Of all the problems in life, how much we weigh seems to be a concern for everyone I’ve ever met, myself included. In my work as a psychotherapist, clients typically don’t bring this up in the beginning of our work together. They usually wait until we’ve gotten to know each other better before they feel comfortable enough to talk about their weight.
This tells me that – for most of us – our weight is a very tender spot in our psyche. How much we weigh, how our body looks and how we feel about our body is a major part of our self-image.
In the LGBT community, our weight may be even more highlighted than in the straight world. I recently visited family members in Ohio, and my relatives repeatedly told me some version of: “Gay people always look better than us straight folks, you guys are always thinner and work out more than we do.”
As a psychotherapist, I often work with clients on their MOTIVATION for losing weight. This is usually the essential ingredient to success. I ask my clients:
Why do I want to lose weight?
What will help keep me on track in exercising and eating smart?
How can I not sabotage the process?
I suggest that, if you want to lose weight, that you write down your answers to the above questions and post them on your refrigerator: use them to keep going when the going gets tough.
In my experience, only a weight-loss program that is kind, forgiving and flexible will work in the long haul. Keeping that in mind, here are some other strategies I encourage my clients to use:
When you stay on track, reward yourself. When you fall off the wagon – as we all inevitably do – and eat a bag (or two) of chips, forgive yourself. Maybe your program was too hard. Adjust it. Break it down into smaller bits: set yourself up to succeed.
Focus on LONG-term success. Sure, you can lose 15 pounds by drinking only liquids for 4 weeks, but can you sustain this for the next four months/years?
Track your progress. Write it down. Lots of people resist this step because they don’t want to know what they actually eat. It may suck to see exactly what you’re putting in your mouth, but, the only way to change is to know the BASELINE you’re changing from. Fooling yourself doesn’t work.
Plan ahead: how will you handle holiday parties, eating out and traveling?
Ask for help from other people. People who really love you will help you avoid temptations, those who don’t may enjoy your vulnerability. Surround yourself with the former as you begin to change your old habits.
Know yourself: are you an all-or-nothing person or someone who does best with gradual change? Use your strengths to your advantage. Your weight-loss plan needs to work for you, not the person who wrote the latest diet book.
Know your enemies: I always encourage my clients to make a list of the obstacles that interfere with taking good care of themselves. Do you over-eat when stressed or bored or skip your yoga/pilates/exercise when you’re tired at the end of the day?
On a piece of paper, make two columns: the first is for your obstacles to health, the second is what you’ll do to address that obstacle. I used to eat a pint of ice cream out of boredom or loneliness, so I put this in column one. Then I wrote down two strategies to address this in column two. They were:
Put a sign on the refrigerator: “Are you bored? Are you lonely? Eating won’t fix it.”
Remind myself: “I can eat ice cream as long as I pay attention to every bite I eat. When I stop paying attention, I have to put down the spoon.” This really helped me stop “shoveling” the ice cream down my throat without really tasting it (an old habit).
Above all, don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to reach your weight goal – focus on one step at a time. We’re going for long-term health and happiness, not a quick fix that’s unsustainable. Physical health – like mental health – is a lifelong project. To make it work: be kind, flexible and forgiving. Your body (and mind) will thank you.