The reason why most of us can’t stick to a diet for more than a few weeks boils down to some common mistakes that we all make. To illustrate, I’ll use the analogy of a big reservoir being held back by a dam. The reservoir is the accumulated energy from all your negative thoughts and emotions, and the dam that holds back the flood is your willpower. When the dam finally breaks under the pressure, all your emotional pain comes pouring out and you turn to the one thing that you’ve always done to make yourself feel better.
Mistake #1: doing/eating things you hate, to lose weight. Eating “healthy” food that you don’t like, or dreading those endless workouts, creates negative feelings of having to suffer through a punishment. When you feel deprived or punished, you’re filling up an your reservoir of uncomfortable and unpleasant emotional energy. The more you fill up that reservoir, the more pressure builds up on your “dam” of willpower and good intentions. Eventually, the pressure becomes unbearable and the dam breaks. You reach for your chosen buffer (food, drink, etc.) to get relief from the punishment & deprivation, because that’s the only way you know how to make yourself feel better. The problem is that you only feel better for a moment, and when the consequences of your self-sabotage start to sink in (regret, remorse, self-loathing), you start refilling that reservoir and the cycle starts all over again.
Mistake #2: creating negative stories about how miserable your new life is, and how much you miss your old comfy habits. We do the things we do for a good reason: because they work. We get some sort of reward or comfort from our habits. If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t repeat them over and over again. Your buffer has become a reward for you, because you’ve built an association between having it and feeling better. Our old familiar habits are soothing and comforting to us, which is why it’s so hard to break them. When are you most likely to binge on your favorite “kryptonite” food, or reach for that pack of “emergency” cigarettes or that bottle of wine you’ve been hiding for “just in case”? Probably when you’ve had a really shitty day, and you need to seek relief. Anyone can stick to a new plan when things are going well. It’s when “life happens” that we struggle. When you’re focused on how unfair it is that you can’t enjoy all the things that you had to sacrifice to lose weight, you’re adding to that negative reservoir and putting more and more pressure on your fragile “dam” of willpower. But willpower is a limited resource. Eventually, your need to feel better will outweigh your resistance.
Mistake #3: saying hateful things to yourself, which creates emotional pain that you then need to seek relief from. The verbal assault that happens inside our own heads all day long is one of the most destructive and insidious ways that we sabotage ourselves. By lobbing silent insults and abuse at ourselves all day, we are creating our own emotional pain. You might not even be aware of it, but every time you say “I hate myself”, or “I’m so gross”, you’re filling up that reservoir of pain. And the dam can only hold back so much pressure.
Mistake #4: telling yourself that food is love. When food (or whatever your chosen buffer is) becomes the way that you reward and love yourself, of course you won’t want to give it up! “I might as well eat what I want and be happy,” is something we tell ourselves when we’ve given food/alcohol/etc the responsibility for our happiness. If you then try to deprive yourself of the thing that makes you happy, you’re constantly filling up that reservoir with all kinds of pain and frustration. This is why it’s so important to work on creating your own happiness from within yourself, rather than depending on some artificial external “thing” to do it for you.
Mistake #5: Not working on creating new healthier coping skills. It’s much easier to “break” an old habit when you replace it with a new one. If you want to stop buffering, you’ll be much more successful if you create a new healthier habit to take the place of the one you’re trying to stop. Remember, we formed our old habits because they worked for us on some level. Find something else that serves the same purpose, but doesn’t sabotage your goals. For example, I found that I was looking for snacks at night to ease the stress of my day, and to entertain myself. So I started playing virtual reality games instead. The games provided stress relief and entertainment without eating, and it was something that I really started to look forward to. This was an effective solution for me, but might not be for you. Everyone responds to something different, so figure out what need you’re trying to fill, and something that you really enjoy doing, and join the two together.
Mistake #6: Creating a “finish-line” mindset. (I only have to keep this up until I get to my goal). It’s so much easier to put up with something we find unpleasant if we know there’s going to be an end to it, right? The problem with trying to white-knuckle your way to your weight loss goal is that as soon as you stop doing the things you find unpleasant (exercising, dieting, etc), you start returning to the old habits that made you overweight in the first place. And the weight starts to come back. In order for weight loss to be permanent, the things that you did to lose the weight also have to be permanent. This is why it’s so important that whatever you do to lose weight, that you’re willing to keep doing it forever. This is a lot easier if you’re not thinking about your new lifestyle as a form of torture, because that only serves to fill up your reservoir of misery. And remember, there’s only so much pressure that your willpower “dam” can take. If you design a healthier lifestyle that you actually enjoy and are proud of, there’s nothing to seek relief from and you’re much more likely to be successful. Without the struggle.
So what’s the point of this whole discussion? I want to really drive home that the biggest obstacle to weight loss success is the emotional discomfort that we create for ourselves. Remember, when you’re focused on your misery and food is your only relief, of course you’re going to want to eat! The key to long-term success is to remain aware of all the ways that you’re filling up your reservoir of negative energy. Figure out better ways to love and reward yourself, without sabotaging your goals. Learn to love the new life you’re creating for yourself, so that you can sustain it (and your weight loss) indefinitely. If you think of something as unpleasant, unfair, or too hard, you’re not likely to keep it up for very long. Remember that willpower is fragile, but it’s not a struggle to keep doing things that you enjoy. It all comes down to how you think about the things you choose to fill your life with. And it’s YOUR brain, so you get to decide how to use it. Your mindset is the most powerful weight-loss and life-management tool. It can work FOR you, or against you.
Sounds overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Real change isn’t easy, but it’s very doable especially if you have the right tools, the right mindset, and the right help. I can work with you to design an action-plan to clear the obstacles out of your way so you can achieve your dream. If you’re ready to trade excuses for results, click the button below and let’s get started building your dream-life.
Written by Natalie Fayman, CPC, ACC, ELI-MP, COR.E Dynamics Wellbeing Specialist