Why weight gain is an unexpected gift.
In Part 1 of the blog series, we learned that dieting induces what Martha Beck labelled “Famine Brain”, a brain state that, in its attempt to keep you alive during times of famine, switches on the sympathetic nervous system (stress response) which tells the body to retain as much stored fat from food as possible (ie that’s weight gain) and to binge on any foods you find that are high in fat and sugar. This is why dieting doesn’t work. We are programmed to try to gain weight whenever we are calorically restricted.
In Part 2 of this blog series, I delved further into how humans, unlike animals, are not adept at turning off the stress response, because we’re really good at scaring ourselves with stories of past stressful situations or stories about what might happen in the future. We’re also really good at living very stress-inducing lives. While we remain in stress mode, we can’t turn off the physiological stress response, which means our bodies continue to tell us to retain weight and binge of high fat, high sugar foods.
In this blog post, I’m going to explore further how not loving living is actually inducing the stress response in you, exacerbating your struggle with weight, and how the answer to this is love (and really, love is SO often the answer!).
In very general terms, life can be divided into five main categories:
Our work – what we spend most of our days doing
Our relationships – our families, friends, colleagues and communities
Our body/health – the elements of our physical life including health, weight, sexuality and our relationship to our bodies
Our spiritual life – our connection to a greater power, our sense of meaning/purpose in life, our deep connection to and knowledge of ourselves
There is, of course, a good deal of overlap here – meaning/purpose can play out in our work and our relationships, our physical health can certainly affect what work we are capable of and how we connect in relationships, our communities inform our spiritual life……but the basic categories are helpful in thinking about your life in a big picture kind of way.
In this series, we’ve explored the impact stress can have on the body, and the solution is, in fact, a more spiritual one – resting, meditation, internal dialogue and self-love.
Many of you guys have come to me for coaching, or read my materials, because they are experiencing a general lack-lustre feeling toward life, struggling to be happy. But knowing what does make you happy, what your purpose or calling is in life, and getting from where you are to a life you love living, seems impossible to figure out. Once we get going with some coaching, and I begin suggesting that connecting consciously to how the body is feeling about the various areas of your life, I hear a lot of resistance – if I do only what my body wants, I’ll sleep all day, do nothing but watch tv, I’ll never achieve anything, I’ll be selfish and self-indulgent. These common fears often have an element of truth to them. If we’re very used to ignoring our bodies, we are probably very tired (not getting enough sleep), feeling run down or exhausted (from being too busy or constantly under pressure, potentially in adrenal fatigue), mentally exhausted such that thinking clearly or really being present in conversations is hard and on top of that, many of us experience some kind of chronic or frequent pain, which we conveniently avoid with disconnection from the body and a few Panadol.
If this is the state of your body, it’s no wonder all it wants to do is lie down and rest. When I suggest to clients that this is the path to finding their purpose or calling, it’s hard to believe.
Our relationship with our bodies is extremely important to our happiness and well being. And it’s more than just not hating it for it’s lack of resemblance to a Kardashian body. Our bodies are constantly trying to steer us towards our right life – a life we will love living. The measure to which we ignore it is the measure to which we will not be happy.
So what does this have to do with weight gain?
Well, every time we force our body to do something it doesn’t want to do, we create stress. Whether we force ourselves into long, boring office days that make our bodies want to scream with dread at the thought of it, or we push ourselves through crazy schedules that exhaust and wear out our bodies, or we ignore pain, drugging it away in order to keep up with our intended schedule, we are, in effect, treating our bodies like a hostage, removing power, autonomy, freedom, joy and care. And who, in those circumstances, will ever be happy?
I see middle-aged women all the time, with all manner of chronic pain and ill health, from joint issues to migraines to thyroid problems to fibromyalgia to digestive issues and IBS……chronic, incurable (so we’re told), no-real-cause illnesses, which are themselves very real and can be very painful, for which we are prescribed a multitude of symptom-suppressing drugs, just to get by.
On top of this, depression and anxiety, insomnia and, of course, weight gain, can plague us.
I believe every one of these issues has at least a component of causality in the fact that we are ignoring our bodies and making choices that pull us away from our true course – the course our true selves are yearning to take. Ignoring that call holds our bodies in the stress response, wearing down our physical elements, our immune system and our regular bodily functions.
And so – what’s the solution?
Needless to say, the start of solving any of these issues, is to learn to switch off the stress response. The bad news is, you can’t do this and still choose the lifestyle you’re living. It’s the problem.
However, the path to changing your lifestyle to suit your true self, being expressed through the body, does not have to be one of rapid, all-out, immediate change – though if you’re up for that, go for it! (just make sure you’re choosing the life your body really wants, not one you’re mind has invented for you!! Read more on that here.)
Gradual, small steps toward being happier make a big difference. A small increase in happiness (which is often a decrease in unhappiness) begins to build trust between you and your body, and the body will be quick to respond. This could be as simple as choosing to get more sleep, or schedule in some waking down-time (tv off, no screens, nothing “to-do”, alone or around people you truly love – the classic picture of sitting on the porch, watching the sun go down, springs to mind). Scheduled slow time is really important and will do wonders for your overall health.
The other great first-step in the process of finding a life you love living, is to love yourself. This is a classic, often “cheesey” saying that people assume has to mean getting a massage or taking a long bath. Or perhaps, buying yourself that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing off. And these are all potentially great acts of self love. However, I mean a deeper, more real self love.
In her book “Your Inner Mean Girl”, coach Amy Ahlers defines the voice inside our heads that criticises us, picks us apart, is quick to point out where we’re not good enough, failing and in danger of being a social outcast because of innate unloveableness. It’s a great book to begin your journey toward truly treating yourself with love.
As a good rule, we all recall the moral adage “Do unto others and you would have them do unto you”, which is great advice, but the converse statement is also true: “Never do to yourself what you would not do to others” (this includes how you talk to yourself, in your mind).
This will build your self-love muscle far more than just getting the occasional massage or new pair of shoes. It will begin to create an internal environment of love and safety, which lowers your inner chronic stress and makes you more able to give real love and acceptance to others.
When you can truly speak lovingly to yourself, and really feel that love for yourself, you’ll start to see that your own happiness, your body’s comfort and ease, health and energy, are all very, very important. You can better begin to listen to your body and care for it, the way you would for a sick child who is in pain. We would never hold a young infant who is in pain and yell at them because they are hurting, or tell them they should buck up and go to work anyway. We would lavish nurturing physical care onto them, compassion and protection from things that could further worsen their condition.
So to, we need to treat our exhausted, in-pain bodies, struggling with weight and stress and fear. Nurturing ourselves, lovingly tending to our own needs, will begin to return you to a state of non-stress, the relaxation response, and from there, your body can naturally return to a state of not retaining excess weight, not needing to binge eat and, very often, wonderful health.
Do you identify with this inner mean girl self-talk? Are you learning to actually love yourself and express that love to yourself? Do you find it all impossibly hard? What are your key “songs of self hate,” which your brain plays over and over? I’m here to help you move toward a life you love living. Share your struggles and questions about loving yourself below, I’d love to encourage and help you on the journey!