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Conquer your fears about losing excess weight

TODAY viewer seeks insight from Dr. Gail Saltz on reasons people sabotage their own diet and exercise progress.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Dear Dr. Saltz: Why am I scared of losing my excess weight? Every time I start to lose weight, I seem to sabotage myself. My health is now affected, as I am about 150 lbs. overweight.

Why do I overeat even though I want to lose weight and I know the health risks?

Dear Scared: Your question has little to do with food and much to do with fear.

First, for some people, losing weight is incredibly difficult. There are medical or metabolic reasons why they are overweight, and they may need to lose weight under a doctor’s supervision.

In your case, 150 lbs. is a lot to lose, and I don’t want to imply that losing it should be quick and easy.

But that is a separate issue from your fear of losing weight. This kind of fear is common. The good news for you is that you are aware of it.

A change in the status quo is often scary. People can be afraid of the extra attention or the new possibilities that will come their way if they are seen as more attractive. They may fear being pretty, intimate, or sexual. It’s possible that such attention has been dangerous or hurtful in the past, and they fear being taken advantage of again. Or they worry that, if they feel sexy and desirable, they will lose control and act in dangerous ways.

Having more options and being able to more actively participate in life is scary as well as exciting. What if you fail to live up to the ideal?

Indeed, being overweight is also an excuse for many kinds of failure: “Because of my weight, I cannot be desirable or successful, I can’t get a boyfriend, land a better job, etc. etc.”

The power of such fears often outranks your knowledge of the health risks. People do all kinds of things they know are bad for them, like drinking to excess or having unprotected sex. Plenty of men suffer from this phenomenon -- they may irrationally think it is manly to take risks.

It’s also easy to overlook the long term for the short term. It’s harder to spend months or years doing the work of understanding your fear, possibly with the help of therapy, than it is to eat an ice-cream sundae.

Emotional eating, as I’m sure you know, is incredibly common. You are like every other human who is feeding their sorrow or anxiety or stress.

So your first step is to identify exactly what you fear about what your life will be like once you actually do lose weight and become healthier.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: To lose excess weight, you must identify why you are overeating as much as what you are overeating.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .