Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Getting Past the Weight Set Point

So I'm at my doctor's office for my annual gynecology appointment--the one where I have to get on the scale (previously recounted in a blog entry in April of '09). This time, I'm sitting outside his office for the consultation part of my visit when I hear a woman checking in. She's terrified of getting on that scale. She says no matter what she does, her weight is always the same: "I do really well, I eat healthy for a few days and then I get on that scale and it says the same thing! It makes me feel like not even trying..."

As the conversation goes on, the nurse comes back to weigh her and the woman refuses. "I have to put something down," the nurse pleads. "Too much," is all the woman will offer up. She's become terrified of her own number: that indelible, unchanging weight.

It made me think about all those conversations about a 'weight set point' that seemed to be so popular a few years ago. The idea is that each of our bodies settle into a weight that seems normal to them and then that weight doesn't budge, no matter what we do. I've heard popular thinkers apply this concept to other set points too: those for happiness, prosperity, relationships. We get used to a certain standard and then--to preserve homeostasis--don't seem to stretch beyond it. We get stuck at our set points.

Listening to this woman and her battle with the scale, its unchanging number, I revisited the idea. It does seem to be true. Can you relate? You try and try, you think you're doing everything right: exercise, diet. And nothing changes. Your weight stays the same.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because when we accept the idea of a set point, we're not acknowledging our ability to influence or be a part of it. To her, it seems as though her body is being stubborn, unmoving. No matter what she does it stays the same. If she wanted her body to know that she'd prefer a different set point, how would she even begin? In her mind, she's already at odds with this thing (her body) that's not doing what she wants it to do, which is CHANGE.

Something begins to shift when we start seeing our bodies as something we can interact with: we allow that we might be able to start that dialogue, to have some influence on things like set-points and outcomes. This attitude certainly sets up a different way of relating to our body's behavior. Instead of believing our body boorishly wants to stay the way it is, we can start telling it what we'd prefer and see what happens. Allowed into the conversation, our bodies may have important feelings and information for us to take in as a result.

When I work with clients with this idea, it's sometimes surprising what happens. Being given the option of communicating with their bodies about what they'd prefer, rather than being at odds with them, they realize their bodies have something to say, and that together they might create positive change. One client who imagined what it would be like to feel lighter and more alive, shared that request with her body and found herself wanting to move and be more active. It was as if her body was saying, "Okay, yes...let's begin." Another client found herself drawn toward more energizing and alive foods. Both needed to make the request and then just listen.

More importantly, both clients began to feel themselves in partnership with their bodies by offering up their dreams to them, rather than seeing their bodies as stubborn objects resisting their desires. In partnership, many things become possible: even the changing of a set point. We have to believe that our bodies don't choose a set point out of defiance, they choose it for the same reason all of us choose the comfortable and familiar: it's easier. But that doesn't mean that given a request and a vision from someone we care about that we wouldn't be willing to step a little outside our comfort zone to try on something better for both of us.

I encourage you to be willing to give your body this chance. Try following this five-step process (also outlined more fully in my forthcoming book) to create positive change with your body:

1) Feel the way things are now--whatever it is that's difficult or challenging. Are you frustrated with your weight? How it feels to move? What your clothes feel like? Let yourself feel and acknowledge the feelings connected to the current situation.

2) Get a vision for how you'd like things to be instead. How would it feel if you could move the way you wanted to in your body? If you felt lighter or your clothing was looser? Let yourself fully experience what that would be like, as if it already existed. What do you see/feel? What are you doing? Surprisingly,when it comes down to it, your vision may not be as much about what you weigh as it is about actually feeling good and at ease with your body.

3) Imagine that you can communicate this to your body, showing it what you'd prefer instead. You might even say, 'This is what I'd like, what do you think?'

4) Next, be willing to see if you get a response. Is there some behavior or wish your body gives you back? Is your body on board with the new vision? Ask your body if there's anything you need to be doing to make it possible and see what kind of response you get. Sometimes clients get a vision of what they could be doing differently and can see themselves doing it. Sometimes it's literally a feeling in your body of restlessness, pent-up energy, a directive to move. How does your body tell you what it needs?

5) Make a commitment to keep checking in together and acting from a sense of the new vision. Get so clear on it that you can feel it in your skin and call it up at will. Use it as a place to come back to and touch base. Ask: does the behavior you're engaging in align with the vision you and your body now share of what you'd like? What would your body say?

When you really get that your communication with your body matters, you embrace both the positive and negative influence you're capable of having. What would you like your body to know about what you most want? How can you, by communicating that vision, go from stuck to transformed?

Try it. In the process, you just might find yourself changing the 'stuck' feelings about your body you didn't even know you had!

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