The words we use around weight loss matter. Words strung together into sentences that we think and believe are what create our feelings. Which to me, makes words the most important thing to focus on when we are trying to lose weight.
The words create motivation, excitement, anxiety, hopelessness, deprivation, restriction, misery, and success. So let’s talk about the words today.
Why we want fast and easy weight loss
I threw a couple of words in there that may have caused you to start sweating a bit: deprivation and restriction. These are two words that send a shiver down most of our spines.
I have clients who have extreme reactions when they even think of changing what they eat or eliminating a food group. I call it PTRD, or Post Traumatic Restriction Disorder. It’s where I see my clients practically curl up in a ball in the corner in terror at the thought of starting a new plan or program. I’m sure you can relate if you’ve ever taken extreme measures or tried a crazy diet to lose weight quickly.
We are always enticed by the idea of fast and easy weight loss. How many pills, programs, and plans have you bought into based on the promise of it being quick, easy, painless, and even guaranteed?
That’s because your brain’s job is to help you avoid pain and seek pleasure and comfort, in the most efficient way possible.
So a fast, easy exit from the misery you feel around your weight ticks every box. We can escape the pain of being overweight and enjoy the pleasure of getting to our natural weight quickly.
Pain avoided, pleasure experienced, energy conserved.
One small, tiny issue here though is that food also ticks all of those boxes.
What happens with quick-fix weight loss programs
To your toddler brain, pain means danger… and we use food to escape it. Food muffles the discomfort and perceived danger of uncomfortable emotions and creates pleasure for our brain, in the most efficient way possible. Our toddler brain is not about long-term solutions, it’s about short-term answers.
So the quick fix, easy-answer weight loss programs entice our toddler brain. They are short-term answers.
The irony here is that in our haste to escape the pain of being overweight and unhappy about it, we take extreme measures and feel the painful feelings of deprivation and restriction… and most of the time end up quitting and over-eating the foods we are restricting and gaining any weight lost anyway. You’ve heard the phrase “haste makes waste,” right?
The time I lost 30 pounds in five weeks
About 17 years ago there was a commercial weight loss program that was everywhere. They had a catchy jingle and the commercials were on all the time and they promised fast results. So my toddler brain that was tired of hiding my stomach and wearing maternity pants (even though my baby was 18 months old) signed up.
I lost over 30 pounds in something like five weeks. I remember having to go buy new clothes because nothing fit me and trying on a size of pants that I had never seen before. People saw me and were shocked at the change and probably a little worried.
But at the time, I thought it was awesome and wasn’t concerned. Some of you are probably now going to message me and ask me what program it was so you can hurry and sign up because your immediate gratification toddler brain thinks it sounds like an amazing program that works, right?
Wrong. It was basically just starving myself and calling it a healthy diet. I felt terrible the whole time, even though I liked the way I looked. All of the restriction made me feel super deprived and a little crazy.
There was a moment in the midst of this starvation plan where, after giving my son a handful of flavored mini marshmallows for a snack, I downed the remainder of the entire bag in one minute because I was feeling so deprived. I don’t even like those.
I remember in the midst of it being like, “What am I doing??” But it felt like I couldn’t stop. I’m sure you’ve been there at some point. Maybe not at colored marshmallows, but in some other dark corner of your pantry eating some random food seemingly against your will.
Are you dieting or deciding?
So what is this all about? Well, It comes back to words.
Deprivation means the lack or denial of something CONSIDERED to be a necessity. When we consider or have the thought that pizza and chocolate chip cookies are a necessity, and then we deny ourselves or tell ourselves that we can’t have these foods, we feel deprived. Deprivation is a feeling — it’s not something you are, it’s something you feel.
Pay attention to the word “can’t” here. We say “I can’t eat pizza. It’s not on my plan,” or “I can’t have chocolate chip cookies. They are bad for me.” But only you know if you can or can’t. It’s not for someone outside of you to determine.
And yet that is what we do. The thing that makes dieting feel like dieting instead of deciding is our relegating the choice to something outside of us. When we think “I can’t,” we feel like something outside of us is controlling the decision. And if the rule comes from outside of us, so does the enforcement and consequence of the rule.
That’s why when we are thinking “I can’t” and feeling deprived, we then find ourselves participating in eating that feels out of our control. We’ve put all of the control outside of us. And so we think that the rebellious eating that ensues is rebellion against that outside force that is telling us that we can’t eat the things.
But it is really a rebellion against ourselves.
Think about it. Who feels the overfull stomach? Who feels the bloating? Who sees the weight go up on the scale? Who feels the guilt and shame that comes from the judgment of our behavior?
The diet, program, or group leader you are attributing the rules and control to does not feel it. You do.
You can eat whatever you want
The truth is, if you are an adult human in the world, you can eat whatever you want. Any food, any amount, any time.
Now you may argue that if you are allergic to peanuts, you can’t eat them. But even if you have a deathly allergy, you can choose to eat that thing.
No one has the power to tell you you can’t, except you. It’s always your choice.
And even if a plan or something else outside of you tells you you can’t eat something, and you don’t eat it, it’s not the plan forcing you to do that. It’s still you choosing not to eat it.
You are always choosing what goes in your mouth and what doesn’t. Telling ourselves that we can’t eat something is a lie. And that thought usually creates deprivation. And deprivation typically drives quitting and eating that very thing that we’re telling ourselves we can’t have.
“Can’t” is a poison apple. It looks and sounds noble and helpful, but is usually a weight loss killer.
So let’s stop it already with the “can’ts.”
What to think instead of “I can’t”
If you have decided you want to limit your intake of sugar and flour, based on your desire to manage and control your fat-storage hormone, insulin, and as a result you tell yourself, “I can’t eat chocolate chip cookies,” you will feel deprived.
You are denying yourself a food you think is a necessity. When you tell yourself you can’t eat chocolate chip cookies and you feel deprived, you may refrain from eating them using sheer willpower, but you will hate every minute of it, and eventually your will power will run out and you will eat one, which will turn into 10, and then into a three day eating-all-the-things episode.
Let’s look at some alternatives to “I can’t.”
What happens when you think: “I am choosing not to eat chocolate chip cookies.”
How do you feel?
What about thoughts about what you ARE choosing: “I am choosing foods that align with my goals.”
“I am choosing to eat foods that fuel me.”
“I am choosing foods that help my insulin rest.”
“I am taking care of me with every bite.”
Try on some different versions of your diet words.
Notice how you feel when you think “I can’t” versus “I choose.”
If you can eat whatever you want, what will you choose to do?