Hey there! I hope you found last week’s journal exercise illuminating and that you were able to dive deep into your own past experiences losing weight (or at least trying to lose weight). If you missed the last post, you can check it out here and enjoy some quality, free-flow writing time to yourself. It’s all good– I can wait. 🙂
In today’s post, we’re going to tease out some common themes and beliefs around dieting, losing weight, and being healthy in general. These themes popped up in my own example, for sure, but don’t be surprised to see them applying to your own situation as well. (That’s why they’re called “themes” as opposed to “strangely specific elements that apply only to Dana Machacek”. Heh.)
Here’s the deal: what we believe about dieting, weight loss, and health all have a huge impact on our actual experiences. If I believe to the core of my being that a certain food is “good” for me, guess what? My body will most likely process that food with relative ease when I consume it. Likewise, if you’re convinced that you must diet in order to lose weight, and that dieting inevitably means a life sentence of deprivation and sacrifice in the name of smaller pants, well… that’s probably what you’ll experience, too.
Anyway. The reason why it’s so useful to write out your story is because that written account uncovers many of the thoughts and beliefs you hold about food, diets, losing weight, your body, and being healthy in general. (And those beliefs, in turn, significantly shape your real-life experiences.) It might take some practice and some figurative archaeology to get at the juicy bits of your core beliefs, but once you expose some of the big ideas that you simply take for granted as “truth” or “the way things are”, you’ll find yourself in extremely fertile, deliciously transformative ground.
The first theme I’m going to highlight here applies to any and all answers regarding “the last time I lost weight”, so if you took the time to journal your personal experience, heads up: this core belief applies to you.
Belief #1: I’m not okay the way I am now.
It’s not necessarily an explicit or overt belief, meaning that you might not see those very words glaring out at you from the pages of your journal. However, the very act of going on a diet, trying to exercise more, deciding to count your calories, or vowing to cut out “bad” foods from your eating plan suggests that something needs to change in order for you to feel good about yourself. This also (obviously) implies a lack of self-acceptance or self-love for the way you are right now.
Deep breath. This feeling is natural. (Disheartening, yes, but totally natural.)
The theme of “I’m not okay” is an insidious one, because it’s often disguised under the glossy-haired, pearly white cloak of self-improvement, and what could possibly be wrong with wanting to be healthy or trying to manage diseases and health issues? Nothing! But if you withhold love, acceptance, and care from yourself until some indeterminate point in the future when you can finally prove to yourself that you’ve ‘earned it’– sweetheart, you’re setting yourself up for an ongoing war with yourself. And life is challenging enough without that cursed Self vs. Self battle.
Listen: it’s totally fine to want to make positive changes in your life, to learn, to grow, and to blossom into the most radiant, shimmering version of yourself. I want you to shine so brightly that you illuminate the entire galaxy with your glow! But it’s important to be kind and gentle with yourself from Step #1, too. Losing weight shouldn’t be punishment for your eternal shortcomings or a way to whip your pathetic ass into submission. (How well has that worked out so far?) Instead, think of yourself as a dazzling being already. You’re gorgeous, talented, warm, and magnetic right now, and you can only become more so with each loving step you take in the direction of health.
Belief #2: Losing weight is hard.
Chances are, your weight loss story featured some variation on the This is Hard! theme. Whether you’ve tried point systems, portion control, food combination rules, counting calories or grams, logging the number of steps you’ve taken, following lists of what’s allowed and what isn’t, skipping meals, breaking large meals into smaller and more frequent snacks, or eliminating entire food groups (carbohydrates, fats, fruits, etc.) from your diet before, you’ve likely bumped up against the belief that Being Healthy Ain’t Easy, Sister.
My personal experiences trying to lose weight definitely impressed upon me that an intricate, scientific, and exquisitely complicated system had to be followed in order to obtain my desired results. Significantly, this system was never something I invented on my own– it was always an external program that I selected and then applied to myself. Also, the idea that I could somehow deviate from the program was unheard of, unless I didn’t mind not losing any weight and therefore totally defeating the purpose of being on a diet in the first place. Ha.
Maybe your story highlighted one of these versions of the “Losing Weight is Hard” belief:
- Dieting is complicated.
- I need to do a whole lotta work in order to see even small changes in my weight.
- There is no room for error when it comes to dieting.
- I have to follow all the rules perfectly, all the time.
- Losing weight is time consuming.
- Dieting is expensive.
Belief #3: My (in)ability to lose weight is directly tied to my value as a person.
Here’s where it gets personal. This core belief is tied closely to the This is Hard! theme; however, rather than just dealing with the weight loss process itself, Belief #3 makes evaluations about ourselves based on how well we either adhere to a program or achieve results with that program… or both.
For example, we might feel frustrated with complicated and often contradictory lists of foods that are “good for us/allowed” and “bad for us/not allowed”. Belief #3 takes this a step further, judging us as good and worthy people when we eat the allowed foods but condemning us as bad and terrible people when we eat the foods that aren’t allowed.
Here are some other variations on Belief #3 that you might have noticed in your own answer:
- There is a proven formula for losing weight, and if I can just try hard enough and follow that program correctly, I will see results.
- If I’m not losing weight, I must be doing something wrong.
- If I’m not losing weight, I must not be trying hard enough.
- If I’m not losing weight, there must be something wrong with me.
- I’m bad/stupid/lazy/wrong for eating ________________.
- When the number on the scale goes down, I’m incredible and awesome!
- When the number on the scale goes up, I’m a worthless, no-good, stupid-assed failure!
Keep ’em coming now.
Revisit your story about the last time you lost weight, and try to uncover as many personal beliefs as you can about “what it takes” to lose weight or “the way things are” when it comes to your body, dieting, or being healthy. List them all out as though they were absolute facts or simple song titles:
Dieting is soooooo lame and superficial.
Feminists shouldn’t care about their weight or how they look.
Being overweight runs in my family: it’s genetic.
Being thin attracts unwanted attention.
Restaurants are off-limits when I’m on a diet.
Dieting spells disaster for my social life.
My body will be judged no matter what.
In the next post, we’re going to tackle what you can do with these core beliefs to either lessen their charge or to change and eliminate them completely. It’s usually not enough to just affirm the opposite of these beliefs to yourself. After all, you’re smart and extremely perceptive, and if– after years of believing that weight loss is hard– you suddenly start telling yourself, Losing weight is easy and natural for me!, your subconscious is going to call bullshit immediately. That’s okay– there are ways to work around that, and we’ll discuss some of those methods next week.
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