The Gifts of Imperfection - Wholeheartedness Applied to Weight Loss

Jun 13, 2018

In reading Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, I was struck by how similar her “guideposts for wholeheartedness” are to the way that we coach weight loss. In fact, I would argue that when we coach wholeheartedness and weight loss simultaneously, it works better for weight loss, and it works better for well-being.

Brené Brown’s “wholeheartedness” has three components: Courage, Compassion, and Connectedness. That’s an extraordinarily different way to approach weight loss than how most people do it. The idea that it could even work may, initially, seem counterintuitive.

And yet, for the most part, we’d agree that courage, compassion, and connection, are foundations of success in other areas of our lives.

Many people fail to hit their weight loss goals precisely because they go about weight loss in ways that run counter to their well-being. They chase perfection, try to look good for others, pursue exhaustion, and try to numb out their own emotions and hunger and fullness signals. This is the path to continual failure.

To look at it another way, we can ask ourselves: Am I doing things to lose weight that I wouldn’t recommend to someone I care about? Would I recommend it to my daughter? Or to my dad? Or to my best friend? Often the empathy and wholeheartedness we have for people we love doesn’t get extended to ourselves.

Counterintuitive Keys To Weight Loss:

  • You can’t punish yourself or hurt yourself into effective weight loss. This is the path to disordered eating and lower well-being.
  • The wholehearted path, ironically, is the most effective path to fitness, health, and well-being. It may actually be the only path to sustained weight loss.
  • Weight loss works best when you eat what you eat, and workout the way you workout, simply because it’s an act of self-care.

Or, to continue the analogy of things we would recommend to a friend — we want to pursue our health and fitness goals (or any goals) in the ways we would recommend to someone we care about. We would not recommend fear, punishment, and deprivation to a friend.

Somehow, people think that they can hit a weight loss goal, and they’ll magically become the person they want to be… even though they were being someone they don’t want to be to get there. In reality, being the kind of person you want to be is the only path to lasting weight loss.

If you want to be a person who is courageous, compassionate, and connected, you should get there by practicing being courageous, compassionate, and connected. Even in your weight loss pursuits.

There is no amount of fear, punishment, and deprivation that will get you to courageous, compassionate, and connected. They are going in opposite directions.

The path to success is wholeheartedness. Ironically, when our clients hit their weight loss goals, it’s the courage, compassion, and connectedness that they found to be more valuable than the weight loss itself.

Let’s take a look at Brené Brown’s Guideposts for Wholeheartedness, and how we apply those to weight loss with our clients:

Cultivating Authenticity — Letting Go of What People Think

One of the questions my friend Coach Stevo always asks his clients, is, “Who are you doing this for?” Interestingly, the kind of motivation that we get based on our own personal values is more effective and durable than the kind of motivation we get from trying to look good for others. Check out this post about tapping into your values for motivation.

Cultivating Self-Compassion — Letting Go of Perfectionism

Perfectionism, in weight loss, is the surest path to failure. Perfectionism is defined by quitting. On the other hand, conscientiousness and pursuit of excellence are the path to weight loss success. We often treat perfectionism as a fixed personality trait, but it’s actually a practice. Fortunately, we can practice conscientiousness and pursuit of excellence instead, and turn it all around. Check out this post about beating perfectionism and finally losing weight.

Cultivating A Resilient Spirit — Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

Emotional eating, stress eating, and boredom eating, in actuality, have very little to do with food. Instead, they have everything to do with numbing out the unwanted emotions, stress, or boredom. Check out this blog post about self-care as the antidote to numbing.

Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith — Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

The reason people always ask for macronutrient plans, diets, or meal plans, is that they provide the illusion of certainty. They give people an immediate “do this” that seems safe and useful. Unfortunately, the rigid rules and meal plans that provide the illusion of certainty are also the same rules that lead to diet failure. The rigidity requires a perfect life – a life that no one (save professional athletes) — tends to have. Check out this blog post about cheat days and how to put your faith in skills instead of rules.

Cultivating Creativity — Letting Go of Comparison

This is another one that’s so common, and so destructive in your weight loss journey. We never make fair comparisons: We compare our least favorite body part to someone else’s most enviable. We compare the part of our life that is hardest for us with the part of someone else’s life that is easiest for them. Everyone has different “easy” and “hard” things. And we’ve created a world where social media makes it look like everyone else has bright and shiny lives and everything figured out, and everyone else is successful and happy all of the time. Check out this blog post about the happiness trap, well-being, and a life where you do what matters to you.

Cultivating Play and Rest — Letting go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth

Wow, there’s nothing the fitness industry worships more than workout exhaustion. Well, except for diet suffering. We’ve come to exalt puddles of sweat and the martyrdom of depriving yourself of foods you like. Ironically, these kinds of suffering don’t often bring the results we want. It’s often the path to repeated failure. And then we hold that up as some sort of secondary prize, “I might be failing at all of my goals, but at least I’m exhausted.” If you want to read about how to get off of the hamster wheel of exhaustion failure, and take actions that actually fit your personal values, read this blog post.

Cultivating Calm and Stillness — Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

Most of our clients deal with emotional eating and stress eating. What they’ve found is that extreme dieting, rigid diet rules, and neurotic calorie counting increases anxiety. It FEELS effective in the moment, but if we reflect on our history of attempting, it we can see that it always bites us in the butt.

It may look like a path to results in the short term, but it inevitably explodes into a near-binge-eating episode. It’s the opposite of effective, and it’s the opposite of giving us peace of mind.

Ironically, it’s better self-care that leads most of our clients to weight loss. It turns out that taking care of ourselves is the only way to lose weight in the long term. In fact, by simply taking care of ourselves first, weight loss is a natural result.

The path of constant anxiety producing diets is a quick path to failure. Read more about how to move past anxiety producing workouts and diets.

Cultivating Meaningful Work — Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”

What’s kind of sad is that the kind of “supposed to” motivation to work out or eat well is pretty low on the scale of motivation. It’s not that it never works, it’s that it doesn’t work for very long. You’re going to need to do the work to figure out what really matters to you because that’s the only way you’ll actually take actions long enough to get the weight loss results you want.

As far as doubt goes — pick a plan and do it for six months. Do your reflection on how it’s going weekly or monthly, but reflect on how consistent you are being with the plan and how you could be more consistent with the plan. The self-doubt of “I’m on the wrong plan and I should switch to that magic plan” can keep you switching and spinning your wheels forever.

Of course, I recommend just using our plan, because it works. But, everyone goes through a period of “Wait, would I be better off doing that magical cleanse that defies all of the laws of science?” Of course not. It’s normal to have those thoughts, but it’s really ineffective to act on them.

Finding meaning is simply a matter of clarifying your values. Take actions in your health that relate to your values. This simply takes repeatedly reflecting on what’s meaningful to you.

If you need a skill plan to work on, we’ll give you our whole skill system for free.

Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance — Letting Go of Being Cool and Always Being in Control

Many of our clients come to us saying “I just want to feel in control.”
Ironically, and sadly, it’s the external control strategies that they engage in which continually reinforce and drive the cycle of feeling out of control. Here is how it works:

Control strategy: Counting calories

Out of control feeling: Not hitting calorie count, giving up, blowing up whole program to start again later

Control strategy: Weighing on the scale every day

Out of control feeling: Scale goes up and down, client feels totally out of control, snaps, eats a bunch of crap, vows to start again later and really be in control next time.

We could give a million examples with macros or good and bad foods or meal plans, but the cycle is always the same:

Using an external control strategy to give the illusion of control for a short time.
That control strategy drives anxiety. When real life shows up and we can’t control things externally, we feel more out of control.

Unfortunately, these control strategies only work for about 5% of the American population. The existence of that minority of people, for whom the control strategies work, sells books. For the rest of us, the other 95%, those control strategies create and perpetuate cycles of feeling out of control.

If you’re willing to let go of the horrible out-of-control cycle of control strategies, you can try out a skill-based approach. Shockingly, a skill-based approach allows for practice, learning, messing up, normal ups and downs of life stress, and growth. You get to grow inside of all of the practice, without ever having to be perfect. Our clients get results as they get better at real-life food skills. Replace the control-failure cycle with skill practice and skill mastery.

Courage, Compassion, Connectedness, and Weight Loss

Look, we get it — wholeheartedness (again, courage, compassion, and connectedness) isn’t the first thing you tend to think of when it comes to weight loss goals. Maybe you’ve tried 5, 10, or even 15 diets in the past that were based on white-knuckling through massive deprivation to try and fix something you hate about your body. That way hurts you. It’s not surprising that it doesn’t work.
On one hand, it’s is a pretty big leap from the cultural conversation we have about weight loss. On the other hand, common sense tells you that a wholehearted approach is more effective and longer lasting. We take terrible care of things we hate. We take really good care of things we love. Courage, compassion, and connectedness are the path to lasting weight loss and to being the kind of person we want to be in the world.

You have nothing to lose by test-driving a wholehearted approach to weight loss for a few months. The worst-case scenario is that you don’t lose any weight, but you accidentally are at more peace with your body, have better life satisfaction and well-being, and feel better connected to the people you care about. In the best case scenario, you lose weight in a way that’s quick and sustainable for a lifetime, while simultaneously being more at peace with your body, having better life satisfaction and well-being, and feeling better connected to the people you care about.

Wholeheartedness is simply courage, compassion, and connectedness. It’s a trifecta of things we all want to be in our lives. If we want to be these things, we need to practice them, even with ourselves, even with our fitness and bodies.

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