Changing our approach to our bodies’ health is unlike any other change we might set about to make. As adults with agency over our lives, there is little oversight to keep us accountable. We may be beholding to a concerned loved one, or an involved medical team, but their reach extends only as far as we allow it into our lives. Many of us find ourselves compulsively acting against our own best interests—binge eating, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, skipping medication dosages or abusing the medications we do take-- even when we know our behaviors to be harmful to our bodies, our minds and those who care about us. Why does this dichotomy exist, and what can we do about?
There are multiple reasons from a neurobiological and psychological standpoint for self-harm (see: Capture by Dr. David Kessler) and if your actions are putting you or others in danger or feel out of your control, mindfulness should be part of a deeper, root-cause address of your suffering with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or treatment center. (See also: this article in Tricycle magazine; although mindfulness is approached from a secular standpoint in Well & Kind’s curriculum and health coaching, the information found here still applies and should be given serious consideration when you are embarking on a mindfulness practice.) Once these caveats have been acknowledged, an often straightforward reason for our inability to adhere our health goals lies in our allegiance to the stories that we believe about ourselves. These stories are an imprint from our pasts.
When we continually relive traumatic experiences and regrets from our pasts, we tell ourselves that characteristics attributed to us in these situations are true. We tell ourselves, over and over again, a story about who we are (fat, lazy, not serious, flighty, incapable of change, loser, unable to make it on your own, etc.) when we let our perceptions of the past remain in our present lives. This is incompatible with reaching new health goals, as we need space to make a change. One cannot make a three point turn from a single parking stall with cars parked alongside them; there needs to be some room to back out, to see where we are going, to cut our wheels, and to change our direction entirely. Sticking to the stories that we, or others, have repeated over and over in the past serves only to keep us head-in, trapped between other vehicles with no room to maneuver.
When you are certain that you cannot manage diabetes because you need certain foods to feel happy; when you cannot start a walking regimen because you are embarrassed to be seen exercising at your current weight; when you cannot bear the shame of waking up from another night of out of control drinking or eating; when you cancel another doctor’s appointment because you are gutted at the thought of hearing the results of your most recent tests; these are stories that have highjacked the truth about you: that you are capable of change. That you are deserving of what you want.
When the dark feelings around another supposed ‘failure’ start to bubble up in you, liberate yourself by asking one question: Who says?
Who says I can’t live without a certain food?
Who says my body shape dictates where and when I get to walk?
Who says I don’t deserve treatment for my addictive behaviors? Who says I cannot learn to change my behaviors?
Who says my test results are a reflection of my worth as a person?
We can only answer the question in two ways: ‘They say,’ or ‘I say.’
Good news if your answer is ‘They’: ‘They’ don’t matter, only you do.
Good news if your answer is ‘I’: You’re in charge here. It’s your job to flip the script.
When you question the validity of past stories that others have told you or that you have told yourself, a world of possibilities opens up. When you find yourself leaning into behaviors that you don’t want for your health, when you avoid the things that you know you must do to make meaningful change, ask yourself, ‘Who says?’ Be ruthless with your answer, be ruthless with your liberation from the past stories that keep you boxed in and unable to turn around. You’re in charge here, today.