My philosophy as a certified life and weight coach is that when it comes to losing weight, changing your weight loss mindset is essential.
Yes, we have to change what we eat. But if we want to make weight loss a permanent change, we also have to understand why we eat.
We have to pull back the curtain and change not just our habits and our actions, but our reasons and beliefs. We have to rewrite our story about losing weight. It’s simple… but it’s not easy.
But any real and lasting change will not feel easy, whether it’s weight loss or anything else. Rewriting our weight loss story means feeling some discomfort. It requires trading the discomfort of now for the discomfort of growth.
Story vs facts
Most of us are unaware of the default story our brains tell us about our lives and why we have the results we have. So that’s where we begin: helping you recognize your default story so you can learn how to rewrite it. You can be the author of your life. You can create the future you want.
We create the experience of our lives with the way we choose to tell our story. Choosing which thoughts we want to make a part of our story, which thoughts we want to believe, is a skill that takes some time to build. But when you learn that skill, you gain freedom from your circumstances.
As we look at the default story you tell about your life and weight, we’re going to separate the facts from that story. These are the parts of the story that are indisputable. The facts that could be proven in a court of law. Everything besides those facts is story. It’s your thoughts about the facts.
You may have a story about your weight that says, “I’ve always struggled with my weight. No matter how many programs I’ve started or how much weight I’ve lost, I always gain it back.”
Of course it’s okay to have that story, but you want to ask if that story is serving you. Is the story true? Is believing it helpful? What does believing this story create for me? How do I feel when I believe this?
An example of story vs facts
Let’s take a basic example like rain. Rain is just drops of water falling from the sky. Some people look outside and they see that it’s raining and they think, “This is the most romantic weather. I love the rain.” And they want to put on their boots and coat and go for a walk or cuddle up and read or watch a movie with a warm beverage.
They think about the plants and the trees getting moisture. They go outside and take a deep breath of petrichor. (That’s your vocabulary word for the day, by the way. It’s a term for the earthy smell after it rains.)
Other people look out and they see the rain and they think that the rain is the worst and it’s ruining their outdoor plans and they feel grumpy and resentful.
If you’re a farmer during a drought and it rains, you think, “Finally,” and you feel overjoyed. If you live on a hillside in California and it rains, you think, “Oh no,” and you feel dread.
If you have an outdoor wedding and it rains, you think, “This is terrible,” and you feel panic.
If you have an outdoor garden and it rains, you think, “This is perfect,” and you feel grateful.
The rain is the same. It’s just drops of water falling from the sky. Your story about it determines your experience of it.
I refer to facts like these as our circumstances. I refer to the story, our perception, opinion, and interpretation of the facts as our thoughts.
You get to choose which thoughts you want to keep
So there are the facts of your life and your brain tells a story about it, or a circumstance happens, and you have a thought about it.
In our weight example, the circumstance is the number on the scale. Everything else is your thoughts about the number on the scale.
Here’s the best news about your thoughts. They’re totally optional. They are sentences your brain offers to you about your circumstances. That’s it.
Your brain offers you upwards of 60,000 of these thoughts every day and you have a choice as to which ones make up your story.
Imagine your brain is the ocean and you are floating in a boat in the middle of it. The ocean is full of sentences floating by. Something happens in your world, some sentences float by, and you reach out and you grab the one you want to believe and you pull it on the boat.
Our brain’s default mode is to conserve energy, to seek pleasure, to avoid pain. I call it the motivational triad.
So the thoughts it chooses in default mode are those that have you avoiding discomfort and feeling or seeking pleasure, and using the least amount of energy as possible. That’s why it likes to choose thoughts we’ve already practiced and know the results of.
Our default brain just wants to lay out on the boat. It’s like, “What thoughts are already in here? Oh, the ‘I can’t do anything right thought,’ great, let’s just use that one. Sure, it feels terrible, but at least we don’t have to grab a new one. And also, when we think this thought and we feel terrible, we usually just get some Oreos and that helps, so we’ll just do that again.”
Sometimes we refer to this default setting as the primitive brain, lizard brain, or lower brain. I really like “toddler brain” because it’s about immediate gratification and it loves to throw tantrums when it doesn’t get what it wants.
Building this skill of consciously choosing our thoughts can change everything. We determine our entire experience of our lives with our thoughts. No matter our circumstances.
An exercise to separate thoughts from circumstances
Here’s an exercise you can try that will help you start to see the story you’re telling. Take a situation in your life: your childhood, your marriage, that conversation you had with your boss last week, your mother-in-law.
Write down the story that your brain is telling about it. All of it. Just write the topic at the top of the page and go. So write “mother-in-law” at the top of the page and write your story about her.
And then go back and separate out the circumstances and the thoughts, the facts from your story about it. I like to take a highlighter or a colored pen and underline all of the facts first. It’s really interesting to see when it’s all written down how much is fact and how much is totally within our control.
Our thoughts are the cause of our feelings
Feelings are what we, as humans, are all about. Everything we do or don’t do (and most of the things we eat or don’t eat) are because of a feeling we want to have or to avoid. In the end, it’s always the feeling that matters most and a feeling we are after.
In most cases, we think it’s the circumstance that will give us the feeling, something outside of us that will create the feeling we desire. That’s why we’re always looking outside of us for feelings. We want joy from food. We seek satisfaction from money. We try to glean confidence from our appearance.
But you’ll notice, by the long list of people who have all the things most of us think create happiness and are still completely miserable, that it’s never the thing outside of us; never the food, the money, or the number on the scale that creates the feeling.
What creates the feeling is our thoughts about it — the story we tell about it.
Why we try to escape our negative feelings
This is the same for when we avoid feelings. If we’re seeking certain feelings, much of the time that means we are trying to avoid or escape other feelings; the uncomfortable ones.
Remember the motivational triad? Our brain wants to seek pleasure, to avoid pain, conserve energy. It wants to feel the comfort and avoid the discomfort.
This is because our brains have evolved to think that discomfort equals danger. Any uncomfortable emotion was a message that danger was imminent and we should escape the danger. In the time where our primitive brain was the only brain we had, that was accurate.
Now, the discomfort comes from us looking at someone’s Instagram post of their perfect family on an awesome vacation and comparing our lives or our bodies or our families to theirs.
Or maybe the discomfort comes from having many things on our to-do list and feeling like we have little time to do it. or even just the discomfort of being bored. In every case, our brain thinks the discomfort is dangerous and signals us to escape. We escape as we eat, we drink, we procrastinate. We binge-watch shows on Netflix. We play Candy Crush.
But now, in contrast to our cave days, our brain has evolved so we can think rationally about and even override that danger signal and see it for what it is. We do this all the time and we just don’t recognize that is what we’re doing.
Toddler brain vs adult brain
For most of us, our toddler brain is running the show most of the time. Our toddler brain wants what it wants right now. It has very strong opinions and desires, no patience, and can’t be reasoned with. It’s often throwing a tantrum, complaining, whining, high on sugar, and living life with no rules or limits, but in desperate need of them, right? Toddler through and through.
Our adult brain is there but it doesn’t feel like it has any real power over this toddler. I kind of imagine it like the scene we’ve all witnessed in the checkout line in the grocery store (or maybe we’ve been there ourselves). Frazzled mom with wild hair trying to unload the cart and pay. And the toddler pulling on her hand and screaming, throwing candy bars up on the belt as fast as the mom can put them away.
The mom says quietly and calmly, “We’re not having candy until after dinner.” To which the toddler responds with a scream so loud that the mom just resorts to opening the candy bar and shoving it in the toddler’s mouth for them. She’s thinking, “Fine, I don’t even care anymore. Just have it if it will keep you quiet.”
Both parties are just operating on default, under false assumptions. The mom feels like she’s at the effect of the toddler and has no power over them, and doesn’t know what to do. And the toddler thinks that if they don’t get what they want and they have to feel uncomfortable, even for a second, they will spontaneously combust or something, which results in them fighting the uncomfortable feeling with all of their might and demanding immediate relief.
Feelings can’t actually kill us
What the toddler doesn’t know is that feelings can’t actually kill us. And discomfort doesn’t mean we’re going to die. Our feelings or emotions are a physical reaction to our thoughts. We have a thought and two neurons in our brain send a signal for a particular concoction of chemicals to be released into our body and we then experience the physical sensation of that emotion in our body.
Some feelings are more familiar to us than others. Maybe right now, you can probably think about what anger feels like and recall that maybe your ears get hot or your heart beats faster. Or that when you’re sad, you get a heaviness in your chest and a lump in your throat. Or that when you’re nervous your palms get sweaty and your stomach churns.
That’s all a feeling actually does. It shows up a certain way in your body. You experience it. And then that particular chemical wave subsides and it’s gone. Feelings are continually changing. Even the comfortable desired feelings don’t last as much as we want them to.
Most of us resist uncomfortable feelings
What most of us do though is build a dam at the first sign of that discomfort wave. We push hard and we fight against particular feelings. We avoid situations where we might have to feel them. Or we eat or numb in other ways so we don’t have to fully experience them. Adding layers of concrete to that dam.
But this doesn’t actually stop the waves from coming. The dam we build may lessen the impact of the emotion initially. But if we have no release valve, no spill-wave for the emotion, the pressure builds and the dam breaks, eventually with much more catastrophic results.
Being willing to feel our emotions, allowing our emotional waves to flow through our body, is the superpower that can make you unstoppable in your life.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid of feeling negative emotion?
Think about an emotion you don’t like to feel. Maybe it’s embarrassed. Maybe it’s inadequate. Maybe it’s stressed.
If you weren’t afraid to feel that feeling, if you knew that it was just a wave of chemicals cascading down through your body and it didn’t mean anything about you except that you were human, what would you do that you aren’t doing right now?
Is there something in your life that an emotion or avoiding an emotion is holding you back from experiencing? If overeating is happening in your life and weight loss is one of your goals, then being willing to feel emotion is going to be one of the secrets to you experiencing living at your goal weight.
How to experience an emotion
I want you to do an exercise with me. We’re going to check in with our bodies and experience an emotion right now.
I’m going to ask you some questions. I want you to just answer them in your head. There’s no right or wrong answer. So, if your brain offers you an, “I don’t know,” just guess.
Close your eyes and take a deep slow breath in and out and think about what you’re feeling right this minute. I want you to name that emotion you’re currently having.
Where is it in your body? What color is the emotion you’re feeling? What texture would you say it is? Is it bumpy? Smooth? Squishy? Maybe hard.
What temperature is it? Is it hot or cold? Does it move in your body or does it stay still? Is it fast or slow? Is it heavy or light? How does it make you want to react? Run away? Move, lay down, freeze? Does it feel open or closed? Comfortable or uncomfortable?
This check in with our feelings can be a super useful tool to create a catalog of our emotions and what they actually feel like in our body.
The exercise of slowing down and going inside and understanding what the experience of the feeling is can, in and of itself, help the wave to subside more quickly since we aren’t building a dam of resistance against them.
In this article I share a more in-depth technique for connecting to our emotions that I encourage you to check out to learn more.
How to change your story
So we’ve now discussed the difference between circumstances and thoughts (facts vs story) and why it’s so important to understand that our feelings dictate our behavior. Everything we do and don’t do is driven by feelings we have.
I like to think of our feelings as fuel. How we feel fuels how we show up. Let’s talk about some examples of this in life and in weight loss.
Let’s say you look at your list of 15 tasks that you need to get done in the next two days, and your brain offers the thought, “I have so much to do,” and then you feel overwhelmed as a result of thinking that thought. What kind of fuel is overwhelm?
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, maybe you procrastinate even starting on the list because you don’t know where to begin, or when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may do a little bit of everything on the list, moving from task to task as you frantically try to get it all done.
Or you may sit on the floor of the pantry and eat chocolate, or you may cry and complain to your best friend about how busy you are and how everyone expects you to do everything and then watch six episodes of Mad Men on Netflix in bed. None of which helps you get any of the things on your list done, and none of which came directly from my life experience, of course.
So we can see that overwhelm is not a very effective fuel if you’re wanting to accomplish things. It’s super effective if your goal is to power through two seasons of Mad Men in a day. Not so effective if you want to get things done.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re most likely not going to jump into action and start checking things off left and right as you organize your time effectively and execute.
The thought matters. The feeling matters.
What if instead, when you look at your list of tasks, your thought is, “I’ll figure out how to get this done.” Maybe with that thought, you feel committed.
What kind of fuel is committed? You are likely going to take some time to organize the tasks in order of priority, delegate, or even delete some, figure out how long they will each take, get them on your calendar, and ultimately get it done. So committed is clearly a much more effective fuel.
The thought matters. The feeling matters.
An example in weight loss
Let’s say you’ve been planning your food, eating what’s on that plan and only eating sugar, which you love, once a week. And then you step on the scale at the end of the week and it hasn’t moved. Zero weight loss.
What story would you tell? Would it be the “I worked hard all week for nothing” story? What fuel does that create? Frustration maybe? Maybe it would be the “I’m never going to lose weight” story. What fuel does that create? Hopeless?
When you believe you’ve worked hard all week for nothing and you feel frustrated, what does that fuel? What action? Probably eating a bunch of sugar all weekend in rebellion, right? What about when you believe you are never going to lose weight and the number on the scale is proof and you feel hopeless? What does that fuel? Probably throwing in the towel and eating pizza and ice cream for dinner, and maybe even breakfast, right?
The thought matters. The feeling matters. Things happen around you, your brain offers you thoughts, and the thoughts you choose to believe create the feelings that fuel your actions. The thoughts are optional, and what you create in your life and your weight loss comes directly from the thoughts you choose — from that story that you tell.
Your brain works hard to prove the thoughts you choose to believe
You can start to see that rewriting your story is in your hands, right? So what would that look like here? Does zero weight loss after a week of doing what you thought would create weight loss have to mean that you will never be successful? Of course not.
You can choose that thought, but you can see that your brain works hard for you to prove that the thoughts you choose are true. You believe you’re never going to lose weight, your brain is going to show you how right you are.
Weight loss is like a scientific experiment
Weight loss is like a scientific experiment. We wonder, we research, hypothesize, test, assess, conclude, and go again. Over and over until we find what works and what doesn’t. And then that changes and we go to work again.
So if we were going to rewrite this story, we could start with the moment after the scale shows zero weight loss. What are some other thoughts we could choose to believe in that moment?
“I will figure this out.”
“I was successful at maintaining this week.”
“I’m going to try some different things next week.”
“I’ll make some adjustments and go again.”
“My success is inevitable if I keep going.”
With those thoughts, you might create determined fuel, content fuel, maybe curious fuel or empowered fuel, which all drive effective actions that get you closer to your goal.
The thought matters. The feeling matters.
You are the author of your story. It’s that simple. But it’s not always that easy, right?
One of the first obstacles you’ll come up against
There are some common obstacles that we find in the way. One of the first obstacles we come up against is what is called fusion.
Our brain offers us a thought like, “I will never lose weight,” and we totally buy in, hook, line, and sinker. We believe it’s just true. We become one with it. We fuse with the thought.
We lose sight of the fact that our thoughts are just sentences, just words and pictures floating around in the ocean of our brain and it’s up to us to grab the one we want and believe it. We forget we have a choice.
The sentences have no power unless we give them power. They can’t threaten us or direct us or hurt us or control us unless we fuse with them and we choose to believe them.
How to defuse the power of the thought
The antidote to fusion is defusion. Here’s a super simple exercise you can try to defuse the power of the thought.
What is a thought you have about you or your weight loss that you currently believe that feels uncomfortable or painful? One that isn’t really helping you become the best version of yourself.
Maybe you have the thought that you’re lazy or forgetful or broken or unloveable. Think that thought and notice the feeling it creates. Is it discouraged, inadequate, overwhelmed? Maybe sad or hopeless?
Now I want you to try putting this phrase in front of that thought: “I am having the thought that I am lazy,” or whatever that thought is.
“I’m having the thought that I’ll never figure this out.”
Notice how the feeling changes a little. Maybe it feels more like curiosity or just a less intense version of the initial feeling.
Taking a step back from the thought, “I am ______,” to “I am having the thought that I am _______,” gets us closer to neutral.
It creates some space for your brain to see that for what it is, which is just a thought, just a sentence, just a group of words and pictures.
The further back you get from it, the less likely you are to find yourself fused with it.
Only half of your weight loss journey will be great
Another common obstacle I see with my clients once they recognize that they are the author of their story is the idea that they should just write a super happy story filled with sunshine all the time. But that just isn’t how it is meant to be.
Our human experience works out to be 50/50. Half of the time we feel comfortable and half of the time we feel discomfort. There is happiness but also sadness. There is pain and there is joy. There is love and there is hate. We need the contrast in order to recognize the difference.
If everything was amazing all the time, we wouldn’t even know it because we would have nothing to compare it to. When you look around the world, you see this contrast everywhere. There is birth and there is death. There is light and there is dark. There is kindness and there is cruelty. It’s everywhere, in every country, in every home, in every human.
We have a tendency to want to deny this reality, to fight against it, to argue with it. How often do we say “It shouldn’t be this way,” and how often do we judge ourselves for not being able to accomplish a super happy life filled with sunshine all the time? Question this hard.
I love how Glennon Doyle questioned this human tendency to judge ourselves for falling short of our expectation of perfection in her book, Untamed. She says this:
“If this is our shared human experience, where did we get the idea that there is some other better, more perfect, unbroken way to be human? Where is this human being who is functioning correctly against whom we are all judging our performances? Who is she? Where is she? What is her life if it is not these things?”
Isn’t that amazing? There isn’t a human on earth who isn’t subject to this contrast of life.
So I want to offer this to you: Think about life as a pie and divide it down the middle into the 50% comfort and 50% discomfort that this life offers to us.
50% of your weight loss journey, you’ll be feeling good, successful, confident, content. 50% of the journey will feel challenging, painful, empty, miserable, and even impossible sometimes.
That doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong. That means you’re doing it right.
Remember that you are always in charge of how you feel and the experience of your life based on the thoughts you choose. And don’t spend a second of your 50% amazing regretting or resenting the 50% that isn’t.
That is what it truly means to be the author of your life, to be brave enough to choose to feel all of it.
This kind of weight loss mindset work is absolutely necessary for lasting weight loss. I spent over two decades battling my weight and hating my body before I found this work and changed FOR GOOD.
I lost 50 pounds by changing not just what I eat, but WHY. Now I help other women like me get to the root of the issue and find their own realistic, permanent weight loss success.
Change is possible and you can do it.