What kind of change comes from hating yourself? What at first can seem like good motivation, can soon spin off into a diatribe of self-deprecation–a spiral of good-bad, love-hate inner muddling.
Consider the diet. No one starts a diet thinking: “Everything is going so well! Wow, am I looking good! I feel great! Think I’ll go on a diet.” More likely, there’s a harsh voice that comes through that calls you names, compares you to others, and asks you why you “let yourself go”, or how come you haven’t been able to “fix” this yet? “Why are you so weak and lazy? You have no willpower!”
And then, there’s the carrot: “There’s 3 months to the high school reunion. God, I’m so FAT! I can do this! I know I want to look great…better than anyone there…I’ll wear something fabulous that’ll blow them all away. Ok, if I lose 2 lbs/wk, that’s 12 weeks, that’s 24 lbs! Perfect! Maybe I can even lose a little more…”
Sound familiar? What’s wrong with a little self-motivating carrot dangling, you ask?
Well, it’s where the motivation comes from that allows the change to be sustainable or not. When something is sustainable, it has the ability to stay viable and to keep going, because it has what it needs to thrive and flourish. That kind of motivation is based on knowing yourself, your lifestyle, and your needs. It’s intrinsic, not based on what anyone else is doing or saying you should do.
Anyone can follow a diet. It’s just an instruction manual. The reason why some popular diet programs are dropping that four-letter word and referring to their programs as ‘not a diet, but a lifestyle’ is for this very reason. Long after the diet is over, you still have to live with food. Some plans are better at teaching that than others. The bottom line? Your relationship with food must be sustainable, and that includes how you approach food, your body, and yourself emotionally. How else do you lose weight, you may ask? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Harshly criticizing yourself in order to eat less and exercise more has about the amount of staying power as a stick of gum. After it loses its oomph, you need to either amp up the harsh or find another way. The cycle of yo-yo dieting adds to shame, body dis-trust, and feelings of desperation and despair.
So what else is there? First, there’s asking yourself about why you want to make this change. Will you be satisfied losing weight for the special event alone? Is that really going to be enough? Maybe so, but if not, ask yourself what you’re truly needing when you think about the event. And ask yourself what you’re truly needing when it comes to eating and weight management. You might decide that you need to feel good about yourself, regardless of the event, or whatever the initial motivation is. That can be a game-changer. You may also decide that you’d like to live with food differently every day, not just for the next few weeks. Also, a paradigm shift!
It’s not often that the starting place sounds like: “You know, I’m happy with so many things in my life, and I’m so proud of how I’m taking such good care of myself. I think I could focus on getting some more protein in my diet though. I bet that would help my energy.” Or: “I wonder if I’m eating emotionally…I notice that I’m eating often when I don’t feel really hungry. I’m curious about that.” But what if you could start there? Let’s go back to motivation and change for a minute.
And of course, this is not just what happens in relation to dieting. It can happen when considering any change.
What’s your inner dialogue that gets you motivated? Is it hard-assed or bitchy? Or is it compassionate and reasonable?
In motivational interviewing a therapeutic approach to working with change, the ambivalence that can accompany the desire to make a change is brought to light. Looking at that ambivalence can be a good way to understand what might get in the way of change, and how to proceed. Simply put, the therapist engages clients by meeting them where they are, helps bring focus to an area of change that is desired, and then helps the client to find their own values around change. Then a practical plan can be implemented.
At this point, you may decide that you’d like to be more mindful when you eat. Studies have shown that mindful eating can lead to weight-loss. You may re-think your weight-loss goal, or start tracking your hunger to better understand if there’s emotional eating going on. Whatever plan you implement, it’s important that it be congruent with your values, your longterm goals, and what truly motivates you.
What if your motivation to change actually made sense, based on your values, sustainability, and self-compassion? Here’s something to get you started.
5 Creative Prompts to Get You Thinking About How You Make Change
- What change(s) do you want to make in your life right now around food, body image, eating? Make a list of what you desire for one or each. If you come up with several, go back and see if there are one or two that you can focus on now.
- How do you feel about food, your body, and eating right now? You can write this out or, for a different perspective, get out some colored pencils or markers, or whatever you have, and draw how you feel about each. This might sound harder or more complicated than it is. There is no right or wring way to do this. Drawing a feeling can look like a symbol of the feeling, or just a color that represents the feeling. It can be anything that represents how you feel about your body, food, and eating right now in your life. Whether you write or draw this out, it’s important to connect the ideas you have about change with the feelings you have about change.
- If you’ve tried to make these changes in the past, what happened? Tell the story. Were there any successes? What were they, and why? Were there any challenges? What were they and why? You can use a time line here if you’d like, tracking when in your life you’ve tried to make changes. Note the year, your age, where you were, who was with you, and anything in particular that was going on in your life at the time.
- Why do you want to make this change now? Dig deep here and do a 5-10 minute free write—keep writing non-stop, even if you think that what’s coming through is weird, nonsense, or you don’t totally understand it. Focus on how you would like to feel by making this change. How would you like to feel in your body? How would you like to feel in your mind?
- Using the information that you’ve gathered so far, how can you set yourself up for sustainability? Hint: Review successes and challenges on your timeline. Get rid of what doesn’t work—without judgment! Were your past successes based on a sustainable model, or were they more transient? Sustainability is practical, but also self-compassionate so factor that in. And if you’re not sure what self-compassion is, (link)Honor the feelings you have about change by naming them without criticizing yourself.
Now, decide on one or two changes that are in line with your values and put them into action. You may decide that finding regular movement that you enjoy is more important than changing your food right now. Or you may feel drawn to exploring new recipes that help you add more veggies to your day.
Need help with any of the above? Schedule your 20-minute consult, or shoot me an email with a question! I’d be happy to hear from you. Contact me here!