Updated: Dec 2, 2022
I feel like we live in a media environment that is constantly competing to give us mixed messages - the food and beverage (FnB) industry is always trying to sell us the latest in trendy deliciousness, while the diet industrial complex (DIC) is trying to sell us on diet pills or gym memberships. It’s very confusing, and so I end up just tuning it all out for the most part.
What’s interesting is that there always seems to be a kind of unspoken temporary truce between the FnB and DIC industry marketers around the holidays. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part it’s as if the DIC says - “Hey, it’s the holidays - no one is going to want to try to lose weight now, so let’s not even try to compete for air time.” And then in the new year, FnB marketers back off for a couple of weeks to allow people to act on their guilty feelings by signing up for diet programs or buying “health foods,”
In an effort to buck these trends that are all about making more bucks for their businesses, I’m sharing some weight loss wisdom ahead of the holidays. I’ve learned so much about myself on my own weight loss journey, but I’ve also coached many other doctors on weight loss.
It’s not that the DIC is all wrong, because diet and exercise do matter, but it turns out that they are only part of the overall equation when it comes to weight loss. 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
These articles are intended to teach you how to more fully utilize your brain by managing your mindset. There will be worksheets accompanying each article that will engage you in doing the work that will reprogram your brain and approach to weight loss. Of course I will also share other free resources like books and podcasts to help support you.
So even if it seems impossible to consider losing weight during the holidays, consider what it would be like to maintain, rather than gaining those extra pounds as we tend to do this time every year. What if the first step were awareness that your thoughts and feelings really do matter when it comes to food? These materials will be here for you whenever you are ready to jump in!
Like most women, I feel like I have spent most of my life obsessing about my weight. In the interview I did for Dr Katrina Ubell’s popular podcast Weight Loss for Busy Physicians, I mentioned that my family nickname growing up was little elephant, or xiao xiang.
To be fair, my parents didn’t intend to saddle me with self-loathing from the cradle. They were simply enamored by the cuteness of the baby elephant in the newly released Disney animation movie “Dumbo”. And they also wanted me to be strong enough to stand up to the three dragons in the rest of the family zodiac.
We spent no time at all in medical school learning about weight management
It didn’t help to grow up in a family and culture that seems obsessed with judging others’ weight. My family members would rarely fail to comment on whether you appeared fatter or skinnier than the last time they saw you, whether it had been a year ago, or just last night.
It’s about mindset
During medical school, we spent no time at all learning about weight management, nutrition or exercise, despite the fact that obesity was consistently linked as a risk factor for serious chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. So not surprisingly, I felt completely inadequate when it came to counseling my patients about weight loss.
Many doctors will be familiar with the awkward silence that follows patients’ requests for weight loss advice. Most of us would usually mumble something about eating less and exercising more, and even those with adequate training seldom have the time to go into detail.
What I learned as a weight loss coach is that while nutrition and exercise are important, they are only half the equation. I think of them as being like the hardware, or your vehicle for your weight loss quest. What most of us miss, is that we actually need to reprogram our software or mindset, in order to permanently change our weight.
Mindset has 4 key components: compelling whys, protocol creation, social programming, and monitoring. In our quest metaphor, the whys are our compass and destination, the protocol is our roadmap, programming is the terrain we will cover, and monitoring is our interpretation of vehicle gauges (like the speedometer).
My compelling whys
When we ask clients why they want to lose weight, there’s a pretty short list of common responses. They usually range from wanting to be healthy, to wanting to look and feel better. But truly Compelling Whys take a little more digging. And this is where you can do this for yourself through self-coaching. Repeatedly asking this deceptively simple question “Why?” helps you to uncover more about your real motivations by
I like to start by brainstorming at least ten Compelling Whys (the more the better). My list looks something like this:
I want to be healthier.
I want to look better.
I want to feel less tired.
I want to avoid getting diabetes.
I want to be able to wear my old jeans.
I want to feel less achy and stiff when I move.
I want to avoid getting heart disease.
I’m scared of getting dementia.
I want to be able to stay active.
I want to stop worrying about my weight.
Notice how my reasons start getting a little more real as I get down past number 5 or 6. Just allowing myself a few more minutes to sit and ponder, allows me access to the next layer down.
Next I challenge myself to prioritize the top five Whys, and then ask “Why is that important to me?” at least 5 times. The result looks a bit like this:
I want to be healthier.
Why is that important to me? I don’t want to get sick.
Why? I don’t want to have to take a lot of medication.
Why? I don’t want to be reliant on doctors and pills the rest of my life.
Why? I want to feel more confident that I can get around by myself when I’m old.
Why? I want to be free and independent.
See how “being free and independent” is actually a whole lot more compelling than “being healthier”? I was able to tap into my core values with a degree of specificity that is deeply motivating. And don’t be surprised if there’s some overlap in your answers when you do the 5 Whys with the other nine line items. We would expect that your values remain consistent.
Testing your compass
And because your Compelling Whys are the compass that will remind you to stay motivated when you are tempted to quit your protocol, it’s worth taking the time to unearth what’s matters most to you.
The next step is to test your compass, checking in with what you are learning, and deciding if these ideas will serve you. Next I get to ask myself how my life will be better when I have what I want, and am I sure I like my reasons? My answers for #1 are:
My life will be better when I’m free and independent because then I won’t have to burden my kids with taking care of me. And yes I like my reasons.
“Being free and independent” is a lot more compelling than “being healthier”
And for contrast, let’s take #5: I want to be able to wear my old jeans.
Why? It would make me feel young again to be able to wear my old clothes.
Why? I hate looking fat and old.
Why? I want to avoid feeling ashamed that I’ve “let myself go.”
Why? I don’t want to feel like I’ve disappointed myself.
Why? I don’t want other people to think I’m failing to take care of myself.
How my life will be better when I have what I want, and am I sure I like my reasons?
My life will be better when other people don’t think I’m failing to take care of myself.
Well actually, I ‘m not sure I like my reasons, because other people get to think what they want and I can’t control that. So maybe this isn’t such a Compelling Why.
Check it out
Notice that sometimes we have Whys that turn out to be important, but sometimes they aren’t. And that’s okay. I still learned some important things about myself. I learned that I still have some agism and body image issues to work on, and that it’s still pretty easy for me to go into the old neural loops on shame or disappointment about body image.
Not so surprising, considering that I spent more than 50 years of my life running those self-hating neural loops. Of course it takes time for me to remind myself that I didn’t achieve permanent weight loss through self-loathing. But instead, I get to show myself grace, compassion, and unconditional love. I get to mom my brain, while gently encouraging my personal gremlin Milly to take a timeout.
If you are interested in trying a completely different approach to weight loss, check out the accompanying worksheet Compelling Whys. And stay tuned for the rest of the Weight Loss Quest series. I’d love to hear your feedback on how it goes!
Coincidentally, Dr Katrina’s new book “How to Lose Weight for the Last Time” which just launched last month. If you are a serious do-it-yourselfer, I would highly recommend checking it out because it’s the first time that these scientifically proven techniques have to been shared with the nonphysician public.
Disclaimer: Dr Em is a team coach for Katrina Ubell MD’s Weight Loss for Busy Physicians program. She is a raving fan, but receives no direct revenue or commission for recommending Dr Ubell’s book.
1. Free iHealing Worksheet - Compelling Whys
Dr Katrina Ubell shares scientifically proven weight loss strategies to help us to individually rewire our brains to address decades of conditioning that has led to the obesity crisis.