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Challenging Your Beliefs— Renata’s Story
When Renata was finally referred to me through her doctor, she was exhausted and discouraged. It was her third experience with a personal trainer, and although she had physically shown up for the appointment, I could see in her eyes that she still hadn’t quite arrived. Who could blame her for her lack of enthusiasm? Two years prior, Renata had decided to lay down her hard-earned money on “personal trainer number one.” A library of diet plans had already failed her. Just looking at those cardboard-boxed, pre-packed meals made her stomach rumble for anything fried, flaky or Alfredoed. She had lost count of the number of times that she had fallen off the fitness bandwagon. Spiritually hungry and emotionally bruised, Renata was convinced that she was a lazy, unmotivated person that would simply have to pay someone to FORCE her to eat well and exercise.
Renata’s first trainer accepted her theory about why she needed assistance. PT #1 did everything right, technically. There was a basic fitness evaluation, followed by some diet suggestions. Written fitness goals were sealed with appointment bookings—three times per week for the next three months—and Renata wrote a cheque for $1,800. Renata showed up. She exercised. She attempted to be good with her eating. She even experienced moments of inspiration, just like she had felt when she was good on the first few days of a new diet.
However, as time went on, she often found herself rescheduling appointments or showing up late. When asked about her diet progress, she felt guilty for not doing better, and, although PT #1 was supportive, Renata began to feel dependent on her trainer for her success. The pay to be forced to exercise plan was not helping her during the other twenty-three hours of the day when her trainer was not with her. Maybe she needed five days a week? The money was worth it, wasn’t it? It was for health, right? Yet Renata’s growing dread prior to her weekly appointments was far too reminiscent of forced attendance in ninth-grade gym class. Renata knew that something was still missing in her weight loss equation. She just didn’t know what “it” was.
Leaving her trainer for another, PT #2, Renata continued on her search for the magic cure. She experienced the same initial enthusiasm followed by an even lower drop in motivation. Although PT #2 was not wrong in his exercise prescription, he was not able to address Renata’s inability to follow through on the goals that, together, they had set. They discontinued their sessions, as PT-#2 suggested that Renata wait until she was really ready to lose weight. Ashamed at her lack of progress, not to mention loss of money, she agreed. The appointment was over.
She had now failed every possible weight-loss and fitness plan ever known to woman. Personal trainer #2’s words whirled in her head. “Wait until I was really ready to lose weight?” To Renata, her readiness was obnoxiously evident in the twenty-two years of life she had spent constantly consumed by food, dieting, and the size of her body! She questioned the dichotomy of how she could truly want to free herself from excess weight, yet choose to live in a manner that would not support this desire. Was she going to have to pay someone for the rest of her life in order to stay healthy? What would be next? More diets? Liposuction? Stomach stapling? She seriously doubted whether she would ever experience balance, peace of mind or the joy of living in a healthy, fit body.
Now at age forty-two, Renata was feeling a deep sense of failure and desperation. She approached her doc- tor requesting a prescription for anti-depressants. After conducting tests, Renata’s doctor believed that in her case, prescription drugs would not solve Renata’s issue with weight. Instead she requested that Renata speak to one more trainer. The physician knew of another trainer who had a different approach to losing weight. Thankfully, Renata agreed, so we met simply to talk.
Thirty minutes into the session, without even changing into her exercise attire, Renata began to have the most meaningful workout of her life. We began to challenge her beliefs on weight loss and her motivation to experience optimal health.
Why did Renata even want to lose weight?
Were her beliefs regarding weight loss really hers or simply accepted, ingrained and reinforced years ago?
Are overweight people less lovable?
How did she think losing weight would make her feel?
Did she ever experience these emotions in her life now?
What does health and happiness feel like?
How could she create these feelings more often in
her life today, prior to losing weight?
Why did she quit her routine when she began to make progress?
What was she willing to do in order to reach her goal?
What was she unwilling to do?
What messages did the media force-feed her?
What did she want to do with these messages?
Question after question we both began to get excited as we peeled away the layers of Renata’s unexamined notions and beliefs about weight loss and body image. By questioning Renata’s attitudes towards weight loss, it was evident that her belief system had been keeping her from experiencing the very things that she truly wanted for herself. Regardless of her weight, how did she want to feel about her life? As she identified the emotions that she wanted to experience, she began to recognize how lost she had become. It was if she was suffering an iden- tity crisis. She had been acting in a manner that did not support her higher beliefs about who she really was. Her inability to lose weight was not the source of Renata’s unhappiness. Instead, her desperation came from the spiritual void produced from the twenty-two years she’d spent measuring her own worth based upon the size of her waist. She had empowered the scale to determine how she was doing as a human being, yet the spirit of who you are is unweighable.
Renata’s story strikes a cord for many Diet Club members. By allowing the scale gods to determine our level of happiness, this powerless belief becomes the source of our dissatisfaction, not the excess pounds. In fact, losing weight under this presumption can be very disappointing. If a smaller body is your main drive to becoming happy, you may in fact reach your goal only to ask, “Is that it? Shouldn’t I now be feeling a sense of fulfillment in my life? Why has nothing really changed?” Regaining lost weight becomes inevitable.
Although the physical experience of a lighter, fit body is wonderful, it is not the true source of joy. Experiencing joy is available to us the moment we wake up. Joy is an attitude. It is a conscious choice. Think about it. It’s 8:00-a.m. and you just woke up. That’s the first good thing to be joyous about. You are safe, warm and have an infinite selection of foods to choose from for breakfast. What is not to be grateful for? Oops, bad question. Why? Because if we look for an answer there is always some- thing negative on which to focus our attention. Again, we have a choice.
How Do You Choose to Focus Your Energy?
There is not a day that goes by (for any of us) with- out potential frustrations, irritations or disappointments. Whether it is the number we see stepping onto the scale, the number in our bank account or larger issues like feed- ing the hungry, world peace, and environmental conservation, there will always be things to complain about. But how we focus our attention determines how we feel, and how we feel—our state of mind—powerfully influences our actions and attitudes.
How does this scenario make you feel: You planned to meet your friend at a restaurant yet she is over twenty minutes late. As you are waiting for her to show up, what thoughts enter your mind? “Maybe she doesn’t care enough to be on time. Perhaps she was in a car accident. She’s probably shopping for a gift for me—how great!” Think about how each of these potential explanations makes you feel. Each perspective, regardless if it’s the right one, creates a feeling that leads to a reaction. Some feelings are obviously more empowering than others. What is your attitude towards living a healthy, fit life? What is your belief? If the internal focus is, “I will always be dissatisfied with my body,” or, “I am not strong enough to commit to long-term health,” chances are, you will continue to focus on the external feedback that makes these beliefs true. There will always be a reason why now is a bad time to exercise. There will always be someone more attractive, younger and slimmer to threaten your self-esteem if you think that way, just as there are infinite excuses to condone overeating.
After driving to work in thick traffic for the past two years, Sandra starts thinking. “I hate this drive to work. I-listen to the news and it is so terrible that I don’t even feel safe in my own city anymore. Since it’s dark when I get home, I can’t go for a walk outside, even though I have been sitting for over eleven hours today. I deserve to watch some television and eat my favorite ice cream just to get away from thinking about tomorrow.” These are legitimate frustrations with which we can all identify. A-change in focus however, takes Sandra on a whole new path. “ My travel time is bothering me. I can get up earlier and exercise near work before I start my day and miss traffic entirely. I can listen to my favorite music, or books on tape while driving, and start to walk during my lunch, perhaps with others that have similar frustrations.” An exciting and creative part about being human is the infinite number of ways in which we are able to look at life. There is always another angle, view or opinion from which to conceptualize our experience. Our reality is in our own hands.
When you think about losing weight, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Is it “I don’t know why I bother doing this. I always give up a few days into my plan anyway,” or “Here we go again. I wonder if I’ll even get to Friday before blowing it?” How does this make you feel? Pessimistic? Overwhelmed? Defeated? Isn’t it far more motivating and exciting to focus on the favorable feelings? “At first it may be tough to implement healthy changes in my lifestyle, but soon enough I’m going to feel fantastic!” We control the focus of our thoughts. Our reality is shaped not by what life presents us but rather by how we choose to view it. Therefore, taking control of how we view our bodies, our health, and our selves gives us the freedom to choose our experience of life.
There are unlimited things in life to focus on, and, as most of us know all too well, there is a limited amount of time in any given day. Given this fact, how do you choose to view your life’s circumstances? On what do you focus your time? What do you often think about?
More specific to weight loss and health, how do you choose to feel about yourself? As you watch the Sunday running club pass by your doorstep, do you feel discouraged or inspired? Do you spend time dwelling on why you are not small-boned and 5'11" or do you focus on your own beautiful body, mind, and spirit? Are you grateful for your health, your miraculous body, and the wonderful life that you have been given? Which focus motivates and inspires healthy living? You have the choice.
Shifting Focus to See the Whole Picture
Experiencing peace of mind, joy, fulfillment, and deep contentment in one’s life is not synonymous with having a twenty-four-inch waist. In order to receive these gifts, we must stop bowing to the scale gods and instead, create a life focused on the actions and behaviors that reflect our deepest desires. How do you start to create a new path towards a more inspired life? First, take a closer look at yourself and ask: How do I want my life to unfold? With whom do I want to share my life—family, a partner, children, friends, pets? What do I love to do in my leisure time? What do I get excited about? What makes me laugh? What qualities do I admire in a person? What do I admire about myself? When I am old, how do I want to remember my life? What makes me feel alive?
When we make the choice to create a life that excites, nurtures, and soothes our souls then procrastination, overeating and inactivity can no longer Band- Aid our aching hearts. Yet beyond creating a life that expresses all that you are, you have the power to change your attitude in an instant. It’s called an attitude of gratitude. It’s so simple, and yet so underused. If we can look at our lives this very moment and be grateful for the abundance, freedom, wealth, and beauty that is already in our lives, then our motivation to lose weight shifts. We feel empowered, instead of inferior. We are inspired, rather than threatened. We see abundance in our life, not lack of it. We want to do loving things for our bodies, instead of punishing them with inactivity, restrictive diets, judging thoughts, or junk food. We no longer feel that we have to lose weight in order to feel happy, attractive, or successful, but instead, we are empowered to take care of our bodies, minds, and souls—in whatever form that may be.
Struggling with weight year after year, feeling deprived and frustrated is not experiencing our true essence. Yet when we live with a sense of gratitude, and take responsibility for how our lives play out, then we reap the wonderful rewards of purposeful living. We have faith and trust in ourselves, we feel inspired and energetic, we have a sense of inner peace, and we have direction in our lives. We are more patient and forgiving, and we choose to treat our bodies with respect. Aren’t these some of the key motivational ingredients to the long-term success of a health and fitness program? Here are some examples of how motivation changes when perspective shifts:
I need to lose weight to be fulfilled and happy.
I am losing weight because I am happy and grateful for my life, today.
I want to look a certain way on the outside to make me feel better on the inside.
My body is a physical expression of how I feel inside—free, healthy, active, light and empowered.
This shift in awareness makes all the difference in how we fulfill our desires. We are creating flow into our lives. We are finally tapping into our true essence.
Remembering “Who You Are” Is the Most Important Weight-Loss Exercise You Will Do
Re-connecting with the things that are important to you in your life and identifying what brings you joy, peace, excitement, and love is the first step to getting back to your-true essence. Think about how great it feels to be inspired—naturally aligned with your purpose and focusing positive energy towards your wellbeing? When your daily reality reflects your inner truth there is no struggle to stay motivated. You are in sync with yourself, free to experience the effortlessness of intrinsic motivation—the source of motivation that is inherent in every one of us.
Like many of us, Renata had continually skipped this crucial first step of looking inward, focusing solely on the physical, external factors regarding weight loss. Calories in, calories out. The right diet. The frequency and intensity of exercise. The attempt at every new fit- ness or diet trend in the hopes of finding tricks to keep her will power strong. Yet time and again she always dropped out. Why? Because she was giving herself away. Diets became punishing. Exercise became a chore. Feelings of failure overpowered her goals and ultimately, trying to lose weight became a great source of pain. She felt she was losing herself.
I did not give Renata a magic cure. She did not wake up the next day and pull on a pair of jeans from her high- school days. Instead, she left with something real. One stride in the right direction, Renata took responsibility for how her life had been unfolding and committed to herself, to get back to her true essence.
Throughout our following sessions, we continued to work on both the mental and physical habits that, for the last twenty-two years, had left Renata feeling totally disconnected from her body. I merely asked the questions; it-was Renata who searched for the right information. Together we combined these ingredients to create a daily recipe for her success. As Renata began to connect with this internal source of inspiration, she was no longer waiting for the scale to dictate when it was okay to feel good. Feeling gratitude for her life, Renata approached each day with a sense of responsibility toward herself and her life. Her only daily job was to remain committed to nurturing herself in body, mind and spirit. By follow- ing her own individual recipe, Renata remained intrinsically motivated to honor her weight loss goals. Soon, the issues that blocked her from remaining motivated became impotent. For the first time, Renata’s weight loss became both an external and internal expression of who she was. The struggle was gone and Renata was back.
The weight struggle is very real when we praise the scale as our personal deity, yet scales merely measure objects, not human worth. Scales cannot measure excitement, freedom, or the beauty of smiling eyes. We are in control of our happiness. The scale cannot weigh our spirit, it is immeasurable. When we find this connection within, the struggle will cease.