This is Part 5 in a 10-Part Series on Common Obstacles to Losing Weight and Getting Fit.
In this fifth installment of our series, we’re discussing two subtle but powerful saboteurs that are usually tied to deeper, more serious issues. The first is the fear of actually reaching your goals, and what that might mean for you. The second – and one of the most insidious, especially when it comes to weight loss – pertains to the sense of safety that being overweight or obese may be providing for you.
8 ~ You’re afraid of success (and the changes it will bring)
No matter how much you want to improve your body, lose weight, and get into the best shape of your life, you may have some surprising fears lurking in your subconscious. This is particularly common if your long-term goals involve making substantial changes to your body and appearance, such as losing 100 or more pounds or adding a substantial amount of muscle mass. It’s also much more likely to occur if you’ve been overweight most or all of your life.
Ironically, the things we think we want the most often also terrify us – or at least elicit enough anxiety to create frequent doubt and hesitation. This internal battle can dampen your enthusiasm and, even worse, cause you to sabotage your weight loss and fitness efforts. If you don’t get to the root of what’s really scaring you, your chances of success are slim at best because these fears will manifest in failure or at least cause you to fall short of your goals.
So, what’s really scaring you?
- Does the thought of everyone making a big fuss over your incredible weight loss make you uncomfortable?
- Are you uncertain how to deal with people finding you physically attractive or sexually appealing (perhaps for the first time in your life), and coming on to you or asking you out?
- Are you worried that friends, family members, and coworkers will start treating you differently?
- Are you concerned that you won’t know how to be or act in your “new” body?
At first glance, these fears may seem a bit silly. You may be thinking, “Afraid of being thinner, fitter, and more attractive? Are you kidding me??” But the truth is, they’re not silly and they’re definitely not uncommon, because the unknown is often scary – even if there’s a strong chance it will be positive. The tricky part is recognizing your fears and then dealing with them before they undermine all your efforts.
- Write down all the ways your life will change for the better when (not if ☺) you reach your goals. For example, you’ll probably feel more confident, have more energy, feel better physically, and enjoy some fabulous new clothes. Vividly imagine yourself experiencing these positive changes. If negative thoughts creep in, reframe them to something positive. For example, although it might be a bit scary having attractive guys suddenly showing interest or sexy women (who never gave you the time of day before) flirting with you and clamoring for your attention, think of it as a new and exciting adventure. Keep your list handy and look at it often.
- Make a list of the things that worry or scare you about becoming thinner and fitter. If possible, talk them over with someone you trust who can help you put them in perspective, since fears about the unknown have a tendency to become blown out of proportion in our minds.
- Practice making new, positive self-statements that describe the person you’re becoming (e.g. “I am fit and healthy”, “I am unstoppable when it comes to reaching my goals”, etc.). Allow these to start replacing the old, derogatory messages you’ve been giving yourself (e.g. “I’m fat and out of shape”, “I’m a loser with zero willpower”, etc.)
- Think back on some of the anxiety-provoking changes you’ve experienced in your life (e.g. starting a new school or job, or moving to a new city). Recall the various things (particularly your own internal strengths) that enabled you to successfully adjust during those times of uncertainty and change.
9 ~ Your weight makes you feel safe
People are often quick to judge anyone who’s significantly overweight or obese. It’s easy to assume the worst – they have no willpower or self-discipline, they just sit around and eat all day, or they just don’t care about their health or appearance. However, there’s almost always a lot more to the story – especially when it comes to the underlying emotional factors that may be playing a significant role.
One of the emotional factors that may be contributing to the excess fat you’ve been carrying all these years – and sabotaging your countless efforts to lose it – is that it creates a sort of armor or shield from the outside world. This scenario most frequently plays out in individuals, particularly women, who have a history of sexual abuse. What better way (in their mind) to keep potential sexual predators away than wrapping your body, literally, in layers and layers of ugly fat?
It’s not about the food; it’s not a lack of discipline; it’s not gluttony or laziness – it’s about fear and the need to stay safe from future abuse.
Excess weight can also protect you from physical or emotional intimacy. Although this fear is often associated with prior sexual trauma, it can also stem from any type of emotional or physical trauma. To be intimate means you have to let your guard down and allow yourself to be vulnerable – and that can trigger a lot of anxiety. As much as you think you want to lose weight, it may be that it’s just too scary to let go of the very thing that’s made you feel safe for a long time. And you may not even realize it.
- Consider working with a therapist if you have a history of trauma – especially sexual abuse – and know (or suspect) that it’s undermining your ability to lose weight. Be sure to work with one who has a lot of experience helping trauma survivors. Many people who’ve been through trauma minimize its impact and work hard to keep it buried deep inside, rather than working through it effectively. Not to mention, emotional eating is a great way to soothe and stuff those painful feelings. Coming to terms with and healing from the past will not only remove a tremendous emotional weight, it may also be the key to finally losing the protective excess weight that’s been burdening you as well.