Introduction by Dr. Gerard J. Musante
This is a book about change. I don’t mean just change in your weight—losing the pounds you want to lose. Weight loss is important, but it’s not really the change that is most important. Rather, The Structure House Weight Loss Plan focuses on changing yourself in deeper, more significant, more durable ways than what you can measure simply by standing on your bathroom scale. I’m talking about changing how you view yourself. Changing your relationship with food. Changing your choices about how to live your life. Changing your attitude about change itself.
For thirty years, I’ve helped overweight and obese men and women learn about change at Structure House, the residential program I founded in Durham, North Carolina. Approximately one thousand people participate in our programs there each year. Some of these participants are ten, twenty, thirty pounds over their desired weight. Others have even more excess pounds and would be considered obese. Still others are morbidly obese—so overweight that their health is in immediate jeopardy.
Almost all of the people who have come to Structure House understand that excess weight can lead to medical problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and other serious health risks. These participants stay at Structure House for a period of time and, each in his or her own way, learn about the possibilities for change and about the skills that make change possible.
Here are just a few comments from participants about what they gained from the Structure House program:
“Structure House changed my life. It was the best investment I ever made in myself.”
“With the information and the tools that I received at Structure House, losing weight is a challenge that I can face. Now I understand my weight problem, and I know what I can do to effectively deal with it.”
“To be looked at as a ‘normal weight’ person by others instead of always being stared at is a wonderful benefit to my weight loss. I have more energy and I’m in better shape than most of my friends. This lifestyle change has truly given me a new life.”
“Since leaving Structure House I have exercised on a daily basis and generally live a healthy lifestyle. With the training and behavior modification used by Structure House, I am now able to control my food intake and maintain a ‘normal’ weight.”—Alan
“I have learned how to take better care of myself and am learning how to value myself with a new body and a new approach to food. The program has been, for me, a gift.”
Structure House is a residential program, but the concepts we teach there are flexible, adaptable, and portable. I see Structure House primarily as a school for change—a place where participants can stay with us for a while, become Students of Change, acquire as many new skills as possible, then take their skills back home to practice and apply. My purpose in writing The Structure House Weight Loss Plan is to put these same concepts in a book so that you can learn and use them in the comfort and familiarity of your own surroundings.
But before we start discussing the Structure House program and its many benefits, I want to touch on some of the issues that inspired me to design this program in the first place.
IT ISN’T FOOD THAT MAKES YOU FAT
“I also learned a lot about some of the triggers for why I eat.”
Each of us has a relationship with food. We all need a certain amount of sustenance to stay alive and healthy, but satisfying our needs for nutrition isn’t the only reason we eat. From childhood on, every person develops a set of expectations, habits, associations, and states of mind related to food. Our family dynamics, our cultural backgrounds, and our individual attitudes and tastes all influence how this situation develops. We could call the sum total of these expectations, habits, associations, and states of mind our “relationship” with food.
For many people, that relationship is fundamentally healthy. For some, though, the relationship is more complex and even problematic. The kinds and quantities of food we eat may work against our best interests. Some people eat more out of habit than from nutritional need. Some use food as a drug—a substance they take to relax, stimulate, console, anesthetize themselves. Some view food as a companion that soothes a sense of loneliness or else substitutes for human interaction or other satisfying activities.
One part of the Structure House approach is to help you understand that like many people, you’ve learned to use food in ways that go beyond its nutritional value. That’s why I say that it isn’t food that makes you fat. Your problem isn’t so much food as such, and it’s not even the weight you gain from food; rather, the problem is your relationship with food. Weight is a symptom of an underlying imbalance in your relationship with food. When your relationship with food gets out of balance—and when you habitually use food to meet non-nutritional needs—you’re going to gain weight.
Other negative changes may result from this imbalance, too. Your health may suffer. You may become less physically active. You may start to isolate yourself socially. You may struggle with your sense of self-worth. Sometimes you feel like you’ve lost control and there is nothing that you can do to improve your life.
But if you can regain a sense of balance, you’ll reap all kinds of benefits. First of all, you’ll lose weight—but weight loss is just the start. Your health will begin to improve. You’ll lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and joint problems. You’ll feel livelier and more active. With more energy available, you’ll be more likely to exercise, which will help you lose weight faster, and boost your energy and stamina even more. You’ll look better, too. And all of these positive changes will bolster your social confidence, your sense of self-worth, and your trust in what life has to offer.
These issues of balance and imbalance have convinced me that real change—not just the change you see on the dial of your bathroom scale—is what matters most. Imbalanced use of food is a behavior you’ve learned in the past. What you’ve learned in one way can be un-learned, and you can now learn a different, more balanced relationship with food. In short, you can change.
I invite you to start this journey—and to experience all the benefits that change can bring you.