I think of myself in a lot of different ways. I’m sensitive, compassionate, funny, and for sure type A. All of these are identities I’ve created for myself, and they make me act in specific ways.
For example, I can’t stand to think about anyone feeling left out and will cross a cocktail party to talk to the person who’s standing alone (just ask my husband). I crack jokes at just about anything — especially myself — and I love to laugh. And if any of the items in my refrigerator has a label that doesn’t line up with the others, I start to hyperventilate (again, just ask my husband).
But there’s one identity I used to have that was preventing me from doing the very thing I was desperate to do: lose weight. It took me forever to figure out that seeing myself as someone who needed to lose weight was preventing me from losing it. When I stopped saying and thinking “I need to lose weight,” I finally lost it.
You may think that this is just something harmless you say, but if your life revolves around losing weight it has become an identity. Think about it: someone who wants to lose a few pounds is very different from the person who is desperate to do so, who makes plans based on what she looks like, and who obsesses about the next meal and what she’s going to eat. That person literally is “someone who needs to lose weight.”
You have multiple identities and if you can relate to what I just said, this is one of them. You reinforce it by saying it to yourself, by saying it to your friends, and by scrutinizing your body to see if the weight is still there. If you see yourself this way, you will stay this way — because an identity makes you do what you do.
One of the ways you support your identity as someone who needs to lose weight is to diet. And this isn’t good, because dieting keeps you stuck.
Here’s the cycle: Saying “I need to lose weight” makes you diet, which involves restricting yourself, which creates resistance, which needs to be neutralized, which makes you eat, which means you fail, which means you regain the weight. Which takes you right back to “I need to lose weight.”
It’s not about what you do — it’s about how you see yourself and how that makes you do what you do.
Think about women whose bodies you envy. What do they do all day? What do they eat? What exercises do they do? I used to be obsessed with finding these things out. But the question you really should be asking is, why do they do these things?
Women who look amazing don’t look that way because they force themselves to do what they do. They do these things because they think of themselves differently. They have an identity that makes them do these things.
For example, actresses who restrict themselves don’t do it because they’re trying to lose weight. Staying a certain weight is part of a larger identity they have, which makes them have habits and routines that support that identity.
And even if you follow their routines to the letter, you’re ultimately going to fail, because being someone who needs to lose weight is an identity for you. You will be doing these things out of desperation, not excitement, and feeling desperate keeps you stuck in the cycle.
Being someone who needs to lose weight keeps you counting calories, weighing yourself, and pushing yourself to work out. This leads to resistance, binge eating, and regaining the weight. Being someone who is healthy, vibrant, and fit means you naturally eat less because it doesn’t feel good to stuff yourself, you never weigh yourself because you feel lean and light, and you move your body simply because you want to break a sweat. All of this makes you feel good, so you continue, build on your successes, increase your confidence, and ultimately have the body you want.
You have to see yourself differently, and this new identity will naturally lead to doing things that change your body. You have to see yourself as someone who is beautiful, who is a work in progress, and who has excitement for life — basically, someone who isn’t trying to lose weight.
So, how do you stop thinking of yourself as someone who needs to lose weight? You have to start focusing on the positive traits you have and what you like about your body. This is challenging and takes time, because you have to train yourself to be aware of when you’re being critical of yourself and then change those thoughts. When you start focusing on what you like instead of what you hate, you start to feel lighter emotionally. This inner change will lead to the outer change you want. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Once you start seeing yourself differently and change this identity, you will start doing things that naturally change how you look. Your habits will change, you’ll feel happy that you’re improving yourself, you’ll feel enthusiastic about your life, and then your body will change.
Yes, it takes time. But think about all the time you’ve wasted dieting. If you had been doing this inner work instead, you wouldn’t even recognize yourself today. So, change your identity, change your thoughts, change your habits, change your body — and change your life.