Dressed to kill, you appear in the doorway to the party. There’s an immediate hush among the assembled guests. Maybe a few gasps. You stride confidently across the room to the bar. Before you utter a word, the bartender hands you a glass of champagne with an admiring smile.
You turn to find the other guests clamouring around you. “You look incredible”, they gush. “You’ve lost so much weight!”. “How did you do it?”.
“Just sheer willpower and utter fabulousness”, you smirk triumphantly. You take a sip of champagne and think: “At last, I’ve arrived”.
For many people who struggle with emotion-driven overeating and excess weight, this – or something like it – is what success looks like. This is the dramatic Weight-loss Fantasy, the Transformation Moment, the Big Reveal. You have conquered your demons, mastered self-control and earned your one-way golden ticket to Acceptanceville.
It’s a fantasy you can spend your entire life chasing.
We often believe that change happens in one great, big “By Jove, I’ve got it!” instant when everything magically falls into place and suddenly – Ta-Dah! – you’re the person you always thought you should be.
It’s not surprising. Images of dramatic “body transformations” are projected in the media on a daily basis – sensational “success” stories of how everything “just clicked one day” and an “unhappy overweight person” has transformed into a “thin happy person” whose life is now perfect. We’re sold the idea that change should be quick, dramatic and leave others in awe.
No wonder I’m asked so often by new clients if I have a “magic wand” or a “magic pill” to deal with their issues. I don’t – just so you know.
The reality is that change doesn’t happen like that. Generally, it’s a series of small adjustments in several different areas that eventually amount to something really significant. Adjustments not only in your eating behaviour, but also in how you relate to yourself, other people and to the world at large.
I can feel your sense of disappointment. Not very newsworthy, is it? “Where’s my Big Moment?” I hear you cry.
But the Big Moment comes at a very high price. In order to achieve it, you have to be strict and rigid with your eating. You probably have to punish yourself at the gym. And even if you do achieve it, it may only be fleeting. No sooner have you lost the weight then you’re putting it back on again. And after years of trying and failing at the Big Moment, there may well be a part of you saying “I’m just not putting myself through this hell anymore”.
Another problem is that anything less than Big Moment simply isn’t noteworthy. In your desperate pursuit of the success fantasy, you ignore all the small, important successes you’re achieving. The times you left food on your plate because you stopped eating when you were satisfied. The occasions when you supported yourself emotionally rather than beat yourself up. The instances you felt like throwing in the towel but kept going.
In despair, you ask “When will life get better?”. But life may well be getting better – it’s just that you’re not noticing it.
So make a point of noticing.
Celebrate your successes.
All of them.
In any way that speaks to you.
You could write them down in a notebook, stick them up on Post-It Notes or start a Success Jar – do whatever feels right for you (suggestions are very welcome).
Better self-esteem and greater confidence aren’t achieved with the Big Transformation but with a steady improvement in how you feel about yourself. Making those small but important changes that will have a lasting impact on your life.
So, to truly measure success, I would offer the following suggestions:
- Surrender your attachment to the Transformation Fantasy and embrace the reality of change. You wouldn’t sign up to a 3-year university degree course and expect to understand everything and pass the final exams after 6 months. Give yourself time to make sense of what’s going on with you and allow space for change to occur.
- Wholeheartedly celebrate your successes, however small you might consider them – they’re all significant milestones in the process of recovery. Build a realistic picture of your achievements and an honest assessment of how far you’ve come. You’re not saying “I’m better than anyone else”. You’re saying “I deserve to take note of my successes because I’m as good as anyone else”.
- Forget about impressing other people and invest in yourself because, believe me, you’re a worthy investment. The Transformation Fantasy is all about attempting to make yourself acceptable to others – but change is best motivated by an internal desire to feel better, for yourself.
If you can start to care about yourself after a lifetime of neglect; if you can begin to heal your relationship with food following years of dysfunction; if you can allow yourself to articulate and accept your feelings; if you can learn to value and appreciate a body you’ve only ever despised; if you can focus on your character in a world that says appearance is all that matters; if you can find the courage to discover who you really are…
…for me, that’s how you measure success.