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Gaining Insight and Healing Old Wounds

August 13, 2015

As we move through our 8-part series on drastic weight loss, there are some stages that, while not necessarily more important, are better predictors of long-term success than other stages. Stage 2, your Anchor For Change, was certainly one of those. Stage 3 Gaining Insight and Healing Old Wounds, today’s topic, also certainly fits into that category.

Anyone going through a weight loss transformation knows that losing weight is a process that pulls so many different emotions out of you. As the weight loss process unfolds we end up learning a lot about ourselves. Some stuff we are glad to learn and other insights we would love to hide from. As you’ll see in this article, it’s vital to pay attention to the insight we’re developing during weight loss. In fact, what we end up doing with that insight will probably be the difference in your journey to keep the weight off for good.

Types of Insights

As you begin the process of drastic weight loss, the insights you gain about yourself will tend to fall into three different categories—insights about yourself, insights into your relationships, and insights into your relationships with food.

Early on in your weight loss journey you will run into various walls or barriers that must be overcome in order to continue on the weight loss journey—for example, not being able to keep up with your diet or exercise program, hitting a barrier in a workout or on the scale. Pushing up against these obstacles will almost always trigger emotions like fear of failure, anxiety, or depression (or whatever you identify is your trigger emotion–there’s tons of different one’s). Often there’s a pattern to the emotions that are triggered when our backs are against the wall. Everyone’s emotional triggers are different, but they are familiar and predictable if we pay close attention. Often there’s a backstory to those emotions, and part of the backstory is for years those emotions likely were triggers that would lead you to give up, shut down, and yes, find comfort in food. Now, in order to stay on your weight loss journey you must learn new ways to respond to these trigger emotions in order to keep on your weight loss journey.

We can’t underestimate or downplay how big these insights are. Once you identify these deeper emotions that have been operating under the surface, sabotaging you in many areas of your life, you can then deal with them head on. This transforms your insight not only about yourself, but also about your relationship with food. Suddenly you aren’t powerless to food (“I don’t know I am just addicted to sugar!!) and now you have an understanding that food was your way of advocating for a sense of safety or security in the midst of fear of failure, anxiety, or depression.

You might even develop insight that certain relationships, say your partner or your Mom/Dad, boss, etc, trigger these emotions quite often. That can be valuable insight because it allows you to explore the backstory in those relationships and possibly even make some key shifts in those relationships that will help you stay balanced. Advocating for your needs without escaping with food is another big victory, and again shifts your relationship with food.

While just about everyone has some deeper level of insight on their weight loss journey not everyone is willing, or ready to encounter it. I meet herds of people at my speaking engagements who resonate with developing these insights during weight loss. I also meet a few who still question, or deny that there is any emotional element to their struggle, and insist it’s simply about willpower. Unfortunately, I worry that these folks will have struggles keeping the weight off if they’ve been lifetime yo-yo’ers and still think there’s nothing bellow the surface to their struggles. More and more research is suggesting that these people are in danger of being among the 95% who go through drastic weight loss only to gain the weight back.

Healing old wounds

In my research insight did not predict long-term success at keeping the weight off, however. What you did with your insight predicted if you would keep the weight off.

People who experience long-term success in keeping off the weight let those insights guide them to places where they could heal old wounds.

For many, part of this process might mean seeking the help of a professional counselor. In fact, when I did my study with the contestants from the NBC show The Biggest Loser, most of those who did seek the help of a counselor to help them heal old wounds were those who had the strongest anchors for change.

One great example of this is “David” (name has been changed to protect privacy). David realized during stage 3 of his weight loss journey that he had struggled with a fear of failure his entire life. In fact, he was so afraid of failing that despite the fact that he had always been overweight, he had never even tried dieting—he was completely resigned to the fact that he would always be the “jolly fat guy”.

After he began working with a counselor, David discovered the context for where that narrative started. For him, that narrative started growing up around his dad, because he felt like he never really got any sort of positive feedback from his dad. As a result, he was constantly going around feeling like, “I know what I’m not good at, and I don’t know what I am good at,” so that narrative started from a young age. He was living it out his entire life.

Once David realized that, he went back and actually had difficult conversations with his dad. What he got in that conversation, in part, was validation and listening from his dad’s standpoint, but also hearing his dad say, “You know what? I feel horrible because that’s the same thing I felt growing up, too, with my dad.”

As I talked about in the second half of stage 1, so many of these things are passed down inter-generationally, so this narrative was a huge narrative for David to uncover. In order for David to be successful long term, in order to keep the weight off and live a healthy lifestyle, in order to adjust to everyone treating him differently, with more respect, he had to actually believe he was worth it. In order for him to believe he was worth it, this insight about him struggling with this fear of failure and the fear of not being good enough had to be dealt with. It’d be one thing just to recognize it, but it was another thing to actually do something about it and actively to heal it. That’s what makes people successful. When you’re able to do that, it really transforms this journey, as we’ve talked about. It becomes not just about weight loss, but about a huge transformation between body and mind.

Action items

If you are reading this today and you’re either on a weight loss journey or thinking about starting one, you should make it a priority to record the different emotions that you experience along the way. Also, you should seriously consider working with a counselor or at the very least joining a community that can give you positive reinforcement and support.

Last but not least, it’s important for you to realize that in order to talk through some of the issues you may discover—whether it’s with a counselor, friend, or people in your community—you’re going to need to make yourself vulnerable. Talking about these things can be scary, but there is now little doubt that the people who are able to do it will be the ones who are successful in the long term. Take the time to do it now, so that you can achieve the weight loss success that you deserve.