“I really want to lose weight. I hate the way I look and feel, and I know things will be much better when I get the weight off. But I just can’t stay motivated to do it. I think there must be something wrong with me.”|
If this sounds like something you say to yourself, I’ve got good news for you. There probably isn't anything seriously wrong with you. You have a very common problem that affects many people who want to lose weight—expecting your negative feelings about your body to do something they can’t do.
The motivation you need to successfully lose weight is like a fire. It will burn hot and long when you provide it with the fuel it needs, but it will die out quickly if you don’t. Disliking how you look and feel might provide decent kindling to get the weight-loss fire started, but it's not the proper fuel source to keep it going.
When you’re driven by negative thoughts about yourself, you just don’t have the raw materials that are necessary to achieve the results you want. This problem lies in how our minds work. If I were to tell you, for example, that I'll give you $1,000 if you can manage to not let the thought of "chocolate" enter your mind during the next 60 seconds, do you think my bank balance would be in big trouble? I don’t. It’s certain that some of your next few thoughts would have something to do with chocolate. Most likely, you’ll wonder how you can stop yourself from thinking about chocolate for 60 seconds—oops, too late! You lose, and my $1000 stays safely in my bank account. It’s virtually impossible to not think about something for a minute, when that’s what you set out to do. Try it for yourself.
The same thing happens when you set out to lose weight because you don’t like your body. The first thing you’re likely to do every morning is notice how fat you still are, think about the food you can’t eat, or lie in bed, wishing you didn’t have to get up early to exercise. You might as well throw a big bucket of ice water on that motivational fire of yours, because sooner or later, you’re going to get very weary of this constant struggle and give up.
So, what’s the alternative? What do you do if the reason you want to lose weight is because you don’t like the way you look or feel? Where do you find the right fuel for your motivational fire?
Use your imagination.
Imagination: More Important than Will Power
One thing that it’s crucial to understand is that being overweight isn’t the cause of your unhappiness, and simply weighing less won't make you feel better about yourself and your life. It’s all the things you think about your body that make you unhappy, and it’s changing those thoughts that will make you feel better and help you lose weight.
Think about it. Imagine you live in a society where people find thinness repulsive and being fat is the marker of beauty, desirability, and good character. Everywhere you look, there are images of happy fat people wearing the best clothes, driving the best cars, getting the hot dates, and landing the best jobs. Would you still feel bad about yourself? Would you still feel like you have to lose weight in order to get what you want and need in life? Probably not. Even if you still felt bad about yourself, you wouldn't be focused on your weight, but rather on something else that your culture didn’t like—the size of your feet, or the slope of your nose, for example.
But we do live in a society that confronts us with very negative messages about being fat. Most of us start absorbing these messages as we are just learning to talk, and they soon become a big part of how we view and evaluate ourselves, explain the things that happen to us, and decide what needs to change if we want to feel and do better.
And sadly, it usually isn’t enough to simply recognize that "fat-loathing" is just a cultural prejudice you can choose to reject. You have to replace it with something equally as powerful, and that’s hard to come by after years of being conditioned to hate your own body. For many, the idea of accepting yourself and loving yourself sounds good, but it just doesn’t have the same emotional force that your negative self-image does. So you find yourself being pulled back to that negative image over and over again, and remaining stuck in the motivational problems it causes.
But you can use your imagination to break the power of your negative self-image and replace it with something equally powerful. Here are some suggestions:
Imagine that your negative body image isn’t really yours. Imagine someone else planted it in your head to keep you trapped in an endless quest for a better body. Imagine who this "someone else" is and why they’ve done this. You could imagine, for example, that a secret group of very rich and powerful people use the media, fashion and advertising industries to convince people that they need to be thin, hard-bodied, and youthful to be happy, so they’ll keep buying diet books, magazines and gimmicks. Whatever story you come up with, create one that makes you feel angry that someone else could take advantage of you this way.
Imagine that the negative body image implanted in your brain has suddenly been removed. You wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and don’t have any reactions at all. You know how you used to react and why, but realize that all those old feelings and thoughts weren’t yours. Imagine that you’re very determined not to let them back in again. What are your real feelings and thoughts about your body? Take some time to look yourself over thoroughly, touch your skin, move around, notice all the sensations you’re experiencing, and so on. Spend a few days going through your regular routines—getting dressed, eating, working, exercising, and all the other things you do—paying close attention to what your body is doing at each moment and how it feels. Take notes, if you want to.
After a few days, sit down and try to express in words how you feel about your body. What can it do, or not do? Which of those things make you feel good and give you pleasure, and which don’t? Are there any things you’d like to be doing more or less of, based on how they make you feel?
By completing an exercise like this, you will discover the feelings, thoughts and beliefs that will provide the best fuel to keep your motivational fire burning. You will get out of your head (and away from its “programmed” image of your body), and into your actual body with an open mind. You will learn what your body needs and wants, what it is capable of doing, and what it can tell you about how to make choices and take actions that are satisfying and rewarding.
You may be surprised to find out how easy it becomes to exercise regularly, eat well, and reach a healthy weight when you stop treating your amazing body as the problem, and start using it as the solution.