How a strong support system can be vital to long-term success
“Your environment is so integral to making sustainable long-term change. So often if there are identified barriers [it] happening because of people in the home.” Julia Skiadaresis is a registered social worker in Toronto. She helps a variety of clients ranging from patients undergoing bariatric surgery to those dealing with emotional eating and other mental health issues. She has learned that before a person starts to make nutritional adjustments as part of healthier living, they should ideally have a support system in place. Junk food may have been a pacifier and comfort for them, and without a means to replace that sense of well-being, food will inevitably resume that role. She says it’s important to ask, “What patterns have been built over their childhood, or early adolescence, or younger adult years? Maybe there are underlying emotional needs that aren’t being met. Understanding what those are … can be enough to go to the next steps.” Sometimes the history between family members is complicated, so she invites those involved to talk with her individually or together to facilitate the process. One of the challenges is breaking speech patterns from loved ones that elicit feelings of shame in the individual trying to lose weight or simply follow a healthier diet. “It’s important to really get a sense of how their weight may be limiting them from doing what they want to do,” Skiadaresis says. Asking them, she explained, whether they have concerns about their weight or how it’s affecting their daily activities prevents the topic from being treated as it often is in today’s culture. “Our society has a weight stigma,” she says. “There’s a sense weight is in your control and all you have to do is [monitor] calories in and calories out. There is a lot that is out of a person’s control when it comes to weight.” Support involves not only encouraging someone to get started on a healthier nutritional path, but also being generous and gentle with that person’s deviations and missteps. Skiadaresis says that compassion is key. Not only compassion toward someone struggling with food, but also for that individual to have self-compassion. “Slips are normal,” she says. “We want clients to be understanding that they need to treat themselves sometimes. No food is innately bad or good. It’s just more about when [situations] feel problematic we can change them to make you feel like [they] less of a problem.” Skiadaresis explains that willpower alone is not enough. A person has to be able to draw on comfort from a source other than food, or eating returns to becoming a stress-management technique. She says it can just be a question of how to approach the topic of weight with someone you are concerned about. She says a key phrase is, “Do you want to talk about it?” Then, be ready to listen, or perhaps share a quiet meal together. To learn more, read "How To Date Your Diet" by Kenny Bodanis in the April 2021 issue of alive Magazine.
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol