So, how are your New Year’s Resolutions going? I’ve had lots of conversations about this recently. As a therapist, people assume that I get really busy in the new year, inundated with requests from people who want a new start, want to stop smoking, start exercising, lose weight, save money, be an all-round better human being.
The truth is actually the opposite. The beginning of January is quiet for me. This isn’t because people aren’t making resolutions, a You Gov poll carried out a couple of years ago on behalf of a diet food company found that 63% of us make New Year's resolutions. Unsurprisingly, after the excesses of Christmas, 40% of those stated that losing weight was their priority (good news for the diet food company!) with ‘getting fitter’ ‘stopping drinking alcohol’ and ‘taking care of appearance’ next on the list.
So far so good. An optimistic and forward-looking start to the year is never a bad thing, and probably the reason that January starts quietly for me. We start the new year with a new story, a preferred future that we can imagine and work towards. The story that we tell ourselves is important. These ‘self-stories’ control our decision making and actions. If the decision fits with our image of ourselves, our ‘story’, then it will feel right, it’ll be easy. If it doesn’t fit, it’ll feel uncomfortable and be difficult.
But how strong is our new story, and what happens to it if we start to slip back into behaviours that we wanted to change? Well not very, and nothing good, if statistics are anything to go by.
A 2016 poll by BUPA found that more than two-thirds of New Years Resolutions were abandoned within the first month.
So, lets cut to the chase and talk about weight loss. I have no judgement about whatever size anyone chooses to be, and I absolutely understand that there is more to being healthy than what the scales say but, losing weight is the most common new year’s resolution and definitely the one I get most enquiries about at this time of the year.
As a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, can I help you lose weight? Yes, but not necessarily in the way you might imagine. This is not a magic ‘look into my eyes… you will no longer like the taste of chocolate’ kind of thing!
To explain this let’s have a look at the neuroscience of weight loss and gain, and how stress and anxiety affect our eating behaviours:
In a moment of extreme stress, we lose our appetite. If we bump into a lion in the jungle our legs shake, our heart races, our stomachs churn, we feel sick, we might need to go to the loo in a hurry. All really useful physiological reactions to help you run away from danger. Now imagine a shocking event in our every-day, non-lion encountering lives. If someone phones you with really bad news you don’t say “hang on a sec whilst I finish my sandwich” Chances are the mouthful of sandwich you have suddenly feels like chalk and the rest is forgotten. That’s why in short periods of really high stress, people often lose weight.
Now let’s go back to our lion in the jungle scenario. The lion has gone on its way, you’ve survived the encounter, but now you know for sure you’re living in an environment where bumping into a lion is a possibility. That emotional, primitive part of your brain whose job it is to keep you safe does not want you to forget that. In fact, it wants you to be obsessive and highly vigilant in looking out for more danger.
Your brain also knows exactly what you need to run away from, or fight off, this danger. Fuel, and plenty of it! And you had better not be wasting your time on a few hard to digest bits of greenery, you need high calorie, high-value foods. And when do you need to eat this food? At any flippin’ opportunity you have, and eat it quickly, that lion might come back at any minute.
What a great system. Chronic stress does some amazing things to change our hormone levels (ghrelin and leptin that control us feeling either hungry or full) to help us run and fight. Perfectly designed to motivate us to hunt out that hard to find high value, high-calorie food that we need… except when we don’t need to run or fight, and when the high-value food is all too easy to find. Not so great when the underlying threat is feeling overwhelmed with work, a boss who is making life difficult, bills to pay, a relationship to maintain and Susan from accounts has brought in cup-cakes (again!), even though you told her you’re on a diet, and there are all the biscuits people gave you before Christmas just sitting there, and it’s been a really hard day, and you’ve worked really hard, and it’s going to be chaos again when you get home, and oh bollocks, I’ve forgotten to put the washing machine on for the PE kits tomorrow… etc etc. You get the picture.
Of course, you need to change your diet if you want to lose weight, but without also changing your mental state, it’s virtually impossible to do.
So, my best advice to those of you struggling to maintain your new year’s good intentions around food is this;
Concentrate on feeling good first. Don’t do that “When I lose 3 stone, I’ll be happy/buy new clothes/go on holiday” or whatever makes you feel good. Do the stuff that makes you feel good now. Get yourself to a point where you are free of stress and anxiety, full of confidence, and happy… and that I can help you with. Then your self-story will fit. You’ll already feel like the person you want to be, you’ll be able to make choices that feel right, and that serve you well. And if you still want to lose weight, then it’ll be easy.
If you’d like to chat more about this, give me a call on 07426 705 305
or come and see me for a free appointment.
Happy January everyone.