I’ve lost roughly 15 pounds over the last three years (but have been trying for about 10). What changed? Let’s explore.
First, I’m uncomfortable with the title of this blog post
But I want people to read it, so I know that I have to frame it in a context that people will understand. And click. And scroll. And actually take this in.
All my life, I’ve been surrounded by women (and some men) who wanted to lose weight. I know that a blog post promising weight loss will pique the interest of the masses. Just like I know a blog post promising contentment from the slow and steady mindful path most certainly will not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why more people my age are not as obsessed with positive psychology as I am. And I think it all comes down to one thing...we think in terms of the things we’re told to want. We’re told to want high-paid jobs, hot bodies, social media likes, and many expensive possessions. We’re told to want happiness, but we’re told the formula for achieving it is in attaining the above. And only in attaining the above.
I’m not different. I’ve been miserable at a few points in my life, and it was all because of the fact that I was pursuing this idea of the perfect female body with reckless abandon for all of the things that truly contribute to a sense of well-being and contentedness in life.
Fortunately, in the words of Rihanna, what I found in this hopeless place was love. For myself! But after many hard years of having next to no love for myself. Sad!
So, I thought I’d share a little on the topic that got me started on my mindful journey. It’s the topic of weight loss, and how I was able to finally, finally - after years and years of trying since I was a sophomore in high school - lose weight. It all happened when I began pursuing mindfulness “full time.”
Weight loss is not the goal of mindfulness, but it can be a byproduct
First of all, let me say that I realize the irony in a blog post that positions weight loss as a key benefit of mindfulness. Even though my relationship with my body and food ultimately are what catapulted me onto this mindful roller coaster ride, I struggle with linking the two so closely in the title of this post.
The point of mindfulness is not to slavishly invest in yourself with the hope that if you practice enough self care, you’ll get the highest paying job or the most Instagram likes. The point of mindfulness is to invest in yourself such to the degree that you are able to show up better for the world.
By taking care of your own emotional needs, it follows that you should be able to help pull others up the ladder. Think about it like you’re putting your air mask on before the other passengers. You can’t be the best version of yourself and unleash your incredible light on the world if you haven’t embraced and cultivated that best version, that light.
Weight loss should not be the end goal of mindfulness. It can and often is a byproduct of a much more healthy relationship with one’s self, but it’s not the holy grail of mindfulness. I’ll be the first to admit that I remain utterly and overly preoccupied with how my body compares to what I believe it’s “ideal” state should be, and that I often use mindfulness techniques to bring me back to a place where I’m comfortable, if and when I move beyond that point.
But that doesn't mean that I stop practicing mindfulness when I hit my goal weight or that I just pull out the below trusty tricks when I’m feeling slightly sausage-like in my clothes. It’s because I am 100% committed to life in the slow lane, taking time to very purposefully “do me” that I now enjoy a very loving, respectful and proud relationship with my body.
How my mindful practices helped me shed the ol’ lb’s
Mindful eating helps with portions & cravings
Portions; they should match your level of hunger, not the package or serving size. People think I’m crazy because I will put four fork-fulls of leftovers in a tupperware container to eat later. Most people ask, “What’s the harm in finishing it off?” But I refuse to eat past my personal point of fullness these days. I often only eat half the granola bar or banana or bag of chips, because all I need is a quick 100 calories to get me to my next meal.
Try this: Next time you pop a bag of pretzels at work, eat half, fold the bag over, and stick it in your desk drawer out of sight. When you break the cycle of eating whatever is put or packaged in front of you, you break the cycle of overeating.
In addition to mindful portion sizes, I also practice mindful substitutions. For instance, I LOVE pasta. It is undoubtedly my favorite food in the universe & living without it for me is a sad existence. But since it’s not fair to my body to eat exclusively white, processed flour for every one of my meals, I have learned some very handy substitutions: zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, or lentil/chickpea/black bean past.
Click here for more mindful eating tips and tricks.
Prioritizing conscious movement means exercise without the pain
I used to work out a lot. It was a habit ingrained by my mother, my high school cheerleading coach, and the online fitness community when I was first starting to try to lose weight. The unfortunate thing was, the more I worked out, the more I felt like I needed to eat in order to “build muscle” or “replenish my energy storehouses.” As the old saying goes, your body is 80% diet, 20% exercise and my equation was way out of balance. I was trying to outrun a binge eating problem, and I’m just honestly not that disciplined.
As of late, I’ve turned away from forcing myself to the gym and toward conscious movement. I make a point to walk or do yoga every day, because I know my body needs to move. I still challenge myself to 1-3 tough workouts a week, which I know are also good for my body. I think the main thing that’s changed is that rather than pushing my body to do what I want, I ask it what it needs.
Try this: Aim to get 10-12k steps per day. Build it into your daily commute. Get off the bus one stop before you have to. Get a sleek little fitness tracker you actually like to wear. Mine displays red lines when I’ve been sitting at my desk for too long. When that happens, I get up and start doing laps around the office floor. So far, no one has called me out and it feels like a huge favor i’m doing for my body.
More respect for my body means less alcohol (& fewer calories)
I went from binge drinking 4-5 days a week in college to socially drinking 2-3 days a week post-grad. I think this is likely the biggest component in my ability to lose weight and keep it off. Learning to recognize that my drinking habit was severely unhealthy was something I had to do with the help of a therapist. By no means have I given it up -- a girl loves her wine -- but I make very conscious decisions about when and where and why I’m drinking alcohol. If there’s no reason to be drinking, I try to find a healthy alternative that still feels indulgent.
Try this: Next time you’d rather not imbibe, pour yourself a glass of Kombucha, La Croix, or whatever sparkling beverage tickles your fancy.
Prioritizing sleep repairs the body & mind
I get 8 hours on the dot every night by going to sleep at 11:15 pm and waking up at 7:15 am. My mood is wildly erratic if I don't get this consistently good sleep, and my cravings are so much more intensified. When my body is tired, it truly just wants sugar and simple carbs for quick energy. Make sure you’re nourishing your body with consistent, good sleep. It’s so important.
Try this: Invest in an eye mask, ear plugs, and a tempurpedic mattress topper. Consciously create a nighttime ritual that prepares you for sleep (mine is reading, meditation, and gratitude) and practice it before bed every night.
For more on how to create the most amazingly cozy space, check out my post on hygge for the bedroom.
An honest self-dialogue helped me find my flow (& stop obsessing about food)
Find a hobby that engroses you so completely your forget what it’s like to absentmindedly snack. Good positive psych mantra, ya? But seriously, when I’m writing or working on my blog or engrossed in an absolute page-turner (currently Educated by Tara Westover - so freaking good!), food is the farthest thing from my mind.
I used to have such a problem with snacking, both in high school, college and in previous jobs, because I was so bored. So unengaged with life. I lived to eat. I worked out to eat. I trudged through class and emails and social obligations to eat. It was crazy. But it was because I hadn't identified a passion or a purpose for my life, something that invigorated and stretched my capacity to produce and affect change in the world.
The effect is that I now watch fewer TV shows and read more books. I have more health, growth & meditation apps on my phone than I do social media. I’m more excited to advance my passion for positive psychology and bring what I’ve found to the world than I am to eat almost anything.
Try this: Think about some of the things you loved to do as a kid, write them down, and try consciously incorporating one per week until you’ve tried all. You might reignite a long lost passion that makes you YOU.
Also try this: Take mental stock of the kind of content you love to read about on the internet or in books or talk about with your friends. Then think about your unique skill set. How might you engineer an intersection between the two?
For more on the definition of flow, check out this post on Your Six Core Needs & How To Meet Them.
Moving away from a toxic environment made room for self-compassion
I loved my LA college experience, because it brought me the greatest friendships I’ve ever known, an education that I loved, and the transformational growth period I was looking for.
What I didn’t love was the culture of LA that played out in unrealistic standards of beauty, too much alcohol, and unfulfilling relationships.
These days, I’ve mostly stopped saying yes to events that would be a rehash of college party days. As fun as they were, they brought me little peace or satisfaction in my life. Instead, I try to invest in my important relationships by setting up 1 on 1 time or smaller, more intimate gatherings.
Getting away from a toxic environment allowed me to feel a little less judgement for myself, subsequently making a little more room for compassion. Self-compassion, as you might guess, is essential if you want to have a loving and nurturing relationship with your body.
I now use mindfulness to manage anxiety
A lot of times, weight loss comes from struggle and not always purposeful struggle. I can’t talk about my weight loss without mentioning the single greatest factor: I lost 10 pounds during a nasty breakup and was able to keep most of it off. I mention this not because I advocate for anxiety in your weight loss regimen, but because I want you to know that there is a less cut and dry side to my story.
I am your average human who went through a blistering emotional heart wrenching, lost a bunch of weight through anxiety, turned sharply toward mindfulness and meditation and self care to heal, and ended up solving one of the biggest puzzles of my life: how to have a loving relationship with my body.
But I’m still anxious about sharing this blog post
It’s terrifying to put this out in the world, because what if you’re reading it, and I weigh just as much as I did three years ago? Will you judge me and laugh at my presumptiveness? Will you forward to your friends and say snotty things? These are the questions running through my head.
Although I feel comfortable in my own skin right now, that is not always the case. And I get anxious thinking about the fact that someone might one day read this and call me a hypocrite, because I’m definitely not 15 lbs. less than I was in college. It’s a silly fear to have, but one that I’m going to allow myself. Weight in America is so fraught with emotion and judgement and pressure and obsession, it would be a little weird and self-indulgent if I were to waltz in and claim that I have the silver bullet and that I’ll probably love the way I look forever now. My work here is done!
No, I don’t think that’s how it’s going to be. I can already tell you there will be times when I look at myself and struggle to think positively or speak loving words or not restrict unhealthily after putting on five pounds. Because honestly, it happens every week. But at least I have the tools to help me get back to the headspace where I can.
One of my deepest hopes is that we can all be more publicly honest about this issue, rather than hiding our struggles out of fear of judgement or shame. We have to know we’re not alone.
Some people will never have to work this hard
Isn’t that crazy? It is to me. I’ve felt such a sense of disgust for not just my body, but for my entire being, at more than one point in my life. That might sound dramatic, but isn’t everything when you’re young? It doesn’t even matter how insignificant the suffering is in the grand scheme of things, because pain is relative. If the worst thing in your life is the fact that you don’t feel like you can love your body, it’s still an awful, painful thing in your life. Some people will not be able to empathize with this sentiment, and, to be honest, I hope that’s the future for everyone.
But if you’re reading this and thinking about how crazy it is that someone (i.e. me) would need to have regular conversations with their inner child so that they don’t eat themselves into a coma regularly, just know that you’re one of the lucky ones.
Other mindfulness strategies for losing weight
There’s a massive community online that have already figured out that this is the most effective way to arrive at a loving, respectful, and proud relationship with your body. Here’s some sentiments from one of my absolute favorite wellness sites, Greatist.com:
Stop dieting. Willpower is finite! Stop all of the diets, even the most innocuous, like “the whole food diet.” If it positions anything outside of a given set of food as negative or “bad,” then there is always the potential to rebound.
Learn to negotiate with yourself. If you have a delicious piece of cake that happened to be sitting in the break room, perhaps you don’t have your normal two dates dipped in salted peanut butter after dinner (Kylee). Or maybe you do! But at least you think about where you could even out the distribution of caloric goodness in your day.
Figure out the emotional “why?” behind the eating. "No one gets to be 100 pounds overweight without some serious emotional baggage” — I think my “why” was something like a deep dissatisfaction with myself. Not my life, my life has always been great. More like a deep dissatisfaction with my self worth. I didn’t really have an affirming relationship with myself, and so i looked to food to fill that hole.
Non-judging. “It’s okay that I had the slice of cake and two dates dipped in peanut butter. It doesn’t make me a bad person, it just means I had an extra hankering for sweets today.”
Patience. “The best relationships take time and care and effort. I will spend forever on my relationship with myself, and I won’t give up.”
Beginner's mind. “Being skinny won’t bring me lasting happiness. But radical self-acceptance might.”
Trust. “I listen to my body and trust it when it says it wants pasta. I trust it equally when it wants veggies.”
Non-striving. “My goal is not a number on the scale. My goal is to journey toward balance and peace with my own body.”
Acceptance. “I accept that my body will never look like most Instagram model’s, but that it’s beautiful in its own way.”
Letting go. “I choose to let go of defining my self-worth by the number on the scale or by the size of my jeans. It is not important to my happiness.”
Do you have any mindfulness habits that have improved your life in ways you couldn’t have predicted? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below!