Getting 'Beach-Ready' & Other Absolute Nonsense
It's that time of year, now that we've got the chocolate-fest of Easter out of the way, where attention turns to Summer holidays - attention which is quickly drawn to the prospect of getting our body out, and the ensuing development of a plan riddled with self-loathing to shrink down to a 'perfect' size, so that we look AMAZING for all those photos. Something like that, anyway. It's that time of year when you start to see the re-emergence of all the ads about losing weight (following all the ones after Christmas), telling us about 'this one pill' or 'this amazing new system' or 'this one food' that will solve all of our weight angst. I'm going to be honest: this guilt-ridden, quick-fix approach really annoys me.
As someone who used to be overweight myself, I exerted a huge amount of energy and effort towards trying to lose weight. That meant every fad diet under the sun in some kind of nightmarish cycle of deprivation, and all sorts of pills, the ingredients of which I don't even want to think about now. I did the cabbage diet, the juice diet, tried all sorts of weight loss shake regimes, the Atkins diet...you name it, I did it. And I exercised a lot too. And guess what? I lost loads of weight. For maybe a few weeks. Then I finished the diet, went back to eating 'normally', and put it all back on again. I was completely trapped in this cycle of self-loathing, starving myself for a few weeks to see a number on the scale that seemed more acceptable, followed by the happiness eating rebound at my re-discovery of actual food. It was depressing, and frustrating. I lived in hope of this one pill, or this one new approach that would finally fix this for me, because nothing seemed to work. I was always very physically active, but I just couldn't seem to get the food side of things right.
I used to work as a personal trainer, and now as a doctor, and I have talked to hundreds of people about weight loss. I know for sure that my experience is not unusual, at all. Weight loss was the number one reason that people used to come to see me when I worked in the gym. On the surface, it seems like a fine idea. You've weighed yourself, maybe checked your BMI, seen that you could do with losing a stone or 10, and decided to do something about it. But - and this is the big but (sorry, couldn't resist) - wanting to lose weight doesn't give you the motivation to do so - it's not a motivation in itself. Asking 'why' should always be the question that follows when you or someone else announces that they want to lose weight. You might get a superficial answer, like 'so I can look good on the beach' or 'because I don't want to be fat any more'. Keep asking 'why' though, and you might reveal something more important, and something that reveals the true motivation for wanting to lose weight.
Often, the real reason is that deep down, you're unhappy. The glossy photos of people we see everywhere who are in shape, living apparently idyllic lives, is compelling. We associate thinness with happiness. So, we try to lose weight to 'cure' unhappiness. Unfortunately, happiness doesn't magically materialise when you shed the excess weight. Yes, you might feel more confident, and you might get some really positive attention, and you might finally be able to fit into those jeans from 20 years ago - but if you're unhappy because you have no self-esteem, or if your relationship is on the rocks, or if you despise your job, being thinner isn't going to change those things. I'm not saying don't focus on losing weight: losing weight for better health is a great reason - no one wants to develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease, or put loads of extra strain through their joints. But, if you're one of these people - like I was - who is constantly jumping on and off the diet wagon, then perhaps consider asking yourself actually why you're trying to lose weight. Understanding your motivation is the key to consistent behaviour change. If you're wavering constantly, chances are there's a mismatch in there somewhere.
It clicked for me finally, after I'd figured out my 'why'. I had baggage that I needed to handle and I was emotionally eating my way through my issues. No amount of fad diets or deprivation was going to fix that for me; I needed to address what was underneath first. I worked with a therapist, and then with a coach, and I fixed my self-loathing. When that critical voice started to quieten, so too did my obsession with being thin. I stopped using food as an emotional crutch, and I found that slowly but surely I started to lose weight, by changing small things consistently. I reduced my sugar intake, started snacking on fats and protein, drank more water, consciously added fruit and veg to every meal, introduced intermittent fasting. Not all at once, sometimes just for one day a week until it started to feel less alien and more habitual. The reason I could stick with it was because I stopped associating and attaching self-hate with it. I wanted to lose weight not because I hated myself, but because I loved myself, and wanted to look after my body. Not being perfect all the time felt ok, and a slip up didn't result in an apocalyptic 'giving-up' phase, which usually involved eating every bit of junk I could get my hands on - eating away those emotions until I felt better again.
Losing weight isn't the goal. Being 'beach-ready' isn't the goal. Achieving a number on a scale isn't the goal. They can be good indicators of physical progress, but they're not motivating factors in themselves. Ask yourself why you're looking for these things. What do you hope to gain from losing weight? And, is losing weight actually going to give you that? If the answer is 'yes' - fantastic. Do it - lose the weight and give yourself all of the things you want from it. But do it slowly, with love for yourself, and with appreciation for the amazing body you live in. Work with your body, and not against it. You've got this body for life - not just for the beach this Summer.
Want to work with someone who gets it? Who understands that weight loss is far more than calories in vs calories out? I'm a PT, a doctor and someone who's been there and got quite a few T-shirts too. Contact me for a free health coaching consult - I'd love to work with you.