People tend to expect things from themselves they'd never expect from a family member or a friend. We can accept our loved ones and friends, regardless of what they look like. Yet, too many people don't think twice about rejecting themselves for their own appearance.
Here's an exercise I use with my clients: Picture your child or yourself as a child. Now say the things to that child that you repeatedly tell yourself about your weight and appearance. How do you imagine that child would feel? What would she think? How motivated would she be to change?
Would you say these things to a child you love: "You're a fat pig. What's the matter with you? You have no self-control. Why would anyone want to be with you the way you look?"
No, neither would my clients. When they think of their own children or other loved ones, they love them for who they are. They list what they love about them without hesitation. Yet, they don't treat themselves with the same respect and love. Why is that?
No rational person thinks the laws of physics apply to everyone in the world — except themselves.
Yet perfectly intelligent people forget that even when applied to oneself, the "laws of life'' are consistent. Praise, reward, encouragement, kindness and compassion motivate. Rejection, criticism, cruelty and general negativity do not.
And here's another puzzle: How can it be that another person's imperfections are endearing? Do you remember the hanging skin on Grandma's arms, or the fact that those arms were always open to you? Maybe thinking about Dad's bowed legs brings up feelings of affection for him. You might have inherited his legs. Do you feel the same affection toward yourself that you feel when thinking of Dad's legs? Why not?
One of the psychological barriers to successful weight loss is how we treat ourselves, and what we expect from ourselves. If the expectations are overwhelming it becomes extremely difficult to succeed. Many people come to me saying things like:
• "I can't accept myself until I get all the weight off."
• "I hate myself. I'm so fat."
• "Look at my thighs! They're huge. I'm gross."
Would you say these things to anyone you love:
• "I can't accept you until you get all the weight off."
• "I hate you. You're so fat."
• "Look at your thighs! They're huge. You're gross."
Then why would we think that treating ourselves like this would do any good? Rigid expectations lead to negative consequences. Weight-loss programs coupled with these types of statements don't last long, and willpower has nothing to do with it.
If this sounds familiar, here are some tips to try:
• Lower expectations to levels that make sense, such as, "I'm going to work at increasing my activity level gradually until I'm doing something active on a daily basis."
• Praise all efforts along the way. "Wow. I got my exercise clothes on today and took a little walk. That's more than I've done in months. That's great!"
• Be a problem-solver, not a critic. "Well, it seems that my planning today didn't allow enough time to shop for a nutritious meal. What can I do to prevent this next time?"
• Be accepting on a daily basis. "I'm doing this to change what I can realistically change and accept what I can't. I may not be perfect, but no one is. I'm pretty swell just the way I am."
Even if it feels awkward at first, practice becoming your own biggest fan. Cheer for yourself, with goals that make sense and are achievable. You'll love yourself for it.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or DrRod@FatMatters.com. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.