The art of transforming unhelpful habits (and losing weight)

life coach

I have a confession to make friends…

I love getting older!

That’s right, I’m not fazed by age.

Today I look and feel better than ever!

Yes, I not only feel better, but I also look better than I did at 20.

This is not something you hear too often, right? It’s not something we’re supposed to say even. And it’s not something I would have said before the age of twenty-seven but today, at 35, I can honestly say that it’s true.

I’m getting better with age!

Now I hope you aren’t turned off by my outburst of high-self esteem. I know it’s not in our conditioning to act so self-accepting and be tooting my own horn. I am telling you this because I wanted to share with you one of the ways I have created this state of being and it has to do with giving up some habits and beliefs that were holding me back.

The belief I gave up was that I had to look in a certain way and weigh a certain weight to be beautiful, which caused me to eat in a disordered way. Sadly, if you are female, there’s a high chance you will know what I’m talking about – though I don’t think men are exempt from what I’m going to talk about.

I used to try and control my food intake so much that I’d get out of control when there was a lot of food in front of me. I remember a social event at school when I was 17 – probably a quiz night – when we all brought home-made cakes and treats to share. Well, I ate for about 3 hours straight and felt so sick and disgusting afterwards. And I don’t think we won the quiz night. The next day I punished myself as I usually did by running for an hour on the treadmill until my sins were absolved. Sound familiar? This was not a lone event. Many of my friends had disordered eating patterns too, though in the end we were each alone with our tailor-made eating habits. It was not something that was talked about, though food was. We were all obsessed by food.

It’s funny that I’ve never written about it here before – maybe because it’s too personal or because it feels like another lifetime ago. The truth is that I have spent so many hours thinking about food and my relationship to it that I could totally write a book on it (hey but let’s just start with this blog post). Today I am no longer obsessed with food in that disordered way and I hardly ever weigh myself or beat myself up. Probably no one even would think I was ever anything but normal because it is such a non-issue now, but seriously guys, it wasn’t always this way.

There are many things I’ve learnt from this obsession and I want to share three of them here with you today :

1. Deprivation is no motivation

We don’t like rules to be placed upon us – that’s why we rebel.  As soon as the restrictions get set we find ways to break them – or that’s me anyway.

So why not work with our nature rather than against it?

I used to make huge declarations like ‘I’m never eating junk-food ever again!’ or ‘no carbs till Christmas!’ and all this did was set me up for a binge when my mind would immediately go to the pantry and start ravishing all the forbidden fruits it found there. I would rebel and give in and then overeat because if I stopped I would feel guilty. As long as I didn’t stop eating, things were okay.

For many years on and off I lived in a cycle of deprivation, binging and guilt. I would first declare that I wasn’t going to eat something, then I’d eat it anyway and binge on it like the Che Gueverra of mindless consumption and then finally when I woke up from the daze/craze, I would feel incredible guilt and self-loathing and declare I was never eating XYZ again. Then the cycle would begin again.

One day I decided I had had enough and I was no longer willing to let my mind be consumed by these thoughts. I was sick of the obsession and decided that if I took out the deprivation part I would no longer binge or feel guilty. What if I could just eat what I wanted and never feel guilty about it? Then I wouldn’t binge either.

This idea was revolutionary.

I knew that if I gave up trying to deprive myself and I ate what I wanted, I’d have so much time to think about other things and become a woman of substance. So I gave up speaking shit about myself and got grateful for the extraordinary masterpiece that is the human body.

Today I eat chocolate and chips when I want and focus on being healthy rather than thin.

2. Listen to your heart

When I was trying to study, I would suddenly hear the siren call of a mini-snickers bar and I would jump overboard. I was not hungry, I was bored.  When I was exhausted from pushing an ice-cream cart across a sandy beach in the south of France I would come home and eat all the yoghurts in my fridge and crash on my couch in a food coma. When I lived in New York and was sad because a guy didn’t call when he said he would, I found comfort at the 7/11 in the form of round and frosted baked goods. The rest of the time I was totally avoiding carbs! Ah the insanity.You know what I’m talking about, right?

Our self-sabotaging habits exist because of feelings we are either unaware of or trying to avoid. 

We all do it – even thin people overeat sometimes or eat when they’re not hungry. They just do it less often and don’t beat themselves up about it (the happy and healthy ones I mean). This is not about trying to be perfect but we can all get conscious about what makes us feel like shit and what our triggers are. Personally, I gave up reading magazines at the start because all that advertising, beauty and body comparison was not really helping.

The truth is that if you listen to your body and emotions you will learn a great many things.

Today I know the difference between hunger and boredom.

3. Plenty of Pleasure

I realised some time ago that really rich people are generally not fat because they can afford to indulge in other types of pleasure – like shopping or getting a massage or because their work is so interesting. It’s not all about macrobiotic chefs and personal trainers.

Living in France I made this connection too when I became super obsessed with food. The supermarkets became the art-galleries of my world. I would browse their aisles on any day of the week and read the labels like I was trying to figure out the dewy-decibel system at the local library. The fact was that I wasn’t supposed to be spending my money on other stuff. Food though, I needed that to survive. You see my point? I saw it so often with my foreign students too and learnt that obsession with food is one of the stages of culture shock. Is it that we are craving the comfort of home?

We often eat because we want energy, not because we are hungry. At work people eat any old shit, just so that our day feels less like work and more like a party. What we need is another way to have fun and get reenergised. I truly believe the lack of pleasure in our lives is what’s keeping people over their ideal weight.

Today I make weekly massages a non-negotiable and do yoga and dancing for fun.

I could go on and on about this – talking of cultural differences and the psychology of eating – but I’ll save that for the book (or another post). Overeating is just one example of the habits that hold us back and stop us from living the life we truly desire, languishing in mediocrity like slaves in a dungeon. Are you going to live by your own design?

The time is now.