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New Year – New Me

Most of us make resolutions each New Year. Perhaps resolutions such as losing weight or not losing your temper.  Efforts to reinvent oneself are reasons that people often come to see a therapist, but usually only after the resolution has failed and the same old unhelpful behaviours have kicked in again. Why does this happen? One reason may be that people are simply not psychologically equipped to make the necessary changes to achieve the goal that has been set.

ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) can help. Consider Susan (not her real name) a classic “yo-yo” dieter. She felt depressed, had little confidence and hated her body. As a consequence she avoided physical contact with her husband and withdrew from her friends. She avoided activity so that others could not see her body in exercise clothes. This made her feel bad about herself and when she felt bad about herself she ate more and when she ate more she put on weight and so on. It’s easy to see the vicious cycle.

During her first therapy session we listed all the attempts that she had made to lose weight, how they had failed and what this had cost her emotionally, physically and financially. Then she connected with some of the things that really mattered to her, such as being a loving partner and a conscientious employee. She noticed that the more she bought-in to the stories her mind told her “that I will be happier and more confident when I am slim”, and “I’m not good enough”, the further she moved away from the things that were important to her.

In subsequent sessions, Susan learned how to open up to who she was and she learned skills to help her live in the present moment and experience the feelings that she tried to get rid of by eating. She learned to pay less attention to the “if only” and “what if” thoughts that ran through her mind. She learned to set realistic goals that were in line with her values – “I want to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly – and if I lose weight that’s a bonus”. Then she learned how to change her behavior by accurately describing her hunger sensations and then “surfing” her urges to eat.

It sounds simple and it wasn’t easy. Yes Susan did lose weight, but most importantly she reconnected with her values and was able to live a much richer, fuller life whilst doing so.

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