I recently read an article about our nation’s obsession with body image and how it manifests itself in unhealthy ways—for example, on television shows such as The Biggest Loser.
In the article, the writer talks about how we judge ourselves and others for being overweight, yet find it impossible to climb our way out of the cycle of shame and unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits that got us stuck in the first place.
At a time when some feel women’s self-confidence is at an all-time low and many report being judged daily on their looks, it’s not surprising that our sense of worth gets tied to a number on the scale. That’s why there are so many diets—but most of them don’t lead to sustained weight loss over the long term.
According to Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Aruni Nan Futuronsky, many diets don’t address the real question behind weight gain, which is, “What am I really hungry for?” Nor do they address common underlying beliefs, such as “I’m not good enough,” or its variation, “I’m not skinny or pretty enough.”
Unlike diets that emphasize denial and deprivation, an integrative approach to weight loss begins with examining the thoughts that drive our behavior. Is your goal to lose weight or to become healthier? Do you believe it’s possible to succeed?
“We tend to think that willpower is the answer,” says Aruni, who coteaches the Integrative Weight Loss program with Kripalu Lead Nutritionist Annie B. Kay. But, as Aruni points out, it’s not. “Our approach to weight loss is different. Action alone isn’t enough to create sustainable change.”
Annie says that observing our feelings about our bodies through witness consciousness—compassionate self-observation without judgment—can help address the deep suffering that comes from the shame and anger we feel about how we look.
“To start developing a more positive body image, a giant mental reframe is necessary,” Aruni says. We need to put aside dieting and ask ourselves what can we do to feel better—in our lives and in our bodies. That’s what leads us to make healthy choices.
During the Integrative Weight Loss program, participants reframe the conversation by writing a letter to their body, and then writing a reply. Often people tap into the idea that their body wants to be befriended and inhabited, not ignored or thought of as the enemy.
This kind of mindful shift in perspective can be a powerful first step in the journey toward a healthy body, a healthy weight, and a healthy outlook.