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Most weight-loss programs place minimal attention on the mind-body connection, and this is where they fall short. Nothing is more important than understanding the way the mind and body are communicating with each other, especially when it comes to stress.
This is why feeling safe, and understanding and addressing mental and emotional stress is of paramount importance when you want to lose weight.
Keep in mind that when Jessie's body got the message "Thin = Safe," even giving him the richest, all-you-can-eat, optimal nutrition couldn't make him any fatter because his body didn't want to be fatter. No amount of raw calories could convince him of that. And when his body wanted to be fat because Fat = Safe, it was easy for him to put on weight.
Human lives tend to be more complicated than Jessie's, but not as far as our bodies are concerned. Every time you have mental or emotional stress, it generates chemical changes in your body -- chemistry that activates ancient survival programs inside us. But which program is it going to activate? Is it going to activate the "Buddy's chasing me" / thin program, or is it going to activate the famine program? Because if it activates the "Buddy program," it will make your body want to be thin, and if it activates the famine program, it will make your body want to be fat.
This explains why the same superficial stress makes some people put on weight and some people lose it. In an abusive, emotional situation, one person may put on weight as a shield, while another person will shed weight in preparation for running away. It's all very primal. It's all a result of basic instincts. And it's these basic instincts that have kept your body locked into an unacceptable weight situation. But the facts also provide your key to liberation.
If you don't address this point of mental and emotional fatcausing stress, any type of eating or behavior modification you make will yield marginal results at best. Not only that, it will be exhausting and extremely frustrating. It will feel like you're driving a car with the emergency break on.
But when you do get this point right and feel safe, and your body is no longer interpreting the stresses in your life as a type of famine or harsh weather, your body will no longer want to be fat. Weight loss is not only easy, IT'S INEVITABLE. If your body wants to be thin, there is nothing you can do to stop it. Your metabolism will speed up, you will be less hungry, you will crave healthier foods, and you will become very efficient at burning fat.
So let's take a look at some of the most common forms of mental and emotional stress that may be activating your body's FAT Programs, and then examine what you can do to eliminate them:
Mental Starvation: Lack -- The Modern Day Famine
It makes sense that our brains could interpret any mental or emotional stress that originates from a feeling of lack as a kind of starvation. In a sense, any lack is a form of starvation. Whether you feel that you don't have enough money, love, attention, or meaning in your life, the feeling is lack -- not enough of something.
Our brain takes this message of lack and has to translate it into physical terms. The most crucial type of lack that the most primitive part of the brain understands is the physical lack of food, because food and water were the primary things our ancestors could be lacking. So, as a result, the brain can interpret any form of mental, emotional, or even spiritual lack as a lack of food.
The Daily Grind
What we commonly think of as stress -- the frantic and sometimes desperate ongoing struggle to make ends meet and get ahead in life -- can sometimes trick your body into thinking that it must be a time of famine, so it activates the FAT Programs.
This chronic stress can very easily mimic the chemical signals that are created when we are starving; chronic stress is alarming but not immediately life threatening. It's not like a tiger chasing you, for example, so running away won't necessarily make it better. It's more like a famine or a cold winter: it's always there and you just have to take it -- grin and bear it.
Interestingly, famine and the daily grind have something in common. Your body perceives them both as chronic, low-level threats to your long-term survival. When you don't eat enough every day, day in and day out, you're not going to drop dead on any one day from starvation. But over time, if left unchecked, you could starve to death.
In the same way, in the modern day famine, if you're late for work on any given day, nothing is going to happen. If you're late every day, day after day, you might get fired. If you get fired, you might not be able to make ends meet. If you can't make ends meet, you might not be able to afford your house or apartment, or even have enough money for food. If you don't have enough money for food, you might starve. In a sense, your brain is correct in interpreting this fear as a fear of starvation.
Fear of job loss or worrying about making ends meet does not automatically make every person fat. Every individual reacts differently to stress. But the truth of the matter is you are more likely to gain weight the more worried you are about losing your job or about making ends meet. Studies have shown that people in particularly stressful working environments and families with less money are more likely to be fat.1
However, you can be a millionaire and still be worried about making ends meet, or about getting ahead. It's how much you worry about it and how your brain interprets the fear that matters, not the objective reality of the situation.
Spiritual longing is really a desire to connect with our soul, our creator, or whatever else we may chose to call our one true source. This can be a type of starvation that activates the Fat Programs, but there's more to it than that. When we feel disconnected, food can sometimes be a way of connecting with the outside world. Think about what you're doing when you're eating -- you are taking something that is outside of you and you are bringing it inside you in a very intimate way. You are connecting and merging with that food, and that food becomes you; eating becomes a surrogate for the true connection that we desire. When we have spiritual starvation, there can be the tendency to "fill the soul" by eating.
You can also be starving for meaning and purpose in your life, and this can activate the FAT Programs. As a matter of fact, researchers have discovered a statistical correlation between lives lived with a sense of purpose and a healthier weight.2 Living life in a way that we feel is meaningful -- feeling like there is a purpose to our existence -- nourishes our soul. Meaning and purpose are "soul food," and many of us are starving for this essential, nonphysical nutrient.
What Are You "Weighting" For? -- Follow Your Heart
Here's a bit of practical (or impractical, depending on the situation) advice. Whatever you really want to do but are afraid to do -- DO IT. Take the chance -- follow your heart. It's essential to listen to the messages from your heart. These messages are your soul's desire. They communicate to you what you are meant to be doing at any given time in your life. If you don't follow these messages, you will inevitably be straying from your life's path.
If you don't listen to the messages from your heart, the feeling of longing and frustration is never going to go away; it will only get worse. Negativity constricts the flow of grace into your life, causing pain and emotional starvation.
I recently saw Gina, a friend of mine who I have not seen in several years. She wants to lose weight and is on a very austere, low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb diet. She's not even allowed sweet peppers because they have too many carbs.
Gina's a teacher, and she's tired of being a teacher. Exhausted, she says she would like to retire in a few years, but she doesn't have the money. In her spare time, she paints and has several hundred paintings in her shed to prove it. When she showed me the pictures in her portfolio, they took my breath away. She entered two of them in contests and won.
So I asked her the obvious question: Why aren't you selling your paintings? She said that she was not sure anyone would like them. And as she said this, she hunched her shoulders and tensed her muscles. You could tell Gina was uncomfortable with where the conversation was going.
I said to her, "Wait a minute! You're tired of what you're doing for a living, and your heart isn't in it. In the meantime, you do have something that you love doing, something you would do for free anyway and something you are obviously good at. You have already produced several hundred paintings that are just gathering dust. You would like to lose weight and you are starving yourself to try to do it. You would like to retire but you're not making enough money."
At that point I got a little animated, and I said, "Let me tell you something. Your weight problems, your financial problems, and most likely any other physical or mental pains you are experiencing all center on one single issue. You have something you love to do and were born to do, and you're turning your back on it. Having something that you love doing is a gift from the universe, and you're rejecting it. When you reject that kind of gift, you are rejecting the grace that goes along with it. As a result, you struggle, you yearn, and you starve." Then I told Gina in no uncertain terms: "Take the chance! Follow you heart!
Embrace your life's destiny!" When we said good-bye and Gina walked away, she looked shell-shocked. She was in a daze of realization.
This is a common theme. If we fail to follow our hearts, obesity is often the result. Yearning causes emotional starvation and activates the FAT Programs.
There's a simple rule to follow.
If you have something that you'd like to do, long to do, yearn to do but are afraid to do -- take the chance. DON'T WEIGHT! FOLLOW YOUR HEART!
Oftentimes, the situations and people in our life that are causing the most stress and pain are there to remind us that we are not following our heart. This can come in the form of an angry boss at a job we hate or an abusive partner in a relationship that is not working.
If you are afraid of the changes that will happen in your life as a result of following your heart, that's natural. Just surrender to the changes, letting them happen. Don't resist them, don't tense up; just relax and allow them to happen. You are following your heart, which means you are finally having the experiences your soul desires. This also means you are getting back on the right path and living your life's purpose. The universe is ready to reward you.
There will be a transition stage as you move from where you are not supposed to be in life to where you are supposed to be. It's awkward, but you can't avoid this stage. Just like after surgery, there's a period of time when your body is healing and you may feel some discomfort. But surgery can save your life and so can following your heart. Anytime you experience any transitional discomfort, just relax and say these words to yourself: "This is my heart's desire, and I allow these changes to take place in my life."
The changes that took place in my life when my body was transforming itself were substantial to say the least. Allowing those changes to take place was the single greatest thing I have ever done. The rewards have been beyond my wildest expectations.
Update -- I've since lost touch with Gina, but I heard from a mutual friend that she's lost weight and is doing fabulously as an artist and just had her first big art exhibit.
Mental Obesity: Beliefs That Get In The Way
What I call "mental obesity" is when your beliefs either cause you to gain weight or prevent you from losing weight. To a much larger extent than people would like to admit, our beliefs create and affect our reality. If beliefs are useful, they make everything flow smoothly. But dysfunctional beliefs only get in the way, and you may need to reexamine them, update them, or acquire new beliefs.
I once heard of a railway worker in Canada who worked on a train that had refrigerated cars. His greatest fear was that he would accidentally be locked in one of the cars one day and that he would freeze to death. Sure enough, one day he was inadvertently locked into one of these cars. He wrote a letter to his daughter about how he was always afraid of this happening, and he died in the car that night. The next day they found his body, and the coroner's report stated that he had indeed frozen to death. The only problem with what would have otherwise been an obvious diagnosis was that the refrigeration in the car wasn't turned on that night. He had frozen to death simply because he believed that he was going to freeze to death.
A well-known phenomenon in Australia is the aboriginal practice of "pointing the bone." A medicine man will point at his victim with a sharpened bone extracted from the body of a goanna (a species of giant monitor lizard) or a kangaroo.
Victims believe so strongly in the power of the bone that they quickly sicken and refuse to eat or drink. Unless a Ngangkari healer intervenes, they die, victims of their own beliefs. "Pointing the bone" works because it's common knowledge -- an accepted belief -- that the bone is fatal. It works and has done so for thousands of years. People die because they truly believe the bone will kill them. If beliefs can kill, then there is little question they have the power to activate and deactivate the FAT Programs too.
Beliefs can control our entire reality because they act like reality filters. If we believe something is possible or will happen, we open up a range of possibilities to allow particular realities to occur. On the other hand, if we think that something is difficult or impossible to accomplish, we shut ourselves off from the possibilities, thus almost ensuring that an event will not occur. The harder we think something is to achieve, the harder achieving it will become. As the saying goes, argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours. However, the easier we think something is to achieve, the easier we make it for ourselves.
People kill and die for their beliefs, and yet, personally, I couldn't care less if my beliefs are "right" or "wrong." I only ever ask myself one question: "Does this belief serve me and those with whom I share my planet?" If so, then I keep it; if not, it's out. It's that simple.
When it comes to weight loss, you may have tried and failed so many times that you have come to believe that losing weight is either extremely difficult or downright impossible. I would urge you to allow yourself to release these negative beliefs; they will only get in your way. Believing that losing weight is difficult -- for whatever reason -- causes mental obesity.
Losing weight, in fact, is quite easy. Up until now, you've simply gone about it the wrong way. Whatever previous failure you've had has not been your fault; you've simply been using ineffective methods. Anyone using ineffective methods to achieve any goal will fail. That's what makes them ineffective. That's why diets have such a miserable success rate.
Every time you stick your hand in a fire, you'll get burned, and every time you try to lose weight by violating your body's natural logic, your body will fight you. Once you start using effective strategies for weight loss, you will lose weight easily and effortlessly.
Why let old, dysfunctional beliefs get in the way?
You can remove the beliefs that are causing mental obesity by re-educating your mind. You can turn beliefs on and off like a light switch to suit your needs. And we'll be talking about that soon enough. But the easier you believe it is for you to lose weight, the easier it becomes. You can use the power of beliefs to your advantage.
In a little while, I'll give you a set of highly effective tools to address mental starvation and mental obesity, but first, let's turn our attention to the most important nonphysical cause of obesity there is: emotional obesity.
Copyright © 2008 by Jon Gabriel