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Monday, 07 February 2022 11:11

When Enthusiasm Turns to Sarcasm

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It was January and I started a new food and exercise plan. I was excited about it and determined to make it work this time! I had planned out meals that included foods I loved. I had contingency plans for eating out. I planned out how and when to get my exercise in. I set my alarm clock to get up early on the days I would go to the YMCA to work out. This plan was so specific to me and to my lifestyle that it couldn’t fail! I couldn’t wait to get started!

The first week was great! I stocked the fridge and the pantry with all my favorite healthy, lean, vibrant food favorites. I got up with the alarm eager and ready to go to the pool and swim. On alternate days I did some at-home exercises to support my body.

Somewhere along the way, about the third or fourth week, it all began to lose its shine. In the beginning everything was great, and my outlook was positive and optimistic. There was so much potential for success, but after a while it became just work. Planning the meals, shopping, cooking, getting up with an alarm to go to the gym were all outside my ‘normal’ routine. Those activities required mental, emotional, and physical effort from me. I found myself saying things like, “Yeah, right! That’s not happening today!” My enthusiasm had turned to cynicism and sarcasm.

So, what had happened in those four short weeks? Had I started off with expectations that my new plan would be life altering only to find it was just life? Had I set myself up to be disappointed by expecting too much from what were, in reality, simply everyday mundane activities?

We all do this, don’t we? Something in our mind gives power to our desired outcome and infuses our expectations with unrealistic excitement. It’s like being at work and thinking about that ice cream we bought at the store yesterday. We don’t usually buy ice cream, but we’re celebrating a milestone this week. We can’t wait to go home, finish dinner, and treat ourselves to that delicious experience of the first taste of it on our tongue. In the end, it’s just ice cream. The expectation of delight, the excitement and anticipation we feel during the day is all generated in our minds. The ice cream is available in the store every day of the week, all year long.

We’ve done the same thing with our expectations of a new food and exercise plan. We have infused the everyday activity of planning, shopping, cooking, and exercising with an unrealistic expectation of changing our lives. We give away our power to those expectations. We want to change the inside first, we want to set realistic expectations for ourselves and for our level of participation in those activities, because nothing on the outside is going to change our world.

For example, that first week on the food plan was a great experience for me. I enjoyed the planning and shopping, I loved the food, and being back in the pool felt great! I might then have the expectation that it will always be this way. In reality, each time is going to be different. Some days I’ll be too tired to plan the food for the coming week. Sometimes I will have slept badly and that alarm will go off way too early in the morning.

A lot of the existing weight loss plans build in that initial excitement and success experience. The plan puts you on more restrictions in the first few weeks so you see and feel an initial weight loss. Even if they explain that the weight will come off more slowly in the following weeks, we like the initial feeling of success and we want that experience to continue. When it slows down, the effort we’re putting into following the plan doesn’t feel as rewarding as it did in the beginning. We’ve gone from the excitement to the grind.

I think the key is to let the initial enthusiasm give us the experience and the tools, while also setting the mental expectation that slow and steady wins the race. We need the tools necessary to reach our goals. We need to learn which tools work better for us than others. Those tools are not just available to us in the initial stage of our journey. They are going to serve us even better as the journey goes on. We will rely on planning, on setting a routine, on revising our plans, and on refining our routines.

Another tool we will rely on is the information we gather about ourselves. We become aware of what our body can do and what it wants in the way of nutrition and exercise. We learn what we are mentally and emotionally prepared to do on a regular, consistent, and ongoing basis. The more information we have about ourselves and about our bodies, the more realistic expectations we can set and thus we make better plans.

These tools will also be essential to our ability to maintain our progress along the way. We will use them to address any backslides we might experience. These tools will also be our trusted go-to behaviors throughout our lives to help us maintain our body weight and maintain the joy-filled, happy life we’re all working toward.

Am I saying enthusiasm is wrong? Absolutely not! Enthusiasm gets us off the starting line, out of our chair, and moving toward our goals. What I’m saying, is we can temper a little of our enthusiasm with a touch of realism. Yes, we expect to reach our goals, and at the same time, we expect some of the steps toward those goals to be just life. Instead of riding the highs and lows of a roller coaster of emotion, we can take the long, slow train ride around the outside of the amusement park and enjoy the ride.

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Betty Brink

Betty Brink is an expert on the mental and emotional aspects of dieting and body image. She is the author of "The Main Meal: The New Perspective on Weight Loss." In seminars, speeches, and consultations, she demonstrates practical methods to quiet the diet chatter, and to empower yourself to make conscious choices in diet, in life, and in relationships.

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