The Six Human Needs is something I heard about from Tony Robbins, but it could also have a lot to do with why you’re overweight.
According to Robbins, every one of us unconsciously wants to meet all of these needs, and we will always somehow find a way to do so. They drive our decisions whether this is in a way that feels good and is good for us, or definitely doesn’t feel good and definitely isn’t good for us. Let me tell you what the six needs are and then how it could relate to weight loss (or lack of it).
The first need is the need for Certainty – specifically that a given activity will help you avoid pain and provide some comfort or pleasure, and that you will survive.
Second is the need for Uncertainty/Variety – because if you were certain about everything and what was going to happen things would get very boring.
Third is the need for Significance – doing something or being someone that makes you feel unique or special.
Fourth is the need for Connection/Love – especially the need for unconditional love. This includes a spouse, friendship, or even just an interesting conversation with a stranger.
Fifth is the need for Growth – if an organism isn’t growing it’s dying. This can apply to things like relationships, career, and our psychological wellbeing.
Sixth is the need to Contribute – to give something back to the world or others. Meeting this need tends to automatically meet all of the other needs.
Meeting 3 or more of these needs at a high level (in other words 7 or above on a scale of 1 to 10) becomes an addiction, but which need is most important varies from person to person. Generally your top 2 will have a strong influence on the decisions you make throughout your life, even if they don’t seem to make sense at the time.
For example, if you don’t take a promotion at work because your job won’t be as secure, even though it means a pay rise, then certainty must be a high priority for you. But if you don’t take the promotion because it means you’ll get your own office and spend a lot more time at your computer and a lot less time with people, love/connection is a higher priority.
But what’s this got to do with your weight?
Well let’s have a look at each need and how this might be the case.
First, certainty. How could someone have a certainty about food? Well maybe if you’re feeling down or stressed, some chocolate, a burger, or even something less bad for you is certain to make you feel better. If your life is generally chaotic and full of problems, you can always rely on your favourite bar of chocolate to taste exactly the same every single time.
Next is uncertainty/variety. How many different types of food are there in the world, how many different ways can they be cooked, and how many different combinations are there? I have no idea, but it’s a lot. It’s probably possible to eat something different every day for the rest of your life so if your job is boring or your relationship is boring or if life is just boring in general, there’s always a new food to try!
Next is significance. But how could eating too much and being overweight make someone feel significant? Well if you’re otherwise not a very important or significant person, being overweight could make you stand out. The more overweight you are the more this would happen. I once saw a TV program about the heaviest man in Britain who had held the title for many years. When he was told this was no longer the case and that he was now only the SECOND heaviest man in Britain he threw the TV crew out of his house he was so angry! When he later calmed down and let them back in to talk to him, it was obvious that the only thing he had going for him (in his mind anyway) was his weight. It made him feel important and significant, even though he never left his house. Although I’m not suggesting that your problem is anywhere near this severe, it’s an excellent example of what I said earlier about needs not always being met in positive ways.
Love/Connection from food? Lots of people say they love food but they don’t mean literally. Maybe not, but if someone is so lacking in love and connection in their life, the pleasurable feelings they get from eating puts them in connection with themselves. They also get to feel like they’re being cared for and loved, even if they are the one’s doing the nurturing. All foods, especially those high in fat or sugar, cause the release of the body’s own feel-good drugs called endorphins. If that doesn’t sound like you, maybe you get your need for love/connection met by food because you never eat alone. Maybe you eat out with friends or just where there are other people around.
Growth from food? And not just your waistline? This sounds as unlikely as love/connection but if you’re cooking your own food and becoming quite a gourmet chef that’s a form of growth. Quite a positive one too. Especially if it then means you can cook for others and maybe help them to improve their cooking skills. This could also lead on to…
Contribution. Cooking for friends and family, hosting dinner parties, teaching others how to cook. These are all forms of contribution and as I said earlier, meeting this need generally meets all of the other needs too.
So that’s one example of how food can meet your six needs, but obviously there are many possibilities. Hopefully you should now understand enough to figure out how food is meeting your needs, which is then causing you to be overweight. It might be a good idea to first put the six needs in order of importance to you personally, paying particular attention to the top two, which will help you understand more about why you are more willing to eat unhealthily and be overweight than eat properly and be slim.
I know what you’re thinking though. You want to know what to do with this information once you’ve taken the trouble to figure it all out.
Well we all meet our needs by using what are called vehicles, in this case food, but examples of even more destructive vehicles are alcohol, drugs, or even eating disorders. I’ve already said how being overweight can meet a need for significance, but being anorexic can have the same effect, as well as meeting a need for love/connection from concerned friends and relatives.
So what could be an alternative, more positive, vehicle to meet your needs than food?
How about exercise? At the moment this might be very unlikely as your needs and the gym probably look something like this…
Certainty that it will avoid pain and cause pleasure. No chance. It’s hard work, painful in every sense of the word and the only pleasure is walking through the exit.
Uncertainty/Varity. Again this isn’t going to be the case. Where’s the variety in pounding away on a treadmill for hours staring at a blank wall, or picking up weights to put them down again?
Significance. Being a red-faced, sweaty blob amongst a gym full of fitness fanatics might cause you to feel unique, but not in a way that’s going to satisfy any need for importance.
Love/Connection. Love from a modern version of a torture chamber where everyone is talking about the latest exercise techniques that might as well be in a foreign language for all the sense it makes to you? Unlikely.
Growth. Surrounded by all those fit, tanned bodies you’ll grow to hate yours even more and feel like even more of a loser. No thanks.
Contribution. How can you contribute to something you don’t know anything about and don’t enjoy?
No one would be meeting any needs with that view of exercise. But just by seeing things a little differently, and more positively, exercise could meet enough of your needs at a high enough level that it replaces food. Obviously you’d still eat, but it would be as a source of fuel to keep your body at its best instead of a way to gain pleasure. It might sound impossible but plenty of people have made the change, and some of them loved food and hated exercise a lot more than you!
Certainty. Although the actual process of exercise may not be guaranteed to cause pleasure in the moment, immediately afterwards there is an endorphin high along with a definite sense of pride and achievement at having completed another workout. Not to mention the good done to maintaining an attractive body that is fit and healthy.
Uncertainty/Variety. To someone who has done little or no exercise it can appear very repetitive and boring, but there are literally hundreds of different exercises that can be done in many different ways. Changing a workout regularly, whether this every couple of months, every couple of weeks or even every day, can provide limitless variety.
Significance. Just as being very overweight can cause you to stand out, so can being in good shape. By this I don’t mean thin because you hardly eat, I mean being slim, toned, and vibrant. Imagine how it would feel to have people envy your body and wish they had the motivation and determination to achieve the same result.
Love/Connection. Whether you already have a slim, toned body or are seriously overweight and out of shape, there will be someone in the gym at the same stage as you. You might not find love (though who knows!) but you will find like-minded people who share your goals that you can connect with.
Growth. This doesn’t just apply to muscles, it also applies to learning new exercise knowledge and skills that will also benefit your mind. Even if it’s too late to become a professional athlete, you might discover a talent or natural understanding of exercise that you never knew you had.
Contribution. Once you connect with others at the gym, which you will, you can then begin to contribute to their goals by motivating them, telling them what has or hasn’t worked for you in the past, or just inspiring them with your own story of how you went from fat to fit. You might even decide to write your own diet and fitness book!
Can you see how having a different view of the same activity can change your entire opinion of it? And how this could then meet your needs in a way that means food no longer has to be the vehicle?
But it doesn’t have to be exercise that replaces it. Any vehicle that is positive will work and you can have more than one. Exercise might meet your need for contribution, your spouse might meet your need for love/connection, your career might meet your need for significance, and so on. The more ways you have to meet each need the better.
As long as it’s positive and replaces food as a source of meeting your needs, it’s going to help make the process of losing weight easier.