We’ve all been told that eating less and moving more is the way to avoid becoming over weight, it can be as straightforward as that if everything else in your life is simple … let me explain …
I have been in the business of helping people lose unwanted body fat for nearly 10 years and in my experience getting this right does in most cases involve cutting back on unnecessary calories and moving more – there are however, lots of other factors that form part of the equation. Things like getting enough sleep, stress and how you manage it, your key systems and how they function, how slowly or quickly you lose weight naturally, your mind set and of course any emotional baggage that could be slowing you down.
In this blog post I will share a few stories that will demonstrate some of the patterns and obstacles that I have come across through working with clients to achieve their weight loss goals. Maybe these will resonate with you and help you identify anything holding you back and help you move forward from here.
Julia: Who would I be if I become skinny?
Sometimes it’s the larger than life personality that has the body to match. For as long as Julia could remember she had been the fat girl. It never stopped her doing what she wanted to do and she developed a persona that made her the life of the party. She had loads of friends and was happy. It was only when her GP told her she needed to lose weight to control her high blood pressure and get her sugar levels under control that she started to look at her body and the extra weight she was carrying. She made several attempts to shift it through dieting and had failed miserably. This is when we met and started working together.
At the time she doubted whether she could actually lose the weight accumulated over the years but was willing to give it a go. Initially she would set goals around sensible eating and making time for exercise after work. More often than not the week would start off great but she would start to slip back into bad habits come Wednesday and then would be making excuses not to exercise.
Feeling very frustrated Julia couldn’t understand why she kept sabotaging her efforts until I asked her the following question: “If you managed to stick to your plan throughout the week, and began to lose weight, what would that look and feel like to you?” Her answer was interesting: “If I was to actually stick to my plan, I know I would lose weight, and I wouldn’t be fat anymore but who would I be if I was no longer the fat funny girl?”
Sue: Who am I to look too perfect?
Sue had the kind of life that seemed perfect to others, she owned her own business, had a devoted and loving husband, kids that were doing well at school and she had a large circle of friends who she entertained in her beautiful home, she went of wonderful holidays with her family.
The only area of Sue’s life that she did not seem to have under control was her weight. She felt like she had been trying to shed the extra flab on her body forever! We started our session with a weigh and measure and when her results weren’t good we had a chat about it. “I’ve got everything I could possibly want, except a body I am comfortable in. I know what I need to do, and often do exactly that. But after a while, I fall off the wagon and self-sabotage. I find myself eating rubbish when no one is around, and telling myself I just don’t care. But I do care! This extra flab is making me miserable!”
I asked Sue to spend some time visualising herself as successful. I asked her to close her eyes and imagine a future where her self-sabotaging behavior was no longer a problem, and she was living her life in the body she dreamed of.
I told her to think about and write down the thoughts and feelings that come up when doing her visualisations. A few weeks later she said that, “At first it felt fabulous. I imagined wearing figure hugging clothes, looking in the mirror and feeling proud, being lighter and more energetic. But when I imagined my friends seeing me, I began to think they would be put off by the ‘new’ me or feel intimidated. After all, who am I to look perfect?”
Gary: What if I find out I’m just not that exciting?
Gary was in his mid 40’s when we started working together, he had an excellent job and was highly successful and respected and yet he still felt like a failure. In and out of relationships but not meeting the right girl he felt lonely. He had always had extra flab around his middle. Wanting to find a woman who he could have a relationship with he tried joining a couple of online dating sites and became convinced that women were turned off by his fat belly. Gary thought that if he could lose the excess weight, it would increase his chances of finding someone who would go out with him more than once.
Despite being highly motivated to lose the flab, he continued to fill his mouth with junk food and you guessed it, the weight didn’t shift. When we chatted about the benefits of losing weight we also covered other considerations, such as a new wardrobe, more energy, better sleep etc. Gary then said to me that he was concerned that if he lost weight and was still rejected by the ladies he could no longer blame it on the fact that he was fat, but that he would realise something even worse in his mind and that is that he is simply not that exciting!
Jenny: I’m keeping my family happy and together 🙂
When Jenny came to me, she was concerned that she and her husband had steadily been gaining weight during their 15-year marriage. Particularly alarming was seeing her children also show signs of rapid weight gain. Her GP had expressed concerns. She was the one who bought the groceries and cooked the meals, so she recognised the need to change her habits at home.
We talked about healthier meal options and although she made a few changes there always seemed to be a social event that got in the way. Meals out with friends, friends over for dinner, someone’s birthday – you get the idea. Jenny found it extremely difficult to cut back on the big meals and treats her friends and family had become accustomed to, and although losing weight felt like a really important goal, she couldn’t stand the thought of her family or guests feeling like they hadn’t had enough to eat.
I asked Jenny for more information about the role that food played in her family when she was growing up, as it turned out she was the daughter of a couple who had survived the war. She remembered being told stories about the years her parents had very little to eat about how her grandparents had to use food stamps and rations to put food on the table.
Far surpassing her parents’ lifestyle, her husband was very successful and she was a stay-at-home wife, food and money were never issues. Holidays were a great opportunity for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to join in a feast of delicious food and treats. Jenny still remembers her grandparents saying how lucky she was to live in a time when she could feel safe and secure that there would always be enough to eat. Then it dawned on her that she was using food as a means to keep her family together.
Alison: Food is love!
Alison was a chubby child and grew up be an overweight adult. When she started finished uni and started working she became concerned that her weight might stand in the way of her career advancement. She knew she had to put herself in a better position to be put in front of management and customers. She realised that although she was bright and fun loving this wouldn’t be enough as she was very self-conscious in meetings and would rather stay quiet than speak up and share her ideas. She decided that losing weight would help to increase her confidence and help to advance her career.
When we met and started chatting about the things she felt held her back from losing weight, she said that ‘I feel happy when I eat what I want and miserable when I try to restrict myself’ of course she went on to say that she feels even worse afterwards. She then said ‘I can’t help myself, I have no willpower!’
We went on to talking about why she felt happy when we was indulging and she realised that most of the time she was thinking about her dad and reminiscing about her childhood. Alison’s dad left when she was eight, so her mum raised her alone. She could remember feeling sad and abandoned by him, and that she would cry often. In an effort to cheer her up, her mum would often take Alison out for an ice cream or down to the local sweet shop or bakery to pick up some treats. Having her mum’s undivided attention, when she was relaxed and full of fun were her favorite times. Even if her Dad wasn’t around, mum took care of her and she was loved through food!
Lucy: You can’t control me all the time.
Lucy was on a permanent diet. For as long as she could remember she had been trying to lose weight. She had tried every diet out there and despite having some success, she would always put the back on and very often more. When we started working together, she said this would be her last attempt and if she was not successful this time, ‘that’s it, I’m giving up!’
So we started with small lifestyle changes, to improve her nutrition and started to bring in more exercise and activity. It was slow and sometimes frustrating for her but she started to lose about ½ kg a week consistently. She started walking every day and learned to recognise when she was hungry, and when she had eaten enough food she stopped eating. She learned to modify her favourite recipes to healthier ones by changing a few ingredients.
When we reviewed her goals and her amazing weight-loss of over 2 stone I asked her if she felt she had succeeded this time around and what was different?
She went on to tell me that it was different this time because “you never told me what I could or couldn’t eat. The food plan was flexible and you let me make decisions based on how I felt and what I thought I would enjoy.
She then started to tell me about her parents and about how they were well meaning and loving but very controlling. She grew up with strict rules around how much TV she was allowed to watch, how many hours a day she had to study, and when she was allowed to visit or talk on the phone with friends. The also had rigid restrictions regarding food. There was absolutely no junk food in the house and groceries were purchased at the health food store only. Fried food and sugar were thought of as “poison.”
When Lucy went to visit friends she would find any excuse to eat and would pig out on all of the treats that were forbidden at home. When she moved on to college she was finally in charge of what she ate – whoo! – so she ate greasy food from the canteen and always had a pudding. She always felt that she was being a little deceitful and sneaky doing this behind their backs but she didn’t care. Her only thoughts were that, “you can’t control me all of the time!”
I thought I would share these stories just to show that despite our best intentions we very often struggle to reach our goals. Without a real understanding of the reasons we hold onto the bad habits that keep us from getting where we want to go, a long-term change would be extremely difficult if not impossible.
Mindfulness and awareness are the first steps toward overcoming the barriers we perceive to be holding us back. Just becoming aware of what we are doing and why and how the behavior is in a way ‘protecting us’ we can start to take steps towards being free from the things that seem to hold us back.
So if your weight-loss journey seems more like an uphill battle that never ends, despite being highly motivated, take some time and think about what barriers you might be holding on to. A good coach or therapist, or even talking with a friend, can help you shed some light on your situation.
In the meantime, remember that you are doing the best you can right now, and weight loss is more complicated than eating less and moving more!
Taking a holistic approach is key if you really want long-term results.
As always I am here to help.