Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Do You Have to Love Yourself to Lose Weight?

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Even the people who are most successful and revered in the eyes of others ­ heads of state, humanitarians, movie stars ­ can lack self-esteem. As the word implies, self-esteem blossoms from within — it comes from yourself. It has nothing to do with your relationship to the outside world.

Now that we’ve identified what self-esteem is not, what is it exactly?

It’s how you see yourself. Think of self-esteem as a mental image of how you feel about yourself. This image colors all your goals, moods and behaviors. Self-esteem is based on your judgment of yourself, not on other people’s assessment of you.

Self-esteem is a feeling of competency. We all harbor insecurities. Contrary to what some may think, healthy self-esteem does not mean being conceited about your abilities, nor is trying to be perfect all the time a surefire self-esteem booster. Make no mistake, healthy self-esteem is not a cure-all for life’s obstacles; it merely helps you cope with the inevitable setbacks.

Self-esteem is learned. Luckily, with a little work, we can all develop self-esteem: It flourishes from within and you do have control over it.

How Do You Know If You Have Low Self-Esteem?
If you’re plagued by, anxiety, anger, hostility, a lack of self-confidence and nagging feelings of inferiority and depression, chances are you can improve your self-esteem.

Weighing Your Self-Esteem: Anyone who has ever anguished over counting calories, dreaded getting on the scale or embarked on a fad diet only to land right back where he started, knows the perils of basing self-esteem on weight. Furthermore, in a society that places so much value on looks and sets stringent (or unobtainable) standards of attractiveness, it’s difficult ­ if not impossible ­ to build healthy self-esteem that relies solely on body image. Several studies have shown a relationship between low self-esteem and eating disorders.

You Eat More Junk Food: A lack of self-esteem has been associated with greater levels of emotional eating. The food makes you feel better — in the short run. Problem is, if you keep eating those comfort foods, you will gain weight and that will probably lower your self-esteem.

Try Not to Tie Your Self-worth to Your Diet: Focus on eating healthfully and setting realistic goals. Also, make sure that self-esteem doesn’t lead you astray. If you only pursue quick-fix diets or easy weight loss you won’t learn to create long-term weight-loss success.

Lack of Self-esteem Leads to Attrition: According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the higher your self-esteem the more likely you will be to stay on your diet.

The following exercises are a start toward helping to improve self-esteem.

Step 1: Talk to yourself.
This may seem corny at first, but you’ll be surprised to discover how much repeating affirmations helps to turn your negative internal dialogue into a positive frame of mind and, as a result, propels you to forge a better sense of your abilities. After all, if you hear something enough, you start to believe it. And if you believe in something enough, most likely you will make it happen.

Select an aspect of your life that causes you misery, frustration or stress.

Ask yourself what you’d like to happen to relieve those painful feelings.

Formulate a first-person statement: “I can handle this,” “I am doing my best,” “I am becoming healthier and more satisfied with my relationships.”

Repeat the affirmation to yourself five times and notice how your body responds. Do your shoulders loosen up? Does your posture improve? Remember, all affirmations are spoken in the first-person present using a positive slant.

Step 2: Boost your goal-setting skills.
Low self-esteem hinders your ability to set goals and carry them through. Unless you develop a deep belief in your own ability to change, any halfhearted efforts will fail to serve you or your goals in the long run.

According to researchers reporting in the Journal of Personality, “The idea that self-esteem is important in pursuing goals is not new. Researchers have long noted that people with high self-esteem are more likely to persist in the face of difficult tasks than are low self-esteem people.” What does this mean for you and your weight loss? Setting goals and sticking to them is what weight control is all about. See: Goals, Goals and More Goals. Make sure your goals are specific (i.e., how much weight do you want to lose), motivating (i.e., interesting enough for you want to achieve them), achievable (i.e., possible and realistic) and rewarding (i.e., worth having when you reach them). Strategies need to be tactical (i.e., you need a real plan), easy to evaluate (i.e., is the strategy working?) and revisable (i.e., if they are not working).

An exercise to try: When you’re trying to lose weight, do you find yourself putting your whole life on hold, thinking, “If only I could shed these extra 10 pounds, I’d join a new social club, buy more attractive clothes, go back to school?” If so, consider how well this “I will wait till later” strategy works. If you stop and think about this approach, it’s likely that rather than exercising, meeting new people or taking small, positive steps toward lasting lifestyle changes, you will end up just growing more and more preoccupied with calorie crunching and watching numbers on the scale.

What are 5 things you’ve been meaning to do after you lose weight?

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Next time, when the weight and the excuses hold you back from pursuing a personal goal, ask yourself, “Why can’t I do it NOW?” After all, there’s no better time than now to feel good about yourself. Focus on what you can accomplish, instead of on what you can’t.

Refer to your “On Hold” list. For each activity or goal, consider what steps you can take to do that right NOW.

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Step 3: Recognize that you are more than just your weight.
How often do you use weight as a measure of character, self-respect and self-discipline? How often do you find yourself thinking: “I can’t do anything right. If only I were thinner…,” “I’ll always be unattractive,” “Another diet, another chance to fail…”? This negative frame of mind is a wobbly foundation upon which to build a plan for healthy living. Positivity, not negativity, should guide you in all attempts to improve your health and well-being; otherwise all courses of action prove ineffective.

An exercise to try: To bring home the point that you’re more than just your weight, try not to make weight loss your only goal for self-improvement. If you focus only on shedding those extra pounds without getting to the bottom of what causes you to feel bad about yourself, you’ll most likely plummet into a pit of depression and self-loathing when you hit an expected plateau or gain back a few pounds.

For starters, shift your focus to health. Ask yourself, “Do I feel more energetic and lively?” “Do I like waking up in the morning to face a new day more often than I used to?” Maybe your cholesterol has gone down or you’ve sustained a more intense level of exercise for a longer period of time. Recognize and take pride in these accomplishments.

What other health, self-improvement or lasting lifestyle changes are you working to improve? List five.

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