In the Myth of Mind Over Matter Part 1 we explored the limitations of trying to control our eating and body with a cognitive-only approach. Now let’s look at the invisible system we follow, that’s so familiar and seems so obvious that no one questions it or even names it directly. We assume it’s the right system for the job because everyone follows it, operates from it, and implicitly endorses it as part of the Impermanent Approach to Losing Weight. It’s profoundly ineffective and a major contributor to the Western World’s dismal weight loss statistics.
As you’ll see, it’s not that it’s a bad system. On the contrary, it’s a perfect system when used for what it’s designed to produce. However, it can never lead to True Transformation. That’s not what it was designed for even though everyone pretends it is. It is a boldfaced lie that this system leads to the transformation that frees you from excess weight and emotional eating forever. That’s why I call it the System of the Lie.
Let’s make this system visible so we can see the truth about it. Then we can all stop pretending it should work, like pretending the emperor is wearing clothes, and you can get on to the business of Taking Your True Shape.
While I’ll be describing the System of the Lie to you as it applies to weight loss, what we’re exploring here is relevant to transforming any self-destructive pattern that limits our fullest expression.
Step 1 – Identify a Problem.
The first step in this system is that we Identify a Problem. Like Tom Hanks’ character in Apollo 13: “Houston, we have problem.” One way or another you’re confronted with the fact of your mass and it strikes you as a problem. It might be triggered by a doctor’s visit or the biggest pants in your closet not zipping all the way up or seeing yourself in a photo and feeling shocked to see yourself that big.
Whatever the impetus, it hits you hard and you register the problem, ‘I’m fat.’ Maybe, ‘I’m really fat.’ Your body hurts from carrying so much weight. And you can’t easily do the things you want to, like wearing your favorite clothes or getting down on the floor to play with the kiddies. Maybe you have health problems too, like diabetes, and you know what your Aunt Carol went through with the amputation and all, but it still hasn’t stopped you from eating sweets. Maybe it’s limiting your intimate relationship or is a barrier to having one. Or maybe it’s inhibiting you from really going for it in your career.
It’s not just one problem, but a mountain of problems related to the size of your body. And they bring with them two distinct kinds of uncomfortable feelings.
First, in response to the shockingly acceptable practice of judging and condemning overweight people as morally flawed, unattractive, less valuable, and less hygienic than everyone else, you feel disgusted, ashamed, guilty, humiliated, embarrassed, and afraid for your health. Whether you’re a conformer or a rebeller, some part of you buys in to the “fat is bad” propaganda making you feel like pooh (yes, that’s the technical term).
In this system there’s actually an underlying assumption that health professionals, trainers, and the overweight hold, which is if you just feel enough of these negative feelings, then you’ll have the motivation you need to make the change. If you were just disgusted, afraid, or ashamed enough, then you’d finally do something about your weight. Some exasperated doctors have used surgery as a threat in an attempt to increase the fear motivation in their patients, as in either, “You’ll have to have surgery if you don’t lose weight” or “You won’t be able to have the surgery you want, if you don’t lose weight.” As I discovered in my research, negative motivation may result in some short-term behavior change leading to weight loss but it doesn’t sustain people in the long run. That makes sense. How could being more negative with yourself create something positive?
Identifying the problem makes you feel deficient, less than, or like you’re missing something you desperately need. You believe you know the cause of this deficient feeling – being fat. You think, ‘If I were thin I’d feel happy, confident, lovable, expressive, valuable’ – all the things you and every human being on the planet was born wanting to feel about yourselves, all the time. Which stirs in you the second kind of uncomfortable feeling.
This feeling is less obvious but equally distasteful to people like us who don’t like to feel hungry for very long. It’s called wanting. At the same time you identify the problem, you immediately feel your wanting for the desired solution. You feel your hunger to embody love, value, strength, beauty, power, confidence, pleasure, joy, and peace in an ongoing way. You want to experience the goodness of life and yourself in every cell of your being. You want to know it in a direct and immediate way. If wanting wasn’t allowed in your family you may not allow yourself to feel it for very long.
You tell yourself (and advertisers are only too happy to tell you too) that your wanting will be satisfied when you are thin (or have the right partner, car, house, bank account balance). So you want to lose weight – fix the problem – so you can be happy. Wanting puts you on edge, like being famished but knowing your next meal is hours away. You don’t want to feel your wanting or negative emotions too long. Leading you to move immediately to the next step in the System of the Lie. After identifying the problem, you want to Fix It Quick!
Step 2. Fix It Quick.
Would you care for some delayed gratification and growthful anxiety? “No, thank you.” We’re a quick fix, band-aid culture. We all know it. Everyone feels stressed out, over-committed, over-worked, and under-rested, so who has time to mess around with wanting and negative emotions?
Plus you’re brainwashed by weight loss advertisers to believe there’s something wrong if weight loss takes time. It’s supposed to be fast. And easy. Right? Even though “fast and easy” goes against everything you know to be true about transforming long-standing patterns, or creating something of value in your life, you’re conditioned to think there’s something wrong if you don’t lose 30 pounds in 30 days.
In the System of the Lie there’s no room for not knowing and there’s no appreciation for the normal, growthful anxiety that naturally precedes your next level of development. Think about it for a moment. When you take on a new higher-level job, aren’t you nervous and excited at the same time? Of course. It’s normal to have a period of not knowing and tension until you develop the new skills and capacities you need to master your new position. Growthful anxiety is a good sign. It says, “Right on! You’re challenging yourself in a healthful way by stepping out of the comfort zone of what you’ve already mastered and stepping into fulfillment of your potential!”
But you don’t realize this when you’re trying to lose weight in the System of the Lie. You think any anxiety is a bad sign indicating something must be wrong. Eating well is too hard, it’s taking too long, and you’re feeling uncomfortable in the process. It’s not fast and easy so there must be a better diet out there somewhere and you’re going to find it. So you go to step 3 and Look Outside for Answers.
Step 3. Look Outside for Answers.
It seems pretty obvious to you, and everyone else, that if you had the answers already you wouldn’t have the weight problem. Hence, you go searching outside yourself to find them.
Gathering new information is a good and expansive thing to do. However, in the System of the Lie your whole focus is outside yourself on the experts, the gurus, the latest diet, or the celebrity-endorsed weight loss program that you already tried twice. (But if it worked for her maybe it will work for you this time.) With all your attention outside yourself, you are pointed in exactly the opposite direction of where you’ll find True Transformation and most of the information you need to Take Your True Shape.
Inherent in this whole system is the assumption that there’s nothing of value or power or support inside yourself for the transformation you seek, especially below the neck. You think, ‘It’s all trouble down there. This body is always wanting or feeling something it shouldn’t. Isn’t that where all these desires to eat what I’m not supposed to are coming from in the first place?’ That’s true. But what makes you think going someplace else to address those hungers or suppressing them all together would be more effective than meeting them where they are and letting them reveal their secrets?
In the System of the Lie, you don’t go opening Pandora’s box. No. Instead you find somebody – a guru, expert, authority, someone who lost weight or just looks great who you think has the answers to your weight problem – and you go to step four. You Implement Their Solution.
Step 4. Implement Their Solution.
The multi-billion dollar weight loss industry is rich with mind over matter solutions. They make up the vast majority of the weight loss options available to you. You can find them just about everywhere – magazines, TV, radio, or in the conversation of other women in the restroom.
Nearly every other billboard along the freeways in Los Angeles shows you happy Candy who lost 130 pounds with weight loss surgery. You can get happy too, just like Candy, who was once fat and miserable (as you can clearly see by her sad face in her before picture) by calling 1-800-Skinny&Happy.
You can have surgery, pop a pill, eat this but don’t eat that, exercise this way but not that way, and drink nothing but juice to get your difficult resistant body to conform to the will of your mind. Most weight loss strategies work. Or worked. For someone. At one time. Drinking nothing but green juice for six months might have been the best-fitting solution for Nature Girl, but does that mean it will be the best tool for you?
As you learned when we debunked the Myth of the Magic Hammer, every weight loss strategy is simply a tool. A food plan can be a useful structure for helping you see and transform the unskillful patterns you learned to take care of yourself, like eating when you’re not hungry to soothe your stress.
The best weight loss strategy is the one that is a great fit for the unique person that is you. But to know which one is the best fit for you, we would have to take some time to learn about you. Is an extreme solution a motivator for you or a self-torture device? In the System of the Lie we’ll never know, because we don’t ask such questions. You aren’t invited to take yourself into account.
Instead, you pick an expert. Let’s say you pick Nature Girl – who lost 100 pounds in six months on her green juice fast and said it was the easiest thing she’s ever done – and you implement her solution. You try to force yourself to fit into the structure of drinking five horrific-tasting green juices a day, but you’re popping out on all sides. This weight loss strategy feels like ill-fitting clothes that you can’t wait to get out of as soon as you get home. Which is exactly what happens. On day one you gut down three ghastly green juices at work and order a pizza on your way home.
Whichever guru you choose, you tend to Implement Their Solution in one of two ways. The first is you try. You usually try to go on a weight loss program when you’re not really into it. Maybe your doctor sent you to the dietician to get on a diet that will control your skyrocketing blood sugar. Or maybe you’re getting pressure from your family or spouse. Either way it’s not as much you as someone else who wants you to lose the weight. Since you know you probably should, you say you’ll try.
When you try there’s a low level of commitment. And without commitment not much is going to happen. There’s also a low level of self-awareness when you try because, again, it’s not where you’re focused. You’re focused on the other people who want you to lose weight rather than yourself. When there’s a low level of commitment and no self- awareness it’s impossible to Take Your True Shape.
The other way you Implement Their Solution is you do the Nike thing and Just Do It! Right? You’re going to do it this time! You’re sick and tired of being fat and you’re not going to take it anymore. You’re going to harness all your willpower and you’re going to make it happen.
When you Just Do It, there’s a high level of commitment and commitment is always a good thing. It’s likely something’s going to happen when there’s a high level of commitment. However, there’s still a low level of self-awareness. You’re making it happen from a mind over matter place inside yourself. In the whole System of the Lie there’s no support for a high level of self-awareness so while you may lose weight, it’s still impossible to Take Your True Shape for good.
Whether you try or Just Do It, you implement your expert’s solution for some length of time and that leads you to the last step, You Have an Outcome.
Step 5 – You Have an Outcome.
You succeed or fail. We’ve already covered the statistics so we know that almost no one succeeds for long. Almost everyone using this system fails at losing weight for good. But what about the rare few who do lose weight using a mind over matter approach in the System of the Lie?
Ultimately, they fail as well. Even if they manage to keep their weight off with willpower, (like Sarah from my story, holding
that beach ball under water for years on end) we have to ask, did they get what they really wanted? Do they feel happy, peaceful, strong, beautiful, lovable, valuable in an ongoing way?
We know Sarah didn’t. She was still hungry for something; she still felt like something was missing. Her body had everything it needed to sustain a healthy weight, but her heart and soul wanted something more – peace, freedom, and an easy relationship with food.
This system can’t address those deeper desires. It’s not designed for that. It only knows how to do one thing: solve problems. So if you fail in this system or you succeed, but you still aren’t happy, what do you do? You identify another problem. “Oh,” you say. “I see, the reason I’m still not happy, the reason I still feel like something’s missing is because I have this big nose and I need plastic surgery or my spouse is wrong for me and I need a new one.” And you go through the whole process again trying to solve your new problem. You can repeat this process for a lifetime and never embody the happy experience you thought solving all your problems was going to give you. Because this system isn’t designed to help you transform what’s false in you so you can embody what’s true. It doesn’t support the conditions for growth and transformation. It’s a problem-solving system and it works for solving problems every time.
Let’s say your plumbing is broken. You Identify a Problem. “My plumbing’s broken and my house is flooding.” You need to Fix It Quick! So You Look Outside for Answers, you call a plumber, and you Implement Their Solution because they know how to fix your plumbing and you don’t have a clue. Then, assuming you picked a good plumber, You Have an Outcome – success!
Or heaven forbid, you break your leg. You Identify a Problem. “My leg’s broken, lots of pain, doesn’t look good, can’t walk.” You absolutely need to Fix It Quick! You Look Outside for Answers, get to the ER or call 911 where you know you’ll find the experts in broken leg repair. You Implement Their Solution, meaning you follow their instructions, you submit to x-rays, let your leg be set and cast, and do whatever home care they recommend. Then You Have an Outcome – success!
This system works for problem-solving absolutely every time, including problems associated with excess weight and unattuned eating. That’s what it is designed for and when we have a problem, like impending coma or death from high blood sugar levels, we need this system to succeed in solving it.
However, you and your relationship with your body, food, and eating is not a problem to be solved. If it were, this system would have worked the first time you tried it. But it didn’t work the first time or the second or the third or the fourth, did it? Because, I’ll say it again, you and your weight issues are not a problem to be solved. Your suffering is a cosmic red flare signaling, “This is the place” for a deeper kind of attention than problem- solving can give. Your difficulty is an invitation for you to transform what’s false, limiting, and a source of suffering in yourself. It’s the impetus to grow into what’s true, liberating, and sourced in the love, goodness, and beauty that you are.
The job of transformation requires an entirely different system than problem-solving because completely different conditions must be met to catalyze the release of what’s false and the embodying of what’s true. You’ll be learning that system in the next chapter.
First we have to debunk another whopper of a myth of the Impermanent Approach to Losing Weight – the Myth of Me.
Have you relied on the System of the Lie?
How do you feel about its effectiveness for you long-term?
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