It’s that time of year when I’m bombarded with questions about losing weight and/or making positive changes in one’s life. When learning that I took off and have kept off 250-plus pounds of excess weight over a decade ago, friends, family members and strangers all want to know my “secret.” When they hear it was accomplished through old-fashioned eating less and moving more, they register a look of disappointment (having wanted the “magic wand” answer). But they still commit to losing weight and getting into shape for the New Year — resolutions I whole-heartedly support via my blog, Just Stop Eating So Much!, as well as my writeups for for Psychology Today.
But no matter what your resolutions this January, you might be surprised that when it comes to the common “Out with the old and in with the new” attitude, I actually encourage people to hold onto the old.
There are lots of reasons for this — beginning with the unhelpful notion that we’ve been doing things “wrong” up until now. Fact is, now is where we’re at. This month. This day. This minute. And everything we’ve gone through (even the seemingly mistaken decisions) has made us who we are today. And this includes being someone who’s ready to initiate real and lasting change.
When we start bashing ourselves, mentally, or even deciding that we’ve been living life incorrectly, we fall into a trap that can actually lead us back to the bingeing (or whatever) cycles that got us into this need for change predicament in the first place.
Instead, I suggest not only accepting your past, but embracing it. Keep it as a part of who you are — and wear it as a gold medal ribbon that indicates you’re not only a survivor, but a thriver.
There are actually some very good lessons to be found in our past mistakes. For example, I remember when I used to overdo it, food-wise, and would wake up in the middle of the night in terrible pain, sweating profusely and tasting the remnants of the previous night’s meal in my throat because the food in my overstuffed stomach was virtually bubbling over. I also remember what it was like to have an important meeting (whether for business or even with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages) and having to say a “Hail Mary” (even though I’m not Catholic) in order to get my jeans up around my hips. (Side note: Mary often did not come through and I had to opt for sweatpants with a more forgiving waist.)
Remembering these things helps me in the now — even over 10 years after I took off all of the excess weight. It’s a part of who I am. I know these are situations I never want to have to experience again. Thus I now reach for an apple more often than a donut as a result. And on that same note, I even keep the reasons that I started overeating in the first place with me (abusive parents, sexual predator, my love of ice cream — the list goes on, all of which is chronicled in my book, Weightless: My Life As A Fat Man And How I Escaped). To deny or suppress that any of these issues happened might lead the same kind of behavior that had me overeating in the first place — stuffing down these memories with food in an effort to try and block them from my psyche.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wear these life events as scars, but as merit badges… As proof that I have what it takes to survive. And that means I have what it takes to meet any goals (whether food-, health- or otherwise-related). Sometimes “Well, that happened” can be the best kind of therapy. With acceptance comes peace. And with peace comes the real ability to ask yourself, “Where do I want to go from here?”
So as the new year begins and you look in the mirror with determination to accomplish whatever goals you’ve carved out for yourself, remember to look at your whole self… Every inch of yourself (both physically and metaphorically). You have made all the right decisions in the past — even if you would make some of them differently today. But just the very fact that you know this proves that you learned from those supposed “incorrect” decisions — and that you can make more productive decisions from here on out.
Own your “old.” Embrace it. Accept it. And choose to move forward — hopefully with not only determination, but also grace, gratitude and a sense of humor (all of which will, thankfully, add no additional calories to your New Year eating plan).