39. The Surprising Way Gratitude Can Help You Lose Weight
Welcome to episode 39 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about gratitude and how it can help you lose weight.
And this dovetails nicely with the last two episodes because being in a state of gratitude is the opposite of being in a state of resistance. Gratitude goes further than what could just be begrudging acceptance. It's welcoming, appreciating and being thankful for our life experience.
Over the years I have made my own gratitude lists - you know lists of things to be grateful for, but I never stuck with it and I think that was because I felt like doing that wasn't quite right since it seemed conditional and based on what I had.
For example, I might be grateful for having a roof over my head or money in the bank, but what if I didn't have those things? Would or could I maintain a state of gratitude without the very things that I was being grateful for.
I guess another way to put it, was that this gratitude for things or circumstances or experiences, it felt surface level, and I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to go beyond this world of changing things and find the unchanging thing that I could be eternally grateful for. I didn't want conditional gratitude, I wanted unconditional gratitude. I wanted gratitude that would never leave me.
And this sort of led me, logically I think, to be grateful for my mere existence, for the fact that I have a life at all, regardless of all the judgements I might make about it. The fact that I have any experience at all and that I do or have ever experienced joy, happiness, or love is truly a miracle.
Simply put, life is a gift and when you can maintain that perspective you are in that state of unconditional gratitude.
So why don't we maintain that perspective more often? What is preventing us from walking around in a constant state of deep, unconditional gratitude just for the fact that we exist.
I think the first reason is that we make gratitude into a should. We tell ourselves that we should be grateful oftentimes at the precise moment when we don't feel that way, and then that just makes us feel guilty for not feeling that way and/or resentful of the mandate to be grateful.
Shoulds always create resistance and resentment because they indicate that reality should be other than it is. I'm not grateful, but I should be and boom, the minute you think you should you have given birth to this tension between what is and what isn't. And it's funny because thinking that anything should be other than it is is the opposite of being grateful and accepting of what is.
And we do this not just with gratitude, but with our bodies and with food and with our emotions. I should be 20 pounds thinner. I shouldn't eat that. I should eat that. I shouldn't feel this way.
And we do this with good intentions too. I should love and accept my body. I should be grateful for my job, for my life. But should carries this attempt to control.
And that's the other big thing about that deep, unconditional gratitude that I spoke about before. When we view life and all our experiences as a gift, we lose the notion that we control these things, and for a lot of us that is really scary.
We attempt to control a lot and we think we control a good portion of our lives, but in reality that control is an illusion. You don't control the events in your life any more than you control the beating of your heart or the division of your cells.
And it's a double-edged sword to realize this, because on the one hand there is a wonderful release of responsibility and burden. You are not in control and so you can really relax and enjoy the ride. I actually find this very thought to be what helps me get into or stay in a space of deep gratitude. The idea that I am not doing anything and that in fact God or the Universe is the one doing it all through me. I find that so freeing and it allows me to see everything as the magnificent gift that it is.
But on the other hand, when you acknowledge that you are not in control, you also find that you must accept some gifts that you wouldn't have chosen for yourself; gifts that don't feel or even look like gifts.
The other reason I think we have trouble sustaining a state of deep gratitude is because it can bring up big emotions that can feel overwhelming. And I didn't really understand this myself until I was pointed to Brene Brown's work and that her research shows that it is when we feel joy that we are actually at our most vulnerable. We aren't at our most vulnerable when we are upset or ashamed or angry or even fearful, it's when we are feeling joy.
And this makes sense when we consider our lack of control. When we feel deep joy or gratitude about something, we have no power to sustain that thing. We can't hold onto it and make sure that the amazing gift won't be taken away. And so we protect ourselves by either resisting these feelings, or we try to bring ourselves down by imagining that it is gone.
And this is exactly what I was doing when I was making my gratitude lists years ago and thinking, "but what happens if I don't have these things?" Instead of truly appreciating these things, I was closing myself off to them; resisting them.
And so, today, I still make these lists. In fact recently I've made an intention to really lean into gratitude and so often I make a list in the morning and again at night. And what I understand about practicing gratitude now is that it's about so much more than being thankful for certain things or circumstances and that it's really about practicing this vulnerability. It's acknowledging that we can't hold onto the gifts we are given; that we don't have security or control, at least not in the way we think we want.
There's an incredible quote from Byron Katie, whom I love, in which she says, "If you want real control, drop the illusion of control; let life have you. It does anyway." And so our real control is to relinquish the very idea that we have any control.
And if you don't trust in life, that's going to be a very difficult thing to do. And this is where gratitude makes way for weight loss.
When we practice gratitude and we practice being vulnerable, we're also practicing trust. Trust that the rug won't be pulled out from under us; or that if it is there's a beneficial reason behind it; trust that there's either love or a lesson and that a lesson comes from love. Ultimately when we really practice gratitude, we practice believing that we live in a benevolent universe that has our best interests at heart.
And this translates to trust in our bodies and trust in ourselves; and trust that you don't need a diet or rules, restrictions, or limits to control either one.
Your body isn't something you control, it's something you trust. And you cannot trust it and be grateful for it while you are also trying to control it. The one negates the other.
At the end of the day, life isn't something you control or do, it's something you receive. And weight loss is the very same. You don't achieve weight loss, you receive it.
And I totally understand why that might sound strange and hard. You might be thinking, how the heck do you receive weight loss? But the great thing is that you don't have to figure that out. Because gratitude is less about what you appreciate and more about your being. And so it doesn't matter if you practice gratitude with big things or with little things or everything in between - what matters is simply that you practice.
And as you practice being grateful, it becomes a part your identity. And as you become a grateful person your gratitude will naturally begin to include your body, and yourself, and you'll begin to see that you have the power to realize anything and everything you want.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you do spend some time practicing gratitude today. Take really good care of yourself and I will see you next week.