Weight gain is an evolutionary process. Some people call it creeping weight. The scale turtles inexorably upward – a tight skirt, a belt notch, a can’t-zip-up-my-pants inch at a time. Yet you expect the scale to go down as rapidly as a high-speed elevator. This erroneous thought pattern – practiced and perfected as with any bad habit – is an unrealistic expectation. Dangerous to be sure with any endeavor, but deadly when it comes to weight reduction.
I could have, I should have, I didn’t, I wanted to, are the loud laments of the perfectionist. Perfectionism is an illusion, however. Since you’ll never be perfect, in your mind you don’t ever succeed. Then you think: I failed, I blew it, I’m weak, or bad, or whatever you say to beat yourself up, and you stop trying altogether.
Why not acknowledge small, incremental improvements, times when you did better at one meal, one day, or one event than you might have? Focus only on what you did, not on what you thought you should have done. The inclination to focus on the negative is part of the all-or-nothing addict mind. You think that if you can’t do it perfectly for an entire week – even though it is unrealistic to think you can – you won’t do it at all. It would be more pleasurable to look for the positive and see that list grow.
All-or-nothing thinking is far more destructive to your weight loss goal than a friend baking brownies and leaving them on your desk. Even if you eat one brownie but manage to give the rest to co-workers and friends, you think you’ve blown it. A better way of thinking would be to realize you only ate one, when in the past you probably would have eaten several, if not all.
Unrealistic expectations give substance, heft, and power to an unrealized goal. They quash the budding crocus of success as it pushes through the thick asphalt of failure. Unrealistic expectations kill the flowering of dreams, because you become so disappointed that you give up hope.
Thomas Edison never stopped trying. “I have not failed 10,000 times,” he said. “I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
The only reality is where you are today – perhaps 50 pounds and where you were a week ago – perhaps 155 pounds. And even if your weight remains the same, there are other questions to ask: Did you keep a food log? Did you drink the requisite amount of water? Did you do better at an industry function than you might have? Did you eat less than usual at your mother’s? Yes? Then you’re ahead of the game.
Marcia S, an unrealistic thinker, lost seven pounds in two weeks. The third week she lost one pound. When I asked for a positive story, she said: “Nothing good happened.” She was miserable.
“But you lost eight pounds,” I reminded her.
“Yeah, but,” she continued, “I was so good all week and the scale didn’t move.”
“You lost one pound this week,” I reminded her, “and you didn’t gain back the previous seven.”
“Yeah but . . .” she repeated. “I lost that pound at the beginning of the week and didn’t lose anything the rest of the week.” She was unable to acknowledge anything positive. So great were her unrealistic expectations, it was impossible for her to feel joy or satisfaction in what she had accomplished.
By ignoring these fragile buds, by not watering, nurturing, and turning them to sunlight, they turn to dust. You’re used to seeking out the imperfect and because you’re not yet in the habit of recognizing the fruits of your labor, they dwindle on the vine. What remains are the weeds of destructive, negative, unrealistic thinking. These thoughts can and do take over your mind and your heart. Unrealistic expectations make you believe you’ll never succeed, every effort is for naught, you are forever destined to fail.
If you give too much credence to your real or imagined failures and not enough to your attempts, your interim successes, and your accomplishments, you will become the failure you think you are.
Were your parents critical and judgmental? Are you too hard on yourself? You may have internalized their voice.
Create your own positive voice. Think of the reasons you want to reach your weight loss goal (or any goal), not the reasons you don’t want to remain at your present weight.
Tell friends how good you feel, rather than reliving your less-than perfect efforts. Give importance to the good stuff. Let everything else go.
Try to monitor your negative, unrealistic thinking. See how many times you give yourself credit for doing something positive – I only ate when I was hungry the entire week” – only to take it away by adding, “. . . except for Thursday night when I worked late and had three slices of pizza.” It is not a good habit of thought to give one evening of pizza the same weight as six days of staying on your program.
Thinking realistically and positively may be tricky at the beginning because you’ve been thinking unrealistically and negatively for a long time. It takes practice and perseverance to change your attitude, but you will succeed. Perhaps not immediately. Perhaps one baby step at a time. Perhaps 10,000 attempts later. But, as Georgia O’Keefe said, “You mustn’t even think you won’t succeed.”
This article is an excerpt from the book Conquer Your Food Addiction published by Simon and Schuster. Caryl Ehrlich, the author, also teaches The Caryl Ehrlich Program, a one-on-one behavioral approach to weight loss in New York City. Visit her at www.ConquerFood.com to know more about weight loss and keep it off without diet, deprivation, props, or pills.