This is a guest post by Nancy Bryan
America has spawned a stunning array of commercial and nonprofit weight-loss groups (far too many to mention by name). Some of them ask you to come to meetings (weekly, perhaps even daily); some simply deliver approved food to your door. A new type of them—some even backed by prestigious universities—have emerged to offer encouragement and behavioral counseling online.
It is easy to see why people would seek out similarly minded people as they embarked upon weight loss. Losing weight is an admittedly daunting enterprise, with many pitfalls and disappointments along the way. Of course, one would seek out a group that offered the hope of much-needed psychological support.
Some people are hugely successful with group weight loss (obviously, these are the people featured in testimonials for the commercial groups); others fail and drop out. The latter may try again months or sometimes even years later, perhaps succeeding the second time, perhaps failing again. You want to be in the group that succeeds, of course.
Here are some tips that can help you achieve that goal…
First, let’s establish that there is a very clear distinction between you, a single person, and the multi-million-dollar corporation that sponsors the group. You have enrolled in the group because you are seeking from it emotional support and solid, hard-headed, informative advice. Well and good. But keep in mind, at all times that you, a unique individual, are the only thing that matters here. You are the person living in your body; you are the ultimate expert on what it needs. Granted, if you are now overweight you may not like your body very much at the moment, but it is still your body, and it is trying to serve you to the best of its current abilities. Please don’t discount what it is saying to you, and don’t succumb if the advice the group is handing out (for example, that you “ought” to be able to lose five—or even two—pounds a week) contradicts what your own experience is telling you.
Your body knows best. After you understand that YOU are the person in charge here, you need to see that you are the one who dictates your worldview and how you operate in it from day to day. As the wise athlete Fred Rohé wrote in The Zen of Running, “We create the quality of our own experience.” Yes: every bit of it.
There are four important pillars of success with group weight loss – principles for living. We’ve already mentioned the first one: your body is a source of wisdom.
Mental attitude is everything. Search for a serene attitude as you go about your daily life. Often, regrettably, group weight-loss meetings can become vehicles for some people (who claim they are striving for self-love and self-acceptance) to express self-dissatisfaction instead. Don’t join that chorus. Make sure that you have the most positive attitude—i.e., serenity and gratitude—of anyone in the room. (Your fellow group members will thank you for playing this cheerleading role.) And if you come across someone who is truly down in the dumps over some perceived personal imperfection, take a moment to offer words of cheer. I predict that this act of generosity will probably be paid back to you sometime in the future.
Focus on the right feedback. Commit yourself doggedly to the fact that only correct feedback can tell you how well your weight-loss effort is progressing. It is practically tragic that commercial weight-loss groups use weekly weigh-ins as, what they call, measures of progress, since only water enters and leaves the body in large enough quantities to be measured this way. In my book, Thin is a State of Mind, I write that weight loss is like the hour hand on the clock; you can see only that it has moved, not that it is moving. Another metaphor that might be useful is that fat loss—which is all a diet should be aiming for—is like taking off another wetsuit each week. Fat gain, of course, is like putting on a new wetsuit each week.
Since as a group member you will have to follow the organization’s protocols and be weighed every week, set up a parallel feedback-generating option for yourself if you need one: a tape measure or, my preference, a piece of clothing you’d like to have fit better. Keep trying it on to see whether it is getting any looser on you. And while we’re on the subject of weigh-ins, don’t EVER let yourself become one of those foolish people who (for example) wear leggings to weigh-ins instead of sweatpants because they weigh less and will make the number on the scale look better! None of this matters in the long run, and if you obsess like this you’re preventing your brain from learning better behavior and attitudes.
It’s completely understandable that commercial weight-loss groups (which, remember, are concerned primarily with the health of their bottom line) would feature lower-calorie versions of tempting treats to give their members a way to feel less deprived during their weight-loss endeavor. But a basic truth is that, depending on a person’s individual metabolic makeup, treats of this sort may have an addictive relationship to the body.
OK, so we’ve given you a list of the tips. They are one more time:
You are your own expert. Listen to your body; never discount what it is saying in favor of what some “expert” may be telling you.
Attitude is everything. Work at maintaining serenity and gratitude for yourself.
Insist on accepting only correct feedback: if a weekly weigh-in doesn’t seem to be doing the job properly, find yourself a parallel path to give you an accurate account of how you are doing.
Think lifestyle, not diet. To really be successful with weight loss for good, it’s absolutely crucial to recognize that what should be aimed for here is a “way of life,” not a “diet.” (The main attribute of a diet is that you can go off it.) Try to find ways that your previous obsession with high-calorie temptations just simply doesn’t belong in your new serene and grateful perceptual universe.
About Nancy Bryan
Nancy Bryan, Ph.D., author of this revised and updated edition of Thin is a State of Mind (first published in 1980 by Harper & Row, and subsequently by CompCare Publications), has spent her entire working life as an editor: in the sixties at The Rand Corporation; in the seventies at an ARPANET research institute; in the eighties at a worldwide employee-benefits consulting firm; and in the nineties for the J. Paul Getty Trust. In addition to Thin is a State of Mind, Bryan has written a doctoral dissertation on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and has ghostwritten a bestselling self-help book. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Self, Family Health, and various museum and computer-science publications. She is currently working on a forthcoming title, Metathinking: Great Ideas for Women’s Use.
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