Weight Loss, Fitness, Mood and Sexuality
Weight is often used as an indicator of general health. Whether it’s the medical field or mental health field, professionals often focus on weight loss in a way that can actually harm you. Whether it’s crash dieting or blaming depression and anxiety on weight, professionals who claim that losing weight will fix these problems are leading down a road that will lead you to more dead ends and frustration than it will actually harm you. This is because weight is often implicated as the cause of health issues, self-esteem issues, and emotional issues. Weight can certainly correlate with all of these things. However, it certainly isn’t the cause. Weight gain is a symptom of a variety of things–way too many things for me to cover in this article. There certainly is no particular weight that leads to meaningful lives, positive sexuality, and a positive mood.
If we implicate your weight, it’s going to set up a bogus set of goals. For example, it encourages magical thinking. “If I lose weight, my mood, and self-esteem will improve.”
When we think of weight gain and loss in a narrow linear way, we set people up for failure and shame.It matters to me because I see people in my office every week who put off living their lives in a meaningful way, waiting to reach these types of goals. This sets up a problematic series of thinking where people tell themselves that they have to feel and look a certain way to engage in the world in a meaningful way.
Social media’s impact on on your body image and mood.
I originally wrote this article in 2011, and a lot has changed since then. Social media has become much more prominent in our culture. This has further perpetuated crummy advice as it pertains to body image and mood. People often seek to look like those on social media similar to how people try to look like celebrities, thinking this builds confidence in life, relationships and sex. Obviously, these are often products that are being sold.
“Diffuse” things to lives how you want to live.
As you can see, weight gets over synthesized with other elements of quality of life. I recommend that you separate these things and make separate goals. This is what we call diffusion (think of it as an opposite of infusion). Rather than treating all of these elements as if they will come together to create their own outcome if you change one thing, treat them like the separate things that they are.
If you want to make a goal for weight loss, make this goal. But be sure to make it based on your values and things that are important to you rather than trying to get away from emotional pain and self-esteem issues. What do I mean by that? If you want to lose-weight, ask yourself “why?” It could be because you’re an athlete and you want to reach an athletic goal. In this example, you may have a competitive goal. This is also an example of moving towards something valuable rather than losing weight to move away from feeling bad about yourself.
Work on stress management and emotional awareness.
Sometimes, a goal that people have is to build a positive relationship with food. For example, we can eat to cope with difficult emotions, situations, grief, and life circumstances. This can lead to a cycle of problems as many of the foods that people use to cope can also be addictive. Then there are the feelings and beliefs that can stack on top of the difficult feelings that are already there.
Mindfulness is often the first step to changing this cycle. Focusing on more awareness of how you feel can help you intervene and slow things down. It can also help you build a tolerance to these emotions, which also can increase your tolerance to difficult situations.
Build an expanded relationship with sex.
Unfortunately, the way people view themselves and their weight often increases a sense of rigidity about sex. For example, people view it as a forbidden arena where only thin people can play. Again, remember we’re focusing on separating goals. Where would you like to take yourself sexually? What types of experiences would you like to have? How can you have these now with the body that you currently have? Work towards answering these questions to shift your relationship with yourself sexually. This will also likely improve your quality of life as well.
A positive relationship with exercise.
Exercise can make us feel better. There’s growing research on how it impacts us physiologically. The truth is that exercise alone rarely shifts our weight in the long run. So again, differentiate this goal from other goals in your life.
Again, if you’re going to add exercise into your life, do so in a value-based way. For example, some people join gyms for the social component. You can join athletic leagues for a sense of community and friendship. It may also be something that fits its own competitive space in your life. As a general rule, competition that is separate from comparison can be enjoyable, can give you goals to reach, and can also connect you with others.
It’s impossible to avoid influence.
The big challenge is making values-based goals while also being aware of how stuff around us influences us. We’re surrounded by messages about body-image that are blatant and subtle all the time. The best we can do is support each other and become aware of how these things are influencing us. I encourage clients all of the time to practice becoming more aware of how these things influence them. I encourage you to do the same. Doing so can change how you feel about yourself and how you interact with the world.