The Secret Ecology of Lasting Weight Loss

“If I really put my mind to it, I can do it this time,” I told myself. Here I was, having yet another talk with myself about my resolve to exert more discipline, more willpower, and more commitment to my elusive weight loss goal.

I was psyching myself up to grit my teeth to temptation, to say a polite but firm “no thanks” next time I encountered a food forbidden to my diet, which I naturally wanted to devour on the spot!

As with many women who struggle with weight, I noticed a split in my life: whereas in other areas of my life I seemed to attain “success” with relative ease, when it came to weight loss, my experience was the stark opposite-nothing short of continual failure.

It made me ponder: if weight loss sounds so simple on paper, how come it’s so darn complicated out here in the real world?

On paper, for example, weight loss looks like this:

Step 1: Start where you are at “weight X”

Step 2: Follow the food and exercise plan

Step 3: End up lighter at “weight Y”

And while that 3-step process does sound so seductively sensible, logical and sane, the very fact that weight loss is such an uphill battle for so many of us-I can personally attest to 10 years of my own bitter struggle-suggests that the mystery of weight loss is perhaps a tad bit more complex than the diet industry would have us believe.

You see, while weight loss appears to be a straightforward linear process of moving from a higher number on the scales to a lower one, appearances can be deceptive. If you’ve swallowed this dangerous illusion of linearity, it may be what’s kept you overweight until now.

For although we’ve been told (or should I say sold?) that if we succeed in making a few basic changes to our eating and exercise habits, weight loss is the obvious outcome, it’s plainly not true.

Here’s why.

Despite what diets may tell you, your current weight is not simply the sum of your food intake minus your exercise output – it’s the result of a much more complex equation.

In addition to the roles played by food and exercise, there are some other major players in your personal weight loss drama: namely, the weight and eating and exercise habits, of your friends, family and co-workers, plus the attributes of the environments you both live and work in.

In other words, everything and everyone around you affects your weight. They all add up to be your life-support system-the people and situations that support your life as you have it.

I call it your “ecology.”

To understand how this applies to your weight, imagine for a moment a plant in a rainforest, that’s happily going about its life, supported by all the other plants in its ecology. Its existence is intimately connected to its surroundings; the rainfall, shade, soil, and so on. For its whole life, that specific plant has been going about perfecting the art of survival in its unique niche, and that’s what it knows to do like a pro.

Whether you realize it or not, for your lifetime, you’ve been doing the exact same thing in the environment you grew up in.

But getting back to the plant, now imagine uprooting it, and transplanting it to a vastly different environment, for example a desert. Would it survive? No!

For successful transplanting, you’d want to create a customized life-support system that allows it to survive in its new environment. This might include a specially-designed nursery, with the right soil, the right light and the right humidity. With close attention to tailoring a new ecology to suit the plant, it’s possible that the plant may actually regain its bearings, relax into its new spot, and not only survive, but thrive.

Back over to weight loss again, the same principle is at play. Your struggle with weight and food – the one you’ve known so long it feels like an “old friend” – is not just a result of your individual actions. Your struggle is influenced by the entire “ecology” that supports you.

How you hear your friends talk about health is your rainfall. How your workplace handles your lunch break is your shade. And how comfortable your parents are in their skin is your soil.

Before lamenting your inability to stick to a diet consider this: your current weight is the weight that your personal “ecology” supports. If you want to successfully “transplant yourself ” to a new, lighter, slimmer body, then your “ecology,” your support system, has to change first.

Because if it doesn’t, then whatever weight loss you do achieve will have no soil to take root in, and-as you may have experienced multiple times to date-it will flounder and wither away.

How then should you go about successfully losing weight?

The answer is simple. Change your ecology.

Here’s how.

Inside you, as in all of us, is a driving force seeking two things: safety and belonging. Just as the plant in our story “belonged” to the “safe” environment of the whole forest, you have the same trait. You also seek to feel safe and you seek to belong.

If you currently struggle with weight, on an unconscious level you “belong” to an ecology in which having that extra weight contributes to your safety and belonging.

To lose weight therefore, flip it around. Start to “belong” yourself to groups where healthy choices inform its culture of “safety and belonging.” Once your “belong” yourself to groups, clubs, communities, or tribes of any kind who are actively involved in the types of activities from which losing weight would be a natural side-effect, you’re home and hosed.

For example, my client Juliette, a sharp-witted Manhattanite had been battling the same 20 pounds for years. Through considerable willpower and effort, she’d triumphantly lose them, and then as soon as she loosened her grip on her food and exercise “program,” the weight would come tumbling back, putting her back at square one.

When I enquired after the particulars of her ecology, she told me that both her parents were overweight, as were many of her friends, and those that weren’t seemed constantly uptight about food and their bodies.

She had plenty of role models for disapproving of her body, but she admitted she barely knew anyone who plainly loved or enjoyed their bodies! Without her realizing it, in her ecology, being overweight and disliking your body was the norm. Being overweight was familiar, safe and steeped in belonging.

As you may imagine, possessing and enjoying a slim, sexy body was therefore a foreign state to Juliette’s ecology. She experienced that when she did succeed in reaching her ideal weight, she never quite felt comfortable or stable there. She’s soon become unhinged, weight returned, and with it a body shape that felt more “ecologically safe” to her.

No wonder every time she lost weight she gained it back!

To lose weight permanently, Juliette had first to become aware of her situation from an “ecology” point of view. She had to zoom out from her own hyper-personal experience, and see how, like a plant in a forest, her spot in life was informed by a myriad of other influences.

Instead of fixating so much on the particulars of her diet and exercise, I led Juliette to pay attention to the larger influences in her life. I suggested she seek out communities of women who were clearly enjoying their bodies, at any size. In doing so she developed friendships with these women, and by osmosis, for the first time in her life she began to truly notice and appreciate aspects of her own body that she actually liked. It was a great step.

The more she consciously and strategically sought out women who &mdash as she aspired to – possessed a good self-image, the more it felt “safe” to her, to love and approve of her own body.

Furthermore the more she spent time with these women, the more it felt safe and natural for her to enjoy her own body! It sounds rudimentary, but when she took an honest look at her ecology she observed that not enjoying one’s body was the “normal” in the waters she’d swum in her own life.

In the environment of the new communities she’d positioned herself amidst, where there was built in permission to feel great about yourself, Juliette noticed the lessening and eventual fading away of a compulsion to overeat that had plagued her for years. The once tormenting pull of food just evaporated.

By osmosis with her new ecology, the act “losing weight” no longer threatened her daily operating system. Self-appreciation become part of her new status quo and felt safe. In that environment, would you be surprised to hear that without pushing, Juliette comfortably found her way to a natural, healthy weight she now sustains with enjoyment and ease?

If you’d like that to be you, standing before your mirror in a new body, your path is to do the same.

In order for you to finally get what you want, to be free of the struggle of diet insanity, and enjoy the vitality, energy, vibrance, radiance and of course &mdash let us not forget &mdash sexiness, you need to understand your weight loss “ecology” from a bigger picture.

And from there, work backwards.

Look around your life and notice, which people inspire you to feel radiant? Which environments motivate you to feel alive and energized? Identify these, then “belong yourself ” to them, and weight loss will naturally occur.

To take an example from my life, something that repeatedly inspired me was the beauty and sensuality of belly-dancing. I let that motivate me to I find a weekend-long belly dancing camp to attend and went from never having tried belly dancing to “belonging” to the community of the camp.

While I was there I bought an instructional belly dance DVD and brought it home to keep practicing. through the internet I researched the dance teacher, and found not only other titles by her, but found a whole community of students of belly dancing, that I could “belong” myself to, to ensure that the art of belly dancing take root and flourish in my life. Which is exactly what happened.

I went from having no belly dancing experience and not really knowing anyone who did, to feeling like I belonged to a live and virtual belly dance community within a matter of weeks.

From a bird’s eye view you can see what I did was create ecology. Instead of focusing on the outcome, I focused on creating the conditions that would support me having that outcome.

Your mission is to stop exerting effort striving for a linear path to weight loss &mdash it’s nothing but a myth. What marks the difference between a slim body that sticks around for life, versus weight loss that comes and goes, is the degree to which it has ecological support.

Start thinking about weight loss like an “ecologist,” beginning with the soil you stand on now. Instead of striving for a far away weight loss goal, begin where you are tending to your ecology.

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