The Power of Negative Thinking

AffirmationAre you familiar with affirmations? I’m assuming that you are, but in the unlikely event that you have been immune to a little something known as the Self Help Movement for the past three decades, affirmations are succinct statements that reflect positive conditions, qualities, and circumstances we wish to be true in our lives. They are usually worded in the first-person and present-tense, e.g. I am healthy, wealthy, and wise. More often than not, affirmations are written down, spoken aloud, stuck on post-it notes around the house, and repeated frequently. Some other examples of affirmations include: It’s easy and natural for me to weigh 125lbs. I attract loving relationships into my life. My income is constantly increasing.

Using affirmations can bring about powerful healing and personal transformation, no doubt… but this is not always the case. Many people who try affirmations end up frustrated (and with a lot of dusty post-it notes to toss in the recycling bin, too) when those magical sentences don’t seem to bring equally magical results, no matter how many times they are repeated with earnest in front of the mirror.

Why do affirmations work sometimes but not always? Why do some people succeed with affirmations but other people do not?

The answer boils down to one simple factor: what we (truly) believe.

What do you truly believe?

What do you truly believe?

Consciously, we might really want to be slender and gorgeous. (Who wouldn’t, right?) Consciously, we might burn with excitement at the thought of rolling in money and enjoying outrageous levels of wealth. (Yeah, hello!) Consciously, it makes total, perfect sense to wish for vibrant health, a soulmate who practically shimmers with angelic perfection, and maybe a well-behaved Golden Retriever to boot. (Look at how picture-perfect my life is!) Health, wealth, family, career, confidence, relationships, spirituality– check. Our conscious, rational minds deem all of these things to be desire-worthy.

But what about our subconscious minds?

Are they also on board the luxury yacht of our conscious intentions, dreams, and goals for ourselves? Do our subconscious minds really believe it’s possible for us to attain washboard abs, a golden tan, a private jet, a jaw-dropping partner, and an adorable dog?

Well, if your day-to-day existence isn’t quite a carbon copy of your lofty affirmations, then the answer is, ah… no. (I’m sorry to break your heart.)

Like a giant refrigerator humming in the background of our lives, our subconscious minds run up to 95% of our cognitive activities and programs each day, at a rate that is up to a million times more powerful than our conscious minds. All of this happens on auto-pilot, too, or just barely in the periphery of our awareness. Our subconscious programs develop very early on in life, usually settling into distinctive patterns by the time we are six or seven years old. (See Bruce Lipton’s mind-blowing work on epigenetics for more stats.) What this means is that our subconscious beliefs and programs totally trump our conscious intentions, at a rate and a magnitude that is almost embarrassing. So much for “intelligent beings”, right?

Going back to affirmations now– these are consciously crafted, carefully worded statements, unfortunately setting up camp in the 5 percent/one million times less powerful section of the brain. (Gotta live somewhere.) If these affirmations don’t align with what our dominant, subconscious programs have to say about life, it’s easy to see how they can be dismissed as inconsequential and how, ultimately, nothing will change. Our bad habits will persist, and even worse– we’ll have an added layer of disappointment to deal with when affirmations don’t prove to be the magic bullet we hoped they would be.

(Don’t worry– this post will get less depressing shortly. I promise.)

Here are some typical (conscious mind) affirmations about our bodies and weight:

  • My body is fit, graceful, and slender!
  • It’s natural for me to weigh ___________lbs/kgs!
  • Losing weight is easy!
  • I enjoy being at my perfect weight, effortlessly!
  • My body craves healthy, fresh foods!
  • I love moving my body every day!
  • I am a picture of perfect health!

For clues about what our subconscious minds have to say in response, refer to your journaling exercise and the themes you teased out of your personal story:

  • Losing weight is hard.
  • Nothing ever works for me.
  • I hate exercising.
  • I’m a horrid, sloppy, fat, good-for-nothing excuse of a woman.
  • I have no willpower or self-discipline.
  • I’m a failure for eating _______________.
  • This is hopeless, nothing will ever change.

No matter how many times you try to convince yourself: Gosh! Losing weight sure is easy and fun! -or- Whee! Exercise is my favorite thing to do EVER!, if your subconscious mind is running the Yeah Effin’ Right soundtrack on repeat, you’re facing an uphill battle, sister. This is why “willpower” will only take you so far before you find your face inexplicably stuffed into a box of cookies. It’s also why positive affirmations, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, sometimes don’t seem to work.

The subconscious mind is much, MUCH more powerful than the conscious mind.

Your conscious mind is the ship at sea. Your subconscious mind is the laser-wielding mega walrus. Make sense?

Your conscious mind is like the ship at sea. Your subconscious mind is like the laser-wielding mega walrus. Make sense?

Subconscious beliefs don’t respond very well to being over-written with oppositely-worded, conscious affirmations. That’s like trying to play soft, classical music over pounding heavy metal music and still expecting to be able to enjoy your favorite symphony– it’s just not going to happen.

However, one of the easiest ways around the brute force of your subconscious programming is to effectively trick your mind (both the conscious and subconscious parts) into doing what it naturally does best: searching for relevant information and gathering evidence. How can you do this, you might be wondering? Well, asking yourself questions instead of affirming statements to yourself activates your innate curiosity, and your mind simply can’t resist trying to answer questions. #Fact.

A gentleman named Noah St. John has written entire books around bypassing affirmations in favor of what he calls “aformmations“. Essentially, an afformation is a question worded in such a way that assumes what we want is already true. (Like a question-format affirmation.) Afformations, like all questions, activate your mind to search for “answers” or evidence to confirm what we assume is already true.

Confused? I thought so. Let’s try some examples. Looking back at the themes you uncovered from your journaling exercise, first try flipping the negative phrases back into positive, standard-format affirmations:

  • e.g., “Losing weight is hard” becomes “Losing weight is easy for me”
  • e.g., “I’ll never succeed at keeping the weight off” becomes “I’m successful at maintaining my slender weight.”
  • e.g., “I’m a bad person for eating bad foods” becomes “I’m a good person, no matter what I eat”

(You might have to play around with the wording of some of them, but the next step is the more critical one, anyway.)

Now, take your positively-worded affirmations and phrase them as questions (afformations), asking why they already exist for you in the present tense:

  • e.g., “Why is losing weight so easy for me?”
  • e.g., “Why am I successful at maintaining my slender weight?”
  • e.g., “Why am I a good person, no matter what I eat?”

Then what happens? Magic!

Rather than trying to wrestle your subconscious mind and your deepest, programmed beliefs to the ground, you “sneak through the back door”, as my teacher likes to say. Suddenly, your mind (on both the conscious and subconscious level) is busily occupied, trying to collect evidence to effectively and convincingly answer your questions about why losing weight is so easy, maintaining a slender weight is no big deal, and you are essentially a good person, through and through.

I know this sounds a little ridiculous,

and I realize that you might feel skeptical, if not flat-out hostile, to the idea that asking yourself simple questions can really help you where no diet, program, or exercise routine has been able to so far. It does seem silly, yes, but what have you got to lose by trying it out? (Um… aside from weight?)

Clearly, conventional diets and sheer willpower haven’t worked. Neither has being overly critical of yourself. Maybe even Louise Hay-style affirmations haven’t yielded your desired results yet, either. Try using afformations for the next week and see what shifts for you. Remember, to create your customized afformations:

  1. Refer to the themes you teased out of your journaling exercise.
  2. Change the negatively-worded beliefs into positively-worded statements (affirmations).
  3. Put a “Why” in front of your affirmations, place a question mark at the end, and transform them into powerful afformations.

You can engage with your afformations by writing them down, reading them silently to yourself, or speaking them out loud. I like to coax myself into an exaggerated state of wonder when I use afformations, partly because I am a giant nerd, but mostly to communicate clearly to my brain that I’m genuinely curious about these questions and excited to discover the answers. (Picture your mind as a playful puppy and you as the one asking, Who’s a good dog?)

Speaking of good dogs, I LOVED meeting "Achilles" in San Diego. CUTE!

Speaking of good dogs, I LOVED meeting “Achilles” in San Diego. CUTE!

If nothing else, by creating and using afformations, you’ll be training your conscious mind to open up to curiosity and wonder more. You’ll also be encouraging your subconscious mind to loosen its death grip on programs and beliefs that might have served you well when you were five, but that are outdated and incompatible with your needs as an adult now. Try it out. See how you feel. And let me know how afformations work out for you. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

 

A Few Words About Resistance

DSCN1400

Graffiti in San Francisco

Do you ever wonder if you’re normal, or worry that you’re not?

Does it ever feel like everyone else has uncovered a crucial piece of the Puzzle of Life, but that somehow, this piece will never be made known to you, because you are inherently and fatally flawed in some way?

Luckily, there is a simple, totally objective way to determine how normal you really are:

Step #1: Read this post and take note of the journaling exercise it suggests.

Step #2: React to the prescribed activity in one of the following ways:

a) With violent, full-body resistance! Examples of this reaction include declaring with force that this exercise, in no way, applies to you whatsoever and/or dismissing the author as a total lunatic. (Bonus points for both.)

b) With coolness, mild curiosity, and a vague, fleeting “I should do this… someday” thought. (Note: this is also resistance). Examples of this reaction include ‘getting it!’ on a purely intellectual level, seeing the value of the journaling exercise in an abstract concept kind of way, and even feeling really excited about the exercise but then… not writing down a solitary word.

If these steps apply to you in any way,

Congratulate yourself for being normal. Resistance = Totally Natural. I love it! Then:

Step #3: Read the follow-up post and let some of the core concepts sink in.

Step #4: React to the follow-up post in one of the following ways:

a) Listing 1,001 logical, bulletproof reasons about why these posts supremely, superly-duperly do not apply to you. At all. Whatsoever. Bonus points for scoffing in disgust and/or swiftly hitting the “delete” button in your inbox. Bam!

b) Hedging: Accepting the possibility that these posts might have something valuable or insightful to offer, but then lamenting that you are currently too busy, too stressed, too out of paper and pens, too wanting to buy the perfect journal before you write anything down, and too preoccupied with planning the menu for next year’s Christmas dinner to actually do the writing exercise now. So sorry– my hands are tied! Ahem.

c) Deciding that you are too overweight and too far gone for a stupid journal entry to make a difference, anyway.

d) Confirming internally that you’re not overweight enough to merit worrying about your weight or doing some silly journaling exercise in the first place.  “This is for people who are morbidly obese. That’s totally not me.”

e) Realizing with triumph that the author of these posts is not at her all-time thinnest, and therefore dismissing her ideas as crap. If that journaling exercise worked so well, then why does she still weigh more than 100lbs? AM I RIGHT??! Huh??!

f) Discovering with bitterness that the author of these posts might, in fact, already weigh less than you could even dream about weighing yourself… and therefore dismissing her ideas as crap. Why does *she* care about her weight, anyway? God, I would kill to look like her! We obviously have nothing in common. She can’t help me.

If any of the above scenarios resonate with you, even in the slightest,

Congratulate yourself wholeheartedly for being completely and utterly normal. Hello, Resistance! What a relief!

Resistance is a tricky beast, my dear– one that continually eludes capture and avoids being slain. In contrast to issues that truly have no relevance or personal connection to you, Resistance can easily be identified by the telltale energetic charge it carries within your psyche. Denying something takes energy: that’s a charge. Likewise, suppressing something takes energy. Ignoring something takes energy. Justifying something takes energy. Rationalizing or explaining something away takes energy. Pretending that something doesn’t apply to you (when it does) takes energy. Projecting onto other people takes energy. (In contrast, things that really, honestly, cross-your-heart don’t relate to you simply don’t relate, without you having to push, pull, or otherwise expend energy to fashion them into a desired shape. You simply report on these things, like a meteorologist reports on today’s weather. “Is it raining outside?” “Yup.” No charge of resistance, see?)  

You might have experienced some Resistance when reading my two previous posts (which are here and here, in case you resisted clicking on the links I inserted earlier in this post. Heh.) This Resistance might have been directed outward– wondering why I’m posting these sorts of essays now and longing for the amusing, easily digestible tales I used to post. (I just want to read about cats and rainbows, OK? Is that too much to ask?) Or, this Resistance might have been directed inward, my words landing close to home and more than a little too close for comfort. Yikes, I don’t even want to go there. That’s okay, too.

Resistance seems to make so much darn sense most of the time, especially when it comes to exploring intimate and personal topics such as our bodies and what they weigh. Gulp. Resistance cautions us: Wait. Why would we put ourselves out there? Why would we risk being hurt? How can we know for sure that this Dana girl knows what she’s talking about? How can we guarantee that this journaling exercise even works? We’ve all been burned before– over-trusting, over-sharing, over-laying-our-hearts-on-the-line and over-having-them-crushed-by-people-we-thought-would-never-hurt-us. We’ve tried so many things. We’ve been disappointed so many times. And why should this so-called “journaling exercise” be any different?

I get it.

Listen. If a part of you connects with what I’ve been saying about weight (even a small, timid part of you), but another (BIG) part of you feels resistant, worried, overwhelmed, or even scared about moving in the direction of a more intuitive, self-exploratory, non-dieting approach to your body, please be gentle with yourself. There is no need to make yourself wrong for feeling a totally normal emotion, and that’s all Resistance is. First of all, you’re not the only person who feels this way or has ever felt this way. You’re normal, remember? Hooray! And secondly, it might be helpful to know that I had my own experiences feeling eleventeen hundred shades of resistance when I started this conscious weight loss journey, too. (You can read about my “Oh sh*t!” moment here.)

Anyway. As promised, we will start exploring some simple ways to re-train and re-program our core (but limiting) beliefs about weight loss in the next post. I just wanted to take the time to reassure you in the off-chance that you were maybe experiencing some Resistance. (Totally normal!) In the meantime, gently and lovingly check in with your intuition and ask yourself with the utmost kindness,

  • Am I experiencing resistance to these concepts, or is there genuinely no energetic charge for me around my weight or body? (Note: Either option is totally fine– just don’t go forcing issues upon yourself if you don’t already have them, please.)
  • If I am feeling resistant, can I accept and forgive myself for feeling this way?
  • If I am feeling resistant, where in my body does the resistance reside? Can I describe its location, shape, color, temperature, smell, relative weight, or other properties?
  • Can I become curious about my resistance?
  • Can I open myself up… perhaps… to a different perspective?
  • What would support me in exploring a different perspective? How can I open myself up?

Until next time, xo. :)

Dana profile

Losing Weight is Hard

Hey there! I hope you found last week’s journal exercise illuminating and that you were able to dive deep into your own past experiences losing weight (or at least trying to lose weight). If you missed the last post, you can check it out here and enjoy some quality, free-flow writing time to yourself. It’s all good– I can wait. :)

IMG_0314In today’s post, we’re going to tease out some common themes and beliefs around dieting, losing weight, and being healthy in general. These themes popped up in my own example, for sure, but don’t be surprised to see them applying to your own situation as well. (That’s why they’re called “themes” as opposed to “strangely specific elements that apply only to Dana Machacek”. Heh.)

Here’s the deal: what we believe about dieting, weight loss, and health all have a huge impact on our actual experiences. If I believe to the core of my being that a certain food is “good” for me, guess what? My body will most likely process that food with relative ease when I consume it. Likewise, if you’re convinced that you must diet in order to lose weight, and that dieting inevitably means a life sentence of deprivation and sacrifice in the name of smaller pants, well… that’s probably what you’ll experience, too.

Anyway. The reason why it’s so useful to write out your story is because that written account uncovers many of the thoughts and beliefs you hold about food, diets, losing weight, your body, and being healthy in general.  (And those beliefs, in turn, significantly shape your real-life experiences.) It might take some practice and some figurative archaeology to get at the juicy bits of your core beliefs, but once you expose some of the big ideas that you simply take for granted as “truth” or “the way things are”, you’ll find yourself in extremely fertile, deliciously transformative ground.

Yes, even as delicious as this!

Yes, as delicious as this!

The first theme I’m going to highlight here applies to any and all answers regarding “the last time I lost weight”, so if you took the time to journal your personal experience, heads up: this core belief applies to you.

Belief #1: I’m not okay the way I am now.

It’s not necessarily an explicit or overt belief, meaning that you might not see those very words glaring out at you from the pages of your journal. However, the very act of going on a diet, trying to exercise more, deciding to count your calories, or vowing to cut out “bad” foods from your eating plan suggests that something needs to change in order for you to feel good about yourself. This also (obviously) implies a lack of self-acceptance or self-love for the way you are right now.

Deep breath. This feeling is natural. (Disheartening, yes, but totally natural.)

The theme of “I’m not okay” is an insidious one, because it’s often disguised under the glossy-haired, pearly white cloak of self-improvement, and what could possibly be wrong with wanting to be healthy or trying to manage diseases and health issues? Nothing! But if you withhold love, acceptance, and care from yourself until some indeterminate point in the future when you can finally prove to yourself that you’ve ‘earned it’– sweetheart, you’re setting yourself up for an ongoing war with yourself. And life is challenging enough without that cursed Self vs. Self battle.

Listen: it’s totally fine to want to make positive changes in your life, to learn, to grow, and to blossom into the most radiant, shimmering version of yourself. I want you to shine so brightly that you illuminate the entire galaxy with your glow! But it’s important to be kind and gentle with yourself from Step #1, too. Losing weight shouldn’t be punishment for your eternal shortcomings or a way to whip your pathetic ass into submission. (How well has that worked out so far?) Instead, think of yourself as a dazzling being already. You’re gorgeous, talented, warm, and magnetic right now, and you can only become more so with each loving step you take in the direction of health.

From now on, consider this your seat: XO, self. I love you already.

From now on, consider this your seat: XO, self. I love you already.

Belief #2: Losing weight is hard.

Chances are, your weight loss story featured some variation on the This is Hard! theme. Whether you’ve tried point systems, portion control, food combination rules, counting calories or grams, logging the number of steps you’ve taken, following lists of what’s allowed and what isn’t, skipping meals, breaking large meals into smaller and more frequent snacks, or eliminating entire food groups (carbohydrates, fats, fruits, etc.) from your diet before, you’ve likely bumped up against the belief that Being Healthy Ain’t Easy, Sister.

My personal experiences trying to lose weight definitely impressed upon me that an intricate, scientific, and exquisitely complicated system had to be followed in order to obtain my desired results. Significantly, this system was never something I invented on my own– it was always an external program that I selected and then applied to myself. Also, the idea that I could somehow deviate from the program was unheard of, unless I didn’t mind not losing any weight and therefore totally defeating the purpose of being on a diet in the first place. Ha.

Maybe your story highlighted one of these versions of the “Losing Weight is Hard” belief:

  • Dieting is complicated.
  • I need to do a whole lotta work in order to see even small changes in my weight.
  • There is no room for error when it comes to dieting.
  • I have to follow all the rules perfectly, all the time.
  • Losing weight is time consuming.
  • Dieting is expensive.
This basically sums up how hard it is-- dieting is like crawling your way out of your very own grave!

This basically sums up how hard it is– dieting is like crawling your way out of your very own grave!

Belief #3: My (in)ability to lose weight is directly tied to my value as a person.  

Here’s where it gets personal. This core belief is tied closely to the This is Hard! theme; however, rather than just dealing with the weight loss process itself, Belief #3 makes evaluations about ourselves based on how well we either adhere to a program or achieve results with that program… or both.

For example, we might feel frustrated with complicated and often contradictory lists of foods that are “good for us/allowed” and “bad for us/not allowed”. Belief #3 takes this a step further, judging us as good and worthy people when we eat the allowed foods but condemning us as bad and terrible people when we eat the foods that aren’t allowed.

Here are some other variations on Belief #3 that you might have noticed in your own answer:

  • There is a proven formula for losing weight, and if I can just try hard enough and follow that program correctly, I will see results.
  • If I’m not losing weight, I must be doing something wrong.
  • If I’m not losing weight, I must not be trying hard enough.
  • If I’m not losing weight, there must be something wrong with me.
  • I’m bad/stupid/lazy/wrong for eating ________________.
  • When the number on the scale goes down, I’m incredible and awesome!
  • When the number on the scale goes up, I’m a worthless, no-good, stupid-assed failure!

Keep ‘em coming now.

Revisit your story about the last time you lost weight, and try to uncover as many personal beliefs as you can about “what it takes” to lose weight or “the way things are” when it comes to your body, dieting, or being healthy. List them all out as though they were absolute facts or simple song titles:

Dieting is soooooo lame and superficial.

Feminists shouldn’t care about their weight or how they look.

Being overweight runs in my family: it’s genetic.

Being thin attracts unwanted attention.

Restaurants are off-limits when I’m on a diet.

Dieting spells disaster for my social life.

My body will be judged no matter what.

In the next post, we’re going to tackle what you can do with these core beliefs to either lessen their charge or to change and eliminate them completely. It’s usually not enough to just affirm the opposite of these beliefs to yourself. After all, you’re smart and extremely perceptive, and if– after years of believing that weight loss is hard– you suddenly start telling yourself, Losing weight is easy and natural for me!, your subconscious is going to call bullshit immediately. That’s okay– there are ways to work around that, and we’ll discuss some of those methods next week.

PS: Would you like some help distilling your themes and beliefs out of your personal story? If so, I’m happy to book a confidential session with you at no charge. All you need to do is e-mail me and we can set something up together. I’m excited to be working with several women already, but there’s always room for more. Thank you! :)

What Happened the Last Time You Lost Weight?

Enough said.This is one of my favorite questions that Jessica Ortner posed in her best-selling book, The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss and Body Confidenceand it’s one that I savored the opportunity to answer in great detail for myself when I first started this coaching journey. Why am I so curious about past attempts to lose weight? Why do I even care what you’ve tried before or what unfolded during that process, aside from the fact that (obviously) “it didn’t work”? Shouldn’t the past be left in the past? I’m glad you asked!

When you commit to answering that same question– honestly, reflectively, and as thoroughly as possible for yourself– a whole world of themes, beliefs, and fears is revealed. We gain meaningful insights into why the diet(s) “didn’t work”, on both conscious and subconscious levels. We discover your unique ideas about “what it takes” to lose weight and to keep it off, as well as the golden nuggets: what you believe about yourself when yet another weight loss attempt fails. Priceless. So:

What Happened The Last Time You Lost Weight?

Here is what I wrote in response to that question. After reading it, I encourage you to take some time to yourself, to grab a soothing hot beverage to sip on, and to journal as much of your own story as you can. Write it down without censoring yourself or worrying about crafting an award-winning essay. This won’t be written for an audience and it certainly won’t be submitted to a panel of grammar judges, so just go ahead: write down what happened the last time you lost weight.

Over the next few blog posts, I will highlight some themes that can be teased out of your answer– food for thought, if you will. I’ll use my own answer as an example on the blog, but if you feel you could benefit from personalized coaching around your specific answer, you’re in luck! I’m offering free sessions around weight loss and body image for a limited time. You can e-mail me and I’ll be happy to set up a private session with you over Skype (you can decide whether you’d like to Skype with video or not).

My answer:

The last time I lost weight, I lost a whole bunch of it (almost 20 pounds) in a relatively short amount of time (just over one month). As is de rigeur for me, I wasn’t following one of the trendy diets (South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, etc.) at all, and I definitely wasn’t worried about counting calories or grams of anything. However, I was undertaking a very regimented “cleanse” type of process– an elimination diet. (You can read about that craziness here.) There was a gigantic list– 7 printed pages, to be exact– of foods that were uniquely “safe”, “neutral”, and “unsafe” for me, which I had obtained through a food sensitivity test. Being the A-student I’ve always been, I had committed to follow those test recommendations to the very letter, and I felt almost excited (thrilled!) to embark on a new culinary challenge. WATCH ME EXCEL AT THIS ELIMINATION DIET! I WILL EMERGE VICTORIOUS AND SLIM!

SEE ME WIN!

SEE ME WIN!

A few weeks into the process, yes, I was losing weight, but I felt that I was always in the kitchen, prepping the “right foods” and then doing the dishes afterward. It was a very systematic process, this elimination diet. There was absolutely no room for error, and no one else– not even my dear husband– could be trusted to keep the program unfolding properly. All of the shopping, food prep, meal planning, and raw sauerkraut making fell to me, but no one could have wrestled that control away from me even if they had wanted to or tried. Over my dead (but gloriously slender!) body. I needed to feel in control, even though the responsibilities of overseeing the Elimination Diet overwhelmed me.

Marty and I printed out calendars and stuck them on the kitchen wall– one for each of us. Every morning, we would weigh ourselves and write down our numbers on our respective calendars. I had penciled in ingredients that were being re-introduced or “tested” for each of us on specific days, and if we experienced any suspect symptoms (bloating, gas, heartburn, whatever), we would write those down with diligence, too. We recorded everything. I was losing weight quickly and substantially, and I secretly relished getting to see my numbers shrink while Marty’s stayed relatively the same or crept down slooooooowwwwwly. I win!, I’d crow to myself when I could knock a half-pound off of my weight, but on days when I’d stay the same weight or– gasp– gain a few ounces, I’d be crushed. Why isn’t this working? What am I doing wrong? This can’t be happening to me! It was torture.

This was around the time of the Mayan Prophecy (December 2012), and Marty and I were slated to go back to Calgary in time for the end of the world. (It was important to Marty’s parents that we all be together when the world stopped spinning on its axis, and who were we to argue with them? Or with the Mayans?) Marty’s parents were aware that we were on “a diet” before we arrived, and they fretted as they tried to locate vegan, gluten free, soy free, and sugar free non-perishables to stock for us in the basement, graciously preventing us from starving in case the power went out and civilization halted at the stroke of midnight. On my end, I was fretting about the visit itself. I could sense the disapproval of Marty’s mom from 1100km away, and I hadn’t even started packing for the trip yet. Inconvenient, newfangled, complicated, useless diets. Always failing in the end. Always managing to ruin Christmas dinners in the meantime. 

When we arrived in Calgary, giant knapsack of “safe”, “acceptable” foods in tow (just in case!), I was greeted with outright alarm, as though I was wasting away with a full-blown case of AIDS. You’re so skinny!, Marty’s mom exclaimed in sheer horror, mouth agape. Embarrassed and self-conscious, I tried to deflect her concerns about my figure with mumbles about how the elimination diet had been prescribed for us by a doctor and how it was (sort of) being supervised throughout the process. In the evenings, when I was alone in the bathroom, I would secretly admire my slender thighs in the full-length mirror and whisper a furtive Thank You to the universe for granting me that most coveted of prizes: slimness. Daytime was a different story, though– I was always apologizing for my lithe physique, offering empty quips about candida and sluggish digestion to anyone who approached me with question marks in their voices or eyes, and I basically affirmed on a near-constant basis that my body was only like this for temporary, medical reasons. I felt ashamed and burdensome to be such a culinary nuisance at my in-laws’ house, and I felt mortified well in advance for gaining back the weight– another wacky weight loss scheme, failed. Point: Marty’s mom.

It took me a total of two months to lose that weight and a mere two weeks to gain half of it back again. By then, Marty and I were on a road trip, heading south to the Arizona desert for sunshine, hiking, and relaxation. Before we even hopped into our van for the journey, I had already convinced myself with dismay that maintaining such a strict diet on the road would be difficult-slash-impossible. Lo and behold, I was right. During the two weeks it took us to arrive in Tucson, I didn’t deviate too terribly from my staple veg-and-grain fare. We’d stop in grocery stores and I’d buy hummus and baby carrots. As per usual, I’d slather avocado on everything and eat a small child’s weight in almonds. However, for the amount of weight that piled back onto my body in an alarmingly quick span of time, you’d think that I had switched over to an all-fried, all-the-time diet. Failure had taken hold.

I was mortified by this weight gain, feeling like a miserable, good for nothing elimination dieter and becoming anxious about being the only chubby person enrolled in Holistic Nutrition School (which I had planned to start that September). By the time our vacation was over and we were back in Canada again… I had gained all of the weight I had originally lost on the elimination diet back. A few months after that, too, I had put on even more weight, tipping the scales to the highest they’d ever been for my body, ever. (Note: that’s when I swore off any and all future diets, cleanses, fasts, and other food-based approaches to weight loss. I realized that my mind, my emotions, and my beliefs held way more sway over my body than actual food and calories did, and I couldn’t bear the idea of subjecting myself to any more exercises in willpower, self-control, self-discipline, and winning at diets. No more. Not worth it.)

Anyway. Overall, the last time I lost weight was characterized by:

  • A distinct discrepancy between my private admiration of myself and my public apologies and deflections for the way I now looked.
  • Not feeling like I could fully step into my slender body, owning it and totally rocking its beauty without shame.
  • Definite fear about gaining back the weight– imagining my own failure in advance of it happening and then worrying about having to carry extra weight on my body as a veritable badge of failure. Visible to everyone.
  • Signaling to myself and others that being slim was something to defend against– that it wasn’t safe to be slender. I wanted my appearance to be a non-issue amongst my friends and family members, but how could it be so when I was constantly on alert and continually scanning the room for comments or subtle facial expressions that needed to be defended against?
  • Feeling the need to justify my weight loss (as well as the pace of my weight loss) to others in quasi-medical terms: “candida”, “gluten intolerance”, “dairy allergies”, “multiple food sensitivities”, and “absorption issues”. Regardless of how true or applicable these terms were/are for me, this only reinforced to my subconscious that ‘x’ degree of weight loss was either impossible at worst or unsafe but temporary at best.
  • Comparison, competition, and being overly focused on people’s (real or imagined) reactions to me. I competed with myself (more! faster! better!). I compared my own progress to Marty’s (which makes absolutely no sense, considering I am a woman and he is a very athletic man). I projected all of my insecurities onto other people, believing them to be judging or criticizing me and my body.

Now it’s your turn.

In your journal (or in a new word doc on your computer), ask yourself:

  • What happened the last time you lost weight?
  • What motivated you to try to lose weight in the first place?
  • How did you feel during the process?
  • How did others react?
  • What sort of program did you follow, and how did it feel adhering to those rules and regulations?
  • Did you experience any ‘success’ on your program? If so, what?
  • What about ‘failures’? If so, what?
  • How long did the process take?
  • What felt easy about the process?
  • What felt difficult, like an obstacle that needed to be overcome?

Write down as much detail as you can, and once again, don’t worry about the flow or sequence of your story. (My story was edited here to make it more coherent and grammar-tastic, just so you know.) Next time, we’ll dive into some of the themes that can emerge from your answer. These themes might lead you to have lightbulb, ‘a-ha!’ moments on your own, but like I say, if you’d like more personalized support to explore your unique story, just let me know.