Losing Weight

It so hap­pens that I’m par­tic­i­pat­ing in Weight Watch­ers these days. So far I have lost about 26 pounds, and intend to lose more. I attend the meet­ings with my wife every Sat­ur­day morn­ing. When we first start­ed attend­ing, I thought I would be bored. 

I have been any­thing but. What I have been fas­ci­nat­ed by is the com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple who with such per­sis­tence address the matched prob­lems of eat­ing too much and eat­ing the wrong stuff (and also not mov­ing the body suf­fi­cient­ly to burn the calo­ries being con­sumed). The peo­ple who come, about forty or so to the ses­sion, are pret­ty inspir­ing. Last week a woman reached her “goal weight” after five years (five years!) of effort to lose, count ’em, 105 pounds. Anoth­er woman last week talked about fac­ing her past mar­riage and how it had kept her in a neg­a­tive cycle of con­flicts and rec­on­cil­i­a­tions, with the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion part always asso­ci­at­ed with being giv­en food by her ex-hus­band. Talk about con­trol. I’ve found the WW process to be only super­fi­cial­ly one of count­ing points and attend­ing ses­sions. In real­i­ty, it is one of patience and insight. As the leader of the group men­tioned, “we did­n’t come here because of the food alone.” We came here to address the inner and exter­nal fac­tors that led to the poor eat­ing habits as much as to change the habits themselves.

Street Scene

I find myself think­ing this is one of the bet­ter per­son­al devel­op­ment envi­ron­ments I’ve par­tic­i­pat­ed in, and how aligned it is, at least metaphor­i­cal­ly, with the dis­ci­plines of per­son­al lead­er­ship devel­op­ment, as well. Peo­ple talk about “emo­tion­al eat­ing,” mean­ing eat­ing to avoid deal­ing with how they feel. They talk about “small wins.” They dis­cuss the need for bound­aries, with them­selves and with oth­ers. They share their strate­gies for help­ing one anoth­er, build on one anoth­er’s sto­ries and exam­ples. Oh sure, there are some hokey ele­ments: award­ing “stars” and key­chains and so on for dif­fer­ent lev­els of accom­plish­ment and there is always applause for the indi­vid­u­als who speak up. But there is also an under­ly­ing thing that is hap­pen­ing that is not hokey at all. It involves iden­ti­fy­ing with one anoth­er, respect­ing each oth­er’s sep­a­rate chal­lenges and jour­neys, accept­ing inevitable set backs and fail­ures, expe­ri­enc­ing equal­i­ty and humil­i­ty, and being there to affirm each oth­er in the more or less uni­ver­sal process of learn­ing to lead ourselves.

The oth­er metaphor that has sur­faced for me is the notion of fat itself, which like the debil­i­tat­ing shad­ow of con­sump­tion that it is, can also rep­re­sent every inter­per­son­al bad habit, form of denial, cop­ing mech­a­nism, self-indul­gence, and self-per­mit­ted escape route under the sun; self-sus­te­nance tak­en so far it becomes a fan­ta­sy and a sym­bol for our wish to avoid ever con­fronting our­selves. But either now or lat­er the con­fronta­tion does come — and in the harsh­est of places: in the mir­ror, on the scales, in our ill-fit­ting, awk­ward clothes, in our own faces. The whole process gets at a core lead­er­ship ques­tion: can we in fact change our­selves?

Well, as it turns out, fol­low­ing the WW mod­el there’s a horde of evi­dence that says yes we cer­tain­ly can. A com­mu­ni­ty of like-mind­ed peo­ple is cer­tain­ly help­ful, and so is a score­card, and so is the notion that this is not a tem­po­rary hia­tus from old ways but a per­ma­nent shift in lifestyle. Even more telling is the fact that this is not an overnight process, such as all the ones you might see adver­tised in super­mar­ket mag­a­zines. The real process of “los­ing fat” and “keep­ing it off” — code here for gain­ing aware­ness, self knowl­edge and con­fi­dence — is a slow and grad­ual one, a “pound or two” a week, for many weeks, months, years.

In much of the work I’ve done with lead­ers to help them gath­er and process feed­back, the path is iden­ti­cal. It is one of slow and method­i­cal absorp­tion of data, inte­gra­tion of per­spec­tives, gain­ing sup­port from oth­ers, reduc­ing defen­sive­ness in order to see how their own behav­iors affect oth­ers; small changes over time. Some have an eas­i­er time than oth­ers. Some, for all the atten­tion from out­side, nev­er­the­less remain addicted. 

Balloons

So what is it that sep­a­rates those who embrace the shift and those who don’t? What is it that enables some peo­ple to per­sist and even­tu­al­ly to pre­vail? Is it a qual­i­ty of inner will? Are they sim­ply able to get past the sense of unfair­ness — that oth­ers “get to eat” what they want but I don’t? 

Every week at the meet­ing peo­ple in a way try to answer that ques­tion, no mat­ter what the spe­cif­ic top­ic might be. Here, I guess, would be my own answer: there is new love in the heart for the one who comes, for the crea­ture who weighs in and keeps weigh­ing in over time, even when the pound has been gained rather than lost; new love for the per­son for whom vic­to­ry might be as sad and fun­ny as sim­ply being able to but­ton one’s pants before bend­ing over to tie one’s shoes rather than hav­ing to do those oh-so-sim­ple tasks in the reverse order. That’s fat for you. It just gets in the way.

Love, accep­tance, care for that crea­ture, for our­selves. It seems to me that is what final­ly makes denial no longer necessary. 

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