When we decide to lose weight and be healthy, we hope we will now become a “better” person; a new person. One who doesn’t cave to temptations. One who isn’t lazy. One who makes edifying choices. One who follows through on commitments.
While we may be able to achieve much growth in these areas, we remain perfectly fallible in our humanity. All will continue have have moments of weakness. All will make ill-advised choices. Trying to achieve a perfectly obedient personality is not the avenue to take. It only leads to frustration, failure, and disgust with ourselves.
What I think actually can happen is that we get better at working with our complicated, human selves. Namely, we can adopt systems and pick up tools that buttress our fallible; build scaffolding around us to prop up what is vulnerable.
For instance, we…
Such systems are always personalized and born from an honest and compassionate examination of our common pitfalls.
We don’t necessarily change our lives by first changing our inherent and ingrained personhood so much as change our environments to protect us from our inflamed desires. With that protection in place, we can begin experience serenity and some much needed separation from our more sabotaging behaviors.
A fundamental part of successful weight loss, being healthy, and sustaining a healthy body weight is creating the right environment. Context is everything. Statistics show that those trying to quit smoking are more likely to have success if they surround themselves with non-smokers.
So, let’s look at all the layers that make up our environment; the concentric layers that reach from the internal experience to external circumstances.
Let’s take a closer look at our home setting. Are there any foods in our fridge, cupboards, and pantry that aren’t conducive to our new healthy eating goals? Sweets, flour products, sugar-laden beverages, or processed foods? Can we get rid of them? Do you have family members or roommates that eat food that tempt you? Perhaps they would agree to store their food in a place where you won’t readily see it while preparing your meals. “Out of sight, out of mind,” as they say.
Now, let’s look at your broader footprint. Are there stores you regularly visit that weaken your resolve? For instance, do you visit your favorite bakery for a second cup of morning coffee where tempting baked goods abound? Perhaps, you can avoid that bakery and bring a cup from home. Similarly, do you go to the same sandwich shop for lunch every day? Can you shift your daily routine to include making your own whole food lunch to go?
And lastly, how is your own mental health and sense of serenity? However you might answer that question, consider a daily mediation or prayer practice for any amount of time. Even five minutes and working up to thirty minutes daily can root you in a state of focus, purposefulness, and serenity; all essential states of mind when endeavoring on the rocky road of a health journey.
Are you anything like me and struggle with food cravings? They usually come to haunt me after dinner. I will have just eaten a full and healthy dinner when a gnawing desire for peanut butter overwhelms me. I don’t know why. I’m not hungry, I just want it. The offending food can often be cookies, too! My only theory is that, perhaps, I want more of the feelings that eating food can provide. Fun, joy, relaxation, escape.
For many years I would do one of two things. Either fight or surrender. And I would either lose or win; a binary approach that stymyied a deeper, more subtle understanding of what’s going on.
Until one day I realized that this habitual thought that comes into my head, ”I want more food,” is really just that…a thought that has become a habit. It’s not real, it’s not literal hunger. This awareness ushered in a chance to react in a different way and choose a new path. Of course it opened me up to some deeper questions like “what is the root of all this craving anyway.”
So next time a food craving floods your brain, take a moment and ask yourself, “Is this an actual need or just a perceived need?” Therein lies your tremendous beginning to freedom from the forces of internal craving.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Psalm 32: 3-4
After my mother passed away 10 years ago, I decided I ought to read the books she’d be ashamed to know that I hadn’t read yet. If I keep it up, I can live with dignity in the shadow of a mother’s legacy as warrior for the written word and university professor. On the list was, of course, the Bible and I’ve been at it for a few years now. Just finished the New Testament and in the middle of Psalms. A mere 920 pages left to go.
U2’s Bono loves the Psalms and passages often become the cornerstone to his lyrics. Having read Psalms 1-31, I still hadn’t found my rock anthem. Though, when I got to Psalm 32, I came across a line that did speak to me. For context, it speaks of God’s ability to forgive our sins and protect us from troubles. In exchange for that grace, we are admonished to acknowledge our wrongdoings and not cover up our iniquities. Lastly, we are to trust that God will honor his promises if we stop hiding in our “silence” and come clean. The above quote is raw, immediate, corporeal.
For the first 40 years of my life, I was quite overweight. It was a lifetime of chronic shame, disgust, and frustration. Surely I tried gyms and brief diet regimens, but I never truly committed to healing with any legitimate plan or zeal.
Then one day I was shown a way to eat and live that actually did bring about REAL weight loss. I lost over 60 pounds in 6 months. It was a rigorous, yet extremely effective food plan that took out all sugar, flour, alcohol, and unlimited quantities. After staying devoted to that way of life for 18 months, I decided I could relax my behavior and reintroduce the items I had been avoiding. That was 7 years ago. I have since fallen into a routine of eating healthfully during the weekdays and allowing myself modest amounts of sugar, flour, and alcohol on the weekends. Nothing crazy, nothing out of control. And I exercised fiendishly 5-6 days a week.
From an outside perspective, one would say that I looked fine. Yet, during those 7 years I gained about 30 pounds back. Full of fret and concern, I tried to tell myself all sorts of stories to excuse the gain. “I am exercising so it must be muscle weight. Maybe a little extra weight was OK. Maybe no one notices. ‘Normal’ people eat far worse than I do and they look fine. Why can’t I? It’s the small trade off to enjoying sweets and alcohol.” Lots of internal chatter. As much as I tried to excuse it all away, though, I was very worried. The wolf of weight gain was chasing me through the woods and it took a toll on my mental health.
All the while, there was a voice in my head trying to whisper wisdom. Namely, to put down the sugar, flour and alcohol and reclaim my hard earned weight loss. Again and again I’d make the commitment to heed this voice and, yet, I could never follow through. The failure, the frustration, and the disappointment. Ugg. The mental strain weighed three times the actual weight. I knew I had to stop and truly listen, truly heed that calling. And I knew that voice to be the Divine. The gentle, encouraging, yet honest voice of God, the Divine.
It wasn’t until I read that line in Psalm 32 did I realize how hard I had tried to suppress the voice of wisdom speaking. In a sense, ”keeping my silence” and my mind and body literally groaned in response. Last November, I finally surrendered myself to this Divine calling and put down the offending foods once again. For how long? I don’t know. All I know is that the moment I truly listened, got honest with myself, and turned to real action, that wolf was decidedly off my trail. What a relief.
When the relief overcame me, I hadn’t even lost any weight. It was the relief that I was no longer at war with myself. My actions had become unified with my inner thoughts and desires once again. My spiritual, physical, and mental grounding was once again intact and living the solution.
Recently, a friend told me this story. He had gotten a call from a friend, but not one with whom he was particularly close. This friend confided that he had been drinking too much and was trying to get clean. He also relayed that he had had a dream that he was tempted to drink again and my friend’s wife appeared to him and declared that he didn’t need alcohol anymore. She even offered him a special medicinal tea to help him heal and to stay clean. He was so moved by the dream that he felt compelled to share; to have my friend witness what seemed like a turning point in his recovery.
I was so struck by the obvious notion that my friend’s wife had appeared to this man as an angel of healing. But it also occurred to me that she was only an aspect of himself that he had conjured in his sleep. That he was, in fact, his own angel, but only having taken my friend’s wife’s form.
So, why was the dream so impactful? This visitor had indeed inspired him in his effort, but had also provided a powerful sense that he was not alone with his troubles.
He was seemingly on his way to get clean on his own, but this visitation had offered him comfort and encouragement that he may not have been able to muster on his own in a conscious state. Additionally, this angel might be this man’s true essence emerging like an omniscient sage. And to further enhance the feeling of connection, he decided to share this experience with someone else. What a miraculous phenomenon? A remarkably powerful dream figure appears and offers companionship and guidance even if when that figure was imagined.
It makes one wonder about the piece of scripture in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.” He had conjured his own meeting of spiritual souls and such warmth permeated.
I am reminded, too, of an endearing scene in the final pages of the Harry Potter book series. (SPOILER ALERT: Skip this paragraph if you wish to read the books or watch the movies.) If you know this scene, let me continue! Harry has just been struck down by his nemesis, Voldemort; a blow that is suppose to kill Harry once and for all. Instead, Harry enters into this dream-like, limbo stage where he meets up with a ghost-like image of his mentor, Professor Dumbledore. By this time in the story, Dumbledore, himself, has been killed suddenly and prematurely. In this culminating conversation where he reconnects with his beloved mentor, Harry is able to resolve the central, unanswered questions of his life. One senses Harry’s profound relief having had this cathartic exchange with Dumbledore and finally asks:
“Professor? Is this all real? Or is it just happening inside my head?”
Professor Dumbledore replies, “Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry. Why should that mean that it's not real?”
I often suggest to my health coach clients that they imagine the voice in their heads that beckons them to follow their health journey to take the form of a benevolent and loving figure. One that selflessly has their deepest well-being in mind. Often these voices are judgmental or we chafe against them in rebellion. If allowed to remain nasty in nature, these voices can sabotage our good efforts. But if we can conjure goodness, why not use such powerful imagining to provide our own encouragement and companionship. We know we have it in us!
There is a pervasive idea in our culture - and I think we largely buy into it - that, in order to lose weight and be healthy, one needs to simply “take charge” and “get it done.” Be the opposite of lazy. If you want it, will it to happen. That message is evident in many popular nutrition and diet books. Just check out some of these tag lines.
“A Plan to Power Your Health”
“Optimize Your Health”
“Easy Plans to Beat Sugar”
It’s all so aggressive. Evokes images of the battlefield. Suggests that we need to assert ourselves in fighter mode.
Then they like to say how easy it is. Terms like “quick-fix,” “easy plans,” and “fast & easy” litter many of the covers.
And, lastly, it can all be done in 10 days. Or is it 7 days? Oh, wait, 21 days.
This tag has it all.
“A Powerful New Plan To Blast Fat And Reignite Your Energy in Just 21 Days.”
Frankly, this all makes me feel that I’m not doing enough, I’m not willful enough, not doing it fast enough, and that I am missing out on some secret, silver bullet.
It is very true that, in order to lose weight and be healthy, one has to assert themselves and actively participate in their own healing. There is no way around that. I’m sure many of these books offer legitimate paths towards good health. However, I don’t know if willful determination is really all we need. I think there is an approach that is more interesting and subtle. Namely that, in addition to determination, we could develop a quality of acceptance, resignation, and obedience, as well. We must employ the usefulness of both contrasting energies - assertiveness and obedience - as interdependent and inseparable. By “resignation,” I don’t mean to give up and accept defeat. Rather, I mean the acceptance of certain truths about our situation and doing something we may not want to do.
I know that “obedience” is not a popular idea. We all have complicated feelings about that. Memories of punitive, domineering authority figures pop up immediately. We prefer to be free, autonomous, and in charge of our own lives. Nevertheless, I observe in those who struggle with their weight that they struggle as much with being willing to let go of intrenched habits and allow themselves to be brought along on the unpredictable journey of change. This is where our “willfulness” can actually hinder us from allowing change to take place.
We are not so unfamiliar with being obedient creatures. For many efforts in life, we follow some kind of process to manifest change. If we make a meal, we follow a recipe. If we want a graduate degree, we take requisite classes. If we want to buy something at a store, we stand in line. All these actions require discipline, focus, and a willingness to follow a process. They may involve rules we impose on ourselves or rules we invite in from the external world. All aspects of resigning to the way things get done.
From a logical standpoint, we, first, accept that we have an issue to address. Secondly, we come upon a solution. Thirdly, we actively take up that solution. And, lastly, we obediently work our solution daily. In this flow, we see how elements of both acceptance and assertiveness are interwoven and benefit the same cause.
It is crucial to understand that, when resigning ourselves obediently to a process, we aren’t relinquishing our personal freedom. We actually do so in service of manifesting a more profound freedom. Accepting small sacrifices in exchange for a greater reward.
It’s OK, there’s really nothing to be afraid. When our hearts are fearlessly open and resigned to the full nature of our problem, we can assertively embrace a solution. Live in honesty, live in the solution, and move towards the light.
I have found in my own experience and with the clients I work with that it is all too easy to drift away from a daily, healthy eating routine. Since it can take a prolonged period of sustained effort to experience certain benefits of a healthy lifestyle, there are umpteen opportunities to lose one’s focus along the journey.
The story of Little Red Riding Hood comes to mind as she wanders through the forest to grandma’s house and gets deceived and sidetracked by the crafty wolf. We, too, have wolves in our forest that draw us off course. May it be unexpected invitations to eat out, parties, cravings, temptations, stress, time pressures, or exhaustion all weaken our resolve.
Our wily, impulsive minds can reason ourselves out of doing anything unpleasant and convince us to succumb to our desires. “I just exercised so it’s OK for me to eat dessert.” “I’ve been so good all week , I can take a break.” And, especially, when we are stressed, hungry, and tired with no plan, we often find ourselves in reactive mode; making snap food decisions without consideration.
A way to, perhaps, protect ourselves from the power of our whimsical, reactive mind is to develop what I like to describe as the deliberate mind. A state of mind that makes meal plans, finds recipes, and prepares grocery lists. It carves out time for shopping and food prep.
At the core of this plan-making is a loving impulse to do well for oneself. Our deliberate minds are considerate and reasonable. Unlike our reactive minds that can flare up in anger, frustration, and resentment. When we are angered, we often think, “I was wronged and I deserve a treat.” Our lives would do well to be guided by the nurturing voice of kindness and encouragement.
I like to think of the deliberate mind as an architect who draws up blueprints. Undoubtably, the architect’s motivation is to make beautiful structures that are safe, practical, and sound.
Once our deliberate mind has set a plan in place, we no longer have to worry about it. At that point, all we need to do is be the humble follower of our well-laid plan. Or, to extend the analogy of the architect, we become the contractor who follows the blueprints and builds the house.
In our role as humble follower, we no longer have to decide what we will eat. In the moment of coming home from work, a bit tired, a bit hungry, we don’t have to make decisions in this state of mild duress. Decisions have been made. We’ve defined our “work” and all we need to do is follow the plan.
In the story of Little Red, deception and fear are the star players. In contrast, the star players of the architect meets builder theme are harmony and accomplishment. Admittedly, it is about as entertaining as “Bob, The Builder,” but it is a story for the real world.
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