How Do You Measure Success?

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.

Why Must Fat Shaming Stop?

“A final message Ellen wanted to share was about the fat shaming she endured from the medical profession.  Over the past few years of feeling unwell she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss.  Ellen’s dying wish was that women of size make her death matter by advocating strongly for their health and not accepting that fat is the only relevant health issue.”

This is an excerpt from the obituary of Ellen Bennett who died on May 11th this year, aged 64.  Shortly before, Ellen had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and was given just a few days to live.  According to her family, she was “an unforgettable character” who enjoyed careers in politics, film and TV.

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How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

Does it sometimes feel as though your thoughts are like a thousand out-of-control driverless express trains simultaneously zipping through a labyrinth of tiny tunnels in your mind?

If so, you’re not alone.

People whose eating is emotion-driven often describe themselves as “overthinkers” – they’re so consumed by their thoughts that eating is the only way they find respite from the turmoil in their heads (that and going to sleep).

But how do you start making sense of your thoughts when they’re whizzing by so fast you can’t grab hold of any of them?  Where do you even begin?

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What Did You Learn About Food Growing Up?

Lunchtime had ended at my primary school.  I sat alone in the dining hall, apart from two teachers who stood over me.  They stared resolutely at me, while I stared forlornly at a plate of cold cottage pie.  Everyone else had gone out to play and I could hear the familiar noises of the playground in the distance.

I was told I couldn’t leave until I’d finished my lunch.

At 10 years old, I truly loathed cottage pie.  It was My Completely and Utterly Absolutely Worst Food in the World Ever, apart from my Mum’s curried egg (sorry, Mum).

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Why Do We Need To Let Other People Own Their Feelings?

You’re about to send an email and you’re re-reading it for the tenth time to make absolutely sure there’s nothing in it that could be misconstrued and cause offence.   Then you check it another ten times after you’ve sent it – just in case…

You bump into a friend in the street.  As you walk away, you replay the conversation over and over in your head trying to work out if you said anything “wrong”.  You’re still rerunning the conversation in your head as you lie in bed that night…

A work colleague seems a bit off with you.  You instantly rack your brain to recall your most recent interactions with them.  You spend the day desperately trying to work out what you did to upset them so you can apologise and make things right…

Sound familiar?

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What’s The First Thing You Say to Yourself in the Morning?

The alarm clock goes off.

Your eyes flutter open.

Still drowsy from sleep, you turn over and glance up to see someone who looks remarkably like Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” standing over your bed.

He stares down at you, face like stone, eyes cold and unblinking, as he barks:

“RISE AND SHINE, SCUMBAG! TODAY YOU WILL EAT HEALTHY FOOD AND NOTHING BUT HEALTHY FOOD!  YOU WILL EXERCISE FOR PRECISELY ONE HOUR – I DO NOT GIVE A HOOT ABOUT YOUR SO-CALLED TENDINITIS!  YOU WILL COMPLETE EVERYTHING ON YOUR “TO DO” LIST, INCLUDING TAKING YOUR CAT, KATY PURRY, TO THE VET BECAUSE SHE’S TWO MONTHS OVERDUE FOR HER WORM TREATMENT!  I DO NOT CARE IF YOU DID NOT SLEEP WELL OR THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE A CASE OF THE SNIFFLES, THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES AND NO COMPLAINING!  YOU WILL COMPLY WITH THESE ORDERS BECAUSE YOUR ASS IS MINE!”

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How Do You Handle Setbacks?

Photo by RoadTrafficSigns.com

“It was going really well and now it’s not and I’m just so annoyed and angry with myself.”

This is something I hear a lot.

I understand.  You’ve been doing really well listening to your body about when you’re hungry, what you feel like eating and when you’ve had enough.  You’ve been leaving food on your plate (something you thought you’d never do), you’ve turned down ice-cream because you didn’t feel like it (unheard of) and you ate just one brownie rather than devouring the whole batch (say whaaat?!).

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What Are You Waiting For?

We can spend so much of our lives waiting.

Waiting for something to happen.
Waiting for things to get better.
Waiting for the ideal moment.

I know I did (and sometimes still do).

There was an awful lot of time between acknowledging to myself that I had an overeating problem and healing my relationship with food.

Most of that time I spent waiting.

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How Can Fear Make Us Fat?

Let’s say you’ve managed to normalise your relationship with food.

You’ve been eating in tune with your body for a while – you’re eating when you’re hungry, you’re eating exactly what you feel like, and you’re stopping when you’re satisfied. In addition, you’re getting better at acknowledging your feelings and you’re finding ways to meet your emotional needs directly. Now that you’re no longer overeating, you’re really beginning to work with your metabolism and, whaddaya know, you’re starting to lose weight.

All good.

Or is it?

Continue reading “How Can Fear Make Us Fat?”