Sorry if using the word fat offends you, but I needed your attention. By the end of this article, I want to try to convince you of something important. That is, if you are serious about wanting to lose weight and keep it off, you have to stop talking (and thinking) like a fat person. While you will have to do this as well as doing and eating all the right things, there is an upside to learning to think differently. It will make everything else much easier. It will boost your chances of maintaining change, something which is a far more challenging prospect than just losing weight in the first place. Many of the clients I work with have lost lots of weight. Lots of times. The issue is not so much weight loss, as it is maintenance of that loss. I believe that an absolutely key part to achieving ‘maintenance’ of a lower weight is learning to think, speak and feel differently about both food, exercise and yourself.
The context of Obesity
Obesity can technically be defined as a case of excess adipose (fatty) tissue. When it comes to the management of obesity however, it is not helpful to view it with such simplicity. This is the first trap that people might fall into. Losing and maintaining a lower weight should be considered as multifactorial issue. Obesity is caused and perpetuated by an interrelated and often complex combination of factors.
While it is generally accepted that in the the majority of cases, people get to this diagnosis of being ‘obese' from consuming more calories than they expend, there are plenty of different ways they achieve this. The contribution and salience of these factors above will also differ from person to person. All this means that when we want to manage or treat obesity in a given individual, we are not just dealing with one factor in isolation, but many, in a broader and often shifting landscape. People’s lifestyle circumstances change. Their friends change. Their jobs change. They move houses, have kids, get divorced etc. etc. Suddenly, the simplicity of its ‘just a case of excess fatty tissue’ or ‘just a calorie balance problem’ starts to seem an inadequate explanation in the context of making a lasting change. Food is everywhere, everyday. What we eat and how we feel about it can be influenced by a thousand-and-one different things.
How not talking like a fat person can help
All hope is not lost however. Just because people become obese for a host of different reasons, and it can get really complicated, does not mean there are not similarities that we can leverage. One interesting thing is that a lot of these similarities are in the ways people think and feel (and subsequently talk). This is why ‘fat’ people, often talk in a certain way. They often over-generalise ‘I’ve always had a sweet-tooth', magnify problems and think in all-or-nothing and extreme ways ‘I had a chocolate pudding yesterday, I’ve blown my diet’. They are also often very judgemental and negative of their own past, current and even future behaviour. ‘I couldn’t resist that chocolate pudding, i’ve got no willpower’. Since our thoughts feelings and behaviours interact with one another (see video below) these ways of thinking can start to act as commands. In thinking and speaking in a certain way, obese individuals fuel a pernicious cycle that can damage self-esteem and lead to increasingly unhelpful behaviours like emotional eating.
If we can help people to think differently we can start to interrupt the unhelpful ways of thinking that undermine an individual’s attempt achieve and maintain a lower weight. Talking like a fat person abdicates responsibility from their goals. It permits failure, again and again. The trouble is most people don’t even notice they do this.
Talking like a fat person can also sends mixed messages to those that might be able to help us. When we don’t give people a clear message about our behaviour and expectations, we often permit them to sabotage our attempts too. This can be really subtle. Saying something as innocent as saying their is a certain type of food that you ‘shouldn’t’ eat or referring to food as a ‘treat’ are two classic examples. In creating these rules, we tempt our (and others’) inner rebels to break that rule. Tell a kid not to touch something, you know what will happen. How many times have you been cajoled into indulging in a ‘sneaky’ chocolate bar or bit of ice-cream by a a partner or friend when you are a diet. ‘One won’t hurt’ they say. You indulge, then guilt follows. These are the very real consequences thinking and speaking in a certain way. We must change them to change the dynamic they create.
The good news is that we can enter that cyclical process from a different angle. We have another way in which we can work towards our goals. Its not just about working harder, its about working smarter. Thinking differently. We can speak in a way that allows us to own our responsibilities as opposed to abdicating them to others. If you you don’t make a choice, someone or something will make it for you.
How do I do this?
To get you started, first just try to recognise these common examples in everyday language:
- all-or-nothing thoughts
- should and shouldn’t (when it comes to food/exercise)
- negative self-talk about the your current, past or future self.
Once you’ve noticed them, try to identify if it was either aligned with your goals, or potentially unhelpful. Remember, there is often very little remarkable about the way in which people have lost weight and maintained that weight loss. Despite the marketing and the AMAZING transformations, these changes normally happen gradually, through balanced and consistent decisions, without fanfare.
If you’d like to know more please don’t hesitate to contact me (on twitter @acbcoaching or by email - firstname.lastname@example.org) and of course if you enjoyed this article, please do share it with anyone you think it might be of use.