Writing this post is very uncomfortable for me, but I was inspired by someone for whom I have a lot of respect and is sharing her weight loss journey online. I read her online journal today – the day that I have vowed to take back my health and lose this weight for good.
Now it’s not just about the weight per se – a little over two years ago, I lost about 45 pounds, which was incredibly challenging, and have mindlessly gained back 20 of those pounds – it’s about my habits of mind. Weight management has been a battle of mine since high school when I developed an eating disorder. Some might even say I still have an eating disorder as I have gone up and down for my entire adult life. While I am happy to say that I no longer hate my body (thank you compassion cultivation), I still have a lot of conditioned responses that need unlearning for me to truly manage my weight in a healthy and sustainable way. This is the point of this post – how my meditation practice has uncovered past trauma that appears to be a key catalyst to my eating disorder as a young adult and how the mindful practice of letting go and RAIN will support me in times of craving.
While I do not want to get into the specifics of the trauma I experienced when I was 12, I know that my body shame and anxiety is connected to this experience. Yes, the women in my life were always dieting and in fourth grade I was called stupid names like thunder thighs and buffalo butt. As my body changed during puberty, I felt uncomfortable because I did not like people staring at my breasts. I still don’t like it. No one taught me to embrace and love my body, but I think that was just the culture in which many of us grew up. While I felt the social pressure to be skinny, I believe the deep disgust I had for my body was a result of this traumatic experience. Knowing this helps me to comfort that wounded child so that I can let go of the residual effects of that experience and free myself.
As many of my previous posts have shared, my journey to live my life mindfully and compassionately is an everyday practice. Through this practice I have come to befriend myself and become more attuned with my body and mind. Developing the skill of nonjudgmental awareness has been key to releasing myself from the chains of shame, defensiveness, guilt, unworthiness, etc. While they still show up, I am not constrained by them. The stories I used to tell myself are no longer being told; and if an old narrative is heard, I am able to hold with loving awareness and let it pass. This has opened my heart and mind to seeing my true nature, my goodness and worthiness. I have been able to peel away so many layers of self-hate that have manifested in certain behaviors. As my struggle with weight management reveals, I still have more to peel away.
And so this is where my weight management is going to be different from the past – I must address the mindless relationship I have with food. Today, I meditated using two meditations focused on letting go – one by Tara Brach and the one I recorded (much of it comes from Jack Kornfield’s book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace). I chose to focus on my dysfunctional relationship with food. After sitting, I felt a sense of efficacy, that I can finally let this go – over time, of course. With that in mind, I went to the mall to get an outfit for a friend’s party. I do not like shopping because it forces me to see the truth of my weight, but I am letting go of my disappointment with gaining these 20 pounds so that I can enjoy an evening out. When I saw the fat that was regained as I tried on clothes, I recognized my disappointment, allowed it to be there without the story or judgment, investigated it with gentleness (noting that I was heading down the path of believing I was a failure once again) and nurtured myself by reminding myself that my weight does not dictate my worthiness and that I am not a victim of my dysfunctional relationship with food. This is the process of R.A.I.N. on the go. I noted too that letting go of my disappointment will serve me in staying the course of weight loss and then sustainable weight management.
It has been almost two days since I began drafting this post. I have formally meditated on letting go of my dysfunctional relationship and setting the intention to be mindful of my intake. This does not just mean the amount or type of food I am ingesting, but becoming aware of my unmet needs that lead me to the cabinets in search of food or to take seconds of a meal. This is where the true change resides. Since Friday, I have paused before eating and asked myself to what is this food serving? Is it for survival? Is it for comfort? What am I eating for? If it is for comfort or some other non-nutritional reason, then I investigate a bit further and see what other choices I can make to address the unmet need. I admit that this is challenging because it requires me to consciously pause. Just like when we sit and meditate, our minds wander and we forget what we were focused on. So, just like in meditation I bring my attention back to my intention and begin again.
WE CAN ALWAYS BEGIN AGAIN! The most important behavior for me right now is to rejoice in my growing awareness even when I forget. Because when I realize I have forgotten, it becomes another opportunity for me to become more aware and the chance of remembering next time is increased. Becoming disappointment in myself opens the old storybook of shame and unworthiness. Self-compassion is a critical practice in my weight management.
Kristen Neff, an expert on self-compassion, defines it as three elements: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.
Looking at weight management through the lens of self-compassion I can see all three components.
- Mindfulness – becoming aware of what and why I am eating.
- Common Humanity – knowing that I am not alone in this journey of weight management; hence, I am sharing this with you.
- Self-kindness – treating myself as I would a friend who is struggling; bringing a loving awareness and presence to my unmet needs so that I can deepen my understanding and make healthier choices.
As I put one foot in front of the other along this journey, I hope you too can feel empowered and efficacious along your own journey. I will periodically update this post with my experiences and resources. Please reach out to me to share your story or write in the comments below.