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The ‘game changer’ for weight loss that lasts

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Have you tried to lose weight so many times you lost count? Ready for the game changer for weight loss that lasts? This article shares with you the one science based skill that sets you up for lasting weight loss. Its the one most often overlooked, which is why we struggle with the weight loss. End the struggle, get out of ‘the deadly triangle’, boost your self-motivation, and enjoy relaxing into your natural and sustainable healthy weight.

During a recent coaching session, my client said to me, “Something you said in our last session was a complete game changer for my weight loss.” Curious, I asked what that was. She replied, “You told me to forgive myself for gaining weight.”

A week earlier, she had told me she was always an avid exerciser and had been very successful at losing weight two decades ago. Now she found herself overweight, not exercising, and feeling the effects in her knees and her energy. She described the changes in her life over the past twenty years: two family members developed major chronic disease and she started her own business to support her family. Everything else was put on the back burner, including her physical and emotional needs. She lamented about how ‘lazy’ she had gotten about exercise.

Would you call this woman “lazy”? No way! She is clearly a go-getter! Yet, she was the one calling herself “lazy”. The guilt about not exercising when she knew how important it was for her health and her family was adding an emotional weight to the physical weight she was carrying around.

Losing the weight of guilt

Guilt is a weight. It’s heavy. It gets heavier over time because the longer it hangs around, the more you doubt yourself. This is when guilt deteriorates to shame. As Brene Brown so clearly states, “guilt is ‘I did something bad’, shame is ‘I am bad.’” The way my client felt about her body and in her body was no longer just a reminder that she was not taking care of herself physically, it was starting to change the way she perceived herself as a person. Her identity as a responsible, caring, and successful person was falling apart.

The words ‘forgive yourself’ woke up that part of her that had been hidden by shame. Shining a light on the fact that she was not ‘lazy’, that she was just taking care of her family, paved the way for a release in motivation that was the weight loss game changer she described. Suddenly she was moving more during the day, eating healthier, and already feeling more like her old (true) self. Forgiving herself lightened the weight of feeling bad about herself, and freed her to listen to what her body needed now and be her own best ally each day.

Why guilt will never work for sustainable weight loss

Guilt is a great motivator. Most of us don’t like the feeling that we did something wrong, and we want to make it right. The problem is it only works in the short-term. Once the guilt is gone, so is the motivation. The bigger problem is that when guilt is overused as a motivator, it erodes into shame. There are only so many times you can be reminded you did something bad before you start feeling like you are bad.

Guilt and shame keep your brain and body stuck in a stress response. Stressed is the state when health, healing, and weight loss are put on the back burner while your body prepares to take care of a threat. While guilt might get you motivated, at the same time it’s slowing your progress to a healthier, lighter body.

There is currently no research showing self-criticism works for long term habits. On the contrary, self-compassion has consistently been proven to be a reliable way to inspire the personal initiative to change for the better. People with strong self-compassion skills have less fear of failure, but when they do fall short of their goals, they are more likely to try again. This is the kind of resilience we need for losing weight and keeping it off.

End the weight loss battle between your mind and body

Your brain is hardwired to keep your body safe and well. Every moment of every day your brain is searching for potential threats to your safety. Being vigilant for real threats, kept us alive for billions of years. In today’s world, we are flooded with faux threats conjured up in the media and in our minds. Every exercise to fix ‘problem areas’ in your body and every strategy for pushing through exhaustion creates an internal threat and an inner battle you just can’t win.

At the same time, we have food that is specifically engineered—with everything from the packaging, mouth feel, color, to the taste and smell—to light up your brain with feel-good chemicals instantly. Your brain knows these foods will make you feel better now, even if the feeling is temporary.

Exercise can give you those chemicals in a more balanced and lasting way but exercising for weight loss has come to mean you have to push your body, more is better, and there is never a level of ‘enough’. It becomes something you have to do if you want to lose weight and a constant reminder of how ‘out of shape’ you are, making you feel worse about yourself—and back into the self-critical, stressed state you go. Even worse, since your brain is trained to avoid that which makes you feel worse in the present, it will tell you to avoid exercise even if it could lead to weight loss in the future.

It’s pretty easy to end up in a body with extra weight and motivation that feels stuck when you have a

  • Brain that is hardwired to choose what will make you feel better now.

  • Food designed to make you feel better now.

  • Exercise that makes you feel worse now.

Clearly, you didn’t gain weight because you are bad, you gained weight because you are hardwired to be safe and well in the present moment.

But you may still be saying, ‘yeah, but I knew better, I should not have let it go this far.” Your logical brain knew it, but your survival brain just wants you to be safe and feel better now. That survival brain will always win out—that’s its job! The sustainable way out is to help them work together.

The first step to keeping weight off

This is easier said than done in a culture that promotes, even celebrates, the weight loss struggle. Here are the steps to get you started:

List all the reasons for not doing the things you ‘should’ be doing to lose weight. These show up as ‘excuses’. List them as objectively as possible. For example, “I should get up early and exercise for 45 minutes, but I am not sleeping well.” Just let the reasons flow freely on paper. Write down your responses to these ‘shoulds’ and ‘excuses’. Notice how you are talking to yourself.

Now imagine a friend is saying these ‘shoulds’ and ‘excuses’ to you. Just as you read the story of my client and your instinct was not to judge her but to empathize with her, read your list with that objective compassionate witness perspective. What would you say to that friend? Place your hand on your heart and say these same words to yourself. It may seem strange or even unauthentic at first. You might imagine a good friend saying these words to you so they are easier to hear. Notice how your body feels as you begin to end the battle.

A whole new way to think about exercising for weight loss

Now you are ready to start fresh, with a whole new way of considering what to do for exercise, without guilt and shame. Instead of making a decision about the type and amount of exercise based on what will burn the most calories, ask your body what it needs most right now. Really listen. Does it need more stamina? Strength? Mobility or freedom of movement? Energy? Trust your instincts and start with that type of exercise.

To find out how much is enough, listen to and trust your body. Rather than your logical brain telling your body what it “should” be able to do, simply start moving and let your body decide how much is enough. If your body starts saying ‘no thank you’ in the form of pain or fatigue, know that you are not helping your body by pushing yourself to do more. If it says ‘thank you’, you know you are doing the right type and amount to restore the state of well-being where health and weight loss can happen.

Although our culture labels this ‘wimping out’, you are just working with the way your body is designed. Just like a seedling growing into a strong tree, giving it more than it can handle at one time will slow growth and threaten its survival. Giving it just the right amount of what it needs, watching for signs that it’s thriving every day, is how you will help it grow strong. Trust, patience, and consistency are the key skills for restoring your body in a way most likely to last.

Increase your odds of keeping weight off

Self-compassion is the often-missed first step of weight loss that increases your odds of keeping weight off. This is not a one time fix, though, because it’s easy to default back into blame and shame. Self-compassion is a practice. We all need a constant reminder that small consistent steps are what lead to big and lasting changes. Listen to and trust your body as the primary way to know the ‘just right’ size of those steps. You will have the most personalized exercise plan that keeps your logical brain and survival brain working together with your body. Continually forgive yourself each time your efforts to be well lead you off the path and it will be the ‘game changer’ that keeps you on the path. Move your body to give it what it needs to be well right now, as if you were taking care of a good friend, because you are!

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