In 1770, Johann Georg Schröpfer made a floating ghost appear to a room full of people. Using skulls, incense, crucifixes, and holy water as part of his ritual, everyone believed the ghosts were real. In reality, the apparitions were the result of nothing but a lantern and some moveable glass slides. The trick later referred to as “smoke and mirrors”, would become famous.
Browse through Instagram and it won’t be long until you stumble across a trick of another kind. Endless shots of delicious looking, indulgent food are interspersed with impossibly lean men and women wearing next to nothing. With a fork in their hand and a smile on their perfect face, we are led to believe that this is how they actually live. However, like Schröpfer’s ghosts, all is not as it seems.
Weight loss is going to hurt at some point. Whether it’s the behaviour changes needed to keep you progressing, the FOMO you feel as your friends eat whatever they want, or the nagging hunger as your body tries to drive you to gain back the fat you worked so hard to lose; get really lean and you’ll feel it. The image portrayed on social media, that maintaining that level of body fat is easy, just like Schröpfer’s smoke and mirrors, is an illusion. I prefer to be straight with my clients, and while pointing out that things could get tough seems like a disempowering message, it turns out that acceptance of the struggles to come lead to much better results.
Wanting to look the way that makes you feel great about yourself is within your control, but it doesn’t come without a cost. So-called “Acceptance-Based Therapy” is simply understanding that making a change is what’s right for you right now, and accepting the difficulties that go along with it.
Acceptance is all about mindset. Often, we’re taught to suppress cravings, urges, or negative emotions as a way to cope, but the literature on this shows that realising that things are going to get tough and being ok with that leads to better results.
- In a study by Forman et al, two groups of women were told to carry a box of sweets with them for 72 hours without eating any. I know, right? One group used traditional suppression based coping strategies, while the other group followed an acceptance model. The group who accepted that they’d want to eat the sweets ate fewer overall while having lower cravings.
- Another study that explored suppression vs acceptance coping techniques was by Hooper et al. People were asked to give up chocolate for one week. At the end of the week, they attended a chocolate taste testing session. Again, the people were split into two groups: suppression and acceptance. After the week was over, the acceptance and suppression groups had both eaten a similar amount of chocolate, but the acceptance group ate significantly less during the taste test.
- 190 people were placed in either standard behaviour or acceptance behaviour groups.
- Both groups increased the amount of exercise they did and counted calories.
- The major difference with the acceptance group was that they had to live with the fact that weight loss will cause hunger, cravings, deprivation, and fatigue, and would result in a reduction of pleasure when eating.
- By the end of the study, the acceptance group lost 36% more weight than the standard group and were a third more likely to maintain 10% weight loss after 12 months.
Planning to lose weight should always be met with a healthy dose of realism. Despite the fake picture beamed to you on social media every day, you won’t be able to eat what you want all the time, and you likely won’t spend every day on a diet with a smile on your face.
If you want to change how you look, it might be an idea to try an acceptance checklist of sorts.
- Be honest about the change you want to make. Make sure that this is really what you want right now, and that if things get tough, it’s all going to be worth it in the end.
- Accept that, while your diet can still be filled with yummy foods, you’re not going to get to eat exactly what you want all of the time.
- Accept that you’re likely to feel increased hunger, cravings, and negative feelings sometimes, but realise that this is totally normal and part of the process.
This level of honesty isn’t meant to put you off. Anything that means a lot to you is worth fighting for. Embrace the hardship and own your struggles. Knowing it won’t always be easy will improve your chances of nailing it.
I do my best to make losing weight as simple and painless as I can, but I won’t lie to you. Anyone who has lost significant body fat knows that as you get leaner, things start to get tough. Accepting that things will get hard, and embracing the behaviour change needed to reach your goal can be the difference between failure and success.
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