43. Why You MUST Pursue Your Dreams to Lose Your Weight
Welcome to episode 43 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about why you must pursue your dreams to lose your weight.
And I know that might sound a bit hokey, but stay with me and let's get into the science behind this because it exists and it's really compelling.
First off, if you're not familiar with it, I want to introduce you to a theory in psychology called Maslow's Hierarchy. It's essentially a theory about motivation. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, posits that our needs are ranked such that we must satisfy more basic survival needs like our need for food and shelter before we progress to more of our growth needs which are things like connection and self actualization.
And now the hierarchy itself does receive some criticism, but the framework can still be very helpful to help us identify what types of needs we are attempting to satisfy. And for those of us who are stuck in any way or have addictive types of behaviors, it's interesting to see that we are essentially stuck in the lower levels of the hierarchy. We are constantly trying to satisfy our needs for survival and in fact we are overdoing it. We want more out of life, but instead of moving up the hierarchy and developing more fulfilling relationships or realizing our own incredible potential, we are instead overeating, overindulging, and over-consuming. Instead of growing we're hoarding and that starts to create problems for us.
And now why we do this is because of my favorite neurochemical, dopamine. Many mistakenly think that dopamine is the pleasure molecule but it's actually the anticipation molecule and when you understand that it becomes easy to see that dopamine is never done.
In the book, Dopamine, The Molecule of More, authors Daniel Lieberman and Michael Long explain that "Dopamine has no standard for good , and seeks no finish line . The dopamine circuits in the brain can be stimulated only by the possibility of whatever is shiny and new , never mind how perfect things are at the moment . The dopamine motto is “ More . ”
And so dopamine is never satisfied. As soon as it gets what it wants, it's onto the next thing. And that might sound bad, but really it's what keeps us motivated for more in life. Dopamine doesn't only care about material things, dopamine also seeks the other things in Maslow's hierarchy - things like better relationships and self actualization. It doesn't matter if you want to eat chocolate cake or change the world - dopamine is really just in it for the wanting itself. It doesn't care what it wants so long as it gets to keep wanting.
And so interestingly you're activating dopamine both when you want to eat that chocolate cake, and when you want to lose weight. It's all the same from dopamine's perspective and so then it's really up to us to focus dopamine on the things that keep us growing and moving up Maslow's hierarchy instead of staying stuck in survival mode as we often are when we can't stop overeating and really want to lose weight.
And now, aside from simply not feeding ourselves enough and forcing our dopamine to focus on getting more food, there are two ways that we tend to mess things up when we try to lose weight.
The first is that we use away from motivation, which I've talked about in prior episodes. But essentially when we do this our desire to change is less about creating and achieving something and more about running away from what we don't want. There's a big difference between someone who exercises simply to burn calories vs someone who is focused on say building their strength or running faster. Notice that those goals are using towards motivation; you're moving towards a desired outcome. And it's when you use that towards motivation that you activate dopamine and make it work for you rather than against you.
The second way we shoot ourselves in the foot is when we put our dreams on hold because of our weight or another reason. If our weight really is the excuse for not doing something we really want to do, that really ads to the pressure to try to lose weight possibly creating more away from motivation (because your life satisfaction hinges on you losing weight).
It can also be the reason we sabotage, because it looks like a great reason not to move forward. But let's face it, not doing something because of your weight is just an excuse and truly you are the only thing keeping yourself stuck. And, if you stay stuck and feel bad about not realizing your own potential, you're more likely to overeat because you're bored and dissatisfied and because dopamine needs something to want.
Whether or not your weight is a good excuse to do something or not, when you don't allow yourself to achieve more and do more with your life, you force dopamine into this position of having to want more of what you will allow which are those survival needs. You can't go after the job you really want, but you can overdrink, overeat, remodel your house and buy tons of stuff that you don't need.
It's just another example of manifestation in action: you keep yourself stuck in one area of your life and unwittingly keep yourself stuck in other areas as well. But thankfully, it works the other way too. When you start making positive strides in that other area of your life, you actually make it easier to stop overeating and lose weight. When you allow dopamine to become fixated on achieving your dreams, it becomes less fixated on eating more food that your body doesn't need.
So you have to ask yourself what else do you want? When you envision life at a lower weight, what else are you seeing? What else do you believe you are empowered to do?
Another question you might want to ask is where else do you feel stuck. Where else are you not getting what you want out of life?
And allow yourself to want those things? Wanting isn't bad. We are programmed with dopamine to desire more for ourselves, and notice, we don't really want more stuff. We want more out of life and don't so many of us want to help create a better world. Doesn't that excite you? And instead of saying, "well that's impossible" allow yourself to feel how good it is to want something like that.
After you listen to this, I want you to really do this and identify a dream; a goal that you are really going to pursue, whether it's realistic or not and then identify a few small steps you can start taking towards that goal. This is how you feed dopamine so that dopamine doesn't force you to overfeed yourself.
And a goal like this that has nothing to do with your weight can work in tandem with your weight loss. When you need patience on your weight loss journey and you really want to create a result, you can work on this goal instead. When you feel stuck and want to overeat, take another step towards this other goal instead.
Doing this teaches us to value progress over perfection and get out of the all or nothing mentality. So many of us think that once you lose weight life will be perfect, you'll be happy, and you'll have confidence to do x y and z, but it doesn't work that way.
There is no finish line, it's always about the journey, but you'll never get to the journey if you never get started. You've got to allow the possibility and make good on that belief and take one step and then another. That's how you harness dopamine to work for you.
The way I see it, this is required work. If you use your weight to hold yourself back from growing and evolving, you're giving that weight a purpose; you're giving yourself a reason to hold onto it and so it's not going to go away.
You want to get beyond your weight, then do it. The sooner you stop using your weight as an excuse and acting like it's an issue, the sooner it will cease to be an issue in your life.
And I am such a great example of this. I had to decide that I was going to be a weight loss coach before I lost my weight; before I'd even stopped intermittent fasting. My weight was THE perfect excuse not to do what I felt called to do. I mean how the heck do you become a weight loss coach when you haven't figured out how to lose your own weight. That's insane, right.
But I swear it was precisely because I made that decision, that I discovered how to lose my weight. It was because I planted that stake in the ground and set a clear intention to solve this problem for myself and others that the missing information I needed showed up for me. Once I gave dopamine a positive focus and allowed myself to go after what I really wanted (and of course once I gave myself enough to eat) dopamine stopped being preoccupied with food.
I had to decide to become someone who knew how to lose weight before I could become that person. And you too have to decide to become the person you are meant to be before you actually become her. And guess what, she's a heck of a lot more than just a skinnier version of you. And it's time to invite her out into the world.
I hope you enjoy this podcast and that you do the exercise. I hope you can identify something that you want besides weight loss and enjoy wanting it.
There's a great quote from Rumi that I love. He says "whatever lifts the corners of your mouth, trust that."
So take that advice and start takings steps towards what you want and you will find weight loss along the way.
Take care and I'll see you next week.