Treating Obesity Mental Health is the issue of obesity is a major public concern and has been for quite some time. Americans, in particular, live in an incongruent world of supersize fries and late night infomercials on getting flat abs, or the hottest craze in weight loss. Celebrities are spokespersons for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig- all targeting the masses with ways to lose weight. Treating Obesity Mental Health There are numerous diets, pills, and even medical surgeries designed to help individuals lose weight and in turn feel better.
At a seminar hosted by Good Samaritan Hospital
Dr. Vincent Fellitti spoke poignantly about his research on obesity and how it led to a study that links Adverse Childhood Experiences, otherwise known as the ACE Study, to problems such as obesity, diabetes, chronic health issues, domestic violence, and a myriad of mental health and substance abuse issues.
To illustrate how research has missed the boat when it comes to treating obesity mental health, he shows two photographs of the same woman, one where she weighs over 400 pounds and one after bariatric surgery where she has dropped to 130 pounds. He then asks the question “what is the problem and what is the solution”.
Treating obesity mental health is not the problem…actually it is the solution for a host of underlying issues such as incest, sexual abuse, child abuse, parental neglect or abandonment, parental substance abuse, and other adverse childhood experiences. Mental health providers must begin asking the right questions. You don’t want to ask a patient how they gained weight, however, a better question to ask is “when did they start gaining weight”.
That one question will give the clinician pertinent information that may have taken weeks or months to get to. Asking the right questions not only allows patients to feel heard, they help the clinician begin to rule out past trauma. And as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with trauma survivors, knowing a patient’s trauma history sets the stage for how treatment should go.
Many trauma survivors if obese have gained: Treating Obesity Mental Health
The weight in a relatively small amount of time. Treating obesity mental health, they have found, is a solution- it serves a purpose. Many say that it protects them- from being noticed- as being noticed led to being sexualized and subsequently abused. One patient that Dr. Fellitti worked with said that as a child he was bullied frequently. Once he began putting on weight he was no longer bullied, he was feared, and it worked. His weight kept him physically safe.
A lot of patients who are seen in outpatient psychotherapy settings do acknowledge that there was a shift in how they viewed food and they are able to understand the link between their own past trauma and their current struggle with weight loss. The weight that served a purpose in surviving trauma may now be getting in the way of intimate relationships, mobility and overall health. With these patients, clinicians need to pay attention to how a patient copes with current stressors.
More than likely, patients are going to cope the way they did in the past, because the tried and true ways of coping have allowed them to come this far. It is through understanding the use of coping mechanisms that the patient can begin to recognize them in order to replace them with healthier tools.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy would be a great tool: Treating Obesity Mental Health
To use with these types of patients, as DBT teaches skills that help patients cope with overwhelming emotions. One of the basic premises of DBT is that a patient begins to accept themselves while working on change. That, in and of itself, is quite powerful, especially since, for many patients, the mere thought of self-acceptance is overwhelming. A therapist can therefore be an ally, and through the use of unconditional positive regard, they can help model acceptance for the patient.
Once an individual learns that they can fully accept themselves, warts and all, can they begin moving towards change. And the 4 basic skills DBT provides, patients can then begin to replace unhealthy coping skills with healthier ones which in turn provide for long-lasting change.
For the obese patient, this would mean learning self-soothing skills that are not related to food. challenging negative automatic thoughts and raising self-esteem. It would mean being able to break down defenses and knowing they will still be here and be ok. It would mean the difference between living and existing, which to any one of our patients is one of the most valuable tools they could learn.
Joy Singh, MS, LCPC is the owner and Clinical Director
Of the Advanced Midwest Institute for Counseling and Psychotherapy, LLC in DuPage County, IL. At AMI Counseling, Joy treats individuals, couples and families who have experience trauma or abuse in a safe atmosphere, with compassion and empathy. Joy has also designed a program to help treat offenders who want to stop the cycle of abuse. Joy has offices in Naperville, Villa Park and Oak Brook, IL and works alongside many doctors and community leaders.
Besides treating trauma survivors, Joy specializes in couples counseling, anxiety, depression and women’s issues. Joy speaks both Punjabi and Hindi and works with many Indian clients to help them sort out cultural or acculturation issues. Visit Joy on the web at for more information or to schedule an appointment. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please call AMI Counseling at 630-270-2061 for a free assessment.