The title of this blog post is something I quote to my clients a lot. Especially when they say something like, “Once I start my new job, I’ll be so much happier.” Or, “Once my toddler gets into kindergarten, I will get so much more done.” Though these statements seem to be rational, oftentimes they are not – because of the “wherever you go, there you are” phenomenon! I’ve seen and heard this statement over the years in several arenas. It is the title of a classic book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, written in 1994. His book discusses mindfulness and staying in the present moment. It is also a term used in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book to point out that a change of geographical places won’t be the answer to your drinking problem. I’ve also heard it used in couple’s therapy as a way of pointing out that the exchanging of partners is usually not the answer to solving your relationship issues. In general, the statement is reminding one that no matter what you think is creating your unhappiness and problems, the fact is YOU are the common denominator in the problems. Only YOU changing YOU will fully solve the issue.
This becomes especially true for me in relation to food, weight, and dieting. I cannot count the times I’ve personally said some variation of, “I can’t wait to lose all this weight! Then I’ll be so happy!” Unfortunately, I have discovered this to be quite untrue! I’ve lost 90 pounds twice and 75 pounds once in the past 15 years. Yes, that means I’ve had to gain the weight BACK three times. We’re not talking 20 pounds here, folks. This is like losing a small adult (or big pre-teen)! THREE TIMES. Now, don’t you think if I found true happiness abounding “naturally” when losing all that weight, I would have never gained it back three times? But gain it back I did and partly because I succumbed to the extremely BIG lie of, “If I change my shape, I’ll change my life.” And I did change my shape, my eating, my exercise habits, and my lifestyle. But, no matter how much weight I lost, there I was. Still having feelings of self-loathing, resentment, and anger because I had allowed myself to “get so bad” in the first place. Irritated because others could eat and eat and eat and never gain an ounce. Mad when I perceived others as loving and accepting me once I lost the weight, but not when I was heavy. I shudder when I remember the terrible things I said to myself. Especially when I gained the weight back. We are our own most cruel judge.
Sadly, I’ve had many clients tell me the same sad story. They hit their weight loss goals (or very near) and they just sort of fall apart. They return to the OLD ways of binge-eating, not exercising, eating junk food/fast food. The heavier they get, the more terrified they get, and in that terror they — eat less, right? WRONG. They eat more. The heavier they get, the more self-hatred they feel and “hit bottom” and — start to lose weight, right? WRONG. They eat more. Nobody ever lost and sustained weight loss by terror and self-hatred. You can’t despise yourself into positive, healthy, life-long habits. You have to find a way to feel worthy enough to work toward weight loss, better eating, and healthy boundaries. Calling oneself a “pig” or “disgusting” or saying, “I’ve been bad” when eating something high in calories does NOT WORK.
The real annoyance in all of this is the extremely disappointing fact that having a slim body does not make you happy. People’s happiness does not revolve around their pants size. Having a slim body does not protect you from pain and loss. Your boss will still be a jerk, your kids will still whine and fight, and your significant other will still say something that will enrage you. You will still have feelings of pain, disappointment, and rejection. People will still hurt you – LEAVE you. Size 2 or 22 – these things don’t change. If you have always had a hard time with relationships and commitment, being 40 pounds slimmer will not change that dynamic. “But, Anne,” you say now, “YES IT WILL. When I’m thin I’ll feel better about myself and my self-image and I’ll be a better PERSON. More satisfied. Happier.” NO, you won’t. Because wherever you go, there you are – in size 2 or 22 jeans – there you are. I had a college professor tell a class of 150 people about how he’d lost 100 pounds over the past year. He was older – in his early 60’s. He’d struggled with weight his whole life. FINALLY, he’d done it – he’d lost the weight. And he told us he was not any happier or more joyful or confident. He was just thinner. Healthier certainly, less likely to die of a heart attack (which is GOOD), but not happier. In fact, he said he was often pretty darn grumpy because he could no longer eat whatever he wanted and he was still “teed off” about that! I was 18 years old when he told the class this (freshmen year, Psych 101). I didn’t believe him. I thought he was old and crotchety and I KNEW if I lost the 25 extra pounds I was carrying around, I’d be DANG happy. Sigh, No. He was right.
There are reasons for our overeating, weight-gain, self-hatred, fear of rejection, the need to stuff self with food, ignore the world with a burger and fries, and use cheesecake as a coping skill. Until I understand and change those things, THERE I AM. Lately, I’ve been doing that – making some changes that I believe (after a short 40+years now!) will finally get me to where I want to be with the size of my body and the peace in my heart. The weight is coming off – again. But this time I’m choosing to take it not as a war against time, food, and self. NO, I’m choosing to like and accept myself enough to make healthy choices for. Not so I can be in smaller clothes and be “proud” of myself once I’ve accomplished the fear. NO! I’m proud NOW. Proud that I’m strong and smart, determined, and a good friend and a great therapist (not to mention wife and dog-mom)! I’m tired of believing if I shame myself enough I’ll “hit bottom” and make changes. I’m sick of eating until sick. Until I have no more self-esteem left. Until I hate myself enough. NO MORE. I’m recognizing that only about 25% of it has to do with food and exercise. The other 75% has to do with my thinking/mind/heart/soul/beliefs/values/choices. I’m changing the ME I carry around in my thinking so wherever I go, I’m GLAD I’m there.