One of the first things I discuss with clients is what motivates them to want to change. As you know, change is hard. And making significant lifestyle changes (like how you eat) takes motivation.
When I ask people what is motivating them to change, here are some of the common responses I hear:
- I want to feel better
- I don’t want to develop health problems (i.e. diabetes, sleep apnea)
- I want to have more energy
- I want to look better
- I want to lose weight
- I want to walk up a flight of stairs and not feel winded
- I want to keep up with my kids
All these answers have something in common: people want to be something they currently aren’t. Or in other words, they aren’t happy with how they are right now. They want something more for themselves.
While the desire for self-improvement is natural and healthy, understanding the motivation behind your desire is very important. Specifically, it’s critical to understand the place the motivation is coming from. Is it positive or negative?
For example, see if you can spot the difference between this:
“I am a valuable member of my family, and I contribute to society. I want to eat better so I can feel good and function better.”
“I feel fat and tired all the time. I don’t like myself and I feel unattractive, so I am going to go on a diet to lose weight and not feel so bad about myself all the time.”
One is a positive motivation, the other negative.
Why is this important? Because research has shown that body positivity actually helps promote permanent change far better than shame. This should come as no surprise, as love has always been a stronger force than hate. That said, loving ourselves is not always easy. We are often our own worst critics. And sadly, some of the negative things we feel and think about our bodies are reinforced by society, sometimes even by family members or friends. Sometimes, when these thoughts and ideas are reinforced, they can even become the basis of an eating disorder.
Unfortunately, the media is excellent at putting pressure on both men and women to have a specific, idealized appearance that has no semblance in reality. Given how much of our time is consumed by ads, social media, and the news, these issues probably won’t diminish any time soon. Since no one I know is ready to toss their iPhone in a lake, sell their TV, or move out to the middle of nowhere, the alternative is to work to develop good body positivity. I know this is easier said than done, but it tends to be a good shield against the storm of negativity and judgement we face on a daily basis.
My own struggle with body positivity
What I am about to share is very personal, but I think will help you understand why I find this topic so important.
As a child, I was always very thin and fit until about age 15. I really didn’t know anything about nutrition back then. Unfortunately, it was at this point in my life that congenital malformations began to show themselves. First, I started having issues with my joints. I was in track and field and developed such severe patellar tendonitis in my knee that I was forced to quit running, and spent over 2 months on crutches waiting for the inflammation to calm down. I had to stop doing all the sports and activities I was accustomed to, and spent all my free time resting on the couch or in bed. I gained a significant amount of weight and felt miserable. Even after I was well enough to resume normal activity, my knees were never really the same. I was not really able to get the weight off that I gained and I wasn’t very happy with how I looked. I was the last one of my friends to be asked to Jr. Prom, and found out two days before that I was a pity date.
I didn’t feel attractive, nor did I feel healthy.
To make a long story shorter, let’s fast forward to my college years. I had worked hard to get accepted into a competitive dietetics program at Utah State University, and was excited to start my junior year. A week into the semester, I became very ill. I was in and out of the ER, doctor’s offices, clinics, and got no answers. I was in excruciating pain all the time. Different doctors put me on and off lots of different medications in an attempt to make me feel better. Not only did these medications fail to help, they caused me to gain 30 pounds in a month and a half.
While this was going on, I was still attempting complete my classes. After three months with no answers, I started questioning if my life would end before the doctors could figure out what was happening. Fortunately, after four months of misery, I finally received a correct diagnosis – but the damage was done. I had lost most of my muscle mass and gained a lot of weight. Worst of all, my nervous system was damaged from being in severe pain for so long. I still struggle with chronic pain as a result of this episode.
As I tried to get back into shape, I started having difficulty with my joints again. This was partially due to skeletal malformations, but also due to the weight I had gained from being ill. I felt unfit, unattractive, and broken. But I knew the only way to ever feel better was to exercise, embrace better nutrition, and get back into shape. Fad diets and extreme measures weren’t going to cut it – what was needed was a commitment to doing the right things for my body.
It was very hard at first, but the more I did it, the more I realized how much I had actually missed eating well and exercising. After spending so much time barely being able to get out of bed, it occurred to me that what I wanted most was a better quality of life. I didn’t want to lose weight to please someone else’s ideal of what a woman should look like. I wanted to lose weight because I knew I could be an active, contributing member of society. Because there were things I wanted to do with my life – and getting in better shape would enable me to do them.
A change in motivation, a change in health
When you are afraid you might be dying, you stop worrying about how attractive you are. I started exercising and eating better because I wanted to feel better and be more functional, not just to meet an unrealistic and superfluous standard set by Hollywood. Looking back, I only wish I had come to this realization before all those medical problems struck.
It was after this adjustment in perspective that things changed for me. This is when my personal exercise and nutrition program became consistent, and I began to eat well and love exercise for their own sakes. My lifestyle changed because I wanted to do everything I could to maintain a higher quality of life. I had no desire to live 60 more years if it meant not being able to do the things I loved.
I still have chronic pain. I still struggle with my health on a daily basis. But every day I do what I can, and it has paid off. And the reason I am able to keep moving forward is because I understand why I do it. My motivation is not fleeting, because it is not based on negative feelings about myself. It is always there because I have found a way to love and respect myself.
So, as you seek to meet your own health-related goals in life, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to change?
- What motivates me?
- Does it come from a positive space?
- If not, how could it be more positive?
I love what I do. I love helping people find their “why.” And mostly, I love helping people achieve a better quality of life through better nutrition. So, if you are feeling like maybe changing is just too difficult on your own, feel free to enlist my help. Whether you need help with weight loss, gastrointestinal issues, managing diabetes, or just having more energy, always know that I would love to work with you.