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Surviving the Hunger Games: What Recovery Can Teach Us About Weight Loss

A colleague of mine once said “We are all in recovery from something, or should be.”

Supposing we adopt a broad definition of addiction to mean something we are compelled to do or use that has negative consequences, then that statement becomes eerily accurate, as it would apply not only to food consumption, but also dieting. We are in high-season for failed New Year’s resolutions, many of which revolve around weight loss, and while dieting isn’t inherently harmful, the repeated failure of diets can be traumatizing to the mind, body and soul.

If I seek mental health services and my internal story is that I’m broken or wounded, my flawed perception of self becomes my reality. The same applies to dieting; when I tell myself I need to lose weight, the message I am deeply engraving is that I am disappointed and displeased with my body, it needs to be “fixed.”  Rather than entering treatment (for addiction or weight loss) focusing on what we don’t want, I firmly believe success rates would increase if our mindset shifted to what we do want to see happen.

The Shift

The physiological, neurological and chemical aspects of substance use and food consumption are critical, fascinating and way outside the lines of my liberal arts degree, so while I’m not implying they are not important factors to consider, I truly believe that healing disordered eating must come from understanding internal processes, rather than external facts.

The greatest tragedy is that all we have is the present moment, and by waiting to live, we miss the joy that is available to us this very moment.-Jo HarveyAddiction treatment is most successful when we focus on the underlying issues driving the compulsion to use, rather than the substance itself. The same concept can easily be applied to dieting and weight loss, as measuring food and reading the latest diet books become irrelevant when we don’t understand what drives our relationship with food.  Just as it’s not about the drug, it’s not about the food; it’s about the characteristics of the individual and their reason for consuming the food they choose to consume.

Research has shown us time and time again that our thoughts are more powerful than we could ever imagine. If we constantly tell ourselves the story “I’ll never lose weight, I’ll never look how I want, I hate my body, I’m not okay,” then we embark on a very unpleasant never-ending journey. What we resist persists, so fighting against our weight, eating habits, body image etc. keeps us stuck in the same unhappy place.

Rather than focus on the negative, identify what you love about your body, and capitalize on your strengths. Know that you are destined to live out your life vibrating at your highest potential, and if you feel weight is holding you back, set the intention to live a more fluid and free life, and decide what story you want to tell about your body in its current state.

So often we tell ourselves the lie “I’ll be happy when…” and we put our potential for happiness on hold while we wait for that big promotion at work, to meet the perfect partner, or to reach our ideal weight. The greatest tragedy is that all we have is the present moment, and by waiting to live, we miss the joy that is available to us this very moment. We would benefit most from setting a goal to stop telling ourselves we can’t be happy unless we lose weight, then choosing to love ourselves exactly as we are.

Sometimes it might sound impossible, but if you really think about it, the only thing preventing immediate happiness is the story in your mind.

Forge a Path to Real Change

In order to make real change, we must love what is, and accept all aspects of ourselves. Fear and shame are the two most common triggers for emotional eating, so stay committed to being mindful and compassionate throughout the process.  We can approach our wellness goals with grace and ease, or kicking and screaming until we quit. The difference can be as simple as changing your story on the way to fitness class from “I have to go workout” to “I get to go work out.” To quote Wayne Dyer, “Change your thoughts, change your life.”

Fear and shame are the two most common triggers for emotional eating, so stay committed to being mindful and compassionate throughout the process.-Jo HarveyNegative beliefs must be exposed and rewritten in order to eliminate them, so explore where negative thoughts surrounding your body originated. Maybe it was the media, a parent, previous partner or the mean kid on the playground who told you that you needed to be different or look a certain way. Regardless of where the story came from, it’s not your story, it’s theirs. Applying the Work of Byron Katie can be especially useful when deciphering our perception of weight. Ask yourself the following questions: Is this really true? How do I know with absolute certainty it is true? Where did this belief come from? And most importantly, who would I be without this belief?

Just as sobriety is not about willpower, dieting is not about motivation. Every January, we set our goals around diet and exercise, and if we could freeze and live in that specific moment, every one of us would reach our fitness goals. We clean out our cupboards, spend money on gym memberships and are serious about our commitment to health. The downfall is motivation ebbs and flows, so none of us can be 100% motivated all of the time. In those moments of perceived weakness, needs trump goals, and my need to sleep in or run errands may surpass my goal of making it to cardio; my need to self sooth with food can abruptly override my goal of eating clean.

How we talk to ourselves when we are tempted to stray is equally important. Have you heard yourself say “I can’t eat that” when someone orders something amazing from the bakery? Remember, that rebellious teenager still lives inside you, and loves nothing more than to challenge such orders. Many will suggest to change your language from cant to don’t, and while I do agree “I don’t eat that” is a far more empowering statement, I still believe shifting to what we do want is always more effective than asserting what we don’t.

Imagine a little kid that is told “don’t run into the street;” next thing you know, the kid attempts to dart out into traffic. Our brains rarely register the word don’t, so what your brain is often hearing is simply “eat that.”

What we want to tell our kids (and ourselves) is what we do want. It’s the basic law of attraction in action when we go from “I don’t eat that” to “I only eat clean foods that fuel my body.”

How do We Become Successful?

  • We set daily intentions and take a non-judgmental look at where we go astray. Ask yourself what are your barriers to success? What might take you off course? What has worked (or not worked) for me in the past?
  • Explore your relationship with food individually or with a professional. Assessing the underlying emotional, spiritual and emotional factors of health are just as important as assessing caloric intake or developing an exercise routine.
  • Surrender to a higher power and know you are exactly where you are meant to be in this moment.Sometimes our weight is a way to protect us, and keep us distanced from the world. I have worked with multiple sexual abuse victims who have unconsciously held weight in an attempt to make themselves less vulnerable to future abuse. Go deep below the surface and keep seeking the answers which are already inside of you.
  • Visualize yourself at optimum health (whatever that looks like) and allow yourself to feel what it would be like to reach that goal. Remember, it’s not about reaching the goal, but experiencing in this moment the feeling you hope the goal will create. Affirmative prayer, meditation and other healing arts can be very effective tools as you move toward your goal.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who will love you and support you every step of the way. Make sure the people around you mirror back the beauty, health and radiance already inside of you. And last but not least, please remember, what you seek, you already are.

Just as Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work for everyone, have faith that you will find your ideal path to wellness and remember to be gentle with yourself along the way. I know that sounds disgustingly optimistic, but the truth is, this journey can be painful and messy, so we ought to do our best to enjoy the ride.

Image Courtesy of iStock

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