With today’s current obsession with weight loss, people have been known to try quite an amazing array of different ways to thin down. From sweatsuits in summertime to juice diets and everything in between, we attack the “problem” mercilessly.

So it’s no surprise then that recently I received an email asking if equine therapy can be helpful for weight loss.

My first question was, “Do you know what the food represents for you?”

The answer, “I know I am an emotional eater, so I must eat for emotional reasons.”

While it was clear to me that this person had needs that were yet unmet, and had probably been stuck there for some time, the answer also illuminated the gross avoidance of underlying mental health struggles connected to weight gain. That’s not to say heavy people are guaranteed a mental health diagnosis, but there should be some attention towards classifying what otherwise might be a very complex intra-psychic conflict as “emotional eating.”

The reality was that telling me that she was an “emotional eater,” really told me nothing other than that she feels somehow wrong about her relationship with food. And that is not unlike most Americans. After all, we are subjected to images of airbrushed, ultra-thin models – as models of normalcy – while also constantly being barraged with low-calorie, low-fat and light alternatives to almost every form of food that we are tempted with. How are we not supposed to feel guilty when we succumb to these tasty foods? (Of course we all do at some point).

So, in an effort to clarify the issue for the woman, I responded that equine therapy is helpful for a variety of reasons, such as lowered physiological markers of stress (epinephrine, nor-epinephrine and cortisol to name a few), increased emotional acuity, improved feelings of connection, and yes, awareness and resolution of intra-psychic conflicts, and should she feel that any of these things might underlie her weight gain, than yes, equine therapy would be helpful.

The response, “What if I just overeat?” served as a metaphor for the way weight loss is often treated. If using portion control, counting calories and putting the fork down after 6:00pm worked, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion, and obesity wouldn’t be such a national issue.

To this I replied, “Well then I would say, just don’t overeat. But clearly, the how to not overeat is why you inquired about equine therapy, which tells me there is much to learn about yourself. And yes, equine therapy is fantastic for that.”