I spent close to ten years of my life searching for the one piece of magic that would turn me into a thin, lean person. Was it cutting out carbs? Going on an incredibly low calorie diet? Paleo? Vegan? I can honestly say I tried it all.
And each time, regardless of what plan I went on, I lost weight. But I would eventually gain it back—and sometimes more. This led to years to “weight cycling” which is not only frustrating and discouraging, but has also been shown in research to be very damaging to health.
Why weren’t any of these plans sustainable?
After years of beating myself up over my failed weight loss, I realized that beating myself up was probably not the way to go about it. It occurred to me that if I wanted lasting change, I needed a new way of thinking about weight loss.
You see, it wasn’t the fact that I hadn’t found the perfect diet; it was the mindset that accompanied each diet that kept me from reaching my goals in the long term. In order to buy into the diet mindset that motivated me to go to extremes in my eating, I had to buy into some pretty painful beliefs about myself:
I believed that I couldn’t be happy unless I was thin
You see this all the time in weight loss marketing; an overweight “before” picture with ragged clothes, unwashed hair and a pitiful frown. Then, a stunningly gorgeous “after” picture, with not only smaller clothes and a smaller waist, but also incredible hair, airbrushed skin, perfectly manicured nails, and a stunning smile.
The weight loss industry has done such a good job of tying our happiness to our weight that we now seem to believe it – as if weight loss were a magical path to happiness.
But it’s not. And every time I’d get down to my “ideal weight”, I would feel somewhat empty inside and wonder isn’t this supposed to make me happy?
When the happiness didn’t come, the weight would come back, and I would find myself even more miserable. It wasn’t until I learned to be happy, regardless of my weight, that I was actually able to successfully lose weight.
I believed I needed to punish myself to lose weight
When we think of the words “diet” and “weight loss” the third word that usually comes to mind is “misery.” Eating nothing but rabbit food, dry chicken and broccoli, or subsisting on some hardly-edible liquid meal seem to be prerequisites for weight loss. Because everyone else was suffering to lose weight, I needed to suffer too. And if it wasn’t painful, it obviously wouldn’t work… or so I thought.
I had to believe that my body was flawed, broken, and couldn’t be trusted
Because dieting involves sticking to a set plan “come hell or high water” (yes, a trainer said that to me once), I learned not to listen to my body and that my mind knew better. I believed that I had to eat every two hours even though I wasn’t hungry, or I had to wait until the next planned meal even when I was ravenous. Obviously, if my body got me into this mess, I would use my brain instead to get me out.
Beyond believing my body was not to be trusted, I also started to buy into the belief that it was broken and flawed. I Believed I was carb intolerant, gluten intolerant, adrenally challenged, hormonally unbalanced, “toxic”… anything and everything that could be cured by a “miracle supplement” or extreme diet… although the supposed cure never seemed to work.
These beliefs were not only damaging my weight loss progress, they were destroying my life. The belief that I couldn’t be trusted carried over to my professional life where I started second-guessing my decisions at work. The idea that I had to suffer bled into my personal life, leading to some pretty bad relationships. The notion that I couldn’t be happy unless I was thin destroyed every aspect of my happiness.
At some point, I realized that something had to change. These beliefs were more toxic to my life than any food could ever be!
I set my goal of weight-loss-at-any-expense aside, and focused on reestablishing some positive beliefs. Here are the beliefs I chose to adopt, and incorporated into my life:
I can be happy in this moment, regardless of my weight
The fact is happiness is not a number on the scale, just like it is not the size of a house, or the number in a bank account. Despite what our culture has taught us from our youth that “if you work hard now you’ll be happy later, ” happiness doesn’t from achieving some socially accepted idea of success, but from fully embracing and living in the present.
Weight loss and healthy eating is about nourishing myself and not about punishing myself
When we hate our bodies, all we can think is: what can I do to change it?Once I learned to love myself and be happy, regardless of my weight, I started asking a different question: what can I do tonourish my body? By focusing on nourishing myself, instead of punishing myself, I naturally began to want to make better choices, without requiring super-human willpower or someone holding my feet to the fire.
My body is a miracle and I can be trusted
The hardest thing I did was to start trusting my body, and eat because I was truly hungry, and not because some diet told me I could. But after years of withholding what my body was asking for, I wanted a trusting relationship with my body. We don’t ever withhold oxygen from our bodies because we think we should go with less. Our bodies are optimally adapted to provide us for what we need: our hearts beat without us having to control it, our lungs breathe without needing to be controlled, why would eating be any different?
Once I adopted these beliefs and began acting on these beliefs, amazing things happened. My body communicated what it needed: Once I asked myself if I was truly hungry or not–a question I hadn’t asked since my high school days when I began restricting my eating—I began getting very clear signals. Not only was I more in tune with what my body needed to eat, but also with how much rest, relaxation and hydration I needed.
I also found myself easily making better food decisions. Because I was no longer punishing myself, and was focused on nourishing myself instead, I created a deep desire to eat foods that helped me feel great, met my needs, and also tasted delicious. And what’s amazing is that, even though chose to be happy regardless of my weight, I did lose weight, and kept it off, seemingly effortlessly.
If you are struggling to lose weight or maintain your health and fitness results, I urge you to consider the mindset with which are you approaching your weight loss goals. Most of the diet industry promotes a negative mindset that can’t possibly lead to success. Instead adopt positive beliefs and positive motivations for yourself. You may be surprised how easy it is to make better choices when you’re encouraging yourself and loving yourself, as opposed to beating yourself up all the time.
Photo by Kris Krug
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18 thoughts on “Body Transformation Starts With the Mind”
Really appreciate this article and agree 100%. It really is about being in touch with and noticing your body. Can identify with everything you said. Thanks!
What a fantastic article! I am 47, have run 2 half marathons and still not at my ‘ideal’ weight and I struggle as well. I am going to start looking at weight loss from a positive place.
Thank you so much!!
Awesome Kim! Be proud of your accomplishments so far, half marathons are no small feat. Excited to hear how changing your mindset goes for you.
Ashley, I couldn’t agree with you more on this topic, and thank you for sharing it. It is the most important message every trainer, dietitian, nutritionist, etc ought to be telling their clients. Being a fitness trainer and life coach I can relate on a personal and professional level.
It wasn’t until I made the connection and started to exercise the muscle of my mind in a healthier way that my body/the outside started to match up with my changed mindset. Thank you, thank you and thank you for getting it, living it, and sharing it.
YES to everything you said! I do wish more trainers and nutritionists would take the time to focus on mindset changes. It would make a world of difference.
Wow. This is a fantastic way of lossing weight.
Some people think starving oneself is the only way they can do to achieve their desired figure, and they will live happily ever after. But after eating some not advised meal, then feel guilty and miserable.
This is far way different perspective of being sexy and healthy from what is the weight lose industry is promoting.
I will share this post to my friends and to my customers.
Thank you for sharing this post!
Hello, Ashley! I am a lean person, but I still love this blog very much, at beginning I just wanted to see the way you lose weight and treated this passage as a chicken soup, but after finishing the passage I realized I was wrong and you tell us more than weight lose, thank you! (My English is so poor and I am practicing now O(∩_∩)O~)
hie Ashley I strongly agree that my body is a miracle,as I relate with
Hebrew Chapter 10 verse 5,…..the body you prepare for me….
myself I m slim and thin like Ninja…
Wow, I never really noticed it but now that I think about it you’re right. In the before pictures people look so miserable.
I never took to diets myself because, like you, they seemed like self torture, depriving yourself of everything you’ve come to love. I like food. I want to eat well, I just don’t need to eat everything.
Your outlook on things has a strong impact on how it will work out. If you think that you have to damage yourself to get something done, that’s exactly what you’ll end up doing instead. You may not even realize that you’re making that a prerequisite for your goal. So the negativity of the prerequisite destroys you before you get any further.
Your body is a miracle, yes! We should all know this.
What a beautifully written blog! I too struggled with weight until the day I stopped struggling. It is like magic that when we stop trying to change the body and begin to listen how everything changes. I threw out my scales abut 20 years ago and have looked back.
We just need to love ourselves more. Listening to the body is amazing self love!
I completely agree. Struggling leads to more struggling, the only way out is to stop fighting our bodies! Thanks for sharing your experience Carolynne!
Nice Post Ashley!
Loved the way you articulated your thoughts. completely agree that self acceptance leads to drastic changes.. as counter intuitive as that may sound. But its true.
Here is my take on the topic: http://gameligit.com/lasting-happiness-fresh-perspective/
Thanks for sharing Vishal!
This really resonated with me, Ashley. Thanks for sharing your experience!
I’m on day six of a One Week With Daily Exercise challenge (I haven’t gotten consistent physical activity since High School), and the most salient thing I’ve learned thus far is exactly what you say here, being healthy can’t be a punishment.
Using self-loathing as motivation to work harder and eat better will never be sustainable, you have to do it out of love for yourself. For me, the best thing was finding an activity (hiking) which I truly enjoyed, as I haven’t had one since I stopped playing competitive sports. This truly changed the game for me, making exercise and healthy living an enjoyable, not painful, experience.
For point of reference, you can read a bit more about my experience here: http://oneweekwithout.com
Ashley, this post is lovely. I believe our bodies have so much wisdom and are able to communicate with us about what we truly need. When we reconnect to this sacredness, everything seems to fall into place.
I so agree with your article.
beliefs & listening to body are big. I believe, though, that choosing a diet (or eating program) is also important to lay down a foundation. It’s not about following the diet, but finding & dealing with the root issues. Once you’ve done, you are done with weight loss.
10 years… there is still hope for me.