It came around like clock-work a few times a year, every year, for the past 13 years or more.
I’d be invited to some event at which I’d see old acquaintances who knew me 20, 40, 80 pounds ago, depending on the year. Or perhaps some new acquaintances, say friends of my husband, around whom I wanted to look my best.
“You want to go with me to this work party?” my husband would ask.
I’d freeze, feel a pang of anxiety rise in my chest, then mumble, “No thanks, babe”, before scurrying to a different room of the house to avoid any discussion of why.
In the next room, I would start the barrage of self-deprecating thoughts about how I couldn’t wear something I really wanted to because of my weight, how everyone would whisper about how much heavier I’d become, how disappointed I was in myself, and so forth. Then I’d douse my negative feelings with a good dose of mindless social media scrolling and a sugary snack for good measure.
"I’m going to get myself together”, I’d promise. The weight was piling on with no signs of stopping and I knew full well it was standing in the way of me living my life as I truly desired. I would scour the internet for the newest, surefire way to drop weight quickly. It started with Weight Watchers 13 or 14 years ago when I first began to struggle, and then countless other books and diet plans that promised resullts, which ultimately always eluded me.
Finally, I decided that what I needed was a fitness coach. Someone to hold me accountable, I thought. I need some tough love, maybe a Jillian Michaels-type to yell me into submission to a diet and exercise plan.
Personal coaching with Jillian was out of my budget, so I decided do it myself. No, I didn’t walk around yelling at myself. Not outwardly anyway; people might think I was weird. What I did instead was probably worse. I set unrealistically short time periods in which I’d have to lose a large amount of weight, and consider myself a failure when I didn’t achieve my goal. I would think disparaging thoughts about my body, and brush off any compliment my husband ever gave me on the way I looked. I committed myself to liquid cleanses and detoxes, removed entire food groups from my diet, drug myself to the gym. I needed a harsh kick in the pants, because otherwise, how else would I motivate myself toward results?
One day after failing at my weight loss efforts for the umpteenth time, I started to connect what I had learned about human psychology to my struggle. As I have written about before, one of the central tenets of human behavior is that our thoughts about events in our lives, drive our feelings, and our feelings drive our actions and by extension, our results. And it happens in that order, every time. I had spent so much time trying to change my actions (ie, eat healthier, exercise more) without ever addressing all the thoughts and emotions that were driving me to overeat in the first place. Most of us do the same. We go through life on autopilot, reacting to whatever happens around us. We have no clue what we are thinking moment-by-moment and how those thoughts are directly affecting us.
When I realized that my own thoughts about food, my body, and a myriad of other facts of my life were causing me to eat emotionally and render me unable to lose weight, I immediately wanted to change them. And I also wanted to give myself a harsh talking-to for not realizing it all before.
But what I have found works much better than harsh judgement and swift change when we’re trying to improve our lives is to show ourselves some love. That’s right, give yourself an emotional hug, my friend. See, it is not your fault that you’ve been going through life without managing your thoughts. You’re human after all, and it has been to humans’ evolutionary advantage to do most things in autopilot. If we had to think about breathing in order to take a breath, we’d all be dead, right?
Once you become aware of your thoughts, and how they’re affecting your emotions and behaviors, just pause. Sit back and observe your brain with compassion, curiosity and without judgement, the way you might watch an infant trying to stick their toes in their mouth. Like, That’s a fascinating choice and one I personally wouldn’t try, little baby, but I’m not judging you. See?
After you’ve observed your brain for awhile and come to understand it’s patterns, then you can decide if you’d like to gradually make some changes to the way you think, and do so from a place of self-love instead of self-loathing. There’s an old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. You can win more battles with kindness than with rage. So it is with you, my friend. You’re more likely to create lasting change in any area of your life if you are kind to yourself first. That has certainly been the case for me, as I used these exact steps to lose my first 20 pounds after being unable to do so for years.
Start your journey to a better you by slowing down enough to observe your thoughts throughout the day. When you’re upset, or anxious or even content, ask yourself, what am I thinking right now? Notice the connection between what you think and how you feel. Then, when you observe your thought patterns, don’t rush to change them or beat yourself up for having them. Come to observe your thoughts non-judgmentally and compassionately over time, and give yourself a mental hug because everything is okay. Then, when you’re ready, begin to slowly work toward changing the thoughts that are not serving you to ones that improve your feelings and your results in life.
You've got this,