Shame is a paralysing emotion and one that is devastating to anyone trying to tackle excess weight. Shifting your thinking from shame to a more positive mindset is tricky but a game-changer. Here are some observations from over 20 years helping people to lose weight. I hope one or two of them help you to begin to shift your thinking and overcome shame on your weight loss journey.
Firstly feeling guilty doesn’t feel great but it’s quite different to shame. Guilt tends to lead us to change for the better, (albeit that it’s sometimes a temporary change). Feeling shame is far more unpleasant as it’s linked to self-disgust. It’s likely to make us hide away and do even more things that make us feel shame like a self-fullfilling prophecy. When clients who have fallen off the wagon cancel appointments or avoid replying to my calls or e-mails I start to feel concerned that shame may be setting in. As I gently pursue them offering an open ear they pluck up the courage and tell me about their difficulties. I always wish they’d done that earlier but I recognise that it’s really hard and I know I need to give people space.
So if you find yourself cancelling appointments with your Dietitian or Doctor when you have not been eating healthily you may be trying to hide from the shame. Here are a few observations that might help:
Acknowledge the massive, crippling, painful feeling that shame is
If we don’t name the shame it’s hard to start to do anything about it. We don’t want to feel it and yet we do, even if it’s just subconscious. If my clients are struggling with this I pull out a few phrases they have used in e-mails or conversations and gently explore with them what might be going on emotionally. Sometimes they think it’s guilt but gradually it becomes clear that shame has taken hold. It may be that they need to be referred onto to a clinical psychologist or counsellor to explore more deep-seated reasons for their shame or to help them break free from shame. That is not something I tackle but help is out there. Either way once shame has been named we can recognise something enormously positive – the courage it has taken to acknowledge it. Of course most people cannot simply make that easy shift from seeing themselves as disgusting to seeing themselves as courageous but it’s a start, a big step just to see the possibility.
Explore the obstacles
I find that people tend to think that they’ve failed because they are bad or no good when actually most people’s lives are complicated and often involve a daily mission to be excellent in overcoming challenges. These same people who have just told me that they are disgusted with themselves are people who are committed to delivering amazing outcomes at work against all the odds, devoted to children, husbands, parents or ethers with massive needs that squash out their own, battling with major life changes such as moving house, getting married, going through a divorce, planning for a baby, coping with a new addition to the family – the list is endless. People are often very successful at helping others or dealing with a crisis but they struggle to find adequate resources having done all that to look after themselves. If they haven’t started to shift their thinking I find that people struggle to take action to look after their needs – they just don’t think they are worthy. So it can take time but just writing down a list of things you do successfully on a regular basis can be really powerful. Often the list includes lots about nutrition but all geared at meeting other people’s needs – work colleagues, children, partners. The next step is to help people find some practical strategies for managing all these responsibilities whilst having enough compassion for themselves not to neglect the responsibility they have for their own health and wellbeing.
Usually I am very keen for people to develop their own strategies for overcoming obstacles but I find that people weighed down by shame initially lack the energy to do this. I can come up with a list of suggested strategies but the key that turns the lock is often when the client asks a loved one for help. By making themselves vulnerable in this way people become aware that others do want to help them. This is a big turnaround from feeling unworthy, defeated and horrible. I work with my clients to make a long list of possible strategies that might help them and then ask them to share these with someone who can help them stick with it day by day. That might be a partner, a grown-up child or a friend. I encourage my clients to have a frank discussion making sure that their “helper” actually enables them to find strategies that can realistically be implemented given the day to day reality of the client’s life. Sometimes the client will bring their helper along to a consultation so that I can try to facilitate this process.
Be accountable to someone who loves you
Clients often come to see me partly because they want to be accountable. They value that sense that someone will be checking up on them and that helps motivate them. Looking at that slightly differently it can be helpful for someone at home or a close friend to gently hold the client to account usually for valuing themselves as much as others rather than specifically for sticking to the diet. This is a critical point because if they can value themselves they will be more inclined to sometimes ask others to compromise so that they can get what they need and this really gets things back on track.
Losing weight or eating more healthily is so much more than just knowing what to do it’s knowing what you need to make it happen and that’s not just your will-power it’s the love and support of those who care about you. If your weight loss journey has been an isolated one and you’ve hit a roadblock and started to feel rubbish, have a go at walking hand in hand with someone on the journey and see what a difference it can make.