Last month, the media covered the story of Biggest Loser contest winners and their weight gain over the years after the show ended. Before I read the story, I was hopeful.
For once, I wanted to see the media cover what I’ve felt in my heart to be true for years after working with clients on their own wellness journeys. I wanted the story to share that making long-term, sustainable change occurs not just with diet and exercise alone. But instead, the story talked about a lower metabolic rate that was contributed to by their weight-loss. What a letdown. Number one, a lower metabolic rate after weight loss is not new news. And number two, the “answer” was disappointing in that it lacked any true insight and illustrates the essence of why our health is failing here in the US and abroad. We’re not focusing on what really makes a difference.
The key for anyone taking on any sort of long-term health plan is the need to train your brain for healthier thinking about yourself and your life.
I tell all of my new clients that the work that we do is only based on roughly 10% food and nutrition education and the other 90% focuses on thoughts and habits. Information on healthy eating, albeit not all of it good, is free. Go online. Go to the library. Everywhere you turn, someone has a plan for you to live a healthier life.
Lack of information is not the problem. Even if you get overwhelmed by the barrage of information and have a case of “analysis paralysis,” the basics have not (and most likely will never) change. Eat more vegetables and fruits, stick with lean and clean proteins, know your good fats, and if you chose grains, make them whole. Oh yeah – and move more.
So if it’s not a lack of information, what is it?
Another article that was released recently in response to the Biggest Loser article references a book called Thin for Life by Anne Fletcher written about people that have successfully lost weight and have maintained the loss. In it, she says, “The one common theme is that while maintaining their losses requires ongoing effort, that effort isn’t perceived by these weight loss masters as a hardship but rather as just living with new lifestyles, and lifestyles that they enjoy.”
Yes, this 100%.
But this is a lot easier said than done. How does one get to the point where they enjoy living a healthy lifestyle and embrace the changes when it’s quite different from what is currently being done?
One way would be to practice shifting how your thoughts are occurring to you regarding these changes that you know you want to ultimately make. How we perceive our experiences has so much to do with our success. This was recently shared by Kate Northrup in her latest blog post, How My Boobs Changed My Relationship with Money. In her blog, she shares how her approach to pumping and storing breast milk for her new baby was more about having freedom knowing that unexpected situations wouldn’t impact her ability to provide natural nourishment to her baby. The idea of freedom through saving resonated strongly with her as she likened it to the same freedom that could be had by building a financial cushion or emergency fund. While Kate has at times resisted the idea of an emergency fund so as not to manifest emergencies, she realized that rethinking her “why” would allow for the growth of this fund to occur in a way that felt more about safety and security and less about fear and traumatic events.
All she did was shift her thoughts and the words used to describe what she was doing.
This takes mastery and practice. It’s about being aware of how we connect to what we are doing.
When I’m working with a new client and begin to share some new ideas for healthy eating, it’s quite interesting to hear their feedback. It can range anywhere between, “This is a lot of food,” to, “I am going to have nothing to eat.” Similar plan, totally different perspective.
What shapes our perspective? Our whole life. We begin creating beliefs about ourselves from a very early age. There are even studies that show that some of our experiences that occur in the womb and shortly after birth can influence our life through health and other experiences. Since I’m a huge believer in not redoing what someone has already done very well, I share with you another blog entitled, I Lost 150 Pounds – Here’s What You Don’t Know by Naomi Teeter. Her writing is real and raw and embraces the struggles and triumphs that one experiences is a long-lasting health journey. There is nothing more for me to say when she is done, as she has said it all.
Eight years ago, I weighed close to 300 pounds. Prior to that, the last time I remember being average size was in second grade. Even then, the other kids were in the early stages of name calling and bullying.
I lost 150 pounds seven years ago in a matter of just under 11 months. I did it through diet and exercise. It was fast and furious. I have some major regrets.
I pushed and punished myself “Biggest Loser” style by making sure I worked out twice a day (most days) for at least two hours. Eventually, I grew to love the physical pain and discomfort. It was hard for me to take a rest day. I created so much physical pain through exercise that I didn’t have to deal with my feelings. Physical pain is easier to tolerate.
All of my meals were pre-planned. I never ate a meal with my partner. And if he accidentally ate from my string cheese or sugar-free gelatin stash, I flew off the handle.
Like many folks, I thought THIS was how a person successfully loses weight. So, imagine my surprise when I lost 150 pounds and found it damn near impossible to maintain.
No, it wasn’t a loss of willpower. It wasn’t my body fighting back with a lowered metabolism or non-existent leptin. It was because I was addressing only the surface level of my problems. I wasn’t acknowledging the root cause of my morbid obesity.
I struggled off and on for the first three years of maintaining my massive weight loss. Some days, I binged on an entire ice cream cake, a large pizza, and a 12-count package of cookies from the bakery all in one sitting. Other days, I ate clean and was compliant to the Paleo lifestyle while preaching the good news of eating pasture-raised bacon.
I spent years believing something was wrong with me biologically because I struggled so much with food. I tried new sugar detoxes, clean eating programs, and briefly joined Overeaters Anonymous (which only made it worse). No special way of eating, no supplement, no workout routine helped my keep the 150 pounds off.
When I didn’t get my way, I lashed out at people. When the overwhelm of work and school became too much, I binge ate my anxiety while writing essays and studying for big exams. When my dad passed away, I ran a half-marathon to not feel the pain and regret of our lack of a relationship.
I juggled multiple problems that contributed to my weight struggle: an all-or-nothing way of thinking, no self-compassion whatsoever, tons of self-judgement, over-identifying with stuff, setting unrealistically high standards for myself and others, and a total lack of self-awareness.
Having been raised in a dysfunctional household with many childhood adversities, it took a toll on my beliefs, attitude, and behavior. According to one large-scale study, childhood trauma teaches the brain and body to handle stressful situations much differently than someone with little to no childhood adversities. I was almost always in fight-or-flight mode. I reacted to even the smallest amount of stress with complete frustration and anguish.
My first step to healing was to admit that even though I lost 150 pounds, I was still the same person. I still had the same emotional baggage and fixed mindset that was a gooey ball of shame, pride, apathy, need for certainty, and passive-aggressive smugness.
Before I could maintain my weight loss in a healthy and happy way, I had to face my emotional dragons head on. It’s the most uncomfortable process I’ve ever had to do (but also the most rewarding).
I’ve maintained my weight loss with ease these last 4 years by getting good at:
- I found ways to enjoy my lifestyle change. I learned early that I had to do what I liked—no matter what scientific studies claimed to be best or what experts were spouting out as gospel. I had to find a way to be physically active that was maintainable and fun for me. Eating also had to be a flavorful experience. It didn’t need to be “right,” but it needed to be mostly healthy.
- I learned more about my personality. This helped me start the journey to developing self-compassion and better relating to others. When I understood that so many others share the same personality (and there’s nothing wrong with it), I stopped striving to be someone I wasn’t. No amount of achievement could change who I was. I embraced my authentic-self more and more each day.
- I worked on becoming more mindful of my thoughts and behaviors. My husband often had to “put me in my place” when my reaction towards something (or someone) became too negative. By talking it out with him, I humbly learned that I was over-identifying too much with something that aggravated me.
- I learned how to become present with my emotions and give them names. They weren’t just “good” or “bad” feelings. This helped me understand how I could heal myself in productive ways without another binge.
- I accepted that it’s OK to have negative emotions. Constantly striving to get back to a happier feeling often made me feel like something was wrong with me. Respecting all of my emotions as valuable parts slowly gave me more peace. Much like in the movie Inside Out, I needed all of my emotions to deal with the realities of life.
- I embraced the adventure. I drastically lowered my expectations for how certain events in my life were supposed to turn out. “How can I make this an adventure?” became my go-to question when conditions were less-than-favorable. My brain helped me find ways to enjoy the experience even though it didn’t turn out as planned.
- I started to recognize “not good enough” messages in media. So much of disordered eating behavior is linked to the message of “you’re not good enough.” It seems so innocent that you even hear it from your friends and family. It can range from “You are what you eat. So, don’t be fast, easy and cheap” to your “guilt-free” chocolate chip cookies which implies you should feel guilty for having a treat. I allowed myself to feel anger towards these messages instead of shame.
- I stopped identifying myself according to my actions. Labels (both good and bad) limited me. They often made me feeling powerless or uncomfortably incongruent with who I was supposed to be. When I struggled with binge eating and obsessive thoughts about sugar, Overeaters Anonymous told me I was a “sugar addict.” When I called myself a runner, I had internal fist fights with the part of me that wanted to settle for a hike rather than a run.