On the third day of our Am I Hungry? Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly Retreat, I surprised everyone by asking them to step on the scale. The energy in the room shifted noticeably. My request was met with a mixture of surprise, audible groans, nervous giggles, outright rebellion, and even frank hostility.
You see, by this point in the retreat, we had bonded around the common goals of breaking free from the eat-repent-repeat cycle, improving our health, and pursing a vibrant life fueled by fearless, pleasurable eating. I had made it very clear that none of those goals could be measured on a scale. Yet here I was inviting them to step on.
As the first person, Kim, tentatively approached the scale, she set her jaw, slipped off her shoes, and stepped on. When she looked down, relief and a huge smile spread across her face. Instead of some arbitrary number, the verdict read, "Sexy."
Soon, everyone in the room was excitedly lining up to step on the Yay! Scale to discover whether they "weighed in" as perfect, ravishing, cute, lovely, etc. We laughed as some of them still insisted on taking off their shoes! What a difference there was in the energy in the room!
Afterward, we talked about the negative impact that focusing on weight has had on us in the past. Despite the conventional wisdom that weighing yourself daily is helpful, nearly everyone had found just the opposite. Not surprisingly, some of the common weight-related themes were:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Guilt and shame
- Determining how the entire day would go based on a number
- Giving up
- Holding back from doing certain things until they reached some arbitrary weight goal
- Feeling that they were undeserving of many of the things that they deeply desired
- Temporary pride that was ultimately unsatisfying
- Giving themselves permission to "cheat" on a diet
- Consuming precious time, energy, and focus
- Distraction from focusing on a sustainable healthy lifestyle
- Dismissing one's intrinsic self-worth
We talked about the sources of body dissatisfaction and the effect that negative body image has on our day to day lives. Several people expressed fear that if they accepted themselves the way they are right now, they wouldn't make positive changes to improve their eating and physical activity. As we explored that belief, it became obvious that many of us have already given up way too much of our personal energy and power to a rectangle on the floor, and that it was clearly hurting not helping us.
I introduced them to the Health at Every Size® (HAES) principles and read my story, Michelle Goes On a Diet...that Lasted 20 Years - A Cautionary Tale. We all agreed that a more deserving use of our energy was learning to eat fearlessly and mindfully in order to fuel the vibrant lives we crave and deserve.
We then did a mirror activity and I explained:
When you speak or think negatively about your body, it can hear you! What kind of an effect does that have on how it feels and behaves?
We concluded the session with a little "homework" that you may find helpful:
Let your body write a letter to your brain to let it know how it feels and allow it to tell you what it really wants.
Open the letter with Dear __________ (your name),
Allow your body to express hurt, anger, or sadness about the things you've thought, said, or felt about it in the past. Let it talk about the effects of those thoughts and words. Then move on to let your body tell you what it really wants from you: unconditional love and acceptance, a variety of nutritious and delicious foods, joyful movement, rest, play, and/or other specific requests. End the letter with: