Change -- the Personal Frontier

Please comment, or add your own topics/experiences!
Art Kessner, Ph.D.


Weight loss is an ever-present goal for so many of us, yet we fail to seek out the resources we need to achieve our objectives. This is because we fool ourselves into looking in all the wrong places, and then abandon the search when we fail to discover the secrets of successful control of our own bodies. Allow me to share some of my experiences and shed some light on some well known but rarely discussed secrets of our life as human beings.
First of all, we must always remember the sources of our hunger. Our bodies respond to stress in many ways, all designed to protect us from failing to maintain ourselves properly. Many times we experience pain or discomfort and realize fully that these are warnings signs that our biological bodies need care and attention. Perhaps it is the pain of injury, and we need medical attention. Perhaps it is the discomfort of disease, and we need rest or medication. Perhaps it is hunger and thirst, and we need food and drink; perhaps we choke and realize the need for cleaner air. However, there are other sources of pain and discomfort as well. We exercise, and then our muscles hurt. Do we decide to not exercise any more? Or do we feel positive about our persistent attempts to stretch our limits and perfect our discipline? When a woman feels the pain of childbirth, does she learn to avoid reproduction or does she (later) remember her child and accept her pain? When we try to race to an appointment along the hallways, stairwells, or streets of our working world, and arrive red-faced and short of breath, do we never feel a sense of accomplishment at our timely arrival, and forget the stress and discomfort the dash down the hall cause our overworked body?
Under some conditions we welcome pain as a warning, or as a badge of accomplishment. Under other conditions, of course, we find nothing in our pain but the distress at the discomfort and regrets about the cause. Often it is the intensity of the pain or the inappropriateness of the circumstance that causes us to regret the experience. Sometimes, however, we reject discomfort, calling it pain, when in fact we would accept the sensation with gratitude if we allow ourselves to realize the cause. We welcome a slight stiffening of our joints in the morning if we know it means the exercise program we worked so hard on yesterday is having its effect. We do not complain about the momentary shock of hot water on our dirty body under a fine shower, or cold water as we plunge into a refreshing pool for a swim.
So, what about hunger itself? Is it always a negative thing? Does it always represent deprivation, need, or nutritional insufficiency? Or is sometimes a welcome sign of success, or of progress, or of efforts well spent? This is a critical point, because it speaks to the most important thing we need to adjust when we want to lose weight. Attitude. With the proper attitude, we change pain into gain, literally. We also refocus our thoughts, and develop mindfulness. We shall speak more of mindfulness later on. Our attitude changes depravation into victory, and frustration into adventure. Also, we can adjust our view of what we see in the mirror. We can learn to change our attitude toward that person, and understand his or her more authentic self.
With these ideas in mind, I picture the process a bit differently than we usually depict our efforts to lose weight. There is a feeling of tightness inside you that distracts my thoughts and reminds of a distant pain. Those hunger pangs are signals from within telling my authentic self that my body understands what I’m trying to do, appreciates it, and is responding appropriately. I have eaten less today, and the effects are immediate. I feel them emerging from inside me.
The next day, the discomfort is still there, and another stress has emerged as well. I’m not only hungry; I’m now deprived. My favorite experiences are denied to me: my experience of eating as much as I can of those foods that make me feel like a complete person. Some call them comfort foods; some call them habits. I call them the false pleasures of the un-real me. There is a person underneath the one that is growing to large, too immobile, and too unsatisfied with daily living. That person is smaller, at least in some key areas of my body. That person enjoys a good meal, but enjoys other pleasures even more so.
There is an inner person who wants to be born, but birth is too painful and the womb is too comfortable. The womb is covered with layers of protective tissue that prevents strong interpersonal relationships, excuses inactivity, and hides the true person from the abuses of perceptive critics or personal adversaries. The birth would be preceded by unbearable labor pains: First the hunger, then the deprivation followed by frustration and an unquenchable drive to satisfy, ease, and relieve the twin biological needs to relieve stress and obtain adequate nutrition. Then there are pains of the birth itself, too momentous to contemplate. Not only will hunger burn and cravings tear at the nerve centers of this emerging being. It will be far worse than that. The new being will have to forge new relationships with new rules. This being is capable of strenuous activity, and will be expected to perform it. Come here, go there, and meet personal commitments long ignored within the protection of the food-built womb. New clothing must be purchased. It will fit better, and demand an attention to style and detail as the foggy displeasure of selecting a wardrobe gives way to the awesome choices and life-changing styling opportunities that sit on the shelves and hang on the racks of previously inaccessible shops and departments. This new person will have to contemplate food preparation in new, challenging ways. Fast food and quick meals will have to give way to planned menus and cooked delicacies.
These are all painful, difficult experiences for one simple reason – nobody, regardless of their physical or emotional state, wants to freely give up who they are. We do not want to wake from our dream and find out we are not the person who we have always believed ourselves to be. We do not want to lose all the protective ideas and ideations that our minds and bodies have provided us to prevent dealing with so many stresses and challenges that the world will throw on my new emerging body and self. Changing our identity and seeing a new person in the mirror is probably the most difficult, frightening part of trying to lose weight, despite the advertisements that show tempting before-and-after pictures.
Those pictures are not pictures of me. If they were, it  would be a frightening experience. The clothes that used to fit, no longer fit. In fact, they will not stay on my true body, which has always been locked inside the heavier protected version of my being, too small to accommodate so much cloth. So I look at the old clothes that are no longer mine, and must ask a horribly difficult question. Who was that person who wore these clothes? Will I return? Will I miss him? What of the old life, the old values, and the old blind comforts? Am I now alone, exposed, and vulnerable? Will I lose the sympathy of my friends and family, and the invisibility among my peers? Where do I go from here? These are the questions of the newborn. The emerging self must be prepared to cope with being revealed for who I really am.
How can we cope with this painful birth and enjoy the process of change that we know is ultimately to our great benefit? Significant weight loss, whether significant because of magnitude or simply because of new levels of control and discipline in our lives, is a goal worthy of pursuit. The pursuit of such a goal should bring pleasure, not pain. Even those who expound “no pain -no gain” philosophies enjoy the process of change that those overly simplified slogans represent. What they really mean is, no pain – no proof of success, and they know that. Now I know it, too.
There are many tools at our disposal to help us cope with the fear of birth and the reluctance to face our emerging bodies. I have collected a list that is not a small, but is complete because I add to it each time I struggle with myself. Let’s look at some of  these tools one at a time. We will close by suggesting ways to enhance this list as needs arise.
Find foods that are healthier but still can be satisfying to my need to be comforted, rewarded, or vindicated. Do not choose foods that are a punishment for my lack of accomplishment. Beware of foods that give solace only because they represent a passive-aggressive suicide, appeal for sympathy, or excuse for inaction. Better yet, find an activity that can totally substitute for comfort food. However, remember to avoid activity that is a substitute punishment or represents a defeat of my personal goals. Examples of this kind of substitution would be alcohol, imprudent behavior, antisocial or asocial behavior, and other such negative temptations under the guise of food substitute. That would be merely moving from the pan to the flame.
Plan my meals and my snacks carefully in order to avoid the mirror image mistakes of either eating the wrong food or depriving myself of sincere pleasures that I will not be able to forgo forever. Portion control is key, of course. Learn to enjoy one or two bites of that fresh homemade pie rather than depriving myself, and rather than diving in with blind capitulation. It is said that many small meals are better than a couple of large meals. Sometimes I snack during the day and cuts down on portions at lunch and dinner, but still feel like I’m is cheating because food is always included in daily activity beyond the regular meals. Allocation therefore requires the discipline of learning about nutrition and portion control but also requires that my attitude toward healthy snacks be positive and not self-destructive. This can take a lot of work, but the reward is worthwhile – being able satisfy my nutritional needs even when it is not time for a major meal, and feeling good about my efforts at self-control.


The freedom to eat whatever I wish to eat, whenever I wish to eat, is a goal we all strive for. Hoping that my appetites will always be satisfied and that my behavior is always acceptable seems both desirable and somehow morally dangerous. True freedom comes when I no longer crave food as a substitute for whatever it is I need that is unrelated to biological nutrition. I must free myself from emotional links to unwarrented activity in order to unveil my true power of free choice as a self-confident, comfortable human being.


This is the key to true freedom and self-esteem. Simply put, the term refers to our ability to be totally aware of what we are doing at any particular moment. Too often I will act without thinking –  without paying attention – without being mindful of the consequences of my actions. The old joke is, “ready,fire,aim”. Our hunger, or rather our appetite, controls actions that should be controlled by my mindful brain.
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