Ground Hog’s Day is the key to weight loss? What kind of title is that? Even the “Cookie Diet” doesn’t sound as ridiculous as this. Keep reading... Remember the 90’s Bill Murray movie, Ground Hog’s Day? This is the one where he plays Phil, the arrogant, crotchety weatherman who wakes up to find out that he is reliving the day before, over and over again. Everyday turns out to be the same day, all starting with his alarm clock going off to the Sonny and Cher song, “I Got You Babe.” At first Phil attempts to have some fun since there are no long term consequences to his actions, but eventually he realizes he is doomed to live the rest of his life in the same place, living through the same circumstances, and doing the same thing, day after day after day after day, with seemingly no escape. He’s living in his own personal exile.
Personal exile is also the doom of the weight cycler. They relive the same experience over and over and over again, ending up in the very same place each time. Are you a weight cycler? The cycle begins with the feeling of frustration or disgust with your weight. Then, a surge of motivation and inspiration comes over you and you start a new diet and/or exercise program. It goes well for some period of time, maybe a few months or longer, but over time, the motivation subsides, it becomes harder to stick to the diet, and gradually the weight creeps back, sometimes even more weight than was lost originally. You live with the regain for a few months, maybe even a year or more. Eventually, that old frustration creeps back in. The surge of motivation returns and the new diet is begun. And around we go. Many people are stuck in this cycle for years. For decades. Forever. If you charted the weight of a cycler over several years time it would have peaks and valleys but ultimately it rises over time, in spite of tremendous efforts at weight control.
Why is this happening? Let’s look to the Groundhog Day movie for insights. The only way that Phil is able to overcome his doom is to find a new, more fulfilling way of living. If he does not do this, he will be forced to relive the day again. Each day he relives, he makes some mistakes (boorish behavior, offending people), but not until he confronts his core struggle (fear of intimacy and fear of loss), how it leads to the various problems in his life (e.g., people disliking/avoiding him), and finds a new way of living, will he be released from his personal exile. A weight cycler has the same task. It is about identifying the core struggle and how it is keeping you caught in the cycle. The work involves these steps.
Step 1. Identifying the Core Struggle. What are the core struggle (s) that are preventing you from the life you want to live? To identify them, ask yourself, what areas of my life do I wish were more fulfilling? It is quite likely that lack of fulfillment in these areas is affecting your ability to manage your weight. For Phil, the way he treated people by being boorish, inconsiderate and arrogant was his way of keeping people away from him. This way he could avoid relationships, and as a result, not have to confront his fears and anxieties about intimacy and loss. This resulted in loneliness, rejection, and dysfunctional relationships, hence, the unsatisfying part of his life.
It is quite common that weight cyclers have a core struggle that locks them into their cycle as well. For example, I met a weight cycler, named Marion, who attributed her inability to lose weight to being “too busy” to keep up with her diet and exercise plan. However, her having no time was actually related to a core struggle about a fear of disappointing people. This led her to say “yes” whenever anyone asked her to do something for them, ultimately creating a pattern with her family and friends that she was a reliable go-to person, which lead to more requests from them. Eventually, she had no time for herself, but argued that her time was devoted to helping others which is the “right” way to be a good mother, sister, friend, and wife. The problem is she felt overwhelmed and resentful to family and friends for taking up her time. She was saying yes out of a fear of disappointing them more so than from a true desire to be helpful. This pattern resulted in her never having the time to care for herself: to exercise, find healthy recipes, plan meals ahead of time, keep a diet journal, etc. Until she confronted the deeper problem at hand, she was a weight cycler, unable to achieve a healthy weight.
Step 2. Logistical Challenges. Identify specifically what went wrong in each weight cycle. What got in the way? It is absolutely necessary to isolate exactly what caused your plans to go awry each time. You will likely see patterns here and it is important that you see how the challenges connect to your core struggle. Start with your last weight loss attempt and then work backward to your last 3 or 4. Marion discovered that any change in her routine kicked her out of her new diet and exercise habits. Regardless of whether it was staying late at work to help a co-worker, doing more than her share of caring for elderly parents on weeknights, or spending the weekend doing laundry for her college aged children, if the event interrupted her usual routine, she would stop exercising and dieting. Her routine being interrupted by others requesting her assistance was very connected to her core struggle.
Step 3. Make a plan. The plan should be specifically designed to overcome the challenges identified in Step 1 and 2. You will need a plan for dealing with the core struggle. How can you begin to make changes in this aspect of your life, as a commitment to your health? For Marion, beginning to say no to requests as well as setting and protecting boundaries on her time was extremely important. She doesn't have to quit helping out her friends and family entirely, but only doing as much that still allows her to take care of her own needs. Once she accomplished this, she can then move to tackling each challenge identified in Step 2. Some of these will be very easy if Step 1 is accomplished.
How will I know if it’s working? Sonny and Cher will stop singing. No really, you will stop cycling. If you continue to cycle, something is still wrong and you may need to dig deeper. Make every effort to figure out what went wrong or you will be vulnerable to it happening again. The success of your next weight loss attempt has nothing to do with whether you choose the low-carb or low-fat diet, the cookie diet or the cabbage soup diet, it lies in whether you continue to live in exile or whether you have finally decided to set yourself free. Spoiler: In the end, Phil got the girl.
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