Raise your hand if you want to lose weight without feeling deprived, hungry or feeling uncomfortable? Raise your hand if you think losing weight shouldn’t be difficult?
If you are raising your hand, I swear no judgements will come from me, because I have spent most of my life trying to figure out how to do that too, how to get into the body I want without feeling any pain or discomfort for even a moment.
We want to lose weight without feeling uncomfortable
I got very clever at doing this. Calorie counting for awhile helped me to eat lots of food so I wouldn’t feel hungry – while still eating low enough calories that I could still lose weight. I’d swap out higher calorie foods like cream for soy milk or rice milk. I’d eat rice cakes for breakfast so that I could eat 3/4 of a pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner (and call it a day). Never ever go hungry.
Later, running 25 miles a week meant I could almost eat anything I wanted, anytime I wanted. I didn’t have to ever go without a cupcake, a beer, or greasy takeout if I wanted because I knew I’d be working off the calories the following week. Never ever feel like I was deprived.
Later, bingeing when uncomfortable or confusing feelings arose was a way to fill myself with comfort so I wouldn’t have to face what I was feeling. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep up my running schedule (too many recurrent foot injuries) and calorie counting had long stopped (I just couldn’t deal with the constant mental math) and bingeing brought me back to a painful weight. I was so uncomfortable being heavy again that the only thing I could think to do was to put more food in my face. It felt better than facing what I had done. Never have to face uncomfortable feelings.
In the last 3 years, wanting to lose weight, yet again (can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been down this road – I have lost track), I knew I needed to do something differently. I was never going to win this battle if I didn’t figure out why I couldn’t seem to keep my desire to eat under control.
I know I’m not the only woman who thinks this way about losing weight.
We don’t want it to be hard. We don’t want to feel at all like it’s a struggle. We don’t want to feel like everyone else can enjoy social events without worrying about how much they want to overeat while we can’t. We want what the thin girl has without eating as light as her. We want what the fit girl has without working as hard as her. We think that a 10 day diet should help us lose the weight we gained over 10 years.
Ultimately we don’t want to be uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. All these years of trying to find diets that “work”, exercise routines that work with the least effort and really the solution was staring me in the face. I had to let go of the idea of trying to control it all and instead try to understand it. If we have understanding, we don’t have to worry so much about control.
Today I want to talk about two of the ways our avoidance of discomfort interferes with weight loss progress – choosing to comfort ourselves with food and telling ourselves that going without is deprivation.
Stop choosing food as comfort
The urge to overeat often comes from a desire to comfort ourselves. Comfort from what, is your call, it might be a crappy day at work, overwhelming anxiety, general dissatisfaction from our life circumstances or a difficult conversation with your boss. We’re all trying to comfort ourselves from different unwanted feelings, uncomfortable feelings. Instead of allowing the negative feelings to come over us, we rush to stop ourselves from feeling or acknowledging them.
One of the easiest ways we can avoid our feelings is with food. Why is it so easy? Well it’s abundant, socially acceptable and affordable. Turning to food numbs us, feels familiar which we interpret as comforting and it gives us the distraction we’re after for a little while.
But why do so many of us do something so destructive (overeat) in order to avoid something so normal and benign? Overeating is destructive. Having feelings and letting them run their course is benign. I know it doesn’t seem that way but it really is! I promise you that if you let yourself feel whatever it is that you are feeling, good or bad, you will be ok. You will get through it. You can survive any feeling you are having.
When my mother was sick, I really couldn’t deal with it. I would go to the hospital and do what I needed to do to support her and my family but emotionally I was totally checked out. I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to think about what I was feeling. I couldn’t let myself feel those feelings. Then, when my mom passed away, I thought there was no way I would get through those feelings too, in fact, there are whole months of that time period that I don’t even remember. I thought there was no possible way I would survive the loss.
But I did. Each time something “awful” has happened in my life, or each time I have had an awful feeling – I’ve gotten through it.
I’m still here.
Because I’m still here and I’m functioning, productive and have a good life (and I still miss my mom), I know I have proof that I can get through any uncomfortable feeling. Do I always handle it well? No, but that’s not the point of this example. Think about the absolute worst thing that has ever happened in your life. Did you make it through as horrible as it felt/feels? What was the worst feeling you’ve ever endured? If you’re reading this, you survived it. You were able to feel those feelings and live.
If you know you can handle any feeling that comes your way, you won’t need to turn to food for comfort. Your urge to turn to food will be lessened because there is nothing to run from. You won’t need comforting because uncomfortable feelings are merely sensations in the body that last for a little while and not something that warrants comfort.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable, even painful things. That is par for the course for this thing called life. Let yourself feel them. Don’t resist them. Don’t push them away. Don’t fight against feeling them. Just feel them. If that means sitting in your car and crying, so be it!
A few questions to ask yourself if you find you get most of your comfort in life from food:
- When you sit down to comfort yourself with food, what does it feel like?
- When you finish eating for comfort, how do you feel?
- Why are you choosing to comfort yourself with food?
- What or who else could you receive comfort from instead of food?
- When an uncomfortable feeling arises, what can you do instead of eat?
- What is it that you need to comfort from to begin with?
We aren’t being deprived
Another way we try to avoid discomfort is by telling ourselves we have to keep eating or overeating certain things in order to not feel “deprived”. We view most food plans as “depriving” even when they’re well rounded and allow us treats. We think that if we have to eat less or if we can’t eat ice cream in the large quantity we want to every night then we are being deprived. We want to lose weight without ever feeling deprived.
But let’s look at what deprivation is for a second:
Deprivation actually means (from Merriam-Webster) “the state of not having something that people need“ or “the act or process of removing or the condition resulting from removal of something normally present and usually essential for mental or physical well-being”.
Read that again. Do you see what it’s saying? Not overeating or choosing to not eat things that derail our progress is not deprivation. We do not need daily cheesecake. We will not die without chocolate. Double orders of cheesy nachos are not essential to life. There are only a few things that are essential or necessary in life and yes we can argue that food is essential. Food is something we need. But excess food is not required for our survival. Junk food in excess is not essential. Telling ourselves that by going without cake, cookies or other junk or that by eating a little less is depriving ourselves is completely unhelpful and will cause you to want to rebel against an imaginary adversary who is holding your treats hostage. No one is doing that.
We are not being deprived. No one is taking away anything that you need. If you are overweight and have weight to lose, there is no way you are being deprived of food. You eat breakfast every day. You likely eat lunch, dinner and snacks too. You have enough. You are not being deprived. Please stop believing you are.
You want cake. You want ice cream. You want beer. I get it. I have wants too. And sometimes I go ahead and satisfy my wants. But I no longer tell myself I’m being deprived because I’m not.
If you choose to eat cheesecake, chips or whatever your food of choice is, choose it because you want it and enjoy it, not because you feel like it’s something you need for survival.
From another angle, let’s say you still feel “deprived” even though after reading this you know you technically are getting what you need – what then? Well, then I’m wondering what is so awful about “feeling” deprived? Go back to the section on comfort where I talk about feeling your feelings. Feel them. Let yourself feel deprived (if that is what you choose to feel). It will pass like any other feeling and you will survive it. Know that just because we feel something doesn’t mean we have to act on it.
A few questions to ask yourself if you can’t seem to make any progress because of a fear of deprivation:
- Why do you feel deprived?
- Why are you choosing to feel deprived?
- What would feel better than feeling deprived? How would you have to eat and live to feel that way instead?
- What are all the ways in your life that you are not deprived? Where do you feel rich, full and satisfied?
- What necessary / essential things do you truly have enough of?
Losing weight isn’t comfortable
Losing weight isn’t comfortable. It’s not always going to be a soft, easy ride.
But think about anything you’ve accomplished or created in your life – maybe you’ve given birth and raised a child, maybe you earned a college degree, maybe you’ve started a business or competed in a triathalon. Whatever you’ve accomplished, I’ll bet it was work. I’ll bet that it was uncomfortable, possibly excruciating at times – but OMG, it was worth it, so worth it, wasn’t it?
A really minor accomplishment that most of us have tackled that I like to think of to compare to this, have you’ve ever done a really hard lower body workout? You know the kind where you worked your legs so hard that just standing up on them when you get out of bed makes you yelp? That soreness, that muscle pain is certainly uncomfortable – and for a few days makes everything a bit more challenging, but while it’s painful / uncomfortable, it’s also satisfying. Discomfort doesn’t have to be bad. Discomfort can be where the good stuff is. Where growth is (not just muscle growth!).
To lose weight, you’re going to have to let yourself feel the discomfort of hunger. Sometimes you’ll have to pass on cheesecake, cannolis or extra bread. You may have to squeeze in a workout on a morning when you’d rather sleep in. Exercise, sweating and breathing heavy, might be uncomfortable, especially at first. Prepping healthy food might be uncomfortable (and certainly time consuming). You will have to go to social events and focus on interacting with people instead of snacking at the food table and it will feel foreign. You’re definitely going to have to feel uncomfortable feelings, sometimes frequently.
It’s not our birthright to feel happy and good all of the time. Good feelings are great but part of the reason why they feel so good is in contrast to the moments when we feel bad. Life is a mix of all feelings and we can’t successfully go through life trying to pick and choose which feelings we will feel. We’re going to feel anxiety, anger, jealous, nervousness, stress, fear, lonely, grief, boredom, frustration, confusion, apathy and guilt along with joy, love, pride, creative, confident, playful, excitement and hopeful. You’re going to feel it all and if you don’t feel it when it comes up, you’ll feel it later in other ways.
Feeling your painful and uncomfortable feelings is going to bring you discomfort, but that’s ok because you now know you can feel anything.
It’s all worth it. I promise it is. The discomfort that we feel while going through these changes is nothing compared to the discomfort we will feel if we don’t take steps to get where we want to be. Be willing to feel anything, especially the uncomfortable stuff and you will get there.
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