The way most of my psychotherapy clients lose weight doesn’t follow the pattern of a typical diet. The focus of my approach is not on following some eating program for a limited time but on building the inner strength needed to change the way you feed yourself for the rest of your life.

You’ve probably been through the classic diet pattern before, maybe several times.

How it’s supposed to work: You follow the diet’s guidelines and the weight slides off. Your life improves. Presto, chango, you’re fixed.

What you’re not told: After a few months of losing weight, you gain it all back, plus an added ten to twenty pounds.

This diet cycle has become a part of our culture and creates an unending pattern of overeating, shame and despair.

For clients working with me in psychotherapy on their compulsive eating issues, the pattern looks quite different.

Most of my compulsive overeating clients come to me because they have gone through the diet cycle several times and realize it hasn’t worked and probably never will. They recognize there is something missing in diets that psychotherapy can provide.

Some of them feel an initial relief when they talk to me. After all, they are doing something about their eating, often something they have never tried before.

At first they may want to focus on what they are eating, hoping that eating plan + therapy = being able to stick to their eating plan. That usually doesn’t last long. They become intrigued by the concept of figuring out what is causing their overeating. They want to find a simple pattern they can change quickly.

At some point, though, most begin to focus on what therapy can truly offer. They become intrigued by the emotional issues they are struggling with in their daily lives. They no longer view therapy as meeting with someone who tells them how to eat, but instead they focus on the pain in their life beyond what the scale shows. They commit to therapy because they want to change the emotional patterns in their lives, not just because it can help them get control of their eating.

And then, as they stick with it, small signs begin to surface. They go to the doctor and find they have lost a few pounds since their last appointment. They notice they are less tempted by low nutrition foods in the supermarket, binge less, or are able to stop eating when they are full.

My clients may notice having a “bad week” with food and feel discouraged. But after talking about it in therapy they realize that, for several weeks before, they were eating better than when they first came to my office. They begin to recognize life situations which trigger their binging. Because their binging is no longer constant, when it appears they can identify what’s creating it.

My clients become able to find a healthier way of eating they can maintain without the intense effort needed to keep themselves on a restrictive diet. Some overeaters start cutting out “worst offender” foods without the intense cravings they suffered from previously. They may notice actually having a desire to eat more nutrient-rich foods, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

What makes this possible? Over the course of therapy, my clients have developed an inner strength, a readiness they never had when they went on all those diets.

Where does this inner strength come from? It comes from the process of therapy, of exploring your feelings and examining the patterns of your inner world. Of making changes that seem to have nothing to do with food, but in fact allow you to eat in a healthy way.

For example, one of my clients consistently takes all the blame in her relationship with her husband. She is learning to stand up to him and insist he own his half of the problem. Other clients who focus on everyone else’s needs, neglecting their own, begin to put themselves first.

I wish there was a blood test for inner readiness. If there were, I could measure where clients are in their transformation and anticipate when they will become ready to adopt new eating habits. But, for now, I don’t have that blood test. So my clients have to rely on trust that I’ve seen their pattern before and can help them change.

Or, perhaps they invest in the process of emotional change and realize, no matter what they weigh, they are happier with their lives as a result of our work together.

Are you tired of the old diet cycle? Would you like to find a better way?