Facing up to fear

I had to go for a routine hospital test yesterday – nothing worrisome but it was going to be a slightly odd experience and everyone I told about it seemed very concerned at the description – but me, I was more bothered by the fact that I could only have a ‘light’ breakfast beforehand. I didn’t think my giant bowl of porridge could be classified as a light meal by any definition, and I was really annoyed by the idea of an interruption to my ‘food routine’. Of course, in the end it was completely fine to start the day with fruit instead of oats and thankfully the test results were all good too.

But the experience was a useful reminder to me of what lots of people, myself included, experience before embarking on a new healthy eating plan. I may be an extreme example of it, but most of us are fairly set in our ways when it comes to what we choose to eat, and no-one enjoys the prospect of a radical shake-up in their snack and meal choices.

It’s all about the Fear Factor; in this case fear of making a change. Sometimes that might be the fear of what life will look like without recourse to the usual favourite comfort foods. Sometimes it might be a fear of what life will look like without the old security blanket of being the ‘fat one’. It sounds counterintuitive, but no matter how much someone desperately longs to be thin, the idea of essentially morphing into a completely different person, who doesn’t have the same excuses to hide in the shadows anymore, can be a terrifying one.

The Fear Factor often rears its ugly head again at the scales, before the first weigh in. I’ve had members who cry, members who ask me not to tell them what they weigh, and members who get on and off the scales several times, refusing to believe the number they see in front of them. Facing that fear is a major achievement and one that should never be belittled. But it’s an essential step in the journey and can be turned around into a huge motivating factor for success. Unfortunately, it’s usually the case that those members who do ask me to hide the number from them rarely stick around for long – because if you don’t face it, how can you fight it?

Indeed, the solution to overcoming the Fear Factor is a simple one – face the fear and it melts away. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from seeing the excitement bubbling up in my members as they discover the joys of eating healthily despite their previous concerns about cutting back. When I see members getting involved in trying new foods, learning to love new dishes and sharing healthy recipes, I can practically see the cogs turning in their mind and i know that if they can maintain that level of enthusiasm for their new lifestyle, they will simply be unable to fail. That in itself is a big reason why staying for the meeting talk is of such significance in a member’s success. Those who just pop in to get weighed are to all intents and purposes ‘going it alone’ whereas those who integrate themselves into the group will find themselves absorbing the enthusiasm of other members even when their own levels of motivation are somewhat waning.

Similarly, while seeing the numbers on the scale for the first time can be extremely daunting, facing up to the truth is powerful and once the pounds start coming off, it’s almost like a drug, the high is so incredible.

Of course, no-one is perfect and the fear tries to find every possible avenue to slip back in. Those weeks when you’ve strayed from the path a little bit, snuck in a few extra treats or overdone it over Shabbat – once again you find yourself searching for every possible excuse to avoid getting in the scales. “I’ll skip getting weighed this week,” you tell yourself, “take a week to rein it back in and go back again next week once I’ve been good’. Now more than ever is the time to face up to your fears and just push yourself to go and face the music. I’d estimate that eight times out of 10 the results are nowhere near as bad as the member expects them to be. You might not have lost weight but you might not have gained either. Or if you did gain it is rarely as much as you expected to. Facing the fear jolts you back to reality, yanks your head out of the sand and hugely improves your chances of getting back on track. Those who assume the ostrich stance may find it much harder to find the light of day again and one week off quickly turns into three or four or five.

While it’s my job to try and make my meeting as welcoming as possible and to maintain contact with the members between meetings so they know they always have a recourse for help and advice, ultimately it’s up to the individual to find it within themselves to face the fear, no matter what the circumstances surrounding its appearance.

Those who do face up to their weight-related fears, in whatever guise, will get to experience the exhilaration that follows. One new member recently told me that he was able to get up and put some hours into his business on a Sunday for the first time ever, because he hadn’t eaten himself into a stupor over Shabbat. Another keeps texting me to ask if she really ought to feel this full while ‘dieting’! The dawning realisation in moments like these is joyous to behold and I feel so privileged to be able to share in a little bit of that emotion and reconnect to what I myself felt when I was losing my weight.

To sum up, weight loss fears stem largely from a sense that one is out of control. Facing up to the fears reasserts control and turns them into an almost tangible power. It’s one of the many keys to weight loss success. Oh, and in case you were wondering; I wrote this while enjoying a large skinny cappuccino and a couple of oat biscotti. Porridge – feh, who needs it!

About the Author
Judy Silkoff is a wife and mother of four residing in North West London. With a degree in English literature Judy had a career as a freelance journalist for a range of Jewish publications before moving into the charity world. She now works full-time for a communal organisation while running a weekly Weight Watchers meeting in Hendon, NW London. Helping her members achieve their weight loss goals is her passion, and Judy considers her own weight loss and lifestyle changes to be one of her greatest achievements, after her family.
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