31 December 2013

Are you resolving to lose weight…again? Try this instead

Early January is the time of the year when people feel the pressure to lose weight most keenly. This is linked to the aggressive marketing of weight loss that kicks in just after xmas, and which plays out through pressure from friends, colleagues, families and loved ones. It's very hard to navigate this stuff, let alone resist it. Taking the mickey out of new year weight loss advertising can help people cope with the annual onslaught, but sometimes it's not enough.

Ever the killjoy, I want to remind readers that losing weight is a new year's resolution that is highly likely to fail. The people who lose weight without invoking further health and social problems, and who manage to keep it off over the course of their lives without weight cycling are well in the minority. Most people's experiences of weight loss are far from the ideal presented in advertising (and let's not forget that this advertising also creeps into places like the doctor's surgery thanks to deals between health providers and commercial weight loss companies). The negative physical, psychological and social effects of this are considerable and the people who bear it hardest are often those close to the bottom of the social pile.

Yet, despite being failed by weight loss again and again, knowing that their resolutions will fail, people still struggle to get off the merry-go-round. The pull of weight loss and its promise of transformation can be very strong and it's common for people to embark on one failed diet after another, each time believing that it is they who have failed, not the product or ideal they have bought into.

There's another level of failure that I've come across too. There are lots of people who are greatly inspired by fat activism, but who struggle to internalise concepts, such as self-acceptance, which might help them handle obesity discourse more critically, or find ways of being that aren't self-destructive. There is quite a bit of shame about this and, as with weight loss, people see their struggles as their personal failure rather than a shortcoming of the movement and its rhetoric. They feel that they have failed doubly: they are failures at weight loss and failures at fat activism.

If any of this sounds familiar and you want to change, then you might want to get in touch with me. I am a qualified, registered and experienced psychotherapist/ counsellor. I work with people who bring all kinds of problems and questions to the therapy room. One of the things I offer, and which is unusual in therapy, is a place to talk about thoughts, feelings and experiences relating to fatness without an expectation that weight loss is the natural answer. The idea is to support people in exploring their fears and struggles with fatness, and build on their strengths, with someone who understands what that means. This is not about folks feeling that they have to uphold a fantasy of being a 'good fatty' or 'good ally' within an imagined fat activist agenda. Instead, it's an engagement with the complexities of what it's like to live in cultures where fat is a big deal, customising ideas along the way, and working things out. I see this work as the early stages of integrating fat-friendly practice into therapy, which is often quite fatphobic. What's even more unusual about my practice is that I acknowledge social factors that influence how people feel about their bodies. Health At Every Size is usually applied to physical health, or an idea of social transformation, it is rare that it is applied to mental health practice, especially in the UK, but that is what I am doing.

My therapy room is not a platform for tub-thumping about fat activism, or ramming particular ideas about fat down people's throats. I am very careful about listening to people and working within their frames of reference about the things that are important to them. I understand that my unique experiences and perspectives can prompt questions and angles that other therapists might miss, but I believe that it is up to clients themselves to decide what is most useful to them. I undergo regular supervision to ensure that I am working ethically and with my clients' interests at heart.

If you are interested in working with me, for whatever reason, please get in touch. There's an extensive Frequently Asked Questions section on my website if you want to know more about how I work. All correspondence is treated confidentially.


Anonymous said...

You are doing important work Charlotte--I was happy to read this post. You are one of my heros, Godspeed!

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...

T H A N K Y O U!!