by Michelle April
…Emotional fat that is. I almost apologized for the title until I realized: this title is attracting the right people - either people are infuriated with it or are interested in losing weight. The ubiquity of this headline has me feeling nauseous. It appears all too frequently because sellers are selling weight loss plans in great proportion. If they were not, there would be fewer weight loss ads. Antisocial capitalists that think in bottom lines and don’t have feelings are preying on the insecurities of real people who do. The message is that you are not good enough.
Optimal body weight is important for health – I am not here to dismiss this as true. Science proves that excess bodyweight creates all kinds of health problems; however, I will argue that weight gain and weight loss start with our emotions and unobserved emotions manifest in unwanted thoughts and behaviours. It is really important to work through them in order to live optimally in any aspect of life whether it be in health, career or relationships.
I won’t smarm this up by saying you are beautiful, you are perfect just as you are, and so on. I won’t utter a single platitude. Nope. Of course I believe these things to be true but not in the way that you might think. On first glance, after we lift the hood on our emotions all that may stand out is the mess. I know how easy it is to slam that hood down and run. Heck, why not put the thing in neutral until the whole awful mess rolls off a cliff?
If our emotions are the motor of a car, there probably is old motor oil coating a perfectly sound motor. Maybe a couple of wires need replacing. Perhaps a new battery is needed. Otherwise the motor itself is perfect and beautiful – it just needs a little care. You are perfect and beautiful or you would be something else (okay, just one platitude). There just may be a grand plan for you. Just because you don’t know what that plan is, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
You are not alone. Be grateful you don’t live under the cliff where emotions are dropping like avoidance bombs. If you are living under there – move!
Now to the point: Lose that fat. I am not talking about body fat. I’m talking about the emotional fat that sends a message to your real fat to stockpile what you can as a means to protection. From what? I don’t know. This is for you to figure out. To start, losing emotional fat means accepting you and your human messiness. Being a regular, everyday, messed up human being does not limit potential, but not accepting your human condition does. When your self-esteem suffers, your momentum in life suffers.
“Losing emotional fat is a lifetime process.”
Are you afraid of your true potential? Have you disowned yourself? If so, then what causes it? Are you protecting yourself from current sexuality because of past trauma? What are you protecting yourself from? Working out this emotional fat is in keeping with living an intentional life. In my view, this is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Not solving this has us binge eating, puffing away on smokes and drinking our faces off resulting in sleeping with people we’ve never met before. These things are not good or bad – they just may not align with our values.
In allowing the emotional fat to win by not accepting ourselves we just create more messiness.
Ridding emotional fat is a time consuming endeavor. This will not happen overnight. Losing emotional fat is a lifetime process. Once you start, you will take many steps forward and then you will inevitably regress. It is a drunkard’s walk. Progress is not straight forward, nor is it straight backward.
I have worked with numerous people in counselling and art therapy who are in a state of euphoria in the first two or three sessions. They exclaim it! They say, I feel sooooo light inside! Like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It is amaaaaaaaaaazing. Then on week four I hear, I just want to off myself. This is not working. I hate all people. This sucks. From a therapeutic perspective I am rejoicing for them. They are uncovering the real gelatinous fat and shooting a hot blowtorch at it. It hurts. It burns. It takes time, and you can still go on with the business of living while you engage in this process.*
I’m not one to sit around and spin tires in the past ad nauseum, but it is necessary a lot of the time. We don’t have to stay there long, but we do have to understand the root cause of current behavior so that we can untangle the mess of it in the present. This is about taking responsibility for how we are now no matter what made us this way. Sometimes that old stuff is still playing out in our current behaviours. What helped way back then is serving a purpose now, but it is not serving us as well. And how would we know unless we look closer. Before you put the car in neutral and shove it off the cliff, be curious about it. Have a look-see.
There are all kinds of views framed in theories. People enter the therapeutic realm at their individual stages of understanding their emotional fat. That’s exactly where you begin. Begin where you are at.
It is great to get professional help with sorting and processing emotions but you can start on your own. Here are six helpful things to consider:
1. STRENGTHS: Take an inventory of what is going well for you. What are your strengths? This question serves two purposes: first as a means to notice/acknowledge what you do well as a result of your history, and second, as a means to transfer some of these skills to other areas that are not going so well. A strength of mine is that I have managed to continue growing through all kinds of adversity. I am good at finding strengths in others so that I may learn from them. I am compassionate and about as non-judgmental as a person can be. I am able to complete a project under tight deadlines. This is how you look at strengths.
2. WHAT IS NOT SO STRONG: Take an inventory of what is not going as well for you. What happens in a typical day that you want to be different? In looking at the answers to these questions, approach it with non-judgment. Pretend you are looking at someone else’s life. Be compassionate toward this person. Following this, determine what happens around the ‘unsightly event’. For example, if you are trying really hard to quit smoking and you slip up on occasion, what is going on around and during the smoking event? Write this down. Track it. Build awareness. If you binge eat, what is the cue that prompts the binge? Are you bored in that moment, are you responding to a stressor? Where is the stressor coming from? Be curious about your own behaviours, thoughts and feelings. Look at the answers to number one above. Where might you draw on strengths in these moments?
3. VALUES: This consideration is important - What do you value? Who and what do you value? Now look at one and two above. Do these concepts align with your values? If we know who and what it is that we value, it is easier to keep these in close range in conjunction with applying our strengths in order to live with greater intention.
4. TRIGGERS: Understand what triggers you, the behaviour to follow and the benefit of the behaviour. For example, when I am triggered by stress, I might have a drink and then I reach for a cigarette. The benefit of this is I get to slam down the hood of the car, put it in neutral and roll it off the cliff. The benefit is I can escape the pain of the present moment. Not bad. Easy too. If I am aware that this is what I am doing, then I have more agency to choose a different method to self-sooth.
5. ALTERNATIVE BEHAVIOUR PLAN: Plan alternative methods. If I am aware of: stress, drink, smoke, crash, then I am able to have a plan in place to choose over this one. It might look like this: stress, drink water, breath deeply and be with and accept the pain.
6. HISTORY: In considering all of the above, reach back into the archives of your memory. Where did these adaptive ways of behaving begin? How do you feel about those beginnings? What did that wounded child really need in a given moment? How can you give that to this perfectly messed up person now?
The key to this list of considerations is awareness. When we do this we place ourselves in the position of being able to choose our next move.
I repeat: you are not alone in your struggles. Love that fat. It has been good to you. It has been a conduit between you and the world. It has protected you from harm. Love that fat AND the you underneath it. Thank that fat.
* To qualify, in a minority of cases, medical channels and medication is required. Not all people are able to simply work through their emotional baggage with therapy and DIY approaches. This said, and on the bright side, more often than not I witness people who appear destitute on first glance and therapy alone worked for them.