Back in my miserable dieting days, I made about a thousand solemn vows that this time I would stick with it.
This time I would eat the exact foods on the diet. This time I’ll work out harder. This time I’ll have enough willpower.
This time will be different.
And every single time, I would find myself bingeing on my favorite go-to comfort foods — the ones that called out to me from around my kitchen.
I would say “I’m only getting a salad” before meeting my friends for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant — and then dive headfirst into the chips and cheese dip.
At those same girls’ nights out, my friends and I would talk incessantly about how awful we looked, how fat we were, and how hard it was to lose weight.
And to round it all out, in my spare time I would park myself in front of the TV to watch depressing crime shows, and I would routinely pore over celebrity gossip magazines — most of which contained a spread on who had the best bikini body.
Wow. No wonder it took me 25 years to lose those same ten pounds.
If I had only known then what I know now.
Environment Is Everything
What I know now is that no amount of willpower is enough to overcome an environment that’s setting you up to fail.
Here are a few truths about your environment:
- Your environment is working either for you or against you, and it’s working constantly — all day, every day.
- It’s probably working against you, but you can’t see it since you’re immersed in it.
- You’re blaming your lack of results on your lack of willpower, when your environment is literally pushing you to make the wrong choices.
Your environment has a powerful effect on your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. And it’s essential to your success that you take control of it.
Your food environment — in other words, your kitchen — has a huge role in determining what you choose to fuel your body with.
But your environment doesn’t just include your physical surroundings or what foods are in it. Your mental and emotional states also powerfully affect your food choices.
(By the way, it’s so crazy that all we ever talk about is the food. It’s literally all we consider, when it’s about so much more than that.)
Health Is a Mindset
Health is a mindset, and if you have the right mindset, eating the right food is easy. But if your internal environment doesn’t support a health mindset, you will fail.
Your intellectual, emotional, and social environments either support or destroy a health mindset. If these environments are positive, they support it. If they’re negative, they destroy it. It’s really that simple.
I can pretty much guarantee that if I went into your kitchen and had a look around and if I spent the day with you — analyzing what you watch on TV, what you read, who you hang out with, and what you say — it would be easy to see why you’re having a hard time losing weight.
Your physical and mental environments are almost certainly sabotaging all of your efforts. And no matter how hard you work and how many times you pick yourself back up and start over, nothing’s going to change until you fix them.
Not only that, because you can’t see what’s really going on behind the scenes with your faulty environments, you’re blaming yourself for all the failures. And this blame and the resulting shame are creating destructive thoughts like:
- I have no willpower
- I can’t control myself
- I’m disgusting/fat/unattractive
- I’ll never be able to lose weight
- Nothing will ever change
All of these thoughts are influencing you to inadvertently keep setting your environment up for failure (eg, feeling defeated makes it appealing to watch/read about the misery of others, feeling like a failure keeps you buying comfort foods), and the cycle continues.
What’s Wrong With What’s Around You and How to Fix It
Let’s look at the three main environments that are keeping you from losing weight and that need a major overhaul:
1. Your physical environment. Your kitchen is highly influential on the everyday choices you make in fueling your body. And it’s almost certainly setting you up to fail.
Your kitchen most likely makes it easy for you to pick unhealthy foods while simultaneously making it hard for you to choose healthy ones. It’s probably set up so that grabbing convenience foods is more appealing than cooking a fabulously delicious, healthy meal.
You probably have unhealthy foods in full view around your kitchen, and you probably don’t have half of the equipment you need to cook healthy meals. Your pantry and refrigerator may also be disorganized and cluttered with expired items.
And your kitchen is probably not a place of beauty or inspiration — more likely it’s a place that stresses you out and that you’d rather avoid.
My freezer used to be filled with frozen diet meals, and my pantry was stocked with crap food that I was constantly trying “not to” eat. I thought I “hated” to cook, when I hardly ever set foot in my kitchen (unless I was reheating leftovers or my morning coffee). Even when I did cook, there wasn’t much variety since my main equipment consisted of a toaster and a pot to boil water in.
Before you think you’re out of control, just can’t stop eating, or have no willpower, make a serious assessment of your kitchen to see just how much it may be sabotaging you. If you need help, I have a guide that can get you started.
2. Your mental environment. The information you take in daily — through what you read and watch — matters.
Don’t think for a moment that the Netflix documentary on child molesters that you binge watched over the weekend doesn’t have an effect on your mental state — and subsequently your health decisions. Will you cook a healthy meal or call DoorDash? Will you go for a long walk or sit on the couch for more Netflix?
Reading celebrity gossip and watching the destruction of others’ lives every time you open your laptop or turn on the TV makes you feel like What’s the point?
Why juice when you’ll never look like that fitspo model on Instagram? Why work out when you’ll never have Jennifer Aniston’s body? Why try to live to be 100 when the world is coming to an end?
You can’t completely avoid these things, but spend time every day reading an inspiring biography or books on how to improve your life. Watch an uplifting documentary — or if you’re going to watch something crime-related, at least make sure it’s not a true story. How about browsing through a beautiful cookbook once in a while?
I’m not exaggerating here. If health is a mindset and you’re filling your mind with negativity, your health will suffer. What you feed your mind with has an effect on what you end up feeding your body.
3. Your social/emotional environment. Who you spend time with — and most importantly, what you talk about — creates feelings and emotions, which then cause you to act accordingly.
Hanging out with people who constantly complain about their lives and talk about how bad everything sucks are killing your opportunities for growth and improvement.
You know the feeling you have after you’ve spent an evening with your most negative, self-absorbed friend? You carry that with you — her negativity creates negativity inside of you, which then spreads like a virus to every part of your life.
Being around negative people and their negative energy pushes you to eat emotionally — it’s more appealing to binge on Oreos after suffering through a girls’ night where Debbie Downer dominated the conversation. (And to have a few more glasses of wine to decompress when you get home.)
Not only that, when you’re in the company of people like this, your tendency is to validate what they’re saying because it’s “rude” not to. Even if you don’t agree out loud, simply sitting there listening means you’re absorbing what they’re saying.
This is especially true when the talk is all about how hard it is to lose weight, how being heavier around the middle is inevitable after menopause, or how much plastic surgery you need to feel attractive.
Choose to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself, who talk about possibilities, and who spread joy and encouragement. If you can’t completely ditch your friend from the first grade, at least spend as little time with her as possible. And consider the fact that allowing negative people to stay in your life keeps positive people from entering.
Whatever you do, refuse to take part in conversations about how hard it is to eat healthy, how hard it is to lose weight, how there’s never enough time in the day, and so on. When you say it, you make it real.
What Happened When I Changed My Environment
During the 25 years it took me to finally shed those last 10 pounds, I didn’t deliberately change my environments to support my health.
I gradually took an interest in nutrition, I started reading about it, and then I went back to school to study it. This knowledge led me to develop an interest in cooking, which resulted in me reorganizing my physical environment, which then caused me to make better choices about what to eat.
My renewal of energy through this process caused me to be more optimistic and to have a desire to learn more. These feelings naturally led to me spending less time consuming mood-destroying media and more time reading growth-oriented materials.
I naturally started spending less time with people who weren’t in line with my new mindset, and I began to create more good in my life. All of these changes freed up mental and emotional space to dream more and achieve big goals (like writing an entire book about these things).
My physical, mental, emotional, and social environments did a 180 . . . and so did my health. And the more my health improved, the more all my environments continued to upgrade themselves.
And — no surprises here — I lost that weight without even trying. In fact, I was so excited about life, I never gave it another thought.
You don’t need to keep making it harder than it needs to be. And you don’t need to do it by accident like I did.
Start paying attention to what’s around you and start making gradual improvements. Those small changes will build on each other, and pretty soon your life will look completely different.
Best of all, you’ll be different.
You’ll be someone who is in love with her life, who sets and achieves big goals, who everyone gravitates toward — and who no longer wastes her life on a diet.
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