Blog 31: Managing Our Weight

Written by Jim Sheehy

We regularly struggle with the basics of health: sleep, exercise and diet.  In a way, these bodily behaviours reflect accurately the state of our mind.  If my sleep is restless, my exercise non-existent and my eating and drinking mindless there is a lot of negativity floating around my head.  But let's focus on managing weight. If my 'Healthy' self is conscious of needing to reduce weight but my 'Soothing' self can't live without excess, a conflict begins - firstly in my own head and then with others who are concerned.   

Everybody’s journey into over-eating is different, and our journey in managing weight will be different.  Having excess weight happens when we are mindless or self-soothing in an unhealthy way:  mindless when simply not doing the maths – if I eat 2 burgers rather than one then my body needs and consumes one for energy and stores the other as excess fat and protein.  When self-soothing, our emotions are sad / angry / anxious / depressed and eating my 2 burgers and a pint of beer allows me 10 minutes escape from the pain or boredom.  When managing weight, we choose to be mindful whenever we consume and we bring our wounded emotions to a healthy zone for healing: nature, friends, therapy, activities. 

The missing piece in changing from mindless / self-soothing to mindful / healthy coping strategies is motivation.  Why bother?  The motivation to change has to be rooted in a reason for staying and feeling alive.  Staying alive can mean different things to different people: for some, it is conditional on my quality of life –‘So what if obesity and related health consequences shortens this very boring and average life I’m experiencing; I might ss well have those daily pleasure-highs in over-eating and drinking.’  So, until such a person chooses the option to change that belief system of ‘me…bored … average …powerless … trapped … lonely’ there will be little chance of change in behaving recklessly with his or her heart, lungs, body-image and social profile.  To change, only that person can choose the time when they are honest in their vulnerability and simply say:  ‘now I need to explore the mix that makes up who I actually experience in being ME and what support system I need to scaffold my journey of change – people, pets, nature, therapist or doctor, activities and groups’.  Such a big choice to make and such hard work – no wonder many never think the time is right to change or, in many cases, start but lose heart quite quickly. 

So managing weight has to begin its journey by strengthening my thinking and feeling worlds.  In my head the record needs to change from ‘I am a waste of space, invisible, taken for granted, a blob etc.’ to ‘I have a voice, I can say yes or no, I deserve to be listened to.’  Changing beliefs automatically changes feelings – and then we can look at body and behaviour.  Once the headspace has thoughts around ‘respect, care, boundaries’ the body and the head automatically have an urgent conversation.  The body wants to image and reflect this change in attitude toward myself and others.  This is the fuel of motivation.

Weight management has to be seen as the natural outcome of knowing what gifts / skills / strengths I actually accept as mine, then liking the particular mix of personality and character I am, and then celebrating ‘the me I accept and like’ in public with family, friends and strangers. Your body is no longer your enemy that you carry around like a rubbish sack but a ‘long neglected friend’ that you meet up with and begin to love again, one day at a time.  I cannot emphasise enough that it is near impossible to change in this fundamental and positive way without an inner circle of support – friends, pets, activities that you have chosen to trust, sharing honestly each other’s vulnerability and strength.  I am not talking of dependence – the inner circle of support is 50/50 give and receive in what you offer the chosen trust-figures and what they receive from you.

Also necessary on your journey is the invitation and challenge to remove or at least reduce stressors and triggers.  These are gateways that seduce and trick me into temporarily filling the empty hole that has nothing to do with hunger.  This is where a few sessions of therapy or life coaching might be essential to learn more about this ‘empty hole’ that has possibly been there for a long time.  Also, to input from the start a strategy around ‘Relapse Prevention’.  It's very easy to fall off the wagon unless we're very careful to prevent relapse.

There are always triggers that stimulate your potential to unleash the harsh inner critic leading you to consider giving in to an urge or a craving.

The first set of triggers are environmental triggers and this might be something as simple as seeing nice smelling food or your friend coming in the door with your favourite brand of alcohol. 

Biological triggers are when your body begins to crave something such as pangs of hunger, thirst or something you need to overcome the experience of tiredness or low blood sugar.

Then we have mental triggers.  This could be seeing something tempting on TV adverts, or something that entices you to try products of delicious food.

And then we have emotional triggers.  This could be eating for comfort or to distract yourself.  Or eating to keep some unpleasant feelings away such as anger, sadness, boredom or stress.

There are social triggers.  This is where the people we know tempt us to eat, smoke, drink etc and we find it difficult to just say no to those things that we know are doing us no good at all.

There are three ways to change your responses to these triggers.

First of all, don't give yourself a choice. Stand firm. Decide no and stick to it.  You know the craving starts to subside the moment that you say no. But as long as you are undecided then your cravings will continue to get stronger.

Number two, label the feeling. Recognize that it's just a craving.  It's not hunger nor is it really as intense as it seems to be.

Instead, ask yourself what do you really want?

What is it that you're truly longing for?

Is there some need or some emotion that's not being met?

Number three, imagine how you would feel if you really did give in to your craving.  How long will that ‘good feeling’ last? How long would you indulge for?

These three strategies will help to prevent relapse if you can remain mindful of the fact that the environment, your body, your mind, your feelings and your social life contain so many triggers that might cause you to fall off the wagon.

So make a list of those triggers and when you go out into the world, know that you are better prepared.

Finally, be compassionate. I learnt when I was in my 20s that I could go two routes in life. One was trying to control every aspect of every hour of every day. I found this exhausting and non-productive. I needed to learn a new way. This was when I trust myself, let go and have a conversation. Let me give you an example. Because of my multiple sclerosis, it is helpful for me to do physiotherapy, daily if possible. If I approach this by commanding  ‘I must, I can’t’ then I will succeed for a time through willpower  but then rebel and stop physiotherapy altogether. Instead, I say to myself ‘I have a relationship with physiotherapy and I need to trust myself that I will do enough each week’. In this way I don’t nourish the harsh critic in me and yo-yo between perfection and abject failure.   if I fail one particular day , that’s just today.  Next day, because I feel a bit better, I do the physio in a calm, relaxed way.  In the same way, if you fail on a particular day or week to achieve your goal of eating in a healthy manner, be kind and begin again.

Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and blog through the website – see

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.



Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


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