Success Can Be As Defeating as Failure
When I launched my career as a dietitian with an MS degree in adult fitness/cardiac rehabilitation, I was filled with passion to transform lives. I created a weight loss program, called NUTREXERCISE, and thought I had the tools to help people lose weight. A woman – let’s call her Pat – joined the program and soon became the perfect participant. Her food diaries and exercise logs showed stellar compliance and her weight loss plotted like a textbook graph. By the end of the 12-week program, she had lost 15 pounds and 5% of her body fat. She was walking 5 miles every morning and feeling inspired about her new lifestyle. A few months later, I got a panicky phone call from Pat, who said, “Jean, I have a problem and need to talk to you.” I listened as she told me her story. With a shaky voice, Pat shared that when she swung her legs out of bed that morning, she saw “skinny legs.” Not seeing a problem, I applauded her hard work and success – which did not calm her down. She continued, “Then I reached into the cupboard and saw a skinny arm.” By this point, I had to say, “I’m sorry but I don’t see the problem.” Pat blurted out, “Jean you don’t understand. I’m starting to believe that I can be a thin person. What am I going to do? People might want to talk to me at parties – what am I going to say? I’m just Jim’s wife and no one talks to me. Maybe I need to go to college or get a job . . . I don’t know what to do.” Sadly, Pat regained her weight. A few years later, I ran into Pat. She had divorced Jim and was going to college, and some day she hoped to try losing weight again.
Pat’s story transformed my approach to weight loss counseling. I realized I was in over my head — my nutrition and exercise skills only touched the tip of the iceberg. Change was the bigger issue with all the challenges it entails. I also learned that fear of success can be as paralyzing as fear of failure.
Recently I read an amazing book, Transitions, by William Bridges, which frames the process of change in the context of universal truths derived from ancient cultures and tribal societies. He asserts that change is a physical or symbolic shift in our lives . . . getting married, having a child, getting divorced, losing a loved one, getting promoted, moving to a new city. Transition is the psychological and emotional adjustment that must accompany this change. The health applications of this process might be: quitting smoking, losing weight, lowering cholesterol, or quitting a stressful job. I will share more insights from Transitions in my future blogs.