Editor’s note: this is the second half of a two-part interview with Jason Lillis, PhD, co-author of The Diet Trap: Feed Your Psychological Needs and End the Weight Loss Struggle Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. If you missed part one, you can check it out here.
How can you start making healthier habits by choice?
Find what deeply matters to you and start pursuing that. Try to see health changes as empowering your life, not replacing it. Start to practice mindfulness and acceptance to relate to your thoughts and feelings differently so you can step out of the fix-me trap. Find strength in self-compassion, and use that strength to make powerful changes in your life.
It may sound like a paradox, but in order to make powerful changes in your life it is helpful to accept yourself as is. Accepting means taking the person that you are, how you feel, and what you think, and saying that you are valid, as you are. It turns out that stance is a powerful form with which to effect change in your behavior. I say to my patients all the time you can’t control how you feel or what you think (that’s the acceptance piece) but you can control what you do each moment of the day (that is the change piece). So acceptance applies more to what’s happening inside you and your core worth, and validity and change applies to your behavior and what you want to be about as a person, what you want to do with your feet.
As you find you are becoming more accepting of what’s happening inside you, you may not need to struggle with changing any of these experiences in order to live the life you want to live. This can open you up to take powerful action with your behavior to pursue your core values. Think deeply about what truly matters to you in your life and pursue that right now, not only in the area of health, but also in relationships, at work, and beyond.
Why is it more important to change your mind’s relationship to negative thoughts about food than to try to change the thoughts themselves?
A couple of reasons. Changing thoughts is hard to do. In some cases, it is flat out impossible; in others it can be harmful because the thoughts you are trying to get rid of may come back stronger later. Also, while you are putting effort into changing your thoughts, you push the pause button on life. Time spent fighting your thoughts is time spent not living. Finally, your mind will always give you unhelpful and unwanted thoughts. It’s just not a viable long-term strategy.
What is the “enduring you,” and how can it help you with weight management?
The “enduring you” is a term we use to describe a transcendent sense of self. With practice, you can connect to the enduring you as a way of grounding yourself. A great thing about the enduring you is that it is unchanging. No matter what happens to you, how you feel, or what you think, a part of you has been there your whole life witnessing all that you do and all that happens to you, and it cannot be harmed or changed. In some deep way, you have been you your whole life. When you contact that continuity—when you become aware of how the essence of you stays the same no matter what, it can be an incredibly empowering place from which to make behavior changes. You may find you don’t need to change how you think or feel in order to change what you do. You don’t need to make your cravings go away by eating. You don’t need to feel motivated before exercising. Your shameful thoughts about your body weight don’t need to change for you to go to the gym or go on a date.
Tell us about avoidance and the “emotional t-rex.”
Avoidance feeds off itself. You may find that you eat in order to escape or avoid feeling sad or stressed. That’s like feeding a baby t-rex. The problem is, as you feed him, he gets bigger and demands more. That’s how emotional eating works. Now every time you are a little stressed, the t-rex demands to be fed. It’s a vicious cycle. By trying to avoid feeling a certain way you can unintentionally make the urges to avoid much more powerful. More and more of your life needs to be sacrificed in the name of changing how you feel.