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8 Insights into the Emotional Journey of Weight Loss

Weight loss journeys tend to be emotional endeavors. Even more than the physical barriers and logistical obstacles we deal with, our emotional patterns or reactions can be the hardest to overcome. I’ve seen this happen over and again, whether clients' emotions buoy them in tough times, slow down their journeys or completely sabotage them. Whatever the case, when I meet with a client to map out his/her weight loss program, we not only come up with new goals and behavior changes but also identify what “emotional homework” may need to happen on the backend. Below are 8 common insights my clients experience in their weight loss journeys and suggestions for steering these realizations toward further success. Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey or somewhere in the middle of it, each can help you reflect on your own emotional experiences and help guide you in times to come. 

You are NOT a math problem.  

There are so many dimensions to this one. First and foremost, you’re not your numbers--and your journey will be so much more than the digits as well. Beyond this key emotional realization, you’ll come to see how the insight also plays into the weight loss process itself. The fact is, our society has handed down the idea that we can control the amount of weight we lose each week simply by controlling the calories we eat as well as burn off. You may know people who consistently lost 1-2 pounds each week until they meet their goal. Once you’re on your own weight loss journey, however, you realize how much more complicated our metabolisms can be and how many other factors impact our ability to burn and lose fat. As much of a necessary reality check this insight offers, it may also be disappointing when you want the ability to control your success. Prepare yourself by not making an outcome goal each week (e.g. “I want to lose 2 pounds this week), and instead be tolerant and accepting of your body's process. There may be weeks when 2+ pounds fall off and other weeks when your weight doesn’t budge. The point is, stay consistent with your new, healthy behaviors that provide good signals to your metabolism. When your metabolism is optimally functioning, the weight will come off.

You may have some break-ups.  

When you start your weight loss journey, not everyone around you may be on board with your plan or even like the idea of you becoming healthier. This creates additional stress on you (which can get in the way of your weight loss) but may also help you become more aware of who your true friends are and who has the best intentions for you. Perhaps the coworker you usually eat lunch with finds you no longer fun to be around, or your significant other decides he/she just isn’t ready to embrace the new lifestyle you are embarking on. Whatever the case, accept that not every relationship will stay the same. Now is the time to seek the right support--whether you enlist a formal support group, find a fitness buddy, use online forums or work with a personal coach 

You feel like the “fat person” at the gym

When I was working inside the Life Time Fitness clubs, there were multiple times when a new client might no-show or call me from the parking lot because he/she was too scared to come inside. Gyms can seem very scary when we’re beginners. Whether we think that everyone is going to be looking at us or believe that only “fit” people (i.e. already in shape) are meant to be there, we buy into a defeating distortion. The reality is that all ages, shapes and sizes exercise in the club every day. In the beginning of your journey, the distorted belief may seem very hard to get past, even if you’ve already committed to a workout regimen and are paying the monthly fee to be there! To help get over the self-consciousness, hire a fitness professional or enlist a workout buddy to be there with you at the gym. Fitness professionals can be great because they can teach you skills and tips for different equipment throughout the gym, which means you’ll be more comfortable being there. A workout buddy can give you a sense of belonging and help keep you distracted from thinking everyone is staring at you. With either one, remind yourself continually that everyone at the gym is there to improve their health and self image--not to be looking at and judging you.

Even a trip to the grocery store can feel overwhelming at times.  

Changing the food you bring into your home can be a huge task to undertake. The average grocery store alone has more than 45,000 food items in it! Often enough, we get super pumped about making diet changes but once we get to the store leave feeling deflated. I’ve had clients go in confidently with a list and fill a cart full of great stuff only to feel that everyone was looking inside their carts and judging how the food didn’t match the appearance of the person pushing it. Just like inside a fitness center, it might take some time for you to realize people aren’t judging your cart. Having a buddy to shop with or participating in a grocery store tour might help you gain confidence inside the store. I often take my one-on-one clients to the store with me, knowing it can be an overwhelming environment, and help them choose the right foods for their carts along with recipes to test out for the week.  

You realize you’ve stopped taking care of yourself.  

Once we’re in a body state that we dislike or feel unattractive with, we often get lazy or let ourselves go in other self-care activities. I’ve had woman say they stopped shaving their legs because they would never want to wear shorts or skirts in fear of how “big” their legs appeared, while I’ve had men speak of not taking the time to make themselves presentable at work, whether it be not shaving facial or body hair, wearing wrinkled clothing, etc. Whatever the case, it may seem superficial, but self-care habits make you feel good and boost your confidence. As actions, they affirm that you're worth the time and energy investment. So, when you opt out of these self-care routines, you’re often left feeling worse about yourself and your appearance. I always have my clients make a list of self-care tasks to do for themselves each day or each week. Whether it be giving themselves a manicure, shaving or taking the time to pick out and iron a great outfit for work, prioritizing your physical self and appearance can help build your self esteem throughout your weight loss journey and remind you that you’re worth it!

You have the ability to self-sabotage out of guilt.  

I’ll never forget a particular client I had many years ago. On paper, she had it all: great career, great husband and great children, beautiful looks and fantastic personality. When it came to her weight loss goal, however, we’d often find that she would self-sabotage herself (e.g. eating poorly, purposely not working out, etc.) because she was scared to lose weight and have it all. This may seem ridiculous to some people, but it’s a reality I’ve seen many clients face. They feel unworthy of being a healthy person. The thought of losing weight and being suddenly over-exposed can lead them down a spiral of guilt in which they’re spurred to sabotage their own progress. Thoughts like “what if I don’t look good as a thinner person?” or “what if people don’t like me that way?” often get into their heads. As with this particular client, I often try to help identify the roots of the emotional issue at play and to find the triggers that propel the sabotaging behaviors. Personal journaling can be a great tool to record those self-doubts or other more complicated realizations in the journey.

You realize that you’ve taught poor habits to someone else.  

This insight has been the cause of many tears inside my office while coaching clients. Usually at the beginning of the journey, goals and behaviors we discuss are solely about them. Along the journey, however, they tend to realize what an impact their unhealthy behaviors have had on their kids and families. As parents, we can have a dramatic impact on the health and behaviors of our children. However, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve made some mistakes. Parents also tend to feel selfish when they make “me” time a priority at the gym! The fact is, we’re prone to guilt. Trust that your new habits will translate and influence your kids. Involve your children in as many new healthy behaviors as possible, whether it be a family walk, bike ride or grocery shopping. Understand that it might take several practices before they latch on and follow your lead, but the change will come.

How you see yourself may take time to catch up with how your body changes.  

This is a big one for a lot of my clients. Somewhere along the line, they’ve definitively identified themselves with the label “heavy person.” Even after they’ve reached their full body transformation, they still continue to have a distorted view of themselves. I’ve had clients continue to wear their old wardrobes or shop for clothing sizes too large for them, while others continue to avoid the mirror worried that they won’t like the image staring back at them. Be prepared that it might take some time for your brain to catch up to your new physique. In fact, it may even take some emotional work to get past your previous self-image. If negative self-talk persists, I usually coach my clients to journal and challenge those negative thoughts in their entries. When it’s time for new clothes, I encourage my clients to get a professional fitting. This not only provides you with an accurate size update but can also help accelerate your identification with the new amazing image in the mirror!

Thanks for reading, everyone. How many of these insights do you identify with on our journey? Are there ones you’d add to the list based on your experience?

Written by Anika DeCoster – Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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