each person throughout the six months). ONE of the participants was very successful, and said at the end of the day, he had alot of personal issues and alot of self-esteem issues which, in his opinion, made him turn to food for comfort. BUT, he decided to tackle the weight FIRST, and found that his issues at the end of the day weren't all that important. Losing weight made him feel better.

This was interesting, because the Oprah-ites will tell you that excess weight is a symptom of deeper personal issues, and the weight won't come off until you address those issues first..

So, the question is: Are the Oprah-ites just making excuses and rationalizing their heavier weights? Are the two (personal issues and excess weight) as linked as they think? Can you change your self-esteem by tackling your weight issues first? Is it absolutely necessary to have your personal issues resolved in order to lose weight/maintain lost weight? Are we a bunch of rationalizers when it comes to extra poundage????.



Comments (21)

Well, I'm not a professional, but I am a professional dieter. My first diet was at 9 years old, hard boiled eggs only and lettuce leaves, my Mom put me on it.....

So, truth be told the above comment has been one of my biggest excuses my whole life..."I've never not been on a diet and don't know how to eat like a normally." However, when I watch someone eat who is not's a lot less than what I could pack away..

I absolutely believe I make excuses for why I gained weight, why I can't lose weight and why I can't keep it off...I could write a book of diet excuses. I also absolutely know that losing weight (because I've done it) empowers me like nobodies business. I could take the world on and then some and don't you dare get in my way. Right now at my heaviest I don't even want to stand out in a about an emotional struggle.....

Just my opinion. They say the first step to overcoming your problem is to admit you have one.....and next have a plan, have a goal and find positive people to be around that have the same mindset.....whala MediFast!..

Comment #1

I can only speak from my own experience since taking weight off. My confidence and self esteem have SOARED since losing weight. I was carrying around so much mental/emotional baggage (in additon to the excess weight) that I didn't even realize I was carrying! Once the pounds began to shed, I felt myself feeling more expressive, more confident in myself as a person/woman and mother, I began to be noticed and valued in a whole new light, and some of my issues were no longer important. I think that being healthy by diet and exercise makes you stronger emotionally by disciplining your body and your mind which allows you to tackle tougher issues that you previously tried to ignore..

That's just my two cents...lack of caffeine, so there may be some typos!.

Will be interested in hearing the replies of others..

Carol Ann..

Comment #2

I personally think it depends on the degree of obesity. I can see how someone with 25 or so pounds to lose may not have additional food related issues. They are simply making poor food choices. These poor food choices lead to them being overweight and feeling poorly about themselves. In these cases losing the weight may solve the self-esteem problems. I think this may be double true for men, who have less environmental pressures to look perfect.

However, for those who have much bigger issues. Such as turning to food when stressed, bored, lonely, etc; losing the weight becomes a much bigger issue, because food is no longer their friend and buddy which solves all of their problems. These issues must be faced if the weight issue is to be solved permanently..

For me it is a little of both. Losing the weight has certainly improved my self-esteem (pretty decent to begin with I have to say), but it has been a journey to resolve the other issues with food. This would include using food as enjoyment/celebration, eating when bored, and coping with these issues is still a problem that I have to "manage" constantly. I am happy with my current weight ant looks, but I still struggle with wanting to eat things when I am not hungry. So losing the weight I wanted did not solve that. However, being on-plan has forced me to see some of these issue for the first time..

There are so many reasons people gain weight and have trouble taking it off, that I don't think one single issue is the problem..

Great thread!..

Comment #3

I am with Deborah, for me it is a little bit of both. Losing the weight, does make me feel more attractive and therefore better about myself. But I have also learned that I am a serious emotional eater. I think blogging and being part of this discussion board have helped mr work thru some of those issues but some of them are still there and I have ot find a way to work thru them...

Comment #4

I am not a veteran, but I hope it's ok that I add something to this thread. Feelings are Caused by actions. Feelings are the result of how we think about what happens. We cannot control how we feel. We can control how we think. More importantly, we can control how we act.

Losing weight allows people to naturally feel better about themselves and it's not just a physical thing. Its chemical and psychological. Taking care of yourself, making healthy choices....of course that will increase self esteem.

The Western world focuses on feelings too much. The Eastern world practices psychologies that say "Do what you need to do, don't think about how you feel about it. Act first, the feelings will follow.".

I do believe that each extra layer of chub we have is a layer of emotions that we haven't dealt with. As the weight comes off we have to deal with those emotions and embrace ourselves. To me, that is the road to higher self love. (I've tried thinking and feeling my way there and it didn't work! Actions change thoughts. Thoughts change feelings!).

Thanks for letting me drop in! I was just reading for advice but couldn't keep my mouth shut...

Comment #5

I don't think there are any black and white answers to this one. There are probably people who gain weight because they have low self-esteem, and there are probably people who lose all their extra weight and still feel bad about themselves.

For me it wasn't self-esteem issues that caused me to gain an extra 70 pounds, but sloppy and lazy eating habits. While there have certainly been times I've been horrified and embarrassed at how large I've gotten, there was never a moment that I felt worthless and less than worthy of being loved or having good things happen in my life..

Now that I'm losing the weight of course I'm happy it's finally happening and thrilled with how much better I look and feel, but that's not where my self-esteem lies. I think everybody has their own story and reasons, and that's just my two cents...

Comment #6

Interesting question!.

NO I definitely don't think you have to solve your emotional issues BEFORE you can lose.

My self-esteem was at an all-time low when I started Medifast (in part because of how heavy I'd gotten)... but that "hitting bottom" is also what motivated me to get serious.

I was so sick of feeling lousy about myself when I got up every morning that I would have done whatever it took to change my life. Feeling so bad is what pushed me forward..

Then as I lost the weight and started to feel in control of myself again, my self-esteem of course began to rise..

NOW I do think the self-esteem and emotional side of ourselves does have to be addressed if we want to KEEP the weight off. I am in maintenance, and I know I will need to keep an eye on my emotional eating, probably forever!.

PS Also, the term "self-esteem" is a mixed bag. I have off-the-charts self-esteem as far as my creative and professional life. Where I was and am still lacking is on the personal side my relationships, my body image. They are improving a lot, but it'll take time...

Comment #7

I have to agree that it's a both/and situation. Self-esteem and emotional issues may be the pain we tried to mask by stuffing ourselves with food and they can also cause us to sabotage our attempts to improve our health and enjoy life. For some people, working on those issues may have to start first, but the only way to overcome the pain of being overweight is to lose the weight. If it were true that no one can lose weight until they are perfectly healthy emotionally, then no one would ever lose weight. But if we see weight loss as a part of the healing process, an expression of learning to value ourselves by taking care of ourselves, then it makes some sense..

Maslow's hierarchy of human needs may provide a better answer. We are not able to address issues of self-actualization until we know that our more basic issues of having enough food, safety, a sense of belonging, etc. are met. If those more basic issues have us frozen in fear, whether real or imagined, we will be REALLY stuck - not just making excuses..

Insight into why we make unhealthy decisions can help us work through those temptations to repeat the mistakes of the past, but ultimately it still comes down to making a decision in the present moment - whether we feel like it or not - to do the things that encourage weight loss or to give in to the behaviors/thinking/feelings that got us here in the first place. If someone is finding that they fail at weight loss over and over, continually sabotaging their own success, then they might need to look at the emotional reasons for that. But the best thing they can do to feel better about themselves is to actually value themselves enough to succeed in taking off the weight...

Comment #8

Gatita, I agree 100%. Can you lose weight without addressing the underlying issues, absolutely, but the real question here is can you keep the weight off without addressing the issues. You do have to identify what is causing you to over eat, (a lack of love, fear of being noticed, intimacy issues, lack of self confidence and the list goes on,)I think, in order to move on. Identifying the triggers is the key to maintaining the weight loss in the long run imo...

Comment #9

Interesting topic! I would not cast a vote with either side, I'm not convinced there's any one reason for weight gain - it's definitely a host of potential issues. I saw a piece on TV last evening with Rikki Lake, she says her weight issues were related to childhood sexual abuse. Definitely an example of dramatic weight and issues..

I think the benefit of any point in one's life where you stop and reassess is huge; whether it's a possible career change, reviewing one's relationships, or health/weight. What I'm gaining from this program is overall - I'm re-thinking my food choices as well as reminding myself how important exercise is..

Almost like a virtual "clean out the garage" life moment. It's time for change...

Comment #10

I've always had loads of self-confidence LOL... The only time I didn't was after my last pregnancy when I was at the highest weight EVER! (252!!! ).

I feel much better now, though I still have 25 pounds or so to go till I'm back to my "normal" weight...

Comment #11

It's like asking the proverbial question about the chicken & the egg. Some people reach for Oreos the same way someone else reaches for a beer.You can abuse anything that's mood altering. I think losing weight is harder than kicking heroin- you need food to live..

The other side of the coin can be what I call "FOO" issues- "Family Of Origin" issues. I can trace my eating issues back to childhood & the way my parents treated me. It's rather humbling to realize that you can be in your forties and still react like a kid when it comes to food..

My big problem is how I allow my weight to control how I feel about myself & intimate relationships. When I was overweight and tried online dating ( I'm divorced), I put my body type as " a few extra pounds". NO man in my age group ever looked at my profile-even if they resembled Jabba the HuttAfter I lost weight and became "Average"- then they took notice. The point is- being overweight at all seems to be the absolute kiss of death these days for an unattached woman. I'm grateful I'm seeing someone who found me sexy 20 extra lbs ago and never found my weight to be a problem...

Comment #12

Hi there!.

I agree with the chicken/egg thing my question was: to be successful, do you have to tackle the emotional issues FIRST (a la Oprah), or do you JUST DO IT and discover that the emotional issues aren't quite so important?.

Interesting question!.


Comment #13

I'm in the anti-Oprah camp. I think generally if you lose the weight your self-esteem improves, and if there are other issues there that need to be dealt with, you've gained the confidence to tackle them too (if they're important). I think it is easy for Oprah to blame other things (I think her latest excuse is some physical ailment she just found out about), but if you look at her over the years it has been one thing or another; never that she just eats too much. Maybe she just likes food. I don't think it has to be any deep seeded emotional issue....I like food, especially the stuff that is bad for me! I'm learning that I like feeling good physically more than the temporary satisfaction I get from a soft pretzel LOL.

Watch Oprah some day when she has a chef or someone with food on display and you'll figure out why she is overweight. She never stops stuffing her face!.

Great discussion........


Comment #14

Interesting thread. Thanks TrumpedDr for bringing in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, loved that!.

As much as I love Oprah, I have to say I am also in the non-Oprah camp. I think a person can start to tackle the weight separate from (or in conjuction with) the emotional issues. How to do that is the $6M question!.

But the result I think is clear, even if loosing weight doesn't fix ALL of a person's "problems" (and will anything ever fix them ALL???), it sure does reduce a lot of them.... both physical, such as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of diabetis, etc, and emotional, feeling successful, attractive, etc..

There are so many social biases about obesity. But then again, who doesn't have a problem of some kind? Reminds me of this story (pardon my paraphrase):.

We all have proverbial crosses to bear. A person was tired of carrying their cross, so they asked Jesus for a new one. He said, "Sure," and led them to a room with a variety of crosses. He said, "Try them all, and pick the one you would rather have." So the person went and tried all the crosses, and finally settled on one. Jesus said, "That's the one you came in with!"..

Comment #15

I think it depends on the individual. I know in my case, my self esteem is related in many ways to my weight and I'm not going to feel good about myself until I lose it. But, I have a friend who is overweight and completely comfortable with it. She has no self esteem issues related to her weight. She wants to lose weight because the doctor told her she should and because she is listed as obese. That label bothers her. But, it has nothing to do with how she feels about herself...

Comment #16

Interesting thread... I was pondering today the Psychology of weight loss determination..

I have been in different work locations since I've started MF. My first work area noticed a lot coming off and there was another girl who had just had gastric bypass. We were losing at about the same pace and general discussion often went to healthy eating and weight loss, consisting of those who need to lose weight, want to lose weight and those who were noticeably losing weight. The only difference was that those of us who were noticeably losing were doing something about it while everyone else was just talking about it!!.

I feels good to be like the Nike commercial "Just Do It!" Self esteem is high. I was at an all time low prior to starting, brought on by my high weight. Now I feel better, look better and am healthier, I'm proud of myself and working hard to reach my goals...

Comment #17

I am with the weight loss 1st side of things..

Your self esteem can be good and you can be obese - many obese people are comfortable with who they are and thin and average people can have low self esteem..

I just think that when you loose weight the following happens - if you had good self esteem it may rise higher. If you had low self esteem it will raise too from what was your baseline..

1) people compliment you - boosts self esteem.

2) you make new friends and get out more - new online medifast friends , friends at the gym etc boosts self esteem.

3) You feel better - if you are able to be more active (ie no more sore knees because your knees are carrying 70 pounds less of you) and not in pain - self esteem rises..

4) You can do things you couldn't before - fit on an amusment park ride, ride a bike etc - your self esteem should rise..

5) for some of you, you get off medications or have improvement in real physical conditions. In my mind not needing medication anymore because your body has achieved balance HAS to make you feel better - thus boosting self esteem..

6) you have to get new clothes - it's shallow but new stuff makes you feel good...

Comment #18

I think everybody is different - for some it's the self-esteem and others it's the weight loss first. Everything is related, in varying degrees (see TrumpetDr's reference to Maslow's Hierarchy).

Something I haven't seen mentioned yet, isn't the vanity side of self-esteem you get when you look in the mirror or fit into smaller clothes, it's the part deep inside that says you're strong enough and enough in control to take charge of how you relate to food - what you consciously decide to do our not do. This diet has not only made me healthier and (I think) more attractive, but it's made me a stronger person. If I can control all the food that surrounds me on a daily basis, I can control other issues, too. Now THAT'S power!.


Comment #19

IMHO, it think the problem is sick cycle: Mindlessly eat too much & the wrong things, gain weight & feel ashamed and uncomfortable in your own, to escape the feelings you mindlessly eat too much & the wrong things, gain weight....etc...

Comment #20

This is a really interesting topic and I've enjoyed reading all the responses. Personally, I am on week two of Medifast and my mind set is so TOTALLY different than in the past. One of the things that drew me to this program is the fast that I don't have to think about what I am eating. I just do the 5 Medifast meals and my lean and green. While the weight is coming off, I intend to spend the time focusing on my "head" self esteem, why I eat, what are my deeper problems.... I feel this way, I'll be working on the weight and the self esteem at the same time and be ready when I make maintance and be ready to keep it off.

Today at work I was tempted to grab something to stick in my mouth when it got stressful. I quickly grabbed a note pad and jotted down If I am stressed and frustrated, exactly how is eating going to help that? Isn't that going to add just another issue to what I am dealing with? Major milestone for me to be able to acknowledge, put it in words and NOT grab something to eat..

Guess the answer to the originally question is, I plan to lose the weight and up the self esteem all at the same time..


Comment #21

This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.