As 2018 begins, many of us make New Year's resolutions. According to studies, the most common of these promises is to lose weight. We start off, guns blazing. We promise ourselves that we'll never eat a whole pizza or coffeecake again. We promise to work out extra-hard to blast those unwanted pounds away— and as a result, gyms and health clubs enjoy a sharp spike in their membership enrollment this time of year.
We're gung-ho! For a while. Then January turns to February, and soon it's June, and it's time to put on shorts or a swimsuit, but, sadly, the pounds remain right where we left them. Maybe we melted off a few inches, or even a dress-size, in those early months, but they've returned. Summer turns to fall, fall to winter, and next year, we make the same resolutions. With the same results.
As a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist, for over 30 years, I've devoted my practice to helping patients learn how to get to their desired weight, and maintain them for a minimum of seven years on average. The reason that many health and fitness New Year's resolutions generally don't work is that most people don't realize that a profound, authentic learning experience is required. It starts with honesty and new habit formation.
By honesty, I mean being honest with yourself in consciously recognizing everything you eat and do on a detailed level, but also realizing that much of the language around food, eating, weight-loss, exercise and fitness has a negative, punitive sting. If you're feeling desperate, you may be attracted to the idea of punishment. Desperation is the root of many New Year's resolutions, but the cold sweat of this brutality only motivates us for a short time. Soon, we burn out and return to our soothing, comforting old patterns, where we perceive ourselves with shame.
But know this: feelings of reward and success are far more enduring as forms of behavioral nourishment. They are a complete meal will give you a steady burn of strength and energy for much longer than a few weeks. Basing your New Year's vision on reward and success will allow you to create habits that can last a lifetime.
To get your body to look and feel the way you want it to requires that you literally change your mind, and retrain your brain with a few new, almost unnoticeable changes in habit to get the weight off and keep it off. A more trim, sleek shape begins in your head—train your brain and your body will follow! Think of it like learning how to more efficiently swing a tennis racket or golf club. Making a few minor adjustments in your posture and the way you hold the racket or club can make a world of difference in your swing, which can last you a lifetime.
Remember, to create habits with staying-power, you need to design your own individual eating plan, based on your own authentic likes, dislikes and experiences. Someone else's rigid diet or fitness regimen probably won't work for you, although you can get useful information and inspiration from them.
Ways to make your New Year's Resolutions a greater success:
1. Count to 21.
Neurologists and other scientists agree: new habits are formed in our human central nervous system in 21 days, based on daily repetition of the new behavior. This includes, for instance, quitting tobacco. Generally, if you get through 21 days of the new practice, the new habit is pretty securely set. This means you have a good chance of maintaining the new behavior indefinitely, even when compensating for occasional setbacks.
2. Set yourself up for an immediate win.
Complete an emotionally neutral activity every day for 21 days to set up a new reward pattern. Don't make highly stressful, dramatic changes in lifestyle. I suggest that you set a daily goal for yourself that isn't painful to deal with. Do it consistently every day for 21 days to set up a pattern of winning, success and reward in your brain and body. Examples: Commit to flossing your teeth twice a day, every day for 21 days. Or, commit to drinking a big glass of water every morning, even before coffee, every morning. Draw a big heart on each calendar day where you keep your promise to yourself. Give yourself credit for consistency— neurologically speaking, you've created a new habit by Day 22.
3. Apply your attitude of success to how you deal with food.
Begin applying this pattern of reward to how you eat. Begin by honestly observing and recording what you eat, when and why you eat. The goal is to change the behaviors that cement unwanted pounds on your body. Observe yourself, and note what you observe. This will allow you to plan your eating, and respond to food in different ways, to allow you to shed weight and keep it off successfully.
4. Create an authentic pattern for success which is unique to you.
This world is full of reformers, and many of them take a rough, Marine Corps-style approach. In fact, the “boot camp" metaphor is applied widely to all sorts of training and learning. This “boot camp" style has a moralistic, even menacing tone at times.
I take a more nurturing approach. Just as every child learns to speak, read, write, play, interact and so on in her or his individual way, you will do best with your weight management if you create a pattern that is authentic to you. Don't allow yourself to bullied by what other people say is right.
Don't say that you will never eat chocolate again. If chocolate is important to you, build it into your new habit. Accept it. Also, if chocolate is one of your personal favorites, prepare a coping plan when you encounter the random chocolate birthday cake at the office. Surprise! Have a practiced response in place to deal with the unexpected.
5. Food is not the enemy. So enjoy it.
Food issues are often lumped into the same therapeutic conversations as alcohol, cigarettes and addictive drugs. Our bodies cannot function without food. The same cannot be said for those other substances. Part of creating your self-management plan is remembering that food is here to serve our bodies. There is no shame in biting into something that tastes delicious, thrills our senses, fills our bellies, nourishes us on a cellular level, and gives us the opportunity to socialize with other human beings. To achieve and maintain your best weight, you don't need to hate food. You need to create a good relationship with it.
6. Your body is not the enemy. So cherish it.
People who have a history of struggling with weight may have ambivalence about their bodies. Creating new habits of reward and success around food can be deeply helpful when we want to release negative body-feelings and move on. In addition to creating new patterns around eating, use your self-management practice as the opportunity to appreciate your most essential physical self. Treat your body to a massage as often as you can. Moisturize your feet, heels, elbows and other areas of your skin you may typically overlook. Instead of a quick shower, try a luxurious, medium-warm bath with an aromatherapy soak.
7. Keep learning and adapting your food and exercise plan.
Although I advocate planning, this world is filled with unexpected surprises. I honestly think that the unexpected—a sudden thunderstorm, even—keeps us alert, alive, and always opening to experience. Surprises expand our awareness. So we need to be agile and flexible in our self-management.
You cannot control the world, and in fact, I'm not so sure any of us would want to. But, we can control how we respond.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."