Crime and Punishment

There are two things I commonly hear from people who want to lose weight and have been unable to do so.  The first is a deep-seated belief that only by going on a restrictive and highly prescriptive diet will they lose weight.  The second is a deep-seated sense of shame and total lack of belief in themselves.

   “I should be able to lose weight and keep it off, but I can’t.  I know it’s my responsibility and I have only myself to blame.  I am a failure and I don’t matter.”

These are terrible and powerful words.  “I am a failure and I don’t matter.”

I lived with those beliefs for sixty years.  I believe it is impossible to find a path to healthy living without grappling them to the ground and proving them false.

What makes people believe that about themselves?  What makes them give up their own sense of self-worth—or did they simply never have it?

There are certainly many roads and experiences that can undermine our innate belief in ourselves, and many of those experiences happened in childhood.  Whatever got each of us to that belief, however, I think that at some point that emotion is given flesh and blood and a name.

Fat. 

My sixtieth birthday, March 2016

Our fatness becomes a manifestation of the worthlessness we feel.  It is a living, breathing, constant entity in our lives that proves those noxious emotions to be true.

“I don’t matter because I am fat.”

It is its own crime, isn’t it?  Other people all around us seem to be able to maintain a healthy weight, but we cannot.  Of course, it doesn’t help that well-intentioned family members and doctors and employers all find ways to tell us we need to lose weight—as if, we somehow are too thick-headed to know that.

Being fat is a crime.  For that crime, we need to be punished, because we are bad.  Is it possible that is why we find diets to follow that are so restrictive and unpleasant?  Could it be we choose these diets because it makes our daily life a misery?  A just sentence for our fat crime?  Or, perhaps it is because we are clearly clueless about what our body needs and what would work for us, so we need those diet gurus to tell us what to do.  More evidence of our own inferiority.

I have heard people defend those extreme diets by saying that the diets worked for them in the past.  My only response to that is simple: if you gained back the weight you lost, that diet was not successful for you.  As much as you might want to blame yourself—yet again—for not being able to keep the weight off that you successfully lost, you clearly didn’t have the knowledge and self-confidence to do so.

Losing weight is not just a time for you to get to an ideal weight.  It is a time when you should be deeply learning how to manage your weight and your lifestyle for the rest of your life.  It is a time to develop habits that become so ingrained that, ultimately, the neural pathways in your brain have fundamentally changed. 

July, 2017, eleven months into my path towards better health

The question in your brain as you contemplate how to lose weight should not be “what diet will help me lose weight?”  Instead, the question should be: “what should I be doing with my diet and my lifestyle that will teach me how to become healthy for the rest of my life?”  Many diets will face the cutting room floor when they are challenged with that question.

We each need to face our personal demons in our own way.  However, the manifestation of those demons that has resulted in our current self-view is core work in achieving that lifestyle.  Make a decision today to stop the crime-and-punishment cycle in which you are caught.

Emotionally, you might believe you don’t matter, but intellectually you know that every single person matters.  Thus, you must matter too.  Make a conscious decision to stop self-depricating thoughts and words, even when you say or think them in jest.  Look at your current eating patterns and find ways to make them healthier in habits, foods and portion-sizes.  Concentrate on alternatives to unhealthy foods rather than just denying yourself.  Find the times when you eat without thinking about it, like snacking in front of the TV, and concentrate on eliminating those.

These are all small steps, but they lay a good foundation for all of us to achieve better physical and emotional health.  There aren’t any promises to lose ten pounds in just ten days.  Instead, the promise is simpler but much more profound: “I will feel better about myself in every way.”

June 2020

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