This blog piece was originally published in HuffPost Healthy Living on January 31, 2014.
Overachieving Never Got Me Thin
Success. Ambition. Drive. In every arena of my life, I’ve embodied these values. Everything I attempted, I accomplished: Ivy League graduate, corporate vice president, six-figure consultant, all the while still managing to attend my kids’ ball games. What possibly could be wrong with this picture?
One look was all it took: I was fat and suffering from a debilitating eating disorder. For some reason, I couldn’t stop eating, and I couldn’t “will” my way to a healthy body weight. I yo-yoed up and down the scale, desperate to conquer obesity and food addiction.
In keeping with my overachieving personality, nobody went to more weight-loss programs, eating-disorder workshops, exercise classes, therapists, doctors, or nutritionists than me. I spent thousands of dollars on counseling, acupuncture, hypnosis, weight-loss operations and liposuction. Each time, I jumped in with both feet, determined that “this time” it would work. I would leap forward, only to slide backwards, feeling angry and defeated that I didn’t follow through. I’m not sure why I sabotaged myself; perhaps it was fear of success or lack of discipline, but on some level, I wasn’t ready enough to transform my life.
Today, that’s over. I live that life I always dreamed about. I have a more sane relationship with food, and I’ve maintained over 135-pound weight loss for eight years. After decades of struggle, it finally dawned on me: all my typical tools for achieving success were actually the wrong tools for losing weight. Paradoxically, I triumphed by turning my “success” tools and orientation inside out. Achieving (and overachieving) never got me thin. Following these five tips did.
Tip #1: Moderation is Not the Key
When I get success in my blood, I want more. I use the previous victory to boost me to my next win. This practice has served me well in my career. Yet, in the food arena, it’s led to obsessive eating. Once I start with one cookie, I become a ravenous hamster on a treadmill and I must have more. I must conquer the whole bag.
Certain foods cause me to obsess and binge, so now, I avoid them entirely. While I was taught “everything in moderation,” for me, there is no such thing as moderation with regard to certain trigger foods. In realizing that these triggers are toxic, I have learned to stay away and avoid the vicious cycle altogether.
Tip #2: Self-Acceptance is Essential
As a driven, single-minded professional, I eliminated any obstacle in my path. I simply identified the barrier and removed it. I thought I could likewise destroy my barriers to healthy eating. But work challenges are not like food issues, which are often deeply rooted in complex emotions and old, ingrained habits.
No matter how hard I tried, my default was to eat, instead of confront these unresolved feelings. Then a coach told me, “Some wounds may never get fixed. You need to accept your scars as part of who you are.” Unlike in business, where all problems usually get addressed, managed and filed, some personal wounds, once accepted as part of life, merely recede and become woven into the tapestry that is each of us.
Tip #3: Acceptance of Others is Essential, Too
As an entrepreneur, anxiety and obsession worked in my favor, spurring me on to stellar results. Yet this same anxious, obsessive quality backfired in my personal relationships. I didn’t know how to slow down and listen to my own desires. I didn’t know how to listen to other people either. I was too busy arguing about being right. I became disappointed when my expectations weren’t met. I would stuff down these incendiary feelings about other people by eating.
Over time, I discovered that not everything was about me. I began to accept myself and others for who we are. I learned that certain people, like certain foods, trigger me in an unhealthy way, and I need to detach from them in order to keep my sanity. Best of all, I stopped eating “over” other people.
Tip #4: The Rebellion is Over
My warrior, rebel spirit served me well in my career. But it also led me to rebel against my parents, society, and diet programs, all of whom seemed to be more invested in my size than I was, leaving me wondering about their intentions. I finally realized that I was only battling myself. I wondered what life would feel like if I had no one to defy? If I wanted to lose weight, I had to do it for me, and me alone. I began to take personal responsibility for what I did, what I felt, and what I put in my mouth.
Tip #5: Help is a Good Thing
The poster in my office reads, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it!” In business, there was no room for vulnerability. In my food recovery, by asking for help and admitting my weaknesses, I came to see that I didn’t have to go it alone. I needed others to help me put things in perspective, and I embraced a healthier strategy of reaching out. Sometimes even the motivator needs motivating.
I once read, “The path will wait while you take the stone from your shoe.” As an achiever, I had no idea I could do that — slow down, ask for help, take time out, let go of white-knuckling, accept longing and disappointment as natural byproducts of life. Now, as someone with a different body and mindset, I practice my tips and do the opposite of what I did in my career. The outcome is not only greater success in all areas of my life, but a calmer, healthier, and more balanced me.
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