Terry could not remember a time since college when she was not trying to lose weight. She had tried every diet imaginable. Despite having some success, she would always put back whatever pounds she had lost and then some. When we started working together, she said this would be her last attempt. If she was not successful this time, she swore to give up trying.
We began with small lifestyle changes, building upon one another. It was slow and, at times, frustrating for Terry, but she began to consistently lose about half to one pound a week. Terry incorporated walking into her, learned to recognize when she was no longer hungry and stop eating, and modified her favorite recipes to healthier versions. When we celebrated a year of working together and a 48-pound weight loss, I asked Terry why she thought this time she had succeeded.
"You never told me what I could or couldn't eat. You helped me create a food plan that was flexible, and I could make decisions based on how I felt and what I thought I would enjoy," she said. Terry began telling me about her, a topic we had never talked about before. They were well-meaning and quite loving but incredibly controlling. She grew up with strict curfews, rules around how much TV she was allowed to watch, how many hours a day she had to study, and when she was allowed to visit or talk on the phone with friends.
Being " nuts," her parents also had rigid restrictions regarding food. There was absolutely no junk food in the house, groceries were purchased at the health food store only and fried food and sugar were thought of as "poison." When Terry went to friends' homes, she would raid their fridges and pantries, indulging in all of the treats that were forbidden in her home. When she went off to the local community college (she was not allowed to go away for school), Terry purchased greasy foods in the cafeteria and always had dessert. At those times, always feeling that she was sneaking from her parents, she would think, "you can't control me!"
From these stories, I hope you are able to see how often we have the best of intentions, yet struggle to reach our goals. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, introduce the theory of conflicting commitments in their wonderful book,Immunity to Change. Without an understanding of the reasons why we hold on to the very behaviors that keep us from getting where we so desperately want to go, sustained change will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
Awareness is the first step toward breaking down the barriers. Once we are aware of why or what we are doing, and how it is in a sense protecting us and keeping us , we can begin taking small steps, or doing experiments to see what happens. For many, this is the road to success.
However, others will still struggle, and could benefit enormously from working with a mental health care professional. As a coach, I recognize a few signs that will tell me my client needs some additional assistance in order to move forward. When clients come to their sessions week after week having made goals but not following through, feel as if their sabotaging behaviors are uncontrollable, or are constantly blaming their situation on the past, others or circumstances, it's time to suggest working with a therapist.So if your weight-loss journey seems more like an uphill battle that will never end, despite being highly motivated, do some thinking around what competing commitments you might be holding on to. A good coach or therapist, or even talking with a trusted friend, can help you shed some light on your situation. In the meantime, call upon your own self-compassion and recognize that you are doing the best you can, and weight loss is indeed way more complicated than just eating less and moving more.