I received an interesting message from a very frustrated woman the other day. She was totally discouraged by what she described as her inability to take charge of her health and stop eating the wrong foods. Her message didn't surprise me because her description of being unable to control herself is an all too common belief in the minds of those engaging in weight loss. An all too common belief, I might add, that is absolutely false! Before I explain, however, let me share a portion of her email with you. She wrote:
"I feel like food is controlling my life!!!! All I do is eat. For example someone sent a bag of cookies home with my sister, the big bags you buy at the store, and I ate every one of them in one night. I can polish off a gallon of ice cream in less than two days. Please help me because I feel like I can't stop!! I try so hard all day and every night I swear that I will start again tomorrow. I hate myself for not being able to control myself. I should be able to but I can't! Please help me."
In my opinion, one of the major obstacles to successful weight management is the confusion that takes place, in your mind, once you accept unwillingness as inability. One of the major problems, for many who struggle with weight loss, is confusing unwillingness with inability. Once you accept unwillingness as inability the battle is already lost because, as soon as you convince yourself that you can't do something, you have set the stage for failure.
The difference between unwillingness and inability is very similar to the difference between can't and won't. You see, once you've convinced yourself that you can't make the changes necessary to for living a healthy lifestyle, the game is pretty much over. The reality is that you CAN. You just don't, won't or choose not to because it's too hard, too inconvenient or too something. Excuse my frankness but that's the truth. Can't is trap that robs you of power and blinds you to personal responsibility. Won't, on the other hand, puts the power and responsibility right back in your hands - exactly where it belongs.
For example, imagine this scenario with the woman above. If she was standing in front of me, I would ask her to change the statement "I can't stop eating junk food "to "I won't stop eating junk food". Trust me…that changes everything. Changing that one word creates an entirely different emotional response because it exposes the lie and challenges that false belief regarding inability. If you don't believe me, just go to the mirror, look yourself in the eye and try it yourself. There is incredible power and freedom released within you once you realize and accept that can't is a lie.
By saying "I can't" the woman above gives up both power and responsibility and, when you don't accept responsibility for your behavior, you find yourself at the mercy of the world around you. As a therapist, I have always identified with Gestalt psychotherapy. One of the basic tenants of gestalt theory is that one must take personal responsibility for one's own life. As a matter of fact Fritz Perls, the creator of gestalt therapy, often rewrote the word "responsibility" as "response-ability". By this he meant that a basic given in life is that we all have the "ability" to personally "respond" - "response-ability". Because the bottom line is this. Only you can move you, only you can feel you, only you can live you and only you can change you. Those are the basic philosophical tenets of existential thought and the mantra for personal responsibility. It's when you lose sight of this reality that you feel, like the woman above, lost, frustrated, out of control and hopeless.
The only way you can start living a healthier life, lose weight and reach your health goals is if YOU make it happen. You have the power here, even though it may not feel like it. What you see as inability is, in reality, actually unwillingness. Once you accept that reality and begin to take personal responsibility for the choices that you make, you move yourself light years closer to the weight loss and healthy life that you dream about.
Unfortunately, even though I hate to see people frustrated, confused and feeling defeated like the woman above, you simply can't get to the healthy life you dream about without confronting this very struggle. The good news is that the healthy life you seek is on the other side of this dilemma. The woman above wrote, "I hate myself for not being able to control myself. I should be able to but I can't!" I know there are a lot of you reading those words right now that totally identify with her frustration and share her sentiment. So today, I'm here to tell you the truth about this. The truth is that you CAN and are ABLE to change your lifestyle but believing that you "can't" and are "unable" is all it takes to block passage to that new life. UNWILLINGNESS often masquerades as INABILITY! So let me leave you with the following question to ponder. Are you truly UNABLE to do what it takes to lose weight and live a healthier life or are you simply UNWILLING to do what it takes? The answer to that question will ultimately determine your wellness fate! There is no doubt in my mind that you CAN do what it takes to lose weight and start living a healthier life. The real question is…WILL YOU?
Wishing You Great Health,
Dr. John H. Sklare