I had a gym client do a check-in a few weeks ago. We do these periodically; we take pictures, measurements, and weight just to have a snapshot documented so everyone can see their progress.
It’s helpful a) for people to chart their progress over time, and b) to chart it with various markers so you’re not basing all your success and failures on one benchmark.
But this woman’s weight went up, not from the last time we checked her, but from the last time she’d weighed herself. And she got really upset about it.
I… feel this. I really hurt for her, for having an unwanted result after working so hard, after doing everything “right” (except for a few things she did “wrong”). It’s hard when you don’t get what you want.
So let’s talk about this disappointment. Because I know we’ve all felt it.
Blarg. Bleh. *kicks dirt*
Wishes not coming true is the worst.
It’s ok to be disappointed. You wanted something, truly, and you didn’t get it. That sucks.
So don’t dismiss your disappointment. It’s ok to feel that. Your feelings aren’t wrong.
But let’s also talk about what you really wanted.
I actually was speaking with another woman over the weekend who noticed herself judging other people for wanting to lose weight for cosmetic reasons, rather than from a soul impulse. She was making them wrong for being… superficial, for being stuck in the Big Diet Machine.
This woman didn’t really care about other people’s diets. She wanted reassurance that her non-diet was right. She wanted some level of certainty that her path was the right path.
(And the easiest way to make sure you’re right is to make other people wrong.)
We all have this need to be right. We crave certainty, some knowing that if we just follow the steps we’ll arrive in the life of our dreams. Our minds will come up with a lot of ways to make sure we feel right: you might become fanatical about your way, you might put other people down, you might even self-sabotage.
Tolerating uncertainty is very difficult. We want to know.
So when you don’t get the result you expect, it jumps to a certain conclusion: You’re failing. You’re wrong. This is stupid. You need the next diet.
You want power. We all do. We all want to have some sort of sovereignty and agency over our lives. Furthermore, you should have sovereignty and agency. Absolutely.
But sometimes, instead of working and exploring until we find power, we stop when we have control. We equate having control and dominion with having sovereignty and agency. They’re not the same. Bill Plotkin uses a phrase I like:
An adolescent or first-adulthood identity is primarily focused upon social standing, psychological security, interpersonal and physical comfort, wealth, fame, and/or the sort of personal power that is power over rather than power with. A soul-rooted identity, in contrast, is primarily focused upon the discovery of and joyous offering of the gift of soul to the world.
– Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft
Power Over vs. Power With. I like that distinction.
And it reminds me of these passages:
… when the King sits on his throne and is the center of the world, “world” becomes defined as that part of reality that is organized and ordered by the King. What is outside the boundaries of his influence is noncreation, chaos, the demonic and non-world. This situation sets the stage for a massive repression and devaluation of the “dark side” of psychic life. It creates a totality that rejects interruption and refuses the other from within its narcissistic enclosure.
– Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness
It is the old king, with five faces: the Conqueror, who treats the self and those around us as enemies to be feared and destroyed; the Orderer, who inflicts a rigid control; the Master of Servants, who demands that we deny our own needs and desires to serve others’ ends; the Censor, who keeps us silent; and the Judge, who offers to restore value to us in exchange for obedience.
– Sue Monk Kidd, Dance of the Dissident Daughter
It’s my belief that a lot of people don’t have a lot of power in their lives. They’re at the mercy of their jobs, their families, their obligations, societal pressures, the anxiety that comes from needing to be liked.
Food, in particular, is the last frontier of personal choice. Have you ever changed your way of eating and had other people find out about it? Gone vegan? Paleo? People flip out. They think you’re trying to change them, they’ll assault you with information about how That’s The Wrong Diet And A Terrible Choice and No One Should Eat That Way and I Could Never Do That.
Seriously. If you’ve never made a radical change to your eating, it’s worth it just to see how vehemently people react.
My point is, people want to have choice and power. And sometimes your kingdom only extends as far as the boundary of your skin. So you try to mold yourself into what you want, into the exact image you want. You try to control your perfect body into existence. You berate yourself into having perfect habits.
Your highest goal isn’t to make the numbers on the scale go down.
There, I said it. It’s not.
Let’s own that.
You might want to feel lighter, to move easier, to sleep better and wake up with energy.
You might want to take good care of yourself, to love yourself. You might want someone else to love you and want to have sex with you and marry you so you never have to be lonely.
You might want to feel accomplished, or regard yourself as successful, rather than always feeling like a failure.
You might want to trust your body and be spontaneous and just do fun things without worrying about other people watching you do fun things.
You might want pleasure, and you only find pleasure in chocolate.
You might want nourishment from connection with other people, and the only way you know how to be around other people is to be eating or drinking around other people (and commiserating about bad eating habits).
The number on the scale becomes a placeholder for these big wants. And they are big wants.
Just like that, losing weight becomes a bigger issue. Not losing weight isn’t really about the fact that your relationship to gravity didn’t change; it’s about what losing weight means. The consequences of not losing weight.
Our bodies become the playground where we get to explore these deeper issues.
So let’s play.
If I could have this gym client do one thing differently, it would be to find the joy that comes from having a body in the first place.
It’s easy to get swept up in all the ways your body can be wrong. It’s easy to regard it as something you have to work at, something you need to control and manage, something that is unruly and unpredictable.
But the body can also be joyful. In fact, Joy is unique to incarnate beings.
And we think it’ll magically arrive once we achieve all these weightloss and willpower goals.
To quote the best movie in the world,
If you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.
– Cool Runnings
When you find yourself putting conditions on when you get to feel joy, or self-love, or peace with your body, pause. Is there any way in the entire world you could feel that right now?
Is there any way you could start with joy, rather than withholding it?
What makes you feel joyful? Give it to yourself.
This is an awesome topic to be contemplating. Seriously. If you’re having these thoughts, the real fun can begin. I encourage you to join a group of like-minded people in 2016 when we go Beyond Emotional Eating. Don’t wait! Prices increase December 15!