Blog post adapted from the newsletter sent out by Kristin Lloyd, PhD, on 15 January 2023. Find her website here.
A few weeks ago, I couldn't help but over hear a conversation between two women in the grocery store.
One said to the other, "Do you want to look good or feel good?" The woman looked at her friend like it was a trick question, and hesitated. Her reply, which carried what seemed like a question with it.. "Both, I guess?" Almost like she wasn't sure!
And so I have to ask - why are so many in our community forced to choose one over the other?
Let me help you with this answer, because this is not a pop-quiz.
Often when people choose weight loss over wellness - it's due to a history of dieting, and desperation to lose the weight. Yet when they choose weight loss, many unintentionally return to the diet cycle. This is because putting an END to dieting, and with it, the diet mentality - it is a huge undertaking when someone is focused on weight loss exclusively. The whole concept of dieting and diet mentality is often focused on the number on the scale, cycles of restriction/deprivation, and then sadly cycles of overeating and for some, even binging. This leaves many with shame, guilt, and more disgust and frustration with themselves than what they started with.
For many of the bariatric patients that I work with, they are STRUGGLING to release the old diet brain, which includes: fearing food, fearing hunger, overthinking what they ate, judgment about the food they ate, the shame and blame that comes with eating, hiding food, worrying that they are overeating, potentially overeating because of the non-stop thinking about food (due to years of dieting and shaming oneself constantly about food), then fearing the potential weight gain from eating, fearing tracking (because that also brings shame or judgment or both), and fearing FAILURE most of all - because most of the people I work with fear regaining weight, doing it wrong, making mistakes, and fear the scale because "the scale" has determined their WORTH for so very long.
So, when they choose weight loss - they don't even realize that the old "diet" patterns, with the all-or-nothing thinking is actually sabotaging their potential progress, leading to a STOP and GO process - and as a result they also see STOP and GO process in their wellness journey as well, because they are STILL FIGHTING with themselves, and they are STILL FIGHTING with food. So, it ends up a LOSE-LOSE situation all the way around.
As a close friend and colleague shared her thoughts on this just recently... It's like choosing the wedding over the marriage.
Yet, if people are to focus on wellness, and they don't see the scale change soon enough, then the shame voice comes back in because they aren't making progress fast enough. This is how I know they are still fighting with diet mentality, themselves, with food, their body, and the whole process. This is because of a lack of TRUST in their body, the process, and there's little belief in seeing change. And, the expectation to see change must happen NOW - this creates stress - which guess what guys?
STRESS HORMONES - CORTISOL, increases blood sugar into the system, increases hunger and slows immune system response.
Cortisol also slows functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation. It changes immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear. (Mayo Clinic, 2023)
As a reminder during stressful situations, our bodies release hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, and norepinephrine. These hormones are designed to help us deal with stressful situations by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. (Mayo Clinic, 2023) Yet, when we are stressing ourselves out, or don't have proper coping to deal with stressors to begin with, or fight with our bodies about weight and food - how can we become more effective in losing weight - if the whole process stresses us out???
So, even when people TRY to choose wellness, the old "diet" brain (we can also call it "shame" brain too!), starts to yell at us that we are doing it wrong, we are failing, and we will "never" get there.
But here's what I know for sure in my years of practice as a patient, and as a practitioner....
When you choose WELLNESS, it is the longer road. It is NOT a quick fix. It is NOT losing "x" pounds by "x" date for "X" event. It's not celery soup or carrots for days. It's not deprivation or restriction. And, it's not shaming yourself for your weight either.
And its most certainly not forcing your body into submission, hiding food, shaming yourself, or continuing to engage in disordered eating of any kind. However, RECOVERY from disordered eating IS POSSIBLE when your focus is on WELLNESS over weight loss - and weight loss is MORE possible and more sustainable when you're focused on WELLNESS from a place of love, compassion, and kindness for ONESELF.
You get to have WELLNESS and WEIGHT LOSS together, but with it, you must have the patience for your body to adapt and adjust, along with the practices that are healing and putting you into trust with your body, instead of against it. You cannot put expectations on your body to lose 20lbs in 60days OR ELSE. .. that's not love, that's not kindness.. that's CONDITIONAL. That's an ultimatum.
Often, most people are so busy fighting with their body and food, that they end up losing both weight loss and wellness because where they end up is losing themselves and any faith that they can be anywhere but in the sucky, awful, shameful, stuck place that they are. They may blame themselves, or food, or something outside themselves, and the cycle begins again.
Change happens when they realize GROWTH comes through the practice of WELLNESS which materializes through patience with one's body, one's relationship with food, through cultivating self- compassion, self-forgiveness, changing one's self-talk, and the practice of many things ( including but not limited to: learning new coping skills, learning how to process and feel difficult emotions, sitting with difficult emotions, learning to LISTEN to their body (this takes time and practice), honoring their body, honoring hunger, leaning into discomfort, moving one's body regularly, setting healthy boundaries, speaking up for oneself, increasing confidence in self, increasing self-trust and self-believe... and so much more....)
And the thing is - EACH AND EVERY PERSON reading this email will be at a DIFFERENT skill level in each area that I've discussed above - so each person may need something different.
One person might be great with boundaries and be fantastically assertive and speak their mind knowing that when they do, they are setting the stage for what they will or won't accept in their relationships, which screams, "I'm already worthy and my needs are equally important" . Another person might struggle with being seen, heard, and terrified of speaking up, or of setting boundaries because they fear being rejected or abandoned which sets the tone for their energy which screams "I may feel guilty or bad if I'm not acting in service to you.. my needs don't matter - only yours matter. What time do I need to be there?"
And then there are a RANGE of individuals somewhere in between these two stark examples of boundaries.
Similarly - you'll have people on a wide spectrum of SKILL LEVELS in terms of how they see food, interact with food, whether they graze, snack, or night eat, or whether they track or don't track, or half-ass track, or sometimes track, or only track certain days...
Or if someone is extremely consistent, or not at all consistent, or in between consistent... the point is... WHEREVER YOU ARE... there is a place for you.. and you need not be a HOT MESS, nor perfect. The truth is - none of us are perfect... and ALL PRACTICE is PROGRESS.
So, to sum up....
When you place more value on pounds lost than the life you GET TO LIVE feeling healthy, strong, and WELL, then are you really well? Or is it a facade? Because we all know that there are tons of people in this world living in what many consider a "normal" weight range, who are not well or healthy. So let's make sure we are not equating "thinness" with health. They are most definitely not the same.