I started a new session of my 7-week “Get Real” program last night. Week 1 focuses on attitudes and beliefs about eating and body image. We talked about weight loss beliefs (often confusing) as well as how important it is to notice judgmental thoughts many of us hold about our bodies and why this makes progress difficult.
I explained how important it is to look at the nasty things we say to ourselves – those internal (or external) remarks like “I’m so fat” or “I have no will power” that flow effortlessly through many people heads on a regular basis. These comments are judgments that sentence people to more of the same by strengthening neural pathways that create frustration and kill motivation.
Then the comment/question came, the one that I continued to think about long after class ended. The lone man in the group noted “But if I felt great about how I look now, I wouldn’t be here in this group, right?”
Ahh, how I love having a man in the bunch! He is right of course, at least in part. It definitely takes some discomfort to provide motivation for change. Complete comfort provides no motivation.
I gave him my standard answer, explaining that we just want to take a look without judgment at those thoughts, instead of letting them run wild without supervision, affecting our feelings and actions without any understanding of why that happens.
After more thought, I believe I have a better understanding of the difference between helpful, supportive discomfort as a call to action and unproductive emotional discomfort that simply paralyzes forward movement. Because women seem to have more emotional issues with their bodies than men do, I now see why our male group participant may have thought I was overcomplicating what seemed obvious to him: Feel uncomfortable with your body, figure out how to change it, do it, DONE – simple!
I hope this clears it up for everyone:
Being uncomfortable drives change, but when that discomfort is largely emotional and shame-based, feeling positive and hopeful enough to accomplish goals is difficult. In general, I think men have an easier time with this in relation to their appearance.
It can feel as if a lower weight will solve everything, but it will not take away emotional pain based on judgments about character, desirability, or worthiness. There is a difference between a thought that says “I am larger than I would like to be” and “I look like a beached whale.” The first is an observation that has little to no emotion. The second is emotionally charged with judgment. A plan developed out of shameful feelings often becomes anything to “get me out of this body as quickly as possible,” usually the latest extreme diet plan that promises your prayers will be answered.
The pathway to removing emotional discomfort involves more than making the scale go down. Without any weight loss at all, it is possible to gain a better body image by focusing on changing thoughts and feelings about it.
Be here now in the body you have today. You don’t have to love it to change it, but you will have better results if you are more aware of your thoughts. Observe the negativity and the emotions it evokes. Notice any judgments (non-facts like “I look like a beached whale”), and then bring the focus back to the body you have today (“just the facts, Ma’am”): how it feels to move, the color of your hair, maybe even a particular body part you really like. Imagine that . . . looking at a part of you and thinking “Wow, now that’s hot stuff!”