Does Visualization for Weight Loss Really Work?
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If there's one key topic that has revolutionized self help books, TED talks, podcasts, and even business experts and mainstream news all together, it's been the subject of visualization. Everyone's been talking about visualizing as a way to attract what we desire most. Olympic athletes have been using the power of visualization for years, long before it was on Oprah, to visualize a race, a jump, a match, and it has been proven to improve performance due to the power of our mind-body connection. Our muscles are primed and ready when we focus on the movement we're about to do and when we focus intently during the process as well. Now comes the big question and the one we're going to talk about today: does visualization for weight loss really work or can it at least help us in our efforts?
One of the first things that I noticed when I met my husband and went to his house, is that when you opened the cupboard that had all the snacks, sugary cereals, cookies and chocolate, the first thing you would see, taped to the back of the door, was this huge magazine cutout of a supermodel in a bikini. It wasn't my husband or my father in law who had put it there, it was a reminder, self imposed and stuck there by the women of the house, who were trying to lose weight. Now, my mother in law is a very funny person and everyone in that family has a big sense of humor, so I'm sure part of it was a joke, but what wasn't a joke was that many members of the family, as it happens in most families, were on that long battle against weight gain.
If you think my mother in law's supermodel cutout seems funny and absurd, this method of visualization is more common than you think. Few people might have actually taken the time to cut out the photo, find the tape and put it in there, but actually, thousands of people at this very moment are pinning, following and liking images in social media and online with the body of their dreams and asking in the comments how people did it.
Visualizing is a powerful tool, it gives us a clear goal and a clear mindset as to what we want, but when it comes to weight loss and those impossible expectations we have for our bodies to look a certain way, it's worse than a dead end.
My mother in law's cutout never worked, because every time one opened that cupboard with a snack attack already in tow, you would reach for the food and feel guilty as you looked at Gisele Bundchen's perfect rock hard abs. Guilt is the worst enemy of healthy and balanced eating, but that's a topic for a completely different post. Chances are, your hundreds of pinned images of the perfect booty, chiseled arms and flat stomach are also creating a very unhealthy mindset and headspace that is associated with punishment, restriction, deprivation and yes even overeating or disordered eating.
I'll say it again, visualization is a powerful tool, but we've been doing it all wrong and it's time we changed it.
Using the power of visualization has been such a big tool in my own journey of leaving emotional eating and overeating behind. The key lies not in visualizing the results in our physical body, but in the way we'll feel when we've overcome our challenges and obsessions with weight, food, the perfect body, that layer of fat in our stomach, or whatever it is that is plaguing you and that makes you restrict and go on the dieting merry go round.
Instead of putting all your attention on what your body will look like (this is a dangerous path since so many of us have completely unrealistic expectations of what a healthy body actually looks like), I want you to visualize yourself free of body image issues, and bursting with health and a healthy relationship with food.
The real changes started happening in my life when I stopped looking at those unrealistic images and I started to picture a future me completely free and happy, one that was friends with food and never felt the need to go on a diet again. One that was confident, playful, relaxed and simply enjoyed life. I started to see myself in different types of situations, from sitting down to eat, to playing, having fun, working, enjoying time with friends, exercising, and in all of them I focused (and still do to this day) on a version of me that was just free. Free of expectations of having the perfect body, free of food fears, free of the need to overeat to self soothe and especially full of that feeling of lightness.
For some reason, perhaps because I danced many moons ago, the topic of feeling light and being able to be light on my feet, happy and flowing with all the curve balls life gave me was really important to me. Yes this had to do with feeling physically light (i.e. getting rid of the heaviness I always felt after a meal that required an instant nap right there on the table because of the huge portions I was having), but it had even more to do with being emotionally lighter.
That feeling of freedom and happiness that only comes when you're totally happy and confident in your own skin, imperfections and all. This is the visualization gold mine. Forget the abs.
The beach visualization
For me, that main visualization (although I have others for other aspects in my life) is in a beach. I can see myself surrounded by my family, having a beautiful day at the beach, feeling confident in my on skin, walking along the shore in my bikini without fear of judgement or a single ounce of that negative self talk. Even more powerful than this though, is that I see myself playing, just like when I was a kid. I see myself running around with my dogs and my husband, playing in the sand, running in and out of the water, free, light and with a kick in my step, and that when meal time comes I love it, enjoy it, eat to my heart's content and stop when I'm full.
This is a powerful image for me since it looks very much like the way a part of my childhood went down, a part I haven't talked about in the blog before but I will soon. It was an important place in which a very important part of my identity was formed and it's why it's such a safe and happy place for me, and my visualization is very powerful. I hold this image in my mind every day, and it's been one of my master tools in helping me make better food choices. When I hold this image and I know this is where I want to go, making healthier day to day choices is easier and more inspired.
So yes, visualization works, you just have to switch out the ones that take you into a place of punishment and guilt, and move on over to one of hope, joy and freedom. It worked for me and it can certainly help you too.
I visualize everything from that beach day, from the moment I get there and my dogs run straight to the ocean for a dip, to feeling the sun on my skin and the people I love around me, I see every little bit of that day and everything about it feels balanced and like a place of total healing from food and body image issues. After you're done visualizing, we're going to take this into the practical realm and transform these images into better choices in your life with the tips I'm about to give you.
Can you see why the cutout of the perfect abs, or the Pinterest board called fitspiration would take you down a totally different road? Yeah, sometimes it might inspire you to head out for a workout, but it always comes from a place of lack rather than abundance. It feels like punishment is required to achieve it. My little method, is actually bringing you back to your essence and bringing out that wiser part of yourself that will make better choices because he or she knows there's freedom and this powerful emotional feeling at the end.
On another note, so many of the people in those fit images lead very unhealthy and unhappy lives since maintaining those high standards is nearly impossible. Yet another reason why those have to go.
What to do with what you visualize and how it can actually change your habits to help you reach your goals.
Visualization would mean diddly-squat if it just stayed up there in our minds as a pretty picture. Now comes the fun part, and it's the fact that that image, which we're going to try to hold close and dear to our hearts every day until it becomes a habit, is going to guide our choices.
I want you to ask yourself every time you have to deal with food, exercise or negative self talk, what would that girl in that image do? Remember, that's you! You can see yourself in that state of freedom balance and joy because it's absolutely possible for you to get there, so ask her: what would you do?
This is a much wiser, sensitive and empathetic version of you, and she wants you to get to where you want to go. If you listen, you'll have all the answers inside of you when it comes to food choices, exercise, self care and proper rest.
I like to call her "the pro", she knows what she needs and she knows how to find balance:
- A pro doesn't punish herself through food, she enjoys it, eats it slowly savoring every bite and then can set it aside once full.
- A pro finds activities for exercise that are fun, doable and are used to make her feel alive and active, not as punishment to achieve buns of steel.
- A pro gets off the couch and gets active.
- A pro can rest when she needs to.
- A pro sees that time spent with friends and family is golden and is an important part of self care.
- A pro knows that anxiety, sadness and overwhelm are resolved by going to the root issues, not by going to food as an emotional drug.
- A pro knows that some changes take time, but they're coming if we approach habits and goals in a normal, balanced and doable way.
- A pro has an amazing instinct as to what foods are health giving and chooses as many of these as possible at every meal.
- A pro understands that she's human and needs treats and delicious goodies as well.
- A pro doesn't punish herself when she strays or has an off day because she knows this is a journey and not a destination.
- A pro is able to look in the mirror and see all the wonderful things she's been able to accomplish, she sees beauty in her very own way, and is slowly losing that laser view that goes straight to the imperfections.
- A pro is able to be active and move without taking it to extremes.
- A pro is able to leave food and exercise aside to live all the other beautiful things that make up her life as well.
When you keep your own special visualization in mind, that wiser part that is already inside you comes out, and helps you make your choices if you just listen. It's powerful stuff.
I want you to look for that perfect visualization for you. Make it all about the way you want to feel and how rich and wonderful your life will be when you get there, regardless of what your body looks like. Hold it in your head and think of it often, and start developing a conversation and relationship with that version of you that will help you with those daily choices and help you reach your goals.
The girl in the green bathing suit
It's funny that my visualization is in my favorite beach, in my bikini, because a few weeks ago, my former yoga teacher who is an incredible woman posted a text on facebook that made me SO happy to read, I've been looking for an excuse to post it for you, so I thought this was as good a time as any. I've decided to translate it for you and use it to close this post. It's really special, and I have to give credit to both the author of this text Jessica Gómez and to my beautiful yoga teacher who shared it, Pilar Gala the creator of the Shri Yoga Studio in Majadahonda, Madrid, Spain. I hope I can do it justice with the translation:
"Dear girl in the green bathing suit...
I'm the woman sitting in the towel next to yours. The one that came with a girl and a boy.
First of all, let me tell you that I'm having a wonderful time sitting here next to you and your group of friends, in this little space and time in which our paths have crossed, and in which your laughter, your transcendental conversations and the music from your stereo invade the air.
You know? I'm a little shocked to notice that I don't remember when I went from being there, to being here: from being "the girl" to being "the woman in the towel next to yours", from being the girl who comes with friends to the woman who comes with children.
But I'm not writing to you because of any of that. I'm writing to tell you I've noticed you, I've seen you and I haven't been able to stop.
I've seen you be the last one to take off your clothes.
I've seen you standing behind the group, hiding without anyone noticing, and taking off your shirt when you felt no one was looking. But I saw you. I wasn't watching but I saw you.
I saw you sitting on the towel with a very careful and measured posture, covering your stomach with your arms.
I saw you tucking your hair behind your ear while putting your head down, maybe so as not to move your arms from that casual yet thought out position.
I saw you stand up to go swimming and take a big nervous gulp for having to wait like that, standing up, exposed towards your friend, using your arms once again as a shift to cover up your stretch marks, your loose skin, your cellulite.
I saw you overwhelmed because of not being able to cover it all up while you stepped away from the group quietly, just like you did when you were taking off your shirt.
I'm not sure if this had anything to do with your discomfort with yourself, but the friend that you were waiting for was letting her long beautiful hair down her back, which was only missing a pair of Victoria's Secret wings. In the meantime, you were there, staring at the floor. Looking for a hiding place within yourself, from yourself.
And I would like to be able to tell you so many things dear girl in the green bathing suit... maybe because I, before being the woman who came with the girl and the boy, I have been there, on the towel where you stand.
I would like to be able to tell you that, in reality, I've been on your towel and on your friend's towel. I've been you and I've been her. And now I'm neither. or perhaps I'm both just the same- and if I could turn back time, I would choose to simply enjoy myself instead of worrying - or glorifying- about which of the two towels, hers or yours, I'd rather be on.
I'd like to be able to tell you that I saw a book in your bag, and that any stomach your 16 year old self has now, will probably lose it's tautness long before you lose your head.
I'd like to be able to tell you that you have a beautiful smile, and that it's a pity that you're so focused on covering up, you don't have time to smile more often.
I'd like to be able to tell you that that body you seem to be ashamed of, is beautiful just for being young. Heck! It's beautiful for being alive! For being cover and transportation for who you really are and for being able to go with you where you want to go.
I'd love to be able to tell you that I wish you could see yourself through the eyes of a 30 something woman because maybe then you'd realize how much you deserve to be loved, even by you.
I'd like to be able to tell you that the person that will one day love you, truly love you, won't love you in spite of your body but will love every inch of it: every curve, every dimple, every line, every freckle. They will love that map, unique and precious that is drawn across your body, and that if they don't, if they don't love you in this way, then they don't deserve your love.
I'd like to be able to tell you: believe me, believe me, believe me! You are perfect just as you are, sublime in your imperfection.
But what can I tell you since I am only the woman in the towel next to yours?
Although you know what? Today I came with my daughter, the girl in the pink bathing suit, the one that is playing in the river and is covering herself up with sand. Today she's only worried about whether or not the water is cold.
I cannot tell you anything dear girl in the green bathing suit...
But to her I will say everything.
And to my boy I will say everything too.
Because just like that's the way we all deserve to be loved,
That's how all of us should love in turn."
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