“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
There I was, reading yet another diet book.
It was the spring of 2013. I was routinely doing intense workouts in my living room at 5AM. Then I would go teach group fitness classes later in the day. By that point, I had tried all kinds of diets. In fact, I had lost count.
As I sat there in front of the latest book, looking for someone to finally give me the answer, the words began to blur.
I thought, “There has got to be more to it than this. There has got to be a way to feel good about my body that involves more than just how I exercise or what I put in my mouth.”
Boy, was I right.
Usually when we think of weight loss, we think of words like “diet,” “exercise,” “leafy greens,” or “high intensity interval training.”
Those words are great, but they imply that weight loss is from the outside-in. With obesity continuing to rise, that mindset doesn’t seem to be working.
What if we turned weight loss upside down and started healing ourselves on the inside?
Our body’s natural default setting is to be healthy.
If we take care of our emotional body, then our physical body will naturally begin to take care of itself.
Try using these five healing words.
…as in “I am enough.”
I realized I was always looking for something outside of myself (like a new diet or a different workout) to help me reach my goal. Somewhere along the line, I had bought into the story that “I’ll be happy when I lose five (or fifteen) pounds.”
But the message my soul heard was “I am not okay as I am.”
We all have some version of “I’m not enough” inside.
Some of us picked it up from society and the airbrushed image of the impossible ideal. Some of us learned it in a more acute way, in the form of a hurtful comment from a family member or friend.
I still remember when my (male) college soccer coach implied that I had gained weight when he said, “Gee Lizzie, those shorts look a little tighter than they used to.” Naturally, this was well within earshot of my teammates and friends.
When we constantly tell ourselves, “I’ll be happy when I lose fifteen pounds,” we put ourselves on the treadmill of striving to reach “enough.” The problem is that we never “arrive.”
Feeling “not enough” feels bad.
So we turn to food to help us feel better. However, the food we turn to ends up making us feel worse about ourselves than the negative feelings we were running from. It’s a downward spiral.
Here is a secret: There is no number on the scale that will make you enough.
Because enough is already inside of you. Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, you have the power to access “enough” right now.
You are a creation of the Universe. There is nothing you can do to make you wrong or right in the eyes of the Universe, because you are already complete.
(PS: I have learned that feeling enough takes daily—sometimes moment by moment—personal reminders. It is a process. And it gets easier with practice. I promise.)
I don’t mean surrender to the cravings. I mean surrender to the feelings that create the cravings.
Instead of running from our feelings, what if we could sit with them for a minute? What would they tell us?
Last week I was driving to a coffee shop to do some writing. On my way, I found myself fantasizing about the pastries and sugary goodies that I normally pass over. When I got to the parking lot, I sat for a moment and checked in with my feelings. I realized I wasn’t hungry, so that wasn’t it.
It didn’t take long to recognize that I was ruminating in the background of my thoughts on a recent argument I’d had with a family member. My conscious mind said, “I should be over this by now.” But I wasn’t. So I took a moment to really sort through my feelings (anger, hurt, shame).
Miraculously, my sugar craving disappeared.
Maybe our intense desire for chocolate is the body’s way of expressing loneliness. Perhaps reaching for that glass of wine is a way to numb the anxiousness.
- Do those foods really satisfy the feelings that lie hidden beneath the craving?
- What really does satisfy those feelings?
In her book The Willpower Instinct, Dr. Kelly McGonigal states that the best activities for soothing feelings are meditating, praying, going for a walk, talking to a friend, journaling, and resting. In the car that day, I practiced “tapping,” or Emotional Freedom Technique, and it really helped.
Trusting our bodies can be a scary thing. We have spent so many years ignoring the messages our bodies send us that we really have no idea how to listen to them. We’ve all eaten our way right past the point of feeling full because our brain was still hungry.
We need a good body-mind translator.
I am constantly trying (and failing, and trying again) to tune into how my body is feeling rather than what my mind is saying. Do I really want to “finish my plate,” or am I actually already feeling a little full?
Just like learning to play the piano, or any other skill, this takes time and patient practice. I have found that often, my body is a lot smarter and intuitive than my brain.
How many times have I woken up the morning after a pizza binge and thought, “Why did I do that again?”
We beat ourselves up because we think it will motivate us to be better.
But it doesn’t work.
In fact, studies show that negative self-thoughts lead to apathy and depression, not motivation.
The key is to lighten up a bit. Instead of repeatedly saying awful things to myself, I have learned that a more successful path is to think, “Okay, the pizza wasn’t a great choice. But everyone slips up sometimes. How can I learn from it?”
One study found that dieters were less likely to binge when they practiced self-forgiveness after a diet slip.
We are all imperfect humans. Forgiving yourself is the antidote to self-sabotage.
No one’s body is perfect. Not mine, not yours.
On the other hand, every positive experience you have ever had on this Earth was brought to you, one way or another, by your body.
Here is a body appreciation exercise that I love:
Think of your five senses. A good way to remember them is there are three S’s and two T’s: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
Think of one good thing that you experienced today for each of your five senses.
- Sight: my daughter’s smile
- Sound: the wind through the trees
- Smell: coffee
- Taste: Oh, how I love breakfast!
- Touch: the softness of my pillow
There are lots of ways to be grateful for your body, even if it is not perfect.
In has been documented that people who practice gratitude every day sleep better and even exercise more!
What words help you to nurture and heal your emotional body?
About Lizzie Merritt
Lizzie Merritt, M.Ed. uses her experience as a former science teacher and a fitness professional to write about weight loss psychology and positive psychology on her blog www.lizziemerritt.com. She is the author of 7 Ways to Willpower (available on Amazon, or click here to get your FREE copy.)