I wanted to share a quick snippet of Facebook exchange that occurred today in my clients-only group. I want to share because this client’s “problem” is a very real one, a hard spot that makes or breaks many people’s journeys, and she voiced it in a way that I think will speak to a lot of my blog readers. Maybe you.
This client has reached the crux. In a climbing route, the toughest move is the crux. In a weight loss journey, the crux is the spot you realize than moving ahead means looking inside. For many people, that’s the toughest spot.
Client 1: I just need to take a moment to voice my frustration….. I posted in the forum about how I am having trouble with the current habit – decreasing my treats. I like sweet things and I like red wine. And I probably (definitely) have too much of both and it is hindering my fat loss. And as I was talking this through a bit with Coach Sarah, I realized that this feels a lot like psychotherapy. All of this crap under the surface starts coming up. I really, really, really just want to freaking lose weight…. not think about the underlying crap and my feelings. Sigh. Is it just me or does this whole process sometimes feel overwhelming? I don’t want it to be a “process”…. I want it to be simpler surface things because what’s under the surface is annoying the hell out of me and making me uncomfortable.</rant>
Jillian (client): This is a very mental process, not just physical, and that is much of why this program is different. Railing against it means you are getting somewhere, that things are hitting home, that you are thinking about and being conscious of how your body and mind are connected. It can be uncomfortable and make you angry and frustrated. I’ve been there–we all have. Much of how we treat our bodies is rooted in how we think of them, and of food. You are here because you were ready to try something new and different, because traditional programs don’t work and are not sustainable–they even make the mental part of it much, much worse with hangups and fallacies and no accountability. It is overwhelming, especially when things first start, but try to stick with it and things will even out. We are all here for each other, and asking for help as you have done is awesome!! There is no judgment here, off each other or ourselves. This is a safe place to explore and learn and understand. One day, one hour at a time!
Coach Sarah: It was not my intention for you to feel uncomfortable. In fact, my intention is to ease the way towards your goals as much as possible. As Jillian alluded to, there is usually a habit or two that push our buttons, and coming up with workable strategies for them can be pivotal for success. So yes, bizarrely enough, sometimes discomfort is a sign of progress, and we are here to help you through it as easily as possible. <3
Coach Georgie: I admire your honesty more than I can say. The best advice I have is to bear in mind that you are in charge. At any point you can stop, press pause, or even retreat from the self-awareness. I did so many times in my own journey because it was “too much too fast”, and honestly having an eating disorder was the easier option that facing my inner reality. That’s okay. When it feels worth it or doable to investigate a bit more, you can take a little peek again. Having guided a lot of people along this road, as has Coach Sarah, I know the best we can assure you is 1. we’re with you, and will not push you too hard and 2. There is nothing evil or bad inside you. Some of it can be uncomfortable to see, but none of it can hurt you. There is no danger in getting to know yourself and your workings.
When change is easy, it’s easy. Some people find that forming healthy nutrition habits is straightforward, they practice adding one behavior at a time, get the logistics ironed out, and nail their goals. But a lot of times, we get to one behavior that feels a lot harder to change than the rest.
Did you ever stop to think about why that is? Why is it so easy to change one thing about our diet (say, eating more protein), but another change seems impossible, daunting, distressing, or even tear-jerking?
As a clinical dietitian, I have told a lot of people to “eat less ___.” That’s hospital work, to a large degree. The doctor would write the order, and I would break the news about how the patient was instructed to eat after discharge. Low tyramine. Low potassium. No grapefruit. Keep your vitamin K consistent. No more than 1500 mg sodium per day. And in most cases, people don’t get overly emotional about these. To be honest, it’s often a matter of finding alternate foods they can eat, and making some swaps. Using salt-free seasoning instead of their typical chicken rub, for example, or choosing more green beans and less kale.
In the years since I have left working in clinical medicine, my role (and language) have changed to reflect the fact that now my clients (not patients) are choosing to see me. No longer am I informing them of diet orders, but now I offer guidance and support on changes which they are electing to make, mostly for weight loss, sports performance or body composition improvement. Communicating evidence-based weight loss advice, you can’t get around a couple of topics, which tend to have a lot more emotional context than Vitamin K or tyramine content of foods.
One such inescapable topic is treats. Sugar, wine, cookies, fries, beer, chips, doughnuts; reducing one’s intake of these at least slightly is necessary in 95% of the weight loss clients who work with us.
The other topic is overeating, or consuming larger amounts of food than it takes to satisfy your appetite. While this one is slightly less universal in being a barrier for our clients, it is still prevalent, occurring in more than 60% of the initial assessments I have done in the last year.
Why are these the tougher rocks to budge for some people? Because unlike choosing a salt-free seasoning for your chicken, the substitutions which are needed to replace overeating or over-reliance on sweet foods or alcohol can’t be bought at the store.
These behaviors, like all habits, have a function. To change them permanently without a constant input of willpower and restraint we need to fulfill their purpose in another way. And that means understanding you. If you’re having a very hard time even slightly reducing a particular food or the habit of overeating, it’s likely because it has a strong emotional role. Without cracking your hood and looking inside, it’s likely not going anywhere for long.
Have you thought the same before about your weight loss journey, “I really, really, really just want to freaking lose weight…. not think about the underlying crap and my feelings”? If so, I can’t blame you. If it were just about food, it would be simpler. It would be less personal, it would be less scary, and we could show up and drop the extra pounds without having to do any digging. I know plenty of risktakers and adventurous seeming adults who would jump out of airplane willingly yet avoid introspection.
On one hand, I wish I could deliver that service – just weight loss, no learning about yourself and your feelings needed. But when I actually stop to consider my life and what it would feel like in that role, I’d hate it. In my imagination, I suspect it would feel somewhat analogous to working in a fast food operation, where advice is the thing people “order” and no matter whom it is, you dish up the same thing to them. A carbon copy of what the last person ordered many times. So much of the interest would be gone! One of things I love most is getting to know a person, learning why they have previously not been successful losing weight, and showing them not only that they can, but that are parts of themselves they never appreciated or understood! Seeing them learn, bobble a bit, and eventually master skills at managing their moods and impulses often leaves them graduating coaching not just slimmer, but more joyful, peaceful and resilient.
If you have gotten to that spot: the crux of your journey where you realize it’s quit now or look inside, have no fear. It’s not that bad.
What you will find when you look inside, should you choose to do so, will not harm you. You will not find perfection and precisely engineered operations; you aren’t a Swiss watch. You’ll find coping mechanisms and feelings. Fear and joy and loathing and love, desires and opinions, bias and pride. Just like we all have lungs and kidneys, we share much of the other matters inside: we all want to be accepted, loved, and approved of, and we crave a sense of being true to ourselves.
Somewhere in that lovely tangled mess of humanness, there’s often food behaviors entangled. I can allay your fears: they aren’t evil, or shameful, they often make a lot of sense and are completely understandable. They’ll feel unique to you, but they are in all likelihood things that that thousands of other people have found and untangled too. Many people have needed a hand with them too, not being able to quite figure it out alone.
Most importantly, they aren’t lodged there forever, and with some creativity and patience, they all can be worked out. Taking that peek inside can show you marvelous things about yourself, things to know, appreciate, and fall in love with. Please, please, when you reach the crux, don’t quit. You’re worth getting to know.
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