Why it’s hard to change a body you don’t like

Most people who come into our studio to work out are usually coming in to change something they don’t like about their body. Something had to be a catalyst to justify them spending the time, effort and money on an exercise professional! In most cases it’s them having had enough of being out of shape. This is not a bad place to start but in an earlier post I talked about how important it was to set a proper goal and that trying to lose weight or fat wasn’t really a goal with a positive destination. I talked about how focusing on getting rid of the thing you don’t want will cause your brain to continue to look for it, thus even causing your unconscious actions to support your focus. However, if one feels upset about their current condition it may be pretty tough to keep their focus on the thing they do want (as opposed to the thing they want to get rid of) and sometimes, for those who feel real bad about where they are, can’t even get a glimpse of what they would want. The gap between where they are and where they could be is just too far. Even small goals may not on their radar.

On top of not being able to see where one wants to go the stress that comes along with the negative focus can cause some pretty negative chemical reactions in the body that can negate the positive effects an exercise program should induce. Consider that exercise is a stress that should cause your body to make the changes you desire as a solution to the problem that stressed caused—such as reduction in body fat, increase of muscle tissue, etc. (consider your brain is reacting to these stresses the same way our ancestor’s brain did when they were under attack or threatened in their environment—a leaner and stronger body is a better survival in these threatening conditions). This type of stress is what is considered a ‘eaustress’ (a good stress)—one that helps your body healthily adapt and change to outside conditions. However, if the body is already under a large form of stress, like emotional stress, the body’s threshold for stress can be dramatically lowered, thus making an activity like exercise or resistance training cause a ‘distressed’ environment (stress on top of stress compounds to become distress).

This distress can cause various chemical cascades to happen that work against the changes one would be looking for from exercise, like the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that causes your body to convert raw energy storage into blood sugar (not a great idea if you want to burn some fat) as well as diminishing the function of the immune system. It is released to help when momentary fight or flight situations arise but when the body is chronically stressed (like when you are consistently beating yourself up) the trigger to release this cascade is always running. There are also many other chemical reactions within the body that work against the reduction of body fat when we are over-stressed, like lowering your sensitivity to be satiated at a normal level of food (your body thinks it needs more fat, thus lowering your feeling of being full so you can eat more). This is all on top of the programming that happens in your subconscious when someone focuses on the thing they don’t want. It’s no wonder exercise and diet (when done alone) have such a high failure rate when it comes to long-term success. But then if we were never taught that are thoughts and emotions had an effect on our body then why would anyone do anything about it?

Most people learn that negative emotions are caused by outside things. Most of us learned this from our parents, teachers, siblings, and peers when growing up because most people needed us to behave in ways to make them feel better. We learned that we were responsible for their disappointment or anger and we were the ones who had to change in order to make them feel better. If we are responsible for their feelings then who and what is responsible for our feelings? Well, everything outside of us. So when someone feels negative emotion they often think they need to change what they are experiencing in order to feel better (they think their body is what is the reason for their negative emotion) but what our self-preservation part of us, the part that is triggering the negative feeling sensation that comes with the negative emotion, is trying to tell us is that your focus or point of view is deleterious to your success and progression of life, health and happiness. This is an inside job.

It’s helpful to understand that when you are emotionally stressed you feel bad for a good reason—negative emotions are supposed to feel bad to get your attention so you do something about it just like stepping on a tack feels bad to get you to lift your foot. This negative feeling that comes along with the emotion is an indicator that your body is experiencing something (chemically, energetically, neurologically, etc.) that is not helping it thrive. It would be like eating food that caused you to be bloated or have an upset stomach. Those are indications that your body is not doing well with the intake of those nutrients and quite possibly putting yourself in harm’s way. So when you think thoughts are negative it could be the same thing as eating foods that cause you to feel run down, bloated or have an upset stomach. All in all, you feel bad because you are thinking thoughts that are working against your progression, survival and your health and well-being. It’s your thoughts causing you to feel bad, not the subject. And your thoughts are very well what may keep your body and health right where it is, not your actions (or lack thereof).

In my next post I will offer some useful ways to challenge your thinking in order to make a shift in your perspective—one that should allow you to accept where you are and give your undivided attention to what you really want; toward what your current life situation has helped you to determine would be an evolvement or growth from where you are. But for now, try to consider that your feelings come from thoughts you either borrowed from someone else or you conjured on your own but are thoughts that are untrue. You feel bad because you are thinking thoughts that are working against you. Challenge the nature of those thoughts before you challenge your body. Exercise should be the expression of how you feel about your body and health, or at least the direction of your body and health, not the thing to fix the problem of feeling bad about yourself.

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