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Do you inflate your feelings into justifications?

A member of the year-long Weighless program recently posted in our private forum that she is doing really well in so many areas (nailing her daily weigh-ins, moving her body more, making healthy food choices) but one area where she struggles is turning to food when she is bored or stressed.

This is a topic that we cover A LOT in the program, and also in the Change Academy podcast (specifically in an episode called Stop Coping So Well). But I had a recent interaction with a close personal friend that I thought may be helpful.

The story

To set the stage, the idea is that we may create (or at least inflate) the feelings that lead us to indulge or temporarily abandon our goal, out of thin air.

For example, a friend of mine is doing Dry-January (avoiding alcohol for 31 days) and only 5 days into the month he texted me saying that he “really wanted a drink!” I asked him why. He said, “I just finished a carpentry job in the house and that usually means beer.” I asked him what the project was. And he said (after a long pause), “Well, actually, I just put up two shelves…”

And like that, the craving was gone.

He went on with his day and is still on track with his Dry-January.

The takeaway

My point of this story is that his brain, looking for a reason to fall back into the old habit, had turned a simple 10-minute job into a “carpentry project” to justify his urge to have a beer.

The bigger point is that I think we do that with other emotions, too. Stress, boredom, loneliness, celebration – our sneaky brains blow them up so we have a reason to indulge.

So next time you feel yourself reaching into your bag of justifications take a minute and consider: am I really that _______? Or am I inflating this into an excuse (that I will regret later)?

Anxious about backsliding?

One of our Weighless members recently shared that, despite her success at becoming someone who weighs less, she was feeling a lot of anxiety about backsliding. (She had done this many times in the past.)

Others who are not quite as far along in their journey are feeling anxious that they might not succeed…because all of their previous attempts had failed.

It makes sense. Our expectations for the future are based on our past experiences. Except that this doesn’t take into account what’s changed.

New tools create new results

Brock offered a great analogy:

“In the past, you were like someone who was given the keys to fly a plane but had never been trained to be a pilot. So of course you struggled. It makes total sense. But now you have read the manual, done the training, and are ready to do some solo flights. Sure, you may still make some mistakes, you will have moments of doubt, but you will not crash the plane.”

Brock then invited her to make a list of all the tools that she had at her disposal the last time she was attempting to maintain a weight loss. She immediately got it.

“There were no tools!  There were just systems that I was either on or off.  So yes, this is different. I need to acknowledge the skill layers I’ve built through Weighless. This is definitely an aha moment and a big confidence builder.”

Letting go of past failures

One way to combat anxiety about the future is to understand–and then let go of–our past failures. We can’t blame our past selves for failing at something we had never been shown how to do. Then, we need to acknowledge the steps we are taking to create a different outcome. This allows us to face the future with confidence.

We may face some turbulence. But we will not crash the plane.

What steps are you taking to create a different outcome? What would make you feel more confident about your future? 

“The 12-month commitment put me off”

We recently checked in with some of the people who decided NOT to join us in the Weighless group that began earlier this month. We know there are a lot of reasons that people might decide not to do the program.  And we wanted understand more about those reasons, in case there’s something we can do to address them in the future.

A few people mentioned being reluctant to commit to a year-long program. Which is ironic. Because one of the things we hear from those who are nearing the end of their year (and often long before then) is that they don’t want it to be over.  It’s over too fast.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

The truth is that the year you spend with us in the Weighless program will pass so quickly…just like every year seems to.  (Am I the only one who can’t believe it’s almost time to put up the holiday lights again?)

The difference is that when this year is over, something big will have changed.  You will have a completely different outlook, a new set of habits, a new relationship to food, your body, your thoughts. A new community and set of tools.

Was that true for you this year? Last year? The year before that?

There are people who have been thinking about doing this program for years.  Maybe some of them felt like a year was just too long to commit to. And yet, here they are all these years later still looking for a solution.

Big goals take time

You’ve probably heard us talk about how important it is not too lose weight too quickly. (And if you haven’t, here’s more on that.) But that’s not really what I’m talking about.  The bigger goal is changing our thoughts, habits, and behaviors.  That takes time–especially if you want those changes to last.

One of the biggest advantages (and differences) of the Weighless program is that it gives you the time you need to do this. To figure out what works and then figure out how to make it sustainable. To stumble and learn how to recover instead of give up.

But that’s not how we’ve been trained to think about losing weight. We just want to get it over with as fast as we can…because it’s darned unpleasant.

But what if it wasn’t so unpleasant? What if instead of a few weeks or months of dieting/deprivation (followed by a few week or months of relapsing/regaining) you signed on for a year of  exploration, innovation, and creativity, resulting in a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle that  allows you to weigh less. Permanently?

Here’s an idea

It’ll be at least six months before we launch another cohort.   If by then, you’re happy with your progress, we will be the first to celebrate with you.  (Really, I mean it. Be sure to let us know so we can cheer you on.)

But if six months from now you’re still more or less where you are today, then maybe a 12-month commitment would be exactly what you need to move foreward.

(P.S. It’ll be over before you know it!)

Challenge or Threat?

Many people find that they can keep their diet and exercise regimen on track perfectly well as long as their life is going smoothly. But as soon as they hit a rocky patch, their meal prep, portion size, evening snacking and exercise time goes haywire.

In other words, when life inevitably gets stressful, their best intentions fall apart.

Enter the…

Transactional Theory of Stress

This model, outlined in Handbook of Behavioral Medicine, suggests that while we unconsciously assess the stressors and demands of an event, they’re not actually the problem.

The real problem is how we appraise each of them and then decide whether we have the resources (grit, determination, motivation or willpower) to meet the problems posed. But these “resources” also include our perceived ability, our previous experience, and our relevant skill level.

So when these stressful times arise, based on your ability to face these problems, you’ll fall into either a Challenge state or a Threat state.

  • The Challenge state is where you’ve processed the situation and concluded that yes, you can cope. You’re fully engaged with the task at hand and can employ positive coping strategies to deliver optimum performance.
  • The Threat state is where you perceive that you lack the resources to cope with the situation ahead. This often leads you to turn to old behaviours/patterns and abandon anything that doesn’t feel comforting or familiar.

The next time you are faced with a stressful situation, wouldn’t it be nice to have the “resources” on hand to be able to switch into a challenge state rather than a threat state?

That is a big part of what our Weighless graduates experience. Over the year-long program, we give you the tools and mindset to be able to reassure yourself that the problem at hand is a challenge which you can handle… without busting into a pint of Ben and Jerrys.

How to get better at resisting temptation

Dog staring at tempting treat
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Last night, Brock and I were coaching some folks who are working on impulse control. And more than one of them described times when an urge to eat something felt almost like an addiction. The more they tried to resist, the more overwhelming it felt. Sometimes, giving in–even though they knew they’d have regrets–felt like the only option.

But framing a desire as an addiction can make us feel really powerless. It also shifts all the focus onto the object of our desire, rather than our own thoughts and feelings–which is where the action really is.

It might be more helpful to think of that part of ourselves as our inner toddler rather than our inner addict.

When your inner toddler throws a tantrum

Deciding to resist an urge or craving can easily trigger a temper tantrum from your inner toddler. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an actual toddler’s temper tantrum, you know how easy it is to get caught up in that emotional storm–and when you do, you have lost control of the situation.

But if we can step back and access our mature adult brains, we realize two things:

  1. We can see that the drama is totally out of proportion to the reality. For the toddler, getting the thin
    g they want literally feels like a matter of life and death. As adults, we can see that it is merely a passing squall. We may even be able to see the humor in the situation, which allows us to respond more gently.
  2. We may also be able to see that the toddler needs something–just not the thing they are demanding. Perhaps they need a nap, or a cuddle, or less stimulation, or something more interesting to do. This can turn irritation into compassion and allow us to care for our toddler more effectively.
Woman comforting child
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The next time you find yourself in the grips of a desire or craving, see if you can visualize that inner toddler who truly believes that they cannot live without this thing. Recognize the adorable absurdity of it all.

And then, instead of trying to reason with your screaming toddler, disciplining them, or simply giving in to an unreasonable demand (thereby perpetuating the behavior), see if you can figure out what that little person really needs.

Are you coping too well?

A lot of us use food as a coping mechanism. 

We’re eating to cope with stress, fatigue, boredom, anxiety, anger, grief…did I mention stress?

This might be OK — after all, coping is good, right? Except that all that “coping” is leading to unwanted  consequences. We gain weight or we can’t lose weight…and that is creating stress, fatigue, anxiety, anger, grief. 

Maybe we actually need to do less coping. 

If you stopped using food to “cope,” maybe you’d be compelled to make changes that made your life less stressful, boring, or exhausting. 

And maybe that’s the difference between coping and self-care.

So, here’s a question to consider: Is self-medicating with food allowing you to tolerate things that maybe you shouldn’t be tolerating?

What about your life might you be moved to change if you stopped “coping”?

What you can do right now

I’ll let you in on a secret: The trick to talking me into a big project (like writing a book or hosting a conference or chairing a committee) is to ask me a year ahead of time.  Because although I always feel waaayyy too busy in the present, I somehow always believe that I’ll be less busy in the future.  

Do you share this delusional thinking?

I think that’s why so many people put off taking action on their health or weight. We tell ourselves that once this work project/tax season/kitchen renovation/pandemic is out of the way, we’ll have the bandwidth to focus on building a healthier lifestyle. 

But of course, our lives never really get less busy. A new project or challenge will come along as soon as this one is in the books. Meanwhile, the costs of not taking care of ourselves accumulate and compound.

And the truth is that we don’t really need to spend more time on the problem in order to solve it. We just need to spend the time we’re ALREADY SPENDING on it more productively.

Instead of complaining about all the things standing in our way, we can move just one of them out of the way.

Instead of endlessly researching our next step, we can take imperfect action right now.  

Instead of talking about how discouraged we are about our lack of progress, we can identify one small action that will move us in the right direction. (You’d be amazed at how quickly THOSE things start to accumulate and compound.)

Think of a goal or objective that you’ve been putting off, waiting for a “better time.”  There really is no better time than today. What small step can you take before this day is over?

Does your week always start strong and then fall apart?

“I start out strong every Monday, sticking to my plan, making healthy choices, checking off my daily wins…but then the week just wears me down. By Thursday, I’m completely off plan and making poor choices. I’m tired and stressed and can’t find my motivation.”

Sound familiar? 

What if we redesigned your week? Instead of  a 5-day slog  followed by a 2-day collapse,  what if your week were a 2-day sprint, 2 days of rest and recovery, followed by a final 3 day effort?  Would that make it easier to sustain your focus and motivation?

This doesn’t even require talking your boss into an alternate work schedule. All it takes is mental reframing.

Even those of use who work non-traditional schedules have been culturally conditioned to think in terms of 5-day weeks and 2-day weekends. We’ve also been trained to think of Monday as the day we “start fresh.”  with a renewed intention to make healthy choices,  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Whatever your work schedule, trying thinking of your “personal work week” starting on Thursday.  If you set weekly intentions or keep a habit- or goal-tracking chart, have it run from Thursday to Wednesday.  

On Wednesday night, set aside an hour to prepare yourself mentally and logistically for what you want to accomplish personally in the week to come.  Write down your goals, intentions, and objectives. This would be a great time to listen to a podcast or read a book that inspires you to live your best life.  (Members of our year-long Weighless program sometimes use their Wednesday nights to listen to their weekly materials or to spend time problem-solving with us and their fellow members in the forum  )

 You head into Thursday calm, motivated, and prepared.for two days of solid effort. After two days, you get the weekend to restore and reset your intentions.  When you start again on Monday, your “week” is already half over. FInish strong!  And on Wednesday evening, assess your week and get ready for the next one. 

If you are tired of starting every Monday feeling strong and finishing every Friday wondering what happened to your health goals, this simple shift could make a big difference.  Even if you doubt that something so simple could help, what do you have to lose?  Let’s try it together this week and see how it goes.