• Aleksandra Modzelewska

Identity and Weight Loss

Can your identity sabotage your weight loss progress?


You might have tried many diets, you might have worked on your relationship with food but have you ever considered looking at your relationship with yourself? The person you identify yourself as and the beliefs you have can have huge implications to your fat loss progress.


What has my identity got to do with anything?


Many people start their weight loss journeys by focusing on the goal, the thing that they want to achieve, like losing 20lbs for instance. However, as you probably know from your own experiences, focusing on the outcome alone does not get you there.


When you decide to go on holiday you pick a destination but this doesn't actually take you there, does it? Imagine if it did! You could be transported to a pool bar in hot Bahamas within seconds. That's the dream. When you pick your holiday destination you then need to plan it - book the time off work, buy flight tickets, hotel, research places to visit, things to do, pack your suitcase. These are certain processes that you need to complete in order to go where you want to go.


Let's take it even further back - if you want to book a holiday you have to be an organised and patient planner. However, if all of your life you've been telling yourself that you're disorganised or impatient, or that you're terrible at planning anything then, most likely you'll end up staying somewhere local and familiar. Unless, of course, you get yourself a travel company to take care of this for you. This is why your identity can either empower you and your actions or hold you back. As you can see, your identity is an important factor in taking you from A to Z, whatever your goal. Let's explore it further below and see how this can affect your weight loss progress.



"I'm fat"


Have you always referred to yourself as a ‘fat person’, ‘big boned’ or ‘overweight’? When you identify yourself as such, what do you think happens when you want to lose weight? You might come across resistance or you might find it very hard to make changes.


Saying ‘I'm fat’ when on a weight loss journey is only going to pull you back, because if ‘fat’ is who you are then who are you without it? When you finally lose the excess fat it might feel like you've lost your whole sense of self and that can have some negative impact. Not only can it sabotage your weight loss progress but it might leave you feeling lost and not knowing who you are anymore. This feeling can drive you right back to comfort foods and to your previous weight point, if not worse.


I'm not saying that accepting the reality or calling things by their name is bad, not at all but using this kind of language can limit you and the decisions that you make. Yes, in order to change you need to be aware of the current situation. You might be carrying too much fat for reasons that you might not even be aware of, as a result of your emotions or your environment. Acknowledge where you are now, accept yourself as you are and treat yourself with compassion on your new journey. Once you decide to lose weight and look after your health you can start working on changing your identity and the language that you use.


You are not your size


How you talk about yourself can determine the choices that you make. Going back to the above example - calling yourself ‘fat’ can be very limiting because you might have accepted it as fact. ‘I'm fat and that's that. This is who I am’ - by saying that you don't leave yourself much room for a discussion or negotiation. With this mindset you set yourself up for failure from the very start because what's the point of even trying if you won't follow through?


Dr Rangan Chatterjee in his book "Feel Great Lose Weight" describes this perfectly - "All medical organizations that I know of classify obesity as a disease. You wouldn't say 'I'm ulcerative colitis' or 'I'm cancer'. Nobody ever says that, but they do say it about their weight."


Trust me when I tell you this - and I might not even know you but I know this for sure, you are more than your size! Your weight, your shape, your body fat percentage do not define you. I understand that it might be hard to see past this, especially when you've been using a negative language towards yourself since you remember but you can change it. Let's explore different ways you can try to start improving your self-image.


Self-awareness


Firstly, you need to unfold any limiting beliefs you have about yourself that might stop you from moving forward. Make yourself a cup of tea, grab a pen and paper and write down anything you've been saying about yourself up to this point. Some of the limiting beliefs are well hidden beneath the surface so do take time to really think about it. You might want to speak to your close friends or family members and ask if they have ever noticed you saying anything negative or limiting about yourself. Here are a few examples I noticed with my clients:

  • "I'm lazy"

  • "My parents are fat, no surprise I'm fat"

  • "I hate exercising"

  • "I can't cook"

  • "I'm too busy"

  • "I'm just not a runner"

  • "I'm not a sporty person"

  • "I'm weak and lack willpower"

Let's now see how one of the above statements can sabotage your fat loss progress. Let's say that you want to lose weight and decide to start running to help you burn more calories. However, since the decision you haven’t yet been out for a run and therefore you collected some new evidence that confirms that you aren’t a runner and the idea quickly fades away.


Making a list of your limiting beliefs and challenging them.

However, if you start identifying yourself as someone who runs 5k every Saturday morning or someone who takes care of their body by regular exercising, you start making different choices. You might join a local parkrun group to help you with accountability, you get your running gear ready every Friday evening and you get excited about trying to beat your personal best. You start feeling empowered and your new identity becomes stronger with every run as a result. Each action that you take is a vote for your new identity, it creates tangible evidence that you actually are a runner. Your identity emerges out of your habits. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more you reinforce that identity because you create ‘evidence’ that supports these beliefs.


Let's take another example and break it down. You decided to lose weight so try some new healthy recipes and you pay more attention to the food that you buy. But today is your friend's birthday party and there is obviously some birthday cake and many more sugary snacks on the table. Your friend offers you a slice of the cake and you reply by saying: "No, thank you. I'm trying to lose fat". It might seem like a good response, right? Read it again - "I'm trying to lose fat". Does it sound like you're a person who looks after their body and health by not eating highly processed and sugary foods? Or does it sound like an overweight person who is desperately trying to be someone they're not? It's not very convincing, is it? You can start making a shift in your identity by replying "No, thank you. I no longer eat refined sugar" or "No, thank you, I don't eat processed food anymore". All of a sudden you stop identifying yourself as a ‘fat’ person who always says ‘yes’ to sugary and fatty foods and start seeing yourself as someone who cares about their health and makes choices that support that. And you just scored yourself a point so tap yourself on the back. See how important the way you talk about yourself is and how innocently sounding words can limit you and drive you to different choices?


James Clear in his book "Atomic Habits" says it well - "It's one thing to say I'm the type of person who wants this. It's something very different to say I'm the type of person who is this."


How you can start making changes


By completing the above exercise you discovered some of the limiting beliefs that have been accompanying you until now. That's great! If you read any of my earlier blogs than you heard me say this time and time again - awareness is key to change. Now that you know what might have held you back let's see what you can do to escape from this trap that you created.


Unfolding the hidden 'gems'

Grab the list that you created earlier and for each limiting belief ask yourself these questions:


1. Is this really true?

2. Can I find evidence that counteracts this statement?

3. How can I change the language to a more empowering one?


Let's say that you've always seen yourself as someone who hates exercising. You might answer the above questions like this:


1. I don't think this is entirely true.

2. A couple of Sundays ago I kicked a ball in the park with my family. I really enjoyed it and had so much fun with everybody.

3. I like playing games/being active with people I like. I want to implement more exercise in my life so maybe I can organise regular days out like this with my friends and family.


By asking these simple questions you challenge the belief. If you see yourself as someone who hates exercising you don't even consider doing any activity and therefore adding an extra vote for your old identity every time you don't get involved. When you swap "I hate exercising" for "I like playing games with people I like spending time with" you open up a whole new world of possibilities and you are more likely to organise something with your friends and enjoy it (and a new vote goes to your new identity, ka-ching!).


Mirror exercise

Another way to fix your self-talk is by saying kind things to yourself each day. A friend of mine calls it a 'mirror exercise'. Every morning or evening, after brushing your teeth, look at your reflection in the mirror and say at least three kind things to yourself. This doesn't have to relate to your looks, it can be your personality characteristics that you like about yourself, your strengths, things you're proud of achieving or overcoming. By doing this exercise daily you start seeing yourself as someone more than their size. There is a real and beautiful person underneath all of the insecurities and negative beliefs that you've been telling yourself, for whatever reason.


Practicing mirror exercise by telling yourself what you like about yourself

Visualisation

I love using visualisation! It helped me before my marathon, before a job interview and before any public speaking event. It helps me calm down and reduces my stress. I like to use visualisation with my clients in the 12-week Coaching and the 12-months Coaching programs. You can try it at home by drawing an image of yourself now and your current environment and another one with how you’d like to see yourself and your environment in the future. Include the things that you do, the people you surround yourself with, food that you eat, clothes that you wear, things that you do in your spare time. If you can see the new ‘you’, you can become it, and it should make you feel excited and motivated. You can do the same for your current thoughts and the thoughts you’d like to have as you work on changing your identity.


Visualisation practice invites you to exit the here and now and see what’s possible. It allows you to see it, to experience it and to feel it with your entire body and soul. It’s a very interesting exercise and I encourage you to give this a try.


Letting go

This one can be powerful. Closing the old chapter can benefit from an intimate farewell party for one. Like with any loss, grief is a natural process that needs to happen. As you leave your old identity behind you might experience something that feels like grief - you might feel void, you might feel lost and sad. Give yourself time to complete this process. Thank your old self for getting you through whatever you were going through at the time. Your old behaviours and beliefs helped you survive, acknowledge and appreciate it. You can do this in a form of the letter or during a meditation, whatever feels more comfortable.



I hope that this blog helps you learn something new about yourself and you can stop sabotaging your weight loss progress once and for all. As you can see, a sustainable, long-term fat loss isn't an easy or quick process, it requires time and work. It isn't as simple as eat this, avoid this, do this exercise. It's a lot more complex than that. As much as a calorie deficit is required to lose weight it won't fix bad habits or a destructive mindset. A combination of other factors play an important role and shouldn't be ignored when starting a weight loss journey.


If you're tired of unsuccessful diet attempts and need help designing a better, healthier life than get in touch. I'm here to support you, guide you and walk this path with you. You can book a free consultation call with me below.



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