The missing piece in the weight loss puzzle

When I was a kid, I felt intense shame and guilt for being overweight.

Sometimes it was due to comments from fellow classmates who made fun of my large frame. I struggled to open up to people and make friends because of the fear of being judged. Sometimes it was due to warnings from parents about being extra cautious as obesity ran in the family. It involved sympathetic, often accusing glances in the doctor’s cabin every time I stepped up on the weighing scale.

I did whatever I could to take care of my health- eating salads, joining a gym, doing home workouts, and reading countless articles on developing a lean physique.

My best phase was between 2016-2018 when I was in the best shape of my life and an ideal weight according to my height.

I was proud of having a 5 am routine and I rarely missed any workout despite a hectic study schedule while pursuing a PG program. I felt great about myself. I was able to clearly see the connection between physical and mental health.

However, as I started working and shifted to a new city away from home, I came face to face with emotional health.

I found it difficult to form connections. I barely had a social circle. It reminded me once again of my emotional state during childhood as I have been a single child and an introvert. The fear of being judged came back as it once again prevented me from making genuine bonds with people.

So, loneliness, isolation, and inability to form connections rose to the surface.

In the meanwhile, my physical health continued to decline in these years. Despite having evidence of how it impacted my mood earlier, I just could not sustain a regular workout routine. Moreover, the ease of online food ordering made things worse by making it easy to numb my emotions with compulsive eating.

The real issues beyond diet and exercise

In my childhood, I did not have self-awareness about emotions.

I did not know those emotions were fear, shame, and guilt. I just remember feeling bad and unworthy of love. They fed into the cycle of loneliness, isolation, and social anxiety. This perpetual cycle manifested in my inability to form meaningful connections and in the form of emotional eating to numb the emotions.

Marianne Williamson writes in A Course in Weight Loss,

“The weight had merely been a physical manifestation of my need to keep others at bay. I feared other people and had built a wall to protect myself.”

I related deeply to the above line as I remembered those minor childhood instances that eventually led to a wall I had built to protect myself. The wall prevented me from being vulnerable enough to form deeper connections and friendships.

I have a strong feeling that on a deeper level, my weight issues are indeed a physical manifestation of that wall.

However, I am not suggesting that diet or exercise don’t work. Of course, they do.

In fact, most people know what they need to do to lose extra weight. There is no dearth of information about fitness and nutrition in the age of the internet.

Yet, people continue to struggle with losing extra weight.

The missing piece in the puzzle is of awareness about these deeper underlying issues and the role of emotional health.

Any diet or workout program rooted in fear, shame, or guilt (unfortunately, most of them are) won’t lead to sustainable healthy changes.

Solving the puzzle- the way out?

In all honesty, I can’t claim to know the way out.

I am still trying to solve the puzzle. I still struggle with emotional and compulsive eating. I am still trying to build a workout habit.

However, I have found a few things useful so far to manage emotional health.

One is the practice of meditation which helps me get aware of my internal state on a regular basis. Coupled with the development of equanimity towards whatever arises during meditation, I have found it easier to rise above emotions. But it is an ongoing process.

Another tactic that has helped me in the past is the practice of naming emotions and feelings.
I tried it once 2 years ago for nearly 45 days and experienced immense benefits.

The practice is simple- you just write down the name of the emotion you are feeling in the moment three times a day- morning, afternoon, and evening. Just this recognition and awareness of what you feel can be powerful to prevent numbing tendencies via compulsive behaviors.

Thirdly, I am exploring a way to build self-discipline through self-acceptance instead of willpower. This is based on what Mark Menson recently wrote in his article on self-discipline,

“Any emotionally healthy approach to self-discipline must work with your emotions, rather than against them……. We must address the emotional problem the compulsion is trying to numb or cover up.”

Mark Menson

Eventually, just like everyone, I want to arrive at a sustainable lifestyle built on the fundamentals of diet and exercise. However, it would be rooted in self-acceptance, self-love, and emotional awareness rather than just relying on willpower and hardcore discipline.

What do you think? Have you struggled with a similar situation? Do you agree that there is a missing emotional puzzle in the mainstream narrative of weight loss?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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