Hello there, welcome to Friday. The end of the week is a good time to pause and reflect, in order to adjust and move on next week. Each week in reflection corner we’ll think more widely and deeply about aspects of healthy living – particularly the psychology and philosophy. This week, so far, you have heard about the start of my journey to health. You have read about some tools to help you on the way and been given a simple formula for weight loss and an enduring healthy lifestyle:
“Eat smart, move more, gain muscle”
I hope you’re inspired and have worked out your own BMR, weight goal or health goal and are starting to put together your nutrition, activity and strength training plan. But maybe you’re not feeling it. Maybe you’re daunted, maybe you’re still stuck. I certainly tried and failed before (dieting alone to get into my wedding dress and then spiralling to my heaviest weight when the pressure was off) and after that I went into denial.
Maybe it might help to have an honest look at denial, here:
No, not sailing down a river in Egypt.
I mean blanking out the “inconvenient truth”. I’m a health professional, but human like anyone else, and I got fat. I joked about it “oh I’ve got obese” but everyone was reassuring and so I was able to conveniently agree that I didn’t look obese. We justified my weight by saying that BMI is meaningless, especially at the extremes of height. It was reassuring to see lots of people fatter than me, and that society is getting bigger. So I normalised it. I did notice I had to go up a dress size each year, and then each 6 months. I even noticed I had hard tummy fat, not wobbly, suggesting I had a fatty liver – dangerous for heart attack risk. But it didn’t penetrate my complacency.
Why? Freud is responsible for our familiarity with the idea of denial as a psychological coping mechanism. A lot of his work has been superseded but there is something elegant and recognisable about this idea. We have a source of stress, we repress it in order to function or maintain our view of ourselves or the world. In my case I was in denial about being unhealthy and my friends were colluding with me! I was subconsciously suppressing the full “weight” of consequence of my unhealthiness and I was consciously suppressing it by not stepping on scales, accurately working out my BMI and taking full heed of its message. I am sure you can find your own sore spot of denial – so don’t stop reading now!!
How do we get out of denial?
This article by the well regarded Mayo clinic is concise and gives you some tools to start straight away. It’s true that maybe this isn’t the right time and you have to get there. For me, the right time was thinking about New Years resolutions and finally acknowledging my BMI was real, and really dangerous. Maybe you’ve been told it’s time to change and an external timetable has been given to you – maybe you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, or pre-diabetes, maybe you have terrible arthritis, maybe you have heart disease. Then you have to find the space to examine the fear that is keeping you in denial so you can tackle it. You may need support from family members or even a therapist to do this.
Rowling’s 1st class philosophy class
But if you want to understand denial and then overcome it quickly and without waiting for help I suggest you look no further than the esteemed J.K. Rowling:
“So the boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.“—
Professor Lupin to his third year class in 1993
Denial is a Boggart. It’s lurking in the wardrobe of your brain, shapeless, dark and malicious. You know that if you open the door out it will come and frighten you to death. So you keep the door shut even in the face of louder and louder banging from the Boggart desperate to be let out. You are always in peril of the door flying open unexpectedly. In fact, there is a spell to fix the Boggart – it requires concentration and resolve, (magic wand optional).
If you open the door in a planned fashion – when you’re ready for it, when you have gathered your resolve, when you have a plan for that Boggart to make it look ridiculous, then you will succeed.
Open the door.