Weight Loss Quest - Part 3: Reprogramming
Over the last two months I’ve published 2 other articles in the Weight Loss Quest series to support you in maintaining your weight over the holiday season. When we are just focused on diet and exercise, we miss seeing huge other parts of the elephant, The Weight Loss Quest series has four parts:
Your Care Protocol
If you missed Part 1 and/or Part 2, I’d strongly encourage you to scroll down to the bottom of this page to the section on Related Posts, to find them. Those articles and the accompanying worksheets are important prerequisites for the work outlined in this article.
Remember that these articles are intended to teach you how to more fully utilize your brain by managing your mindset. The worksheets will engage you in doing the work that will reprogram your brain and approach to weight loss. The first step is awareness that your thoughts and feelings really do matter when it comes to food and weight gain!
Mindset dexterity in action
When I first learned about self coaching it struck me as being the most empowering skill that I could learn. After all, if my brain is my most powerful personal asset in today’s world, why wouldn’t I want to be sure that I’m managing it in order to create the results that I want in my life?
Just becoming aware that it was possible to change my mindset was enough of a game changer for me that I’ve been on the self-coaching bandwagon ever since. And it’s been such a transformative experience for me that I’ve made it my life’s work to empower others through coaching. To help them learn how to become aware of thought patterns that unconsciously shape outcomes and to develop the dexterity to create different experiences intentionally through thoughtwork.
Just becoming aware that it was possible to change my mindset was a game changer
I’ve learned that not everyone gets what coaching is. In fact, most people either don’t understand it. believe it’s not for them, or they may even actively resist the idea.
I often think of coaching and personal development as being like exercise for the mind. I was always drawn to self-help and coaching to help me with work productivity, in the same way that I did exercise videos and had personal trainers to make me stronger and fitter. And I loved the idea of empowering others to gain that same kind of freedom and agency, so I’ve become a coach and fitness instructor myself.
There are so many parallels between physical exercise and mind mastery work. I’ve learned that some people love and embrace coaching and psychology, while others actively resist these ideas. When I made the shift from primary care doctoring to coaching, one of my favorite patients who had been through major trauma said flat out, “I don’t do deep dives.” And so fair enough - I love that she had the clarity to know that coaching wasn’t going to be for her.
The reality is that many people get through life just fine having never done mindwork or been to the gym. They may be quite active in the course of their daily lives, or maybe they are just blessed with excellent genes and so their health is great whether they exercise or not. Likewise, their mental health may be managed by talking or relaxing with friends, doing hobbies, or walking in nature. Most of our parents and ancestors carried the belief that we were stronger for never talking about feelings or mental health.
I’d encourage you to meet yourself where you are when it comes to exploring your thoughts and feelings. It’s completely okay if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. There is no shame in never wanting to step into a gym for a workout and in fact it’s important to honor the wisdom within you that is resisting. But if there’s another voice inside your head that is nudging you to learn more, it’s also okay to hold that paradoxical thread. Maybe a toe in the water feels more comfortable than plunging in head first.
Self-coaching in action
So how does self coaching actually work when it comes to weight loss? I have written before about using the CTFAR model because it’s the fastest way to shift my mindset. To be clear, this is NOT about willpower. While white-knuckling our way into health habits like cutting back on sugar can be effective in the very short term, over the longer term it is exhausting and impossible to maintain. Mindset dexterity is about leveraging your power to reframe the situation, thereby shifting how you feel and how you experience what is happening.
For example, let’s say I love chocolate chip cookies, and if I’m trying to lose weight of course I know that I should avoid cookies. But when I see a cookie I am triggered to gobble it down very quickly. And then I would feel bad about it afterwards. I would probably beat myself up by saying mean things to myself like - “Cookies are my kryptonite. I’m so hopeless/worthless. I can never resist cookies. I’ll always be fat. I hate myself.” Sound familiar?
But what if I could reprogram my brain for weight loss and break this nauseating familiar pattern of behavior by using the CTFAR model? I start with the unintentional model, or the version of what happens by default:
And since I don’t like the result I’m creating for myself, I get to decide what result I want to create instead.
Notice how there are a number of options for how we can choose to shift our mindset, but we are way more powerful when we decide on actions deliberately, rather than reacting reflexively in the moment.
At first the introspective nature of this work felt uncomfortable for me because it felt like I was having to revisit these feelings of guilt and even shame. After all, I had spent decades compartmentalizing my emotions - I was very, very good at avoiding feelings so I could get on with being productive. It had been an effective coping strategy for literally decades, so why would I do something as scary as proactively revisiting feelings?
Mindset dexterity is about leveraging your power to reframe the situation
But then I realized that I had gotten used to the cycle of eating junk, and then ignoring my inner critical voice (aka gremlin Milly). Turns out that food was one of the main ways I would numb out to avoid Milly, so I was trapped in a cycle of hiding by stress eating. I believed that Milly was under control, but actually she was getting stronger and keeping me stuck in the vicious cycle.
We start with using the CTFAR model in retrospect - I would jot down my thoughts and feelings while journaling, or sometimes even just on my phone. There was something about seeing my thoughts in words that gave me agency over them. I realized that I had become accustomed to the idea that circumstances (like seeing a cookie) trigger certain habitual reactions (like eating the cookie), and so the result felt inevitable.
But actually it was just a neural pathway in my brain that had been repeated so often that it had become a habit. Our brains love to learn behavior patterns and automate them, so that we don’t have to spend a lot of brain power making decisions all the time. My brain had gotten used to the pattern: