Weight Loss and The Mind-Body Connection
For many women, it’s a tough thing to decide to love their bodies. This fact is sad but true. A lot of us are taught from an early age to criticize ourselves and yearn for a different shape. We live in a society here in the West at least, where a woman’s appearance is often what is first used to judge an individual. This seems to apply to everyone, from singers and actors to politicians and other public figures. Even though we live in a time of acute social awareness, our cultural inheritance is such that we still internalize negative messages about women and girls’ bodies on a daily basis. It’s not really surprising that it’s hard to find a woman who is genuinely happy with what she looks like.
According to a study published in 2015 by Common Sense Media, 80% of young girls (aged ten) have been on a diet. According to The Eating Disorder Foundation, in 1970, the average age to begin dieting was 14. In 1990 it had dropped to eight. What can these rather horrifying figures tell us? Socially and culturally, the world must be full of subconscious messages steering us constantly towards dissatisfaction with our own bodies. Daughters learn from their mothers, sisters, and friends, as well as whatever media messages reach them regularly.
Learning how to nourish our bodies in a healthy way as women should be a top priority so that we can teach the younger generations how to be happy with themselves as well as how to live a healthy lifestyle. Life should not be about endless dieting. Perhaps we need to undergo a huge paradigm shift in the way that we look at food, making the decision to eat as a means of creating health, not simply to lose weight.
Healthy weight loss is about taking a holistic approach to your body’s natural requirements for living a life of radiant health, it is not about being sucked into the unhealthy diet culture that requires women to punish themselves and live unhappy lives of constant food restriction and denial.
How many women have gone on restrictive diets, practically starving themselves through denial of calories only to remain the same weight? In some cases even gain weight? Perhaps it is time to accept that the traditional message of “eat less and exercise more” is not entirely correct for all of us. The nutritional value of your diet and your attitude towards your body is everything.
Perhaps you’ve tried being a Vegan, going on the Atkins diet, or cutting out all carbs before a certain time of day. Maybe you’ve dabbled with the Zone diet, or macrobiotic cooking, or Keto. The truth is that while each of these diets may well have something true and correct to say about health and weight loss until you have a healthy approach to your own body and understand what makes you feel good and function at your best, you won’t live at your ideal, healthy weight on a consistent basis and be happy.
Studies have shown that self-respect and self-acceptance are the cornerstones of feeling happy about your weight and body image. What is required is not another diet cycle of losing weight, gaining it and losing it and gaining it again. What’s required is a decision to make informed, slow, and permanent changes to your eating habits that will make you feel good and nourish yourself in a way that your body demands and actually desires to be at a functional optimum weight.
Consider the typical Diet Mentality
- Starving yourself all day only to overeat at dinner time.
- Weighing yourself constantly expecting changes and getting upset about it.
- Not actually enjoying your food.
- Being hungry a lot of the time.
- Drinking caffeine or smoking to substitute for food and blunting your appetite.
- Knowing the calorie count of everything you eat.
- Feeling guilty about everything you eat.
Wouldn’t it be nice to not do anything of the above and actually enjoy eating and being healthy without these restrictive and negative thoughts and behaviors invading your mind?
Many women have been fighting to lose the same 10 pounds (plus or minus) since they were young teenagers with the same attitude to dieting. A study by Bob Schwartz, Ph.D. author of Diets Don’t Work, showed that restricting food actually created a diet mentality in people who originally had no issues with dieting. The individuals concerned were placed on a plan to lose weight (ten pounds each), and subsequently, in the process of dieting, many of these people became obsessed with food in ways that they had never been before. The study also showed that once these people lost the ten pounds they shortly gained them back plus additional weight. In short, the individuals in this study became people with weight issues when previously they had not been, due to the diet mentality they were exposed to.
What does this tell us about diet mentality? Clearly, it’s unhealthy to obsess over what the scales say every day. Counting calories and restricting yourself is a miserable existence. There is so much more to enjoy about life!
The answer lies in eating to nourish yourself and in focusing on creating health in your physical system through smart choices made from a place of self-love, self-respect, and self-acceptance.
What does that look like?
Well, firstly you will need to make an effort to move away from the diet mentality and the negative ways it pulls you in. A good gauge is whether or not you are tapping into your inner guidance system on a daily basis.
The first step involves treating yourself and your body with compassion and respect. Note how many times you speak to yourself in a critical and negative way each day. It can be truly illuminating to see what comes into your mind when you pass a mirror, or step out of the shower, or get dressed. Do you constantly berate your appearance? Try to stop yourself doing this, or at least notice when it happens and attempt to turn the thought around to a positive one instead.
Consider that doing this will actually help you to reach the right weight and size for your body. That’s because when you commit to actually using kind, compassionate words to talk to yourself, you are literally helping your body to be relaxed and feel happier, more positive emotions.
Stress in the Mind is Stress in the Body
Emotional tension and stress that starts in the mind can quickly become physiological. Your brain under pressure sends an emergency signal to the rest of your body and your “fight or flight” mode kicks in. This is one of the ways in which your mind actually has an impact on your body’s ability to burn fat. When you are constantly feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and negative about yourself, you are keeping your fight or flight stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) high, and these hormones, in turn, affect your metabolism and your ability to burn fat. In short, many years of unresolved emotional issues, stress and negative self-image can cause your body to store excess fat.
The stress that causes the hormone cortisol to rise can also cause you to crave foods with more fat and sugar which just contributes to the vicious cycle that you are in. When we are under chronic stress or suffer from PTSD our bodies remain in that emergency stress response for far too long. Fat cells contained in the stomach have four times more cortisol receptors than the fat cells found elsewhere in our bodies. Therefore when we are stressed out, our weight gain is more likely to result in increased stomach fat.
People suffering from long-term, chronic stress are also more prone to indigestion, heartburn, and bloating as well as irritable bowel syndrome.
The Stomach Holds Emotions
Consider the stomach as a hugely emotional area of our bodies. It is here where we literally digest experiences and emotions as well as food. Isn’t it telling that various diseases affecting our digestive systems, such as colitis, stomach ulcers, gastritis, and abdominal pain are intensified and aggravated by stress, tension, anxiety, and other emotions? They often improve when these emotional factors are addressed.
Our bodies respond to issues in so many different ways and our thoughts can truly influence how we feel physically and the structure, shape, and functioning of our bodies.
Not only does stress play a part in storing fat cells, but certain muscles contracting can cause our posture to shift, our breath to become shallow and our blood flow to increase or decrease.
When your body is relaxed and fed in a nutritious way (both physically and mentally), your parasympathetic nervous system is in balance and everything starts to change. When you feel happier, have a positive self-image and respect yourself, your body responds in kind. Your mind really is your greatest friend when it comes to losing unwanted fat.
Cherish your Body
Imagine a world where you cherish your body instead of hating it. Imagine a world where you are no longer spending each day in mental and physical turmoil thinking about what to eat and what not to eat.
It’s easier than you think. You have to start by realizing your inner beauty and honoring yourself as a precious human being that deserves healthy nutrition and nourishment.
When you increase your body wisdom, you start to automatically know what your body wants and needs to function correctly. it‘s not about denying yourself a piece of cake, it’s about balance, happiness, and deep inner knowledge of yourself on an emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical level.
Innate Body Wisdom
The best way to tune into your innate body wisdom is to combine relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, walking in nature, sleeping well, and connecting with other people who make you feel good, with regular movement, and the unique understanding of the individual requirements of your own body.
Make a decision to no longer be at war with your own beautiful self, and instead learn about what is right for you to be your best self. It does not mean denial and it does not mean unhappiness and starvation. When we truly eat for health, we don’t feel like we are missing out on our favorite food. We love and respect our bodies to give them what they deserve and honestly need to function well.
Make Peace with and Understand your Body Shape
This is another common cultural issue that affects many women around the world. Most women’s bodies have more fat than men’s. Most women’s bodies are supposed to be larger than what the cultural ideal dictates. Many expectations of women are to be extremely thin, and since being thin is normally associated with strong self-control, it’s no wonder that we see such a huge proportion of women struggling with their weight and happiness for their entire lives in some cases.
It’s also crazy to think that we place so much emphasis on how much we weigh. Of course, being fat is a health risk, but weight is not a good measure of your health. Muscle mass is much heavier than fat. Some of us gain weight when we gain muscle, but our fat percentage could be perfect for our height.
Sadly many women attach far too much meaning to the scales without really understanding the importance of body fat and muscle mass.
Add to that the fact that many women’s weight fluctuates according to the time of the month. This is due to changes in fluid levels. Weight on the scales as a way to determine your health does not help you as it ignores body composition and other changing factors such as your cycle.
Understand that you are loveable and beautiful just as you are, right now, whatever your physical state. Of course, you can and should improve your health and quality of life by making an effort to nourish your body with the right balance of nutrients and health-giving foods. Eat for physical needs, not to fill up emotional emptiness. Educate yourself on the right kinds of fats, carbs, and proteins. Understand the link between blood sugar levels and your gut health. Consider what supplements might improve your health. Combine that with regular movement and you’ll be well on the way to health and happiness.
Be Honest About the Way you Connect Food and Emotions
Many of us emotionally eat, meaning we turn to food when we are feeling worried, sad, angry, or emotionally upset in any way. When we are happy and in love for example, or feeling inspired by our work, and creativity we tend to be less likely to overindulge. This is because we are full up instead with the positive energy of life. We don’t need to seek out that dopamine high from food, we have it within us.
It’s a great idea to get very real about what you eat and when. Starting a food diary can really help with this. You will begin to see patterns between your emotions and what you choose to eat. You will see the connections emerge between what you chose to eat and the times that you were feeling happy and times that you were feeling stressed.
There are studies that show that your state of mind can literally impact the physical effect of what you are eating, regardless of what it is. Not only is being happy and enjoying a slice of pizza infinitely preferable to feeling miserable and only eating lettuce leaves, but the lack of stress involved in not feeling guilty about what you eat is also better for you and may even boost your metabolism and fat burning capabilities!
If you can make eating a pleasurable, stress-free experience, you will find you allow yourself to eat healthier overall, but when you do gravitate towards the more refined carbohydrates, fats and sugar you will simply let yourself enjoy them, without issue.
Life is too short not to enjoy certain pleasures. It is also too short to spend hating yourself and not understanding how to nourish yourself well. The end goal of tuning into your own body wisdom is that you won’t need a specific diet to follow, you will instead instinctively know what is right for you, what to eat, and when. You will be in touch with your own inner workings.
Go easy on yourself at first. Making big changes in the way you view your body and the way you treat it is incredible, but it takes time to integrate those changes successfully. No matter your current state of health or percentage of body fat, you can reach a healthy, radiant, vibrant body.
Place the emphasis on eating for health rather than eating to be thin, and you will be incredibly surprised at what happens in your life.
Just begin with small steps to change if you need. Add an extra vitamin or supplement to your diet, go for a long walk outside, replace your regular snack with a fruit smoothie, start meditating. Whatever you choose to do, as long as it is in the direction of self-acceptance, self-love, and tapping into your body’s own wisdom, will be beneficial to you and lead you to a long, happy, wonderful life.