A few months back I reviewed the book The Weight Escape, written by a team of psychologists dedicated to exploring the science of being overweight, from a psychological perspective. Here I’m talking about a workshop series run by the authors that you might like to consider as part of your new year (new you?) planning.
The book focuses on weight loss, obviously, but also proposes techniques of value to anyone striving for a more positive self image or productive approach to health and well-being. In brief, it suggests we forget fad diets and fitness crazes, throw away the scales and start living. Sounds easy? It’s not. At least not at first. In the words of that blonde New Zealander who’s name escapes me, ‘it won’t happen overnight…’ I’ve been at it for several months now and it’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s by far the best approach to weight loss from a mental health perspective that I’ve experienced. I won’t rehash all the book’s messages here, but you can read my review or jump over to the The Weight Escape website for more info if you need it.
The Weight Escape workshop program
If you’ve read the book – or not – and you’d like to know more, the writing team also run workshops around Australia during the year. I was lucky enough to join in with one of these sessions in Brisbane and it took the book’s ‘teachings’ to a whole new level for me. It was friendly and interactive with plenty of laughs – and each workshop is followed up with an 8 week online ‘bootcamp’ to reinforce the theories. It’s appropriate for the general public, but also for psychologists, doctors, allied health workers or weight loss consultants who might like to open their minds to some new ways of thinking about weight loss and obesity.
The Weight Escape workshop was held in the conference room of an inner city hotel and came complete with morning and afternoon tea, handouts and a free pen. It was very standard workshop fare – nothing scary or medical, and no hard sell. The idea of the day is to unpack and explain the book’s theories in a congenial space, so that individuals working with the concepts can work better; whilst health professionals can go forth and use the theories with their clients. Our host for the day was Joseph Ciarrochi, Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Sydney and human being who has fought and won his own weight battles in his day. He was welcoming, professional and passionate about his topic and very approachable for questions.
Making the theoretical tangible
I had already read the book before attending the workshop, so the theories were familiar. But there’s something about physically putting an idea into practice that cements it in your mind in a whole different way. For example, there is no restrictive dieting involved in The Weight Escape. Rather, you are encouraged to eat whatever you like, but to eat it mindfully. To demonstrate, we each took a small square of chocolate and were asked to take a full minute to eat it.
How long would it normally take you to eat a square of Cadbury Dairy Milk? Would you even actually taste it as it went down?
Strangely enough, if you let it just sit on your tongue and dissolve at its own pace, or roll it around slowly without swallowing, it begins to taste much different. Some participants reported a pleasurable appreciation; for others (like me) it seemed overly sweet, sticky and quite unpleasant. I’ve read about mindful eating one thousand times, but it was only after that intense experience that it really ‘clicked’.
Similarly, I was slung way out of my comfort zone by being the guinea pig for a demonstration about negative self talk. In this scenario, I was asked to pull on a length of rope while my ‘negative self talk’ (embodied by Ciarocchi) pulled hard on the other end. This gave the metaphor of ‘struggling’ with your inner voice a physical, visible dimension. I pulled on the rope, almost tripping, beginning to tire, while my ‘voice’ said things like ‘You’ll never do it. You’ve failed before, why would it work this time? You just don’t have it in you. It’s not fair.’
Have you ever considered the way you play tug-o-war with yourself some days? All that energy wasted on struggle that could be redirected towards exercise, or innovation, or fun!
If only we could let go of the rope; or, as was also demonstrated, learn to walk around with one hand on the rope but not allow ourselves to be controlled by it. Inspired by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, this book – and the workshop – propose ways of accepting that negative emotions like doubt, fear, regret or envy WILL happen, but they don’t need to dictate your actions. ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, if you like.
Follow it up in your own time
Like the book, the workshop is followed up with a series of ‘bootcamps’ (the final chapters of the book, and in email version following the workshop). These emails make all the slides and handouts from the day available, along with a bunch of other resources like food diaries, and the important ‘choice point’ diagram (which you’ll see a lot of throughout the book!). Whilst the book and workshop are pitched at anyone, the emails did lean more towards being of help to psychologists or other health professionals, but I’m aware that the team is working on revising the email program in 2015.
For a lot of people, being overweight is the result of a big, complex web of psychological interactions – nothing as simple as laziness or ignorance, like the news headlines might have us believe sometimes. People engaged in the ‘struggle’ get this, but there are others – including health professionals and policy makers – who don’t. I would love to see a more widespread understanding of these concepts by those who are quick to criticise. The good news for us as individuals is that once you acknowledge the pointlessness of struggling, and the fact that most ‘diets’ and other fad approaches are actually setting you up for failure, you can make a commitment to live differently. The same goes for many areas of your life (parenting? career progression?)for which your ‘inner voice’ gets in the way.
Workshops currently are scheduled for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the coming months. Keep an eye on the website for a date near you. If you happen to be a psychologist, physio, nurse or similar, this counts as PD (the reason for at least half the attendees being there on the day I attended). For anyone else, it’s not so cheap, admittedly, but if you’ve enjoyed the book, or you’re simply really ready to escape the struggle, you’ll gain a lot from the workshop.
I received a complimentary spot at the Brisbane workshop, but all opinions are my own.