Do you want to lose 10/20/50/100 pounds or more? Do you think that when you lose weight, your life will be better?
I’m Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin, psychoanalyst, and today I’m going to help you challenge the negative ideas that weigh you down. What you need to lose most isn’t the number on the scale – it’s what that number means to you, and how it affects you.
Let me tell you about my friend, Kayla, who had a bad break-up. Her boyfriend dumped her, completely out of the blue. In fact, she thought they were going to get married, that he was going to propose and instead he broke up with her.
Did she cry? Did she get upset? Yes, but only for a little while. It wasn’t long before she was telling me, “I know how to get him back. I’m going to lose fifteen pounds and then I’ll look so smoking hot, he’ll be so sorry he broke up with me. He’ll be begging to get back together.”
Okay, what’s wrong with that plan? Besides, just about everything.
First of all, Kayla wasn't dealing with the reality of the break-up. She wasn't considering how it affected her, or working through her feelings. No, all she was thinking about was getting this guy to want her again, and in her mind, the way to do that was by changing her appearance.
Lose fifteen pounds and voila – she'd be irresistible. Or so she hoped.
Kayla was trying to control her ex-boyfriend by controlling her weight.
Lots of people think that when they lose weight, their lives will improve, they’ll be more confident, outgoing, relaxed, and happy. They say things like:
“When I lose weight, I'll start dating.”
“When I lose weight, I’ll look for a new job.”
Or, “I'll finally have the courage to leave my spouse.”
How about, “When I fit into those jeans in the back of my closet – the ones I never wear because they’re way too small, but one day I’ll fit into them – when those jeans fit, I’ll be happy.”
These are all some form of when/then. When the number on the scale is where you want it to be, then life will be better.
If this sounds familiar, you may believe, like Kayla, that by controlling your weight, you can manage many aspects of your life, including your likeability, lovability, and overall happiness.
This is just an illusion of control. If Kayla were to give up the hope that changing her weight would make her boyfriend change his mind about her, she’d probably get in touch with some painful and upsetting feelings. Focusing on losing weight was a way to avoid the pain of the break-up and her powerlessness over the situation.
Feeling powerless is connected to vulnerability and dependency, both of which can be extremely uncomfortable. Two responses to powerlessness are: getting angry and getting busy.
Anger is an active emotion, whereas powerlessness is a passive emotion. Getting mad keeps you from the vulnerable, raw, painful or depressing states of helplessness.
Being busy is also way of turning passive to active. Eating, counting calories, focusing on achievements and going to the gym all the time are all ways of “doing” rather than “feeling.” In this case, Kayla was in full-on productivity mode, planning how to change her appearance.
She did eventually talk about some of the issues she and the ex-boyfriend had throughout their relationship. One problem was that he’d been married before and wasn't sure if he wanted more kids, and she definitely wanted kids of her own. Apparently he thought that would be too much for him to handle.
Kayla said, “I really want kids. I bet he’d want kids with me if I were thinner.”
It seemed to me that she was went from talking about wanting too much (according to the boyfriend) to being too much, being too big, weighing too much.
This is an example of how our perceptions of ourselves can be influenced by emotions, needs, and wants.
If you often feel as if you’re too much for others, that you are too demanding, or that you burden people with your needs, the sense of wanting too much, or needing too much, can be unconsciously experienced as seeing yourself as literally too big.
Think about what’s “too much” about you and where you got that idea about yourself? People who grow up in families in which emotionality is labeled “dramatic” or “oversensitive” or “ridiculous” learn to dismiss their feelings and think that they feel things too intensely, too much. This can then be expressed in concrete, physical terms about their size. Instead of feeling too much, they “are” too much.
It’s one thing to want to lose weight for health reasons, but if are trying to change your life by changing your weight, take a moment and consider what your weight means symbolically.
Weight can represent the qualities you want to get rid of – such as shyness, insecurity, anxiety, and so forth – losing weight becomes equivalent to losing those unacceptable “parts” of yourself. It’s easier to focus on losing weight than think about shedding disappointments, fears, concerns, worries, and anxieties.
Forget the realities of the scale for a moment. What are the “bad” parts of yourself that you want to get rid of? What do you imagine will be different if you are at a different weight? How will losing weight change you as a person?
Here’s an example of how losing weight doesn’t change you. Alex, was 100 pounds overweight, and he used to tell me how very insecure he felt about his weight. He imagined that when he lost the weight, he’d be more confident, more social and that he’d have way more friends. He thought he might even go on an online dating site and take more risks in that department.
You know what? Alex did lose weight, a lot of weight, over 100 pounds. And he did feel more confident… temporarily. Even though he kept off the weight, his insecurity shifted to something else – he started to worry that he wasn’t smart enough, that he didn’t know enough about politics, about the stock market, that he didn’t understand business the way he should.
He didn’t want to talk to new people at parties or ask anyone out, because he thought they’d realize he wasn’t smart enough.
Whereas Alex once worried about the size of his stomach, now he was concerned with the size of his intellect.
Losing weight doesn’t make the things you don’t like about yourself disappear. They just get attached to something else. As much as Alex wanted to lose 100 pounds and change his life, what he really needed to lose was his insecurity about himself.
To feel good about yourself, you must lose the idea that there’s something deficient or unlikeable or unlovable about you. Your inner critic has got to go. Take a moment and give some thought to what qualities about yourself (not physical characteristics) you think you need to get rid of. How did you come to believe those qualities were unacceptable? What’s another way of looking at them?
Alex, for example, told me that part of his problem with women was that he was a homebody. He’d rather stay home and watch a movie than go out clubbing.
I said, “What’s wrong with being a homebody?”
He told me that girls like bad boys who ride motorcycles or drive expensive sports cars and take them to fancy restaurants and clubs.
I suggested that not all women liked any one kind of man, any more than all men like any one kind of woman. Alex had to challenge the idea that being a chill-out-at-home kind of guy made him inferior in some way, or unattractive.
It took some work, but he did that, and he gained a new perspective. I’m happy to report that he’s now married to a nice woman who also enjoys staying home and watching movies on the couch. And occasionally they go out for a night on the town. That works for both of them. So, yay, happy ending.
Losing weight is kind of like moving to a different city or a different country hoping to have a different life. Wherever you go, there you are. When you lose the negative ideas about yourself, you’ll be happy wherever you are.
Thanks for tuning in. I’m Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin, psychoanalyst, here to help you change your unhealthy, unhappy relationship to food and feel better. For more information please visit my website, win-the-diet-war.com, or find me on Facebook at Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin, or on Twitter @win-the-diet-war.