With all the self help books you have read, exercise classes you have taken, TV shows you have watched, specialists you have seen, information you have gathered, and diets that you have been on, why do you still find yourself eating ice cream daily for comfort, telling yourself you will join the gym tomorrow, or taking yet another diet pill, hoping this will be the magic drug that will work?
What exactly is or was your goal? To get skinny or to be healthy?
Even if you managed to follow your regimen for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, were you able to stick to it, especially when your life got choppy and stressful, time got too short, or better yet, the number on the scale went up instead of down? What habits did you then resort to?
Imagine: Your are on a roll, feeling good, losing weight and then….the demands at work increase and you have to juggle these demands with your family’s needs, the payment of your bills, your ailing parents, your car that keeps breaking down, and the constant chatter in your head that says you need to be thinner or have fewer wrinkles to be happy.
As the stress builds up, you start losing sleep, cut out your daily exercise routine, grab food on the run, and when you see that box of donuts in the office kitchen, you think, “I deserve something sweet!” and you eat two. Yum. You feel happy for a nanosecond but this is soon followed by feelings of guilt and shame. Then you say to yourself ,”What the heck! I screwed up anyway! I might as well eat whatever I want.” You do eat everything in sight, then decide to punish yourself by getting on the scale the next day. Shocker! The scale is up 5 pounds. You feel defeated and the “What the heck!” effect kicks in again.
How many times have you fallen into this cycle, falling into unhealthy habits no matter how many self-help books or remedies your try?
You see, habits that have helped you cope in the past are not so easy to get rid of, especially when stress builds up. Habits form because at some point in your life you needed them to feel better. Perhaps, for instance, your parents fought a lot and you often found yourself feeling anxious. The only time you felt calm was at the dinner table, especially when your mom fed you pasta. Now your “go to” food when you are stressed is pasta. The problem is that now pasta only helps you feel better temporarily before you soon feel guilty for eating too much, and feeling full, fat or achy. In other words, the habit of eating pasta helped you adapt to an unpleasant childhood, but it is not a healthy choice. We call this “maladaptive” coping as opposed to adaptive coping, which involves making healthy choices.
The main problem is that when you are under a lot of stress, especially when this stress includes negative, self-deprecating thoughts, your mind will be triggered to motivate you to seek comfort. If you do not have healthy habits already built in–ways of nurturing yourself that support you rather than hurt you–your mind will guide you to employ behaviors or habits that will help you feel better temporarily, but really hurt you and your health in the long run.
Developing new and healthy habits is a process that does not happen over night, but you can start the process right away by simply choosing to love yourself, rather than hate yourself. If you think about it, when the scale doesn’t register your desired weight, how do you act or feel towards yourself?
If you believe your value or worth is based on external factors—how you look, the car you drive, or the number on the scale—you will constantly be chasing after the “enough” dragon. Nothing will ever be enough and nothing and no one will ever make you feel complete, at least not for long.
You have to choose to know you are enough, that you are worthy of feeling good, happy, healthy, beautiful, or prosperous. When you choose to use your internal resources to feel valued and loved, you will less likely need to seek comfort and if you do, you will seek comfort that nurtures you as well.
How do you start? Throw away anything that you use to determine your value that also causes you to feel badly—like your scale, those skinny jeans that don’t fit anymore, or even that friend who you are always competing with that has a way of making you feel less than.
Choose to feel loved, valued and healthy, all the time.
Here is the exercise you can do any time:
Start by taking nice, slow, deep breaths, perhaps counting to 3 as you breathe in and counting to 4 or 5 as you breathe out.
Breathe in deeply, repeat to yourself, “I breathe in and I embody the feeling of being loved, valued, healthy.”
Breathe out completely, repeat to yourself, “I breathe out and I let go of stress and negativity.”
Breathe in, “I breathe in and I embody the feeling of being loved, valued, healthy.”
Breathe out, “I breathe out and I let go of stress and negativity.”
As you breathe out, imagine walls, boundaries and negativity around your heart melt away, so that when you breathe in, your heart has the space to open like a flower.
Continue this exercise for at least 10 cycles of breath and then check in to see how you feel. The goal is for you is not only to let go of negative thoughts in your mind and any built up stress in your body, but also for your mind to access positive thoughts, beliefs and memories that remind you of feeling loved, valued and healthy, which will invariably encourage you to make healthier and more nurturing choices.