Unfortunately, despite our peripheral awareness of the need for slower, more long-term weight loss solutions, our irrational brains continue to return to the notion that perhaps if we just do this shake/low-carb/paleo/whole30 diet for a few weeks, then once we have leaner bodies we will adopt a more sensible approach. What draws us to these programs again and again you might ask? Clearly, we are looking for a quick fix and hoping that we will be the one who defies the odds, the one who finds it easy to stick to a restrictive diet and stays lean for ever after. In a society where we can get most anything we want when we want it, we feel the same about our bodies. We are impatient; we want to be thin and perfect tomorrow.
We could ask the obvious question of why thin is perfect, but the scope of that question and the issue of how society influences our perception of our bodies are more than I can address here. Instead, I think we need to ask another very important question. What would be different if I lost the weight? How would I behave in that thin “perfect” body? The answer to this question holds immense power. Once you know the answer, I firmly believe you need to start doing everything in your power to behave that way today. Perhaps, not everything may be possible from the start, but the closer you get today to living what you have planned for tomorrow in that perfect body, the better.
As a fitness and nutrition coach, one of the most desired outcomes of weight loss that I hear is increased self-confidence. I’ve come to understand over the years that most people feel that if they were more self-confident they would make better choices for themselves. They would approach someone for a date, they would tell their boss they deserve a raise, they would enjoy playing with their kids at the beach, they would take a risk and try something new and exciting (maybe join a gym), they would feel loved by their partner and more freely express love to the important people in their lives. In truth, these are all things that they could do more of today, immediately, without waiting for that perfect body, and quite assuredly the world be a better place if they did.
How can we pave the way for the awesomeness that would result from people acting like their thinner selves? Honestly, I think we all share a responsibility to stop promoting the quick fix. Let’s instead start promoting self-love and acceptance and making choices with regard to our health and fitness that reflect those positive feelings. If your child’s math teacher told your child he or she was stupid you wouldn’t expect your child to begin to excel at math. Similarly, if your friend wants to punish herself for being fat with the next fad diet, you can’t expect that success will be in the cards for her. What if instead she began acting toward herself in the way that she suspects she would if she were thin? What if she chose to take some reasonable steps toward better health like giving up soda and walking the dog once a day because it made her feel good? I’d certainly place my bet that she will be far more successful with this approach. Will it be fast? Will she soon look like a model? Probably not.
The next time someone tells you they want to lose weight or speaks negatively about their body, pause before you send them the link to whatever Dr. Oz is currently promoting. Tell them you care about them and understand how frustrating it can be. If you’re overweight and hoping to lose weight as well, share your vision for how life would be different if you achieved your weight loss goals. Talk about how irrational it is that you are waiting for some kind of perfection (that I promise you, by the way, you would not even recognize if it hit you over the head) to lead your fullest lives. Have a conversation about how you could act today as if you had achieved your weight loss goals. Hold each other accountable for making one small change in that direction.
If you have lost weight you may be very tempted to give advice. Before you start encouraging your friend to do whatever you did, ask yourself these questions. Was my decision to follow that plan based on a desire to take care of myself in a gentle and loving way, or was it more of a punishment that I inflicted on myself for being fat and weak, for eating poorly, and having a less than perfect body? Was I miserable on my diet plan? Did my plan include real, healthy, unprocessed foods that I enjoyed? Were certain foods demonized or excluded entirely? Am I finding it relatively easy to continue on with the plan and maintain my weight loss, or have I made some pretty significant changes? Why is it important to me for my friend to do what I did? Am I looking for validation that I made a good choice, or do I genuinely want to help my friend make the best choice for her? Let your honest answers to these questions be your guide.
If you aren’t currently overweight or perhaps have never been overweight, you too have a responsibility to keep it real. Share your own struggles honestly rather than allowing someone to believe it’s easy for you. Shatter the image of the woman or man that doesn’t have to do anything and just stays thin and fit. Tell them that you work hard to plan your meals and that you leave your gym clothes packed at all times. Tell them you don’t always want to make the healthy choice at the restaurant, and sometimes you don’t, but that usually you’re fine once you’ve ordered. Or tell them truthfully that you are starving yourself and it sucks and you hope to find another way someday. What is your truth? Are you willing to tell it? Feel free to comment below and share.