by Amy Alpert
How many times have you said or heard the following: “You look great! Have you lost weight?” Over my 45 years, I have said and heard that phrase way more times than I can count. I have translated that sentence like this: You have lost weight > you look great > you are happy. In other words “you are thin” equals “you are happy.”
My junior year of college, I had lost a bunch of weight. Other students would ask me “How did you do it?” and then listen attentively, as if I was the Dalai Lama. With my typical candidness, I would answer, “I didn’t eat.” I did not say it with pride, I simply told the truth. And everyone would nod in sad recognition. We were all enslaved to the thin ideal.
Last year, in an effort to lose 10 pounds I had recently gained, I pulled out my back twice doing exercise that was not healthy for my body. I teach yoga and tell my students, in every class, to listen to their body. Yet it is the hardest lesson I have had for myself.
So why, even though I have so much evidence to the contrary do I still have this “thin equals happy” mindset? What do I need to do to move on?
Losing weight has become such a “should” in my life that my brain has created a huge neural pathway around that. Beauty in general is seen as an achievement, something you attain. Like most women, my relationship with weight and body image and beauty is so heavy, so loaded and so full of suffering.
Then I attended WBI’s Certificate in Positive Psychology program and learned about Deceptive Brain Messages or DBMs, which Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD, and Rebecca Gladding, MD, outline in their book You Are Not Your Brain. DBMs are messages our brain gives us that are inaccurate, but that we have told ourselves so many times that we began to believe them. For instance, you might say that you are not smart, unworthy of love, or not good enough at your job. Perhaps you were given these messages by others and then took them on as your own, or you created these ideas due to the influence of the media.
Whatever the source, we can alter these messages. Based on the most up-to-date brain research, we are learning that we can change our brain—not just during our childhood, but throughout our life. Thinking new thoughts can create new neural pathways.
I simply need to change my thinking around my weight and beauty to create new neural pathways. This is my new challenge. Because the thing is, I am happy. The main thing that brings me down is when I start to focus on weight and external beauty. So now, when I think about my weight, I am going to focus on my truth and authenticity. When I think about external beauty, I am going to create new thoughts around my kindness and compassion. I am going to reshape my brain to be an empowering machine that allows health and happiness to be defined by me.
I ask you: If you see me, please do not look me up and down and remark on my weight. Instead, you can learn about my happiness by a more accurate investigation. Ask me what book I am reading now and watch me light up with excitement. Ask me how my family is doing and I will share our challenges and successes. Ask me about what I do for fun, or about my career. Connect with me in an authentic and honest way and that will bring us both happiness.
Amy Alpert, a graduate of the Certificate in Positive Psychology, is a solutions-focused coach with a practice based in positive psychology. A former human resources executive at Goldman Sachs, she holds a master’s degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University. This article was originally published on Amy’s blog at amyalpert.com.