Typically, when we gain weight, we berate ourselves for our lack of discipline. After all, isn’t losing weight simply a matter of willpower? We know what we need to do – eat healthy food, exercise, and lower our stress levels – but we fail on the implementation.
Changing our negative patterns of self-care – the psychological root of much of our weight gain and overeating – is more than just a matter of grit, will and determination. In fact, our attempts to change will fail if we don’t have the proper skill set to nurture ourselves. If we’re not comforting and soothing ourselves in positive ways, we’ll soothe and comfort ourselves with food.
It’s discouraging to regain lost weight. However, I see things differently. While regaining lost weight is frustrating, it’s not the end of the world. Here’s why: this process helps you reach your goals. Gaining weight in the short term can help you maintain your weight loss in the long term. That’s because change is a
process; a circle, not a line. You cycle through change, and the back and forth process is exactly how you learn. When you have enough momentum and skills to change your eating habits permanently, you will. Likewise, when you have the skills to nourish your body without food, you’ll maintain the weight loss.
So what do you do in the meantime? Here are 4 suggestions:
1. Uproot your unrealistic expectations. We all want instant solutions to our problems. However, changing longstanding eating behaviors takes time. If you spent years using food for comfort, as I did, it will take you more than 2 weeks to heal your habit! Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight. So give yourself adequate time for changes to manifest. This will ease your frustration, which is often due to the fact that change is taking longer than we’d like it to.
2. Give yourself permission to mess up. Our slips don’t cause much pain in themselves. Yes, while eating an entire cake may give you a stomachache, the real pain is in your spirit: the self-loathing, shame and guilt you feel for doing something you thought you’d “fixed.” You can’t change the past or undue your mistakes. But you can make it easier for yourself in the future by refusing to compound the problem with shame, guilt, and self-loathing. You messed up. Period. Allow yourself to be angry, frustrated, sad, regretful, and irritated. Feel your feelings by writing about them, sharing them with a trusted friend, and feeling them course through your body. And then move on. This will bolster your courage for the next time, so you can choose differently. Shame, by contrast, feeds on itself, and tends to increase the very self-destructive behaviors that we are trying to transform.
3. View this as an opportunity to improve your self-care skills. A setback is a signal, a red flag that something needs fixing or attention. It’s a feedback loop, simple communication from our bodies to our minds. A relapse or weight gain only becomes “bad” when we choose to label it as so – then it becomes punishment. View your relapses as opportunities, not stumbling blocks. On a basic level, this means asking yourself 2 questions: What did I learn?, and What do I need? For example, if you gained 10 pounds over the past month because you were taking on too many projects at work, leading to exhaustion, insomnia, and stress eating, use this information to tweak your self-care program.
4. Forgive yourself. As Maya Angelou says, “as we know better, we do better.” If we had the skills to care for ourselves without turning to food, sugar or people pleasing, we would. Give yourself a break from your internal critic, and reassure yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Do you have a nurturing inner voice, a soothing voice you use to console yourself when you’re feeling regretful? If not, then create one. I use my best friend’s voice and my grandma’s voice to counter my internal harpie when she berates and criticizes me. I soothe myself as I would a small child, “I know you wish you hadn’t done that. But you’re going to be okay. It’s not the end of the world.” Even though we’re adults, we still need parents: but this time, the parent resides inside ourselves. This is the true nature of self-care, parenting ourselves through our challenges, setbacks, and pit stops so that we can achieve our highest potential.