I used to have an awful feeling in my belly every day. As soon as I woke up, there it would be, an uncomfortable knot in the middle of my stomach. I tolerated the situation, by ignoring it, for several years. And when I finally did pay attention to the pain, I decided to get a series of abdominal massages, to loosen up the tension.
What the massage brought to the surface was shame–a thick layer of shame about my body shape not matching the beauty standard set by magazines. Through painful, deep tissue massage from strong, dedicated hands, my knots opened up. And as the muscles let go, I realized how much I’d been bashing my poor belly with judgmental ridicule. Enduring such harsh words–it was no wonder my belly hurt!
Amazingly, after a series of massages, this chronic stomach pain that had plagued me for years, went away, and never came back!
However, what remained was the body shame, as well as the excess weight padding my belly. No matter how much I tried to curb my appetite and my cravings in order to lose weight, my efforts at self-control seemed futile. It was as if my body was telling me, “I can’t be controlled.”
This pattern went on–waves of failed attempts at weight loss, mixed in with a never-ending cascade of bad body image and negative self-talk.
However, despite all of this, a voice inside me prevailed, welling up saying, “you must get to the bottom of this, your peace of mind depends on it!!”
The path was clear. My starting place: a state of harsh criticism and dislike for my body, constantly shooting down my image in the mirror as “not good enough.” My destination: an existence in which love, appreciation and enjoyment of my body predominated.
This journey, which I now invite you on, led me to conclusions and results I could never have imagined. Most importantly, I learned why it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t lose weight and why, if you fight an eternal uphill battle with weight, it’s not your fault either.
Reason #1 It’s Not Your Fault:
Stress is Ruining Your Metabolism
If only I’d known, all those years that I sought every reason to hate my body, that metabolically speaking, I was only making matters worse. Why? Because hating your body is stressful, and stress causes weight gain.
We live in a world where stress is epidemic. Without even taking career or relationships into consideration, managing to feed ourselves, get the exercise we need, and look good, can be incredible stress-producing.
In terms of your body’s inner workings, stress signals the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. In this state, hunger increases, blood sugar levels increase, digestion stops working properly, and more. When you are under stress, you release the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. Cortisol is responsible for setting off all the physiological alarm bells that let your body know something is going wrong. In response to cortisol, your body becomes less sensitive to leptin, the hormone that lets you know when you are full. You end up eating more to achieve the same amount of satisfaction, your metabolism becomes sluggish, and you gain weight.
To make matters worse, not only does stress makes you fatter, it causes you to gain a specific type of fat, around your belly, that generates more stress hormones, which leads to more weight gain. A vicious cycle you may be experiencing right now.
Little did I realize, when I zoomed in on my imperfections and told my self that my proverbial “spare tire”, jiggly thighs and cellulite were disgusting, that the stress it was causing was slowing down my metabolism.
If you’re experiencing weight loss as a source of stress, and feeling like crap about your body, my guess is that you’re not losing weight, and that you think it’s your fault. Let me reassure you, it’s not.
Reason #2 It’s Not Your Fault:
Low-fat, Low-Cal Eating is a Lie
I remember when nutrasweet hit the market and diet coke first came out. (It was my drink of choice at the time.) I felt good about putting less sugar in my body than I would drinking the normal stuff. However, despite how widely assumed it is that artificially sweetened, zero calorie foods help you lose weight, researchers are now discovering that they may actually cause us to gain weight! After 40 years of research and testing of artificial sweeteners, none of the studies has substantiated even a mild correlation between artificial sugar substitutes and weight loss.
The artificial sweetness tricks the body so effectively, that it still releases insulin into the bloodstream to metabolize the food. Since there is no real sugar for the insulin to act upon, it performs its secondary function, which is to instruct the body to store fat!
To the frustrated food-lover, zero calorie food can seem like a dream come true, a license to eat, guilt free. The glitzy food advertising of these products is very convincing, and it’s easy to start thinking that diet-soda is relatively speaking, a health food, but don’t be fooled.
At first glance, embracing a low-fat, low-calorie strategies for weight loss seems sensible. When put under close scrutiny, however, they fall apart. Even if you spend the whole day resting in bed doing nothing, your body requires a certain amount of calories, to maintain itself. You can approximate that number by multiplying the amount you weigh in pounds, by 10, so for a 150 pound woman, that’s about 1500 calories.
If you restrict your eating to consume less than that amount, your body senses danger at hand, and your metabolism slows down to conserve your resources. Dedicated dieters far and wide report the same problem: an initial burst of success, followed by the same strategy not working as well, culminating in it not working at all. The weight loss plan is abandoned and any pounds lost are regained. If you’ve experienced diets working, and then not working anymore, you probably, innocently, think it’s your fault. But let me remind you, it’s not.
Reason #3 It’s Not Your Fault:
Punishing Exercise Packs Pounds On, Not Off
If you only exercised more, you’d lose weight right? Well, as it turns out: maybe, maybe not. Renowned nutritionist, Marc David, reports a case study that illustrates why exercise doesn’t always produce the weight loss you’d want. He tells the tale of a client who came to him, wanting to shed the 15 pounds she legitimately had to lose. She was eating well already, and she was training for a marathon, therefore getting plenty of exercise. The tweaks he made in her diet, however, failed to produce the result she wanted, and he ended up scratching his head not knowing what to do.
Then it struck him. “Do you like running?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” she replied.
“No, do you really like running?” he responded.
“Yes, I do,” she stood her ground.
“Really???” he probed deeper.
And then she cracked. As it turned out, she hated marathon running and was only doing it because she was so determined to lose her hated pooch. Marc David realized that because she really hated running, her body was going into a “stress response” during the training. In a stress response the body goes into “metabolic lockdown,” and fights to hang on to every ounce of fat it’s got. Her stressful jogging was triggering a hormonal cascade: elevated cortisol level, elevated insulin, and no weight loss despite plenty of cardio exercise and strict dieting.
If you’re punishing your body with exercise that has no appeal other than the promise of fat loss, then you’re probably not losing all the weight you want, and you’re thinking it’s your fault. But let me console you, it’s not.
What to Do About It
Finally recognizing the futility of popular dieting methods raises a relevant question, “so what does work?”
Firstly, stop blaming yourself and begin to look at your body with new eyes. Instead of thinking of your body as a lousy oaf who refuses to conform to the way you’d like to look, start remembering all the ways your body is brilliant. For example, if you trip on a stairs, before your mind has time to think, your body reaches for the railing, and saves you from a fall. When you cut yourself, it’s not your mind that fixes the cut, its your body. Start paying attention and you’ll soon notice multiple examples of when your body displays nothing but pure genius. Stop sending your body the message that it’s defective, and your metabolism and fat-burning powers will perk up in the process.
Secondly, rather than calculating your weight loss on a caloric spreadsheet, start to pay attention to eating quality foods that nourish you. Quality foods are whole and fresh. They are not highly processed, nor do they contain ingredients that sound like they belong in a science lab. These foods make you feel good, both while you eat them, and for hours beyond. They supply you with the nourishment you need for health, happiness and a naturally balanced appetite.
And thirdly, if you want to love how your body looks, start being active in ways your body loves. Instead of exercise, which may have a laborious connotation, embrace the concept of embodiment, which means spending time in your body in a way that feels great.
If you’re beating your head against a wall, trying to lose weight, but getting nowhere, let me vindicate you once and for all: it’s not your fault. Not trusting your body will only cause it to rebel all the more, so relax, seek quality nourishment, stop punishing yourself, start listening more deeply, and soon you’ll find the vital answers you need to crack your own weight loss code, right before your eyes.