Our Rock Star Weight Watchers Leader, Bobbi, often asks this question at meetings.
“What makes it different this time?”
It can be a hard question to answer.
I’ve pondered this for quite a while, and I think I may finally have a satisfying answer. The key to what makes the difference between a successful weight loss journey and one that sputters, stalls and ultimately leads to gaining the weight back…
No Pain, No Change
“I just couldn’t carry the weight any longer.”
“I had to do something about my weight.”
“If I didn’t lose the weight, then I was going to be stuck on these medications for life.”
“If I didn’t lose the weight, my doctor told me I would die. Soon.”
As I’ve shared previously, my own story was that I simply couldn’t bear the idea of choosing slow walk to the grave, full of regrets, instead of achieving all the things that I dream of doing in my life.
Change hurts. Humans will do a lot more to avoid pain than to aquire pleasure. To change, I believe it has to hurt more to stay as we are than it will hurt to alter our lives.
Changing Our Minds About When to Eat
Not an easy task. And in a way, it was kind of tough to figure out. I probably spent months getting to the realization of all the different times I ate. Before “this time,” I had used food to…
- Change my mood
- Comfort me in sickness
- Celebrate in health
- Bond with family and friends
- Be creative
- Give me energy when I was tired
- Pamper myself, and
- Reward success
Oh, right. I was probably fueling the body as well, but that didn’t really enter into my food choices. And I’d have to admit, what I gave myself wasn’t exactly good fuel.
In order for this time to truly be different, I had to not only change what I was eating, but also why I was eating it. I had to deconstruct all of these food cues and make a conscious decision about what situations were a good use for food, and which ones were not.
That is a haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard change. All of those “food uses” have been reinforced for years.
An afternoon brownie was a tiny celebration of me, rewarding a job well done. Going out to dinner with friends and indulging in scrumptious entrees and dessert was honoring and celebrating those relationships. A plate of cheesy pasta or hunks of buttery bread could soothe the crankies.
And by the way, it’s not our imagination. Food changes our brain chemistry. Complex carbohydrates, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to help alleviate mild depressive symptoms and make you feel more alert.
I would go so far as to say that it’s possible that using food to make us feel better and to combat fatigue are cues that are hard wired in our DNA.
Here’s the thing, though. Even if we are pre-disposed to this type of behavior, we can make conscious choices to do things differently.
And that’s where the pain of change comes in. Changing our minds is the toughest change of all.
Slow Changes Stick
This is one of the reasons that I know it’s different this time. Dexter and I have been at this for around 18 months now, and I can tell you without a doubt that changing our minds, and subsequently our routines and our choices, has been a slooooooooooow process.
But that’s really what has made the difference. We didn’t start this process to lose weight. We started this process to change our lives. We had both reached a point where the status quo was not only not a-workin’ for us, but it was painful to continue. Up to that point, we hadn’t truly cared about our personal welfare – or even survival — and it showed in the way we treated ourselves.
Making the changes began very slowly. It started with basics – what should I be eating in order to help my body feel better? How much of it? How often?
Then the harder work began. When am I using food for purposes other than fuel? What kinds of situations trigger me to eat foods that don’t support my goals? Can I minimize those situations? Can I change how I think about them?
It ain’t easy to reengineer Thanksgiving dinner, but it can be done.
All of this takes time. When food is a central hub of our lives, as it is in our very food-centric culture, trying to construct a new approach is like building a whole new city. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed there are like five different cooking/ food channels on TV, dozens of food focused magazines and the two exponential growth areas at the book store seem to be cookbooks and diet/ nutrition.
Developing a You-Supportive culture for your own world is going to take a little bit longer than 30 days at 30 minutes a day.
The Secret to Making Slow Changes Stick
Applaud every success and get back on the horse after every fall.
In other words, don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go according to plan. AND don’t use those falls as a reason to stay seated in the tortilla chips, or worse, to give up all together.
Also super important: Jump up and down every time you turn away from a cookie or bypass the fast food restaurant where everyone knows your name. You’re a rock star for doing that, so celebrate it!
This is what I find to be the greatest advantage of Weight Watchers meetings. Every week, I’m with people who are working on these big changes in their lives, and we are always celebrating every success. Especially when we get back on the horse after a fall.
Because perseverance will always triumph over brownies. I promise.
Wishing You an Awesomelicious Day,