All good stories start with a cult. And this one is no different.
NB: You are about to witness me shoehorning a story about a cult into this blog just because I think it’s a cool tale, so I need to pretend like it was vital to the narrative in order to demonstrate a point about diet and fitness… wish me luck!
In the early 1950’s, a Chicago housewife, Dorothy, was convinced that she was receiving messages about an imminent Noah’s Ark style apocalypse, but this time due to UFO’s rather than a dude with a beard. And in true cult fashion, she convinced a bunch of people that by denouncing their family, friends, jobs and possessions that they could be saved when the moment of destruction arrived. They were called “The Seekers”.
Picture the scene…
11:59pm: Everyone is prepared for their final day on Earth. Zips and underwire bras have been removed (apparently metal is a big no no during a doomsday flood). And the moment is nearly upon them.
12:01am: “Ummmmm, Dot? What the actual fuck? It’s not even raining let alone wiping out humanity”.
And so, it turned out that Dorothy and “The Seekers” (would’ve made a cool band name) were wrong about the end of the world. Their only option now, surely, was to come out of their basement in shame and profess that they were wrong. Was it fuck! Rather than admit that despite all the evidence – I mean, the world is still here, that’s a pretty tough fact to pretend isn’t true – they were wrong and then try to get their jobs, families and CD collections back, good old Dot miraculously received another message from the aliens…
“You guys did such a good job of worshipping us and spreading the word about our awesomeness and scariness that we’ve decided to call off the whole flood thing. Go, team!”
It’s pretty easy for us to sit back and gasp at the sheer laughability of the entire debacle. But we also kind of forget that we do the same thing. Every single day. When a situation arises which is in direct conflict with our beliefs or behaviours, we either lie about it or just plain ignore that it’s happening without being aware most of the time that that’s what we’re doing.
How very mature of us!
I guarantee that you have heard the statistic that 95% of diet and exercise programmes fail in the first five years. I’m also pretty damn sure that you are part of that statistic.
How many times have you started a diet club, only to lose the same stone of weight over and over again? How many times have you started an exercise class, or gym membership, or running programme, only to have just a wardrobe full of barely used activewear to show for it? I can tell you over and over that weight isn’t necessarily a marker for health, nor does your weight define your worth as a person. But do you throw out your bathroom scales or stop secretly looking at nutrition labels on food, or sub consciously restricting fat or carbs?
See, we are no better than “The Seekers”. I can scream the facts at you, in the same way that the cult’s family probably told them aliens didn’t exist so stop being a knob and put your bra back on.
Maybe on a logical level you want to believe me. But I know you are still have tempted to part with your cash when “Supplements R Us” reveal their new superfood. And I know that no matter how many times you say you love your body, that little voice still might be saying “yes, but you’d be happier if you were smaller”. It’s hard to ignore that little fucker sometimes.
But don’t beat yourself up, you are not to blame for your cult-like thoughts. The diet, fitness and beauty industries have spent billions of dollars over the years convincing us that we are not good enough as we are. And that we need “fixing”. So it’s not surprising that you don’t believe the minimal amount of information available to you which contradicts them. Hell, even the NHS are convinced that everyone needs to fit into their BMI scale in order to be healthy (despite irrefutable evidence that BMI has no use as a predictor of ill health).
Unfortunately the industries of “you’re perfect as you are”, and “you don’t need to join a gym to get health benefits” don’t quite have the same money behind them!
So what happens when we receive information that is incompatible with our subconscious beliefs, like The Seekers did when the world failed to end? Facts such as 95% of diets fail, or a crush telling you “I think you’re really hot”. Well, we can change either our belief, our behaviour or reframe the new contradictory information.
For example, what happens when your 58th diet this year hasn’t worked… again?
- THE FACTS = diet and exercise aren’t viable long-term solutions.
- YOUR CORE BELIEF = diet and exercise are the only real ways to change my body shape, and it’s important that I do so.
- YOUR BEHAVIOUR = I’ll try yet another diet, or the latest Insta-workout, just in case this one is the one for me.
- HOW YOU REFRAME ANY NEW INFORMATION – because diet and exercise actually do work it must be my fault that I can’t lose weight. I’m a failure.
Changing beliefs and behaviour is some hard-core work. We’ve spent our whole lives building them up, and as I said, huge companies have spent years and a shit tonne of cash making sure that we don’t doubt them. So, our brain normally takes the easy way out and reframes any new information to get it to fit our behaviour and our attitudes. Just like The Seekers and their reframe that the apocalypse wasn’t a lie and they changed the course of history just by being so awesome.
Reframing is easier to go along with if your core beliefs are strong enough. Believing your own bullshit is easy. It’s much harder to admit to yourself that your view of the world could be wrong. Back in the caveman days, being wrong normally meant we died. So it’s usually safer to be right. And like I keep saying, we are essentially still cavemen, but with smartphones.
Does this mean we are we doomed to follow misinformation and be stuck in the same hamster wheel of new diet, fail, new diet, fail, new diet, forever?
Fuck no. I wouldn’t leave you like that!
Remember changing a belief system is hard and takes a lot of work. I can teach you how to do that, but probably not in the space of a blog. So let’s take the easier route and use our caveman brains to our benefit. We can use our ability to reframe information as a much quicker and instantaneous fix to stop ourselves believeing our own bullshit.
REFRAMING WEIGHT LOSS, DIET AND EXERCISE:
- Look at images shown in advertising and ask yourself if they are more worthy than you because of their body shape.
- Remind yourself with every picture or advert that they have professional stylists, lighting and tailoring to make them look a specific way. How close is that to how they are likely to look in real life.
- When looking at before and after pictures check out how they are subtly shown to look happier in the after picture, which helps to imply that you’d be more content if you were thinner. This happens in gym and diet advertising too. I have never seen anyone in real life looking pleased eating a carboard-tasting protein bar.
- Is a new diet or exercise programme anything special or is it just another way to get you to eat less food, or move your body more?
- Start to feel sorry for the people who boast about how they haven’t eaten for 6 hours, or about how they almost threw up in their PT session last night. Be pleased that you can feed your body when it asks, and move it in a respectful and healthy way.
- When you see that Sandra down the road has lost 3 stone on Weightwatchers, remember that this is the 5th time this year she has lost that same 3 stone. And actually you’ve always admired her confidence and presence regardless of what she looks like.
- Instead of thinking that you’d be happier if you were thinner, remind yourself of a time when you were thinner… were you truly happier then than you are now? Or does something else about from your body fat percentage affect your happiness?
- Remember that “health” benefits on pre-packaged food are not making that food any more nutritious and are likely to just a way for food companies to sell more product.
- Practise accepting compliments at face value. Stop looking for ways to reframe to the negative and start believing that they might just be true.
- Instead of judging your body negatively, start to look for ways to it. Compliment yourself on the bits of you that you like. And don’t make it all about your appearance. You are a lot more than a meaty skeleton.
Reframing can be in so many ways to call bullshit on the percieved wisdom that we assume is fact. The key element is to start to notice when you are subconsciously being drawn into the culture of thin is better, or exercise is a weight loss tool, or that food is good or bad.
The more you practice reframing the “facts” that the diet and fitness industry are spending cash on conning you into believing then the easier you will find it. The more evidence you can find which contradicts their facts, the less and less likely you are to believe them and therefore the fewer reframes you are going to need to do. You’ll slowly start to form new beliefs instead.
Remember, your aim in life isn’t to be one of The Seekers. There are enough people in the diet and fitness cult, they don’t need any more members. Let’s try not to be in the basement with the crazies, rather let’s be one the sensible folk at the top of the stairs enjoying their lives rather then being terrified of a flood which is never going to happen.
Stay woke you beautiful weirdos.
(The Anti-Fitness Trainer)