27. Are You to Blame for Being Overweight?
Welcome to episode 27 of the Mindful Weight Loss podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and just a few quick notes before we get into it. I have just started posting on social media, and so I'd like to invite you to connect with me. I am on Instagram as mindfulweightlosscoach and I'm on Facebook as yourmindfulweightlosscoach. And I literally have like maybe three followers because you guys are the first to know, but I promise I will be posting content regularly, so check that out.
Also, through the month of May I am offering a big discount on my 12-week course. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, as we transition to warmer weather I know that body shame and the pressure to diet to get ready for summertime and bathings suits can get incredibly intense and I want to offer that discount in the hopes that my program can be a more helpful and more available alternative.
And with that, let's get to it. Today I want to talk about your responsibility for being overweight and for lots of other things in your life.
Because something I have found really common in my coaching and in myself is that those of us who are overweight tend to shoulder so much more responsibility for things than we need and more than what is really good for us. There's a lot of extra burden and not to sound too woo woo, but this mental burden does seem to correlate to the excess physical burden that we carry as well.
And this can seem tricky because common self help advice is to take 100% responsibility for your life. And I think that idea can be misleading for a lot of people. And if you're coming at this idea from a more negative perspective, you're going to conclude that you're to blame for everything; that everything is your fault.
But in reality there is this distinction between what happens in your your life - the external factors like getting into a car accident for example - and your internal experience of life - how you experience and see that; what you tell yourself and believe about it, ultimately what you make it mean.
And as far as external factors go, you really don't control much: your gender, your gender identity, your sexual identity, your parents, how you were raised, your culture, how much money you had growing up, and of course none of us were taught to understand that we can control which thoughts we focus on, that we can let some thoughts go and actively choose to think or believe others, and so initially or maybe for most of your life you aren't even really in control of your thoughts.
And we're just scratching the surface here. You can't control your height, what you look like so a large degree. You don't control your genetic predispositions to things like diseases. (Yes, you can influence a lot of those and we'll talk about that.) And you also don't control any functions of your body including your heart beating, cellular function, digestion, skin hair and nails growing and so much more.
And that stuff is mostly just you. Then if we look to the world around you, you don't have any control over other people - what what they think, what they feel or what they do, and you don't have control over larger societal, global issues like politics, weather, pollution and global warming.
You have control over none of it.
And that's good news, because so much is NOT on your plate. It's not your responsibility and not your concern unless you want it to be, unless you have a calling to make it part of your life's work.
And I want to be clear that his is not about sticking your head in the sand. It's about taking the appropriate level of responsibility for you.
Because for global issues we have a collective responsibility and your part is a really tiny fraction that is shared with everyone else, so ideally your level of concern and stress about those issues would match that tiny fraction, again unless it's the work you want to do in the world or it's something you are passionately drawn to. Otherwise it will likely cause you undue stress.
For example, in my not so distant past life I did marketing and communications for a waste and recycling company. And I've always been passionate about animals and the environment and initially, especially once I learned about what really happens in recycling plants and how much material goes into landfills, I immediately jumped on the zero waste bandwagon. I felt like I needed to do my part to become one of those people who can fit an entire year's worth of trash into a mason jar. And boy was that stressful and exhausting, because it was really hard, and as much as I love the environment, that's not my calling. Not to mention that all that effort was going to make a minute impact.
We need systemic changes at the production level. We need manufacturers to make products that are recyclable, because so much of the plastic out there isn't. And it's those very manufacturers that very subtly and craftily put the onus individuals to make a difference. Recycling was created to make people think all the plastic production that's been happening for decades is fine and dandy, and that if plastic is in the ocean it's because individuals aren't doing their part, but that's a lie.
And gosh it's kind of the same thing with dieting. With plastic it's like, here let me sell you this plastic package and be sure you recycle it correctly. And with diets it's like, here let me sell you this meal plan and make sure you follow it correctly. I envision some giant finger wagging at me when I think about how these huge entities profit in part by selling us this notion that the problems they create boil down to some failure of personal responsibility.
But really, you aren't to blame because your toothpaste tube can't be recycled.
And so a great exercise that I would love for you to do is to just sit down for 10 minutes and ask yourself what you feel responsible for. What are you stressed out about. What burdens you? And then look at it and ask yourself if you really are responsible for those things? And ideally when you see that you're not, you can relax a little bit.
I did this with a recent client and over the 12 weeks that I coached her, it was perhaps her biggest wake up call. She had placed all these burdens on herself that weren't even hers to bear - and so no wonder then she ate to escape some of that burden; to escape that overwhelming responsibility that she had placed on herself.
The law of attraction folks, Abraham Hicks, say often that we are not here to fix a broken world. And yeah, just notice how it feels to think of the world as broken, to think of all of us contributing to that brokenness and that overwhelming feeling of having to, needing to fix it and not having the foggiest idea where to even start.
Those are not good thoughts. They certainly don't produce good feelings. And they aren't going to lead to positive actions. Most likely they'll lead to paralysis - something like hunkering down and watching TV and maybe with a box of cookies or a carton of ice cream because distracting yourself with just the TV doesn't really work for such overwhelm.
And I'm not saying that our goal is to banish those thoughts. There are problems in the world to be fixed, and I still feel sadness and overwhelm about them too, but I am mindful enough to know when it's productive to wallow a bit and maybe have a good cry, or get angry vs indulging in those emotions and allowing them to keep me stuck.
I can do two positive things with those negative feelings: I can allow them to help me experience and release pent up emotions that I may have I can allow them to give me clarity on what I do want and refocus on that positive outcome. I can accept them and then transform them, and in that order. And in some cases, when I focus on what I do want, I'm not part of the solution.
I certainly do my part to recycle what I can and avoid unnecessary packaging, but my life mission is not to fix the waste and recycling industry. And thankfully there are people in that industry working to do just that, using legislation so that systemic changes occur that can make the difference that is really needed.
And so what about something that is so much closer to home? Are you responsible for being overweight? I'm gonna go out on a what some might say is a bit of a limb and say and no. And yes, that's counter to so much of what we hear. The stereotype is that if you're fat you're lazy and gluttonous.
But in fact overweight people are some of the hardest working people I know. Like I said at the beginning, the problem is they think they are responsible for everything. They take on too much. They stress too much, they people please, they don't take care of themselves as well as they take care of others, and then they need to overcompensate with food.
And really, think about when you really gained weight.
For lots of us it's after you started dieting. You got the message from society that you were responsible for making your body look a certain way and that you should go on a diet to fix it.
Or maybe it was after you had kids and found yourself struggling to take care of the house, the kids, the cooking, the pets, the garden, ooh and maybe something like trying to reduce waste in your home, because that's what good people are supposed to do. Oh, and you need to lose the baby weight asap, so also go on a diet.
Or maybe it was after you dealt with an emotional upset, like a breakup, or COVID and suddenly you found yourself coping by eating and drinking more than usual, and then instead of learning how to deal with your emotions and find better coping mechanisms, you start a diet and take the coping mechanism away, and leave yourself even worse off and more stressed out than before.
And maybe you were a kid in the 80s like me and you grew up eating Weight Watchers meals and SnackWells cookies from a very young age. After having kids, my mom gained weight and was trying to lose it and that's what she was told was healthy, and so she gave it to us too. And I remember as a kid eating Weight Watchers Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo. It was a frozen dinner. And man I loved that stuff and I felt like I could never get enough. And I remember one family get together, all the rest of the kids were given that too. And they were much smaller than me and didn't eat theirs, and so I snuck around and finished everyone else's. And I used to think that was because I was a glutton, but I realize now that it's actually because there weren't enough calories in that meal to sustain a growing 6 or 8 year old child. Weight watchers doesn't make that meal anymore, but I checked similar versions from SmartOnes, Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice, and on average those meals are just 290 calories. And a 6 to 8 year old needs roughly 1600 calories per day.
And I remember other moments with my family where I got the message that eating pie or ice cream after dinner is how we connect, is how we make things special. I would be stuffed and I'm sure others were too and someone would suggest a run to Marie Calendars for pie and there would be this excitement in the air. And then you wanted to participate because it seemed like fun and because if you didn't get your slice of pie now there wouldn't be any left later.
And I remember getting home from a long day at school and watching soap operas or Oprah with my mom and I learned that snacking and watching TV is how to relax.
Am I to blame then for developing not so great eating habits. Absolutely not, and I'm sure you aren't either.
None of us woke up one day and thought "Hey, I'm going to gain weight." And none of us even woke up and said, "You know I think listening to my body is bullshit. I'm going to eat more food than I really need." Nobody's intention was to overeat, or to gain weight.
And yet we act as if it was. We treat ourselves as if we did something wrong and did it on purpose.
And then society preaches that diets, discipline and restriction are the answer.
But our discipline was never the problem in the first place.
And then the diet, the very thing you were told would fix the the problem actually exacerbates.
How in the world is that your fault?
Being overweight is a systemic failure of our culture. And it's not just diet culture, which we all in the sort of anti-diet industry love to blame.
You wonder why so many people in our society are overweight and obese, it's because we're programmed from a young age to sit at a desk for eight hours a day. We're taught not to listen to our bodies and not to allow our emotions. And on top of that we're taught to consume in order to cope - consume food, alcohol, clothes, kitchen gadgets, and tons more stuff. And and at the end of the day, we're taught to consume TV so we can sit some more.
And so if you are overweight I want you to know that you have done nothing wrong, and you can let that burden go.
I feel like Robin William's (may he rest in peace) I feel like his character in Good Will Hunting when he keeps telling Will, "It's not your fault." over and over again.
It's not your fault.
It's not your fault.
Because that's what so many of you need to hear. You need to let that burden go. And anybody who says otherwise has no idea, or they are fighting their own demons about what is really their responsibility.
This belief takes some time to really let go of, but it's so freeing to get rid of that blame and that guilt that truly don't belong to you. It's like setting down a giant suitcase full of rocks and that frees up so much energy and really allows you to act from a positive place. And when you realize it's not your fault, you also realize that there's nothing to punish yourself for, and that really you deserve so much compassion for dealing with this struggle.
And please know too that it's perfectly ok, and in fact important, to feel angry about it too, if that's your reaction.
And so where do we go from here? If you are not to blame for being overweight, where is your responsibility in all of this?
Maya Angelou said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
You need to know that it's not your fault. And you also need to know that staying in a place of anger or feeling like a victim doesn't serve you. It has a time and a place, but you can't stay there.
And ultimately you need to focus on what you can control.
And that boils down to a specific, single thing: your presense of mind.
Because you can't control which thoughts will pop up in your mind, but you can use your presence of mind to decide which thoughts to focus on and which to let pass.
And similarly you can't always control which emotions arise from those thoughts that pop up. But you can have the presence of mind to decide how to think about those emotions. Do you fear the emotion and run from it or do you allow it. Do you decide to believe that it won't hurt you and that it's just feedback, a signal that you are thinking a negative thought.
And so to you can't always control your actions. When you are mindful you do have control, but when you're not it's all to easy to fall into a habit and let autopilot take over. You tell yourself your'e not going to eat the cookie, but then you do without thinking. It's debatable whether you actually had control in that moment. And certainly you always have the capacity to be mindful and thus the ability to be in control in every moment, but ability vs actuality is very different.
So, again, it all boils down to your presence of mind in each moment.
You ate the cookie on autopilot, but that's in the past, and now you're mindful and you can thus control how you choose to think about that and which thoughts you focus on, because so many are available to you and there is an interpretation that best serves you - one which makes it more likely that you will be more mindful in the future so that you don't eat the cookie on autopilot, assuming that's your goal.
That's where you do have absolute and complete ownership.
Nothing external is in your control, and when you realize that you can place more control where it can truly make an impact, and that's your internal state and what thoughts you choose to believe.
And ironically when you focus on controlling only your beliefs, you come to see that they are a powerful influence on the external world.
Your thought focus influences your emotions, your actions, and ultimately your weight.
So that is your one and only true responsibility: Choosing what to believe.
And if you'd like help learning how to do that, well I have a great 12-week program you should check out.
Seriously though, I hope you ponder this because this is really powerful when you start internalizing this and acting from this space of belief.
I hope you enjoyed this podcast. If you have been enjoying it, please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode, and if you can leave a review on Apple Podcasts, I'd appreciate it. And don't forget to sign up for my 7-day kickstart challenge at mindfulweightlosscoach.com/start.