Beliefnet
From "Ultimate Lifetime Diet" by Gary Null, copyright 2000 by Gary Null. Used by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc., books and authors, see the internet website at http://www.randomhouse.com.

Many people sense that part of the reason they are overweight is that they don't have the power to run their lives the way they want to. They feel stressed out at their jobs, where information comes in faster than ever and our responses must be equally quick. The number of hours we work is on the rise, and many employees worry about job security. But even after we leave the office, our problems may continue at home. Many of us feel lonely and stay stuck in unrewarding friendships and relationships for fear of being isolated. If we're married and have children, we may live in households where no one communicates or shares feelings with one another....

Our lives also are filled with short-term crises--an exam at school, a heated argument, or getting stuck in traffic on the way to an important meeting. These minor stresses have no lasting effect on our bodies and immune systems, notes Dr. Joan Borysenko, one of the pioneering scientists of psychoneuroimmunology, the study of how emotions act as a link between the body, mind, and immune system. Rather what does us in is the chronic stress we feel from a negative outlook that can develop as a result of these minor irritations and setbacks. ...

Some of us handle stress better than others, a concept known as stress hardiness by researchers in this field. Superior adaptation to stress depends on three factors: challenge, control, and commitment. Instead of letting ourselves become unhinged by troublesome events, we need to view each difficult situation as a challenge, take control, and commit ourselves to resolving it. ...

Self-Actualization Techniques
...[T]here are a variety of ways of smoothing out the bumpy aspects of life so you'll have an easier time reaching your weight-loss goals. ...

Unclutter Your Life
When patients wishing to lose weight talk to therapist Dr. Peter Reznik, one of his first questions is "How's your closet?" Trained in mind/body medicine, Reznik works on the premise that a disorder on one level is always reflected on other levels. He also asserts, and I agree, that you can successfully start a process of change on any of these levels and it will have direct repercussions on the others. People who want to let go of excess weight but can't often are unable to let go in every aspect of their life. As a result, their closets and homes are clogged with old clothes, papers, books, furniture, and dust-collecting trinkets. An initial step to change, then, is to start cleaning your house or apartment, getting rid of everything that you no longer have use for. You'll find that this can contribute greatly to an enhanced sense of well-being.

The emotional makeup of an overweight individual often reflects this pattern as well, with the person hanging on to memories, perhaps painful ones, that no longer serve a purpose. The regrets and resentments we hold on to from the past keep us from living fully in the present. ...

To begin the healing process, Reznik has his patients clean out their inner closets by remembering past stressors and releasing them. Unlike more traditional models of therapy, where people talk about a hurtful situation and then store it in their mind so that it continues to rule their life, Reznik's approach teaches patients how to resolve the painful memory differently. For example, if a patient has suffered abuse, he would ask him or her to return to the experience, feel the pain, and then transform it by creating a better ending. ... While it's true the actual experience will never change, the way that memory is now processed has changed, and that's what's important for healthy functioning. ...

Get in Touch with Your Demons
Eating for emotional reasons happens more when we are unsure about what's bothering us. Once we get a clear picture of what's really going on, the urge to take solace in food is likely to diminish and eventually disappear. Clinical psychologist Dr. Edward Abramson therefore encourages his patients to pay close attention to events that precipitate eating episodes. "I frequently ask people, 'What were you thinking about before you started eating?' Not just 'Where did I leave the peanut butter?' but 'What was I thinking about before I asked where I left the peanut butter?'" This method helps people identify what was going on in their head at the time and enables them to connect a particular feeling to the urge to eat. It may be an upcoming job interview or other work-related situations that cause anxiety, for example, or the memory of someone who is absent that precipitates loneliness.

It's important to realize that most of us have been conditioned to cover our feelings, and if we're not turning to chocolate cake for comfort, we're turning to Prozac or other antidepressants that mask an uncomfortable state of mind. Instead of shutting down our mind's internal message, we need to become more aware of what our inner voice is saying and learn to live in accordance with that voice. ...

Engage in Positive Self-Talk
... You may not be able to control what others feel and say, but you certainly can control what thoughts you allow to remain in your own head. The next time negativity strikes and you catch yourself engaging in self-criticism, try responding in a new way. For instance:

Have a debate with yourself. Expressing your negative thoughts aloud and arguing against them can be therapeutic and help you feel better about yourself.

Make criticism work for you. If someone is suggesting that you are fat and unhealthy, take the attitude that the person is telling you this because he or she cares about you. Treat it as constructive criticism and consider taking the person up on their challenge.

Be patient with your process of change. If you ate too much over the holidays, rather than admonishing yourself with criticisms like "I was bad; I have no control," have compassion for yourself and recognize that change is a process. ...

Use affirmations. Affirmations are positive words that help us break from negative thought patterns so that we may move in the direction of our goals. For instance, instead of saying "I don't exercise enough," words that keep us stuck in the same lazy cycle, we should say "I am exercising more frequently." ...

Start the day right. Instead of just getting up and adjusting to whatever the day brings, use the early morning to get into the type of mind-set that assures a more purposeful, satisfying day. ...

Acknowledge your successes. While most of us are quick to focus on our failures, few of us commend ourselves for the little successes we have. For instance, if you're at a party and successful at passing up the high-fat hors d'oeuvres, tell yourself, "I did something good; I'm moving forward." ...

Clarify Your Values
The people who live long and happy lives are those who are able to express who they really are. Unfortunately, many of us do not live according to our beliefs, and even worse, we may not even be sure what we do believe in. Being out of touch with our spiritual ideals, values, and emotional needs contributes to an unhealthy psyche, and it is bound to take its toll on our appearance and our health.

This connection has been recognized by many holistic practitioners, including naturopathic physicians Charles and Maxine Cropley, authors of the now-famous book, The Mind Body Connection. In their own practice, the Cropleys noticed that their patients wanted to improve their health and appearance but, despite good intentions, found themselves unable to change to patterns of eating and exercise that would produce desired results. So the Cropleys started looking more closely at what was going on inside their clients' minds that prevented them from attaining their weight-loss goals. What they ultimately discovered was that people had trouble losing weight because there was a spiritual void in their lives. Charles Cropley says, "What we find is there's an inner quality missing in people, and the quality is that of motivation. So the question becomes, how can we raise a person's level of motivation?" Most people, they realized, need to believe in something greater than just the idea of losing weight. ...

By getting in touch with our hearts, we have a much better chance of gaining power over our health and weight. When you become clear about what it is you really want, your health becomes more valuable and you feel inspired to change. ...

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