Dieting is one of those times when talking to yourself is actually good. I’ve written about the power of self-dialogue before, but losing weight is one arena in which self-dialogue—something I call my SelfStrong technique—really stands out.
What do I mean by self-dialogue? Well, we human beings tend to think that we have only one “internal voice” that constitutes our thoughts and dictates our behaviors. But, in fact, that internal voice is actually more like the voices of a Board of Directors. And particular parts of you can be seated at every meeting of the Board of Directors.
If you’re someone who eats too much, in spite of yourself, then maybe there’s one part of you that isn’t getting the memo about wanting to lose weight – or isn’t taking it to heart. This would be the equivalent of someone showing up at a Board of Directors’ meeting and constantly refusing to go along with the nearly unanimous vote of the other members. That member of the Board is seditious, doesn’t have the interest of the “company” at heart and has to be directly addressed.
Directly addressed? Yes. That’s where talking to yourself (or that part of yourself) comes in. You can become much more powerful as a dieter if you realize that there is “someone” inside you who isn’t on board with the plan to lose weight. Give him or her a name. Maybe it’s “Diet Defeater.”
Take note when “Diet Defeater” says things to tempt you to abandon your plan to become more fit. He might say, “It’s late, and you’re working hard. There are other nights when you’ll avoid sweets. Now, the goal is to do anything needed to finish your work. If it’s a slice of lemon pie, so be it.” Or, he might say, “We’re alone. No one’s watching. You can have that ice cream and just get up earlier and exercise.”
You have to become comfortable engaging directly with “Diet Defeater.” I know it will seem stilted or peculiar, at first, but develop the willingness to say, “Hey, I understand what you’re trying to do. You’re always speaking out of turn and suggested that giving in to temptation is fine—one time. But that isn’t what the Board agreed to, and your attempts to hijack the Board won’t work. Whether it causes me some discomfort or not, I’m going to resist what you’re suggesting I do.”
You can also inquire with “Diet Defeater” about what make him so needy for food. You could even write out a dialogue on your computer. Play every role. Again, this may seem stilted, but it can become almost automatic. And it can be very revealing.
Dieter: You keep suggesting we throw in the towel and eat junk food. What does the food do for you?
Diet Defeater: Nothing. I mean, it tastes good. It feels good when I eat that stuff. And I’m pretty anxious without it.
Dieter: Anxious about what? What’s on your mind.
Diet Defeater: Just that it’s late, and I feel pretty lonely up working with everyone else asleep around here.
Dieter: Got it. I hear you. But if we give in then we’re teaching ourselves not to deal with feeling some loneliness and anxiety.
Diet Defeater: We always had ice cream when mom and dad went out, though.
Dieter: I appreciate you bringing that up. Those nights were tough, sometimes—a little scary, and the ice cream helped us get through. But we’re not kids, anymore. We’ve got to leave the easy comforts like food behind and overcome the anxiety by realizing we’re going to be just fine. The sun is going to come up, and we’ll feel better resisting the food. So . . . even though I hear what you’re saying, and I understand why you’re saying it, we’re not going to eat.
This way of taking control of the Benedict Arnolds inside you actually works. Give it a try. No, these aren’t different personalities. Talking to yourself isn’t a sign you’re not well. It’s a sign that you realize that the best parts of you can take control of the less good parts of you. And, then, the Board has a chance to be unanimous in voting for the things that will make you stronger.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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