Set Your Mind on Health

It is important we shift our mindset about weight loss. It is tempting to look at weight loss as a simple issue about losing a certain number of pounds, but to have permanent success we must break that into little bits.

Contrary to most “diet gurus” I don’t recommend setting goals in terms of pounds lost in a particular period of time. I believe we tend to be overly optimistic about our willingness to change our behaviors, we tend to overlook what our real challenges are, and these goals generally lead to either unhealthy and temporary changes or feelings of frustration and failure—none of which will help us in our quest for lifetime of health.

Instead of focusing on the number of pounds as our overall goal, we’ll start with one that is even bigger: improving our health. The first step then is to determine what improved health means to you. By determining what that means then you will know how you will measure your success. By making it about “health” versus “pounds lost” you are shifting your thinking so you will be able to celebrate even if the numbers on the scale don’t change.

Why is this important?

Have you ever been on a diet when you were really careful about what you ate and how much you exercised but didn’t see results on the scale? Maybe it didn’t happen right away, but at some point it happens for just about everyone. It is the dreaded plateau that we all know, dread and loathe.

Ironically, sometimes when we are making changes in our routine we are making forward progress in our weight loss journey but it doesn’t quite yet show up on the scale. If we make the scale the only measurement of our success then we open ourselves up to feeling bad, beating ourselves up if we weren’t “perfect,” doubting our program and ourselves. Often that leads us to “going off the wagon”…after all, we think, if I’m not losing weight while I am depriving myself then why bother to try at all?

There were countless times that I made this mistake and quit trying to be healthy. Like a lot of people, I had bought into the idea that I could only lose weight by dieting and that when I didn’t lose weight then somehow I was a failure.

One of the most important changes in our thinking that we can make is to separate our feelings about ourselves from our feelings about any specific action, inaction or result. We must learn to distinguish between our inherent value, worthiness and good as human beings and the success or failure of our performance on a given task.

Think about a child learning to walk. Does the child stop trying because she falls? Heck no. She is determined to walk, she sees everyone around her walking so it doesn’t enter her mind that she cannot walk, she has figured out that it is important to her to learn to walk and therefore she just keeps trying until she has success. The success doesn’t happen all at once, but it does happen.

Think about all the adults watching her. Do we chastise the child or think she is failure because she falls down? Of course not. We know that falling is part of learning to walk and by falling she learns lots of skills that she will use the rest of her life. We support her, tell her it is okay, we encourage her to get up and try, we celebrate every wavering step

This is how we deserve to approach our health and weight loss goals. We may falter now and again, but we must be determined to succeed; we must KNOW that others can be healthy and slender so therefore so can we. And we must support ourselves and each other, and celebrate each step along the path to success.

The fabulous opera singer Beverly Sills once said, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” So we WILL try…because there is no hope to reach our goal if we do not. Will we fail? Only if give up on ourselves and quit because we have hit a bobble in our path!

So what does improved health mean to you? Take out a piece of paper and write it down. No improvement is too little to start with. Start wherever YOU are and write down what YOU view as an improvement. Does it mean that you can walk around the block? Or run a 5k? Does it mean that your blood pressure is under control? Or your blood sugar levels? Does it mean having energy throughout the day? Does it mean feeling more calm or even emotionally? Does it mean feeling less bloated?

Now that you have an idea of what improved health means for you, you can start taking the steps to achieve it. Keep in mind that it will be a series of steps, just like that child learning to walk. Celebrate all along the journey, not just when you reach the goal.

Once the child learns to walk, she then learns to run, skip, hop, ride a bike and all sorts of other cool things. She doesn’t stop walking. She doesn’t think that by learning to run she is dismissing the accomplishment of learning to walk. She just knows that she has more to learn.

Then once you reach that goal you can see how you can take those skills and improve your health even more. Just like the little girl who is know sailing down the street on her bicycle, you have a lifetime of fun and health ahead of you, one skill building on another, as long as you keep on pedaling!

Our bodies are amazing systems that allow us to do some incredible things, yet how often do we actually recognize all that they do for us? Instead, we have become well versed at seeing only our “short comings” when it comes to our bodies—especially if we are unhappy with our weight or have been struggling with diets over the years.

Let us this year come to peace with our bodies…if we can do this, and focusing on our health rather than pounds lost is a start, then we will be happier and healthier…and we will also become thinner if we need to drop a few! Here are 3 steps to start to change your body image. These steps are not to be rushed. Some people will struggle with Step 1 and then fly through Steps 2 and 3. Other people will be okay with Step 1 but not be able to get through Step 2 for a long time. This isn’t a race. You don’t have to get through all the steps this month. Take it where you are and just keep practicing.

Step 1 is Awareness.

We must learn to look at our bodies and really see them. Have you ever walked by a store window and seen your reflection and been startled? Or have you seen a photo of yourself and not recognized who that person was? In order to make a change to our body we first must recognize where we are. When I weighed over 300 pounds I did not really know how big I was. I avoided looking in the mirror or having my picture taken, so I didn’t have a mental picture of what my real size was. Because I didn’t recognize how large I was, I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was going or how important it was for me to get there.

On the other hand, at one point in my life in college I was actually only 115 pounds. I didn’t have an accurate mental picture of myself then either. I thought I was still fat and could not see the real body in the mirror.

This is the same condition, just the opposite end of the spectrum. In order to be healthy, we must learn to actually see our body as it truly is.

Step 2 is Acceptance.

Once we can see our bodies we need to let go of all the judgments about it. Really take time this month to look at your body. Try to see yourself as others see you. Most us are not nearly as hard on others as we are on ourselves, so pretend you are looking at someone else—someone you love. Can you notice that you may be overweight without being hard on yourself about it?

Can you objectively look at your body and see the overall shape you have? Do you have long arms and legs with more weight around your waist? Do you have a more delicate, long neck and chest with larger hips and thighs? People come in a variety of shapes and it is good to know what your basic shape is. You can get contacts to change your eye color and straighten or curl your hair if you don’t like what you were born with, but you can’t change your body shape. Our variety is what makes it interesting, so be aware of your shape and see if you can accept that, because after all, you can make it the healthiest version of that shape, but if you are pear-shaped you won’t be acquiring a tiny butt and if you are an apple you won’t ever have a tiny waist.

Step 3 is Affirming.

Once you can look at your body and not judge it, it is time to say something positive about your body. Don’t try to jump to “I love my body as it is.” That’s a great affirmation, but it is something to work up to…if you start there, you mind won’t believe it. Let’s try to get on the target first, we can get to the bullseye later with more practice!

Can you confidently say “I have a beautiful long neck,” or “I have strong legs,” or “I have bright eyes and a friendly smile?” See if there is something about your body that you can affirm. Practice that affirmation in front of the mirror as many times a day as you can. When you can say it easily, then try on another positive affirmation about your body.

If you are struggling with being able to say anything positive about your body at all try this:

“I am open to the possibility that there is something good, positive and acceptable about my body.”

Affirm it and then relax and be open to the idea that someday you will learn some positive aspect about your body—that you don’t have to know it now. No pressure.

No matter what affirmation you choose, practice it repeatedly in front of the mirror. The goal is to say it while looking yourself in the eye and to believe it! As you believe it, add other affirmations, but don’t add a bunch all at once. Take small steps. One or two positive affirmations said 25 times a day is much better than 25 affirmations said once a day.

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