How to Think Your Way to Skinny

Why visualisation is the secret to your weight loss success.

Everything you can imagine is real. Pablo Picasso

My colleagues were laughing at me. I had spent all morning printing out logos of the companies that I wanted as my customers, and was now proudly looking at the collage hanging at my desk. “Do you really think that wishful thinking will help?” a colleague said.

I didn’t care what they said, as I am a firm believer that what I focus on is what I attract into my life. As per the advice of the wealth classic Think and Grow Rich, I had written my target salary on my vision board at home. It was a bold goal: more than three times the highest earnings that I had ever made.

A few months after creating my logo collage at work, I was the one laughing: I had closed major sales to most of the companies. Not only had I achieved my salary goal, but exceeded it.

If you have ever tried to lose weight, I am sure that you are familiar with the concept of visualisation. Perhaps you have used a picture of a slim and beautiful celebrity on your fridge, to deter you from late-night snacking? Did it work?

There is a good chance that it didn’t. Research shows that when we only visualise the goal, we take for granted that the journey will be easy. (Why would we ever think that looking like a Hollywood star would be difficult?) When we then inevitably encounter obstacles, we get shocked and tend to give up.

Perhaps a bigger issue with using images of “perfect” bodies when losing weight is how hopeless it can feel. The vision is so farfetched that it’s more depressing than encouraging.

At least that is how I felt when I lost control of my body weight a few years ago. I had been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed the wrong medication. The drugs had horrible side effects: among them hair loss and weight gain.

I was waking up every morning with large chunks of hair spread around me in my bed. I had an insatiable appetite. It didn’t help that I felt like crying every time I saw my balding, bloated mess in the mirror: I ate even more to comfort myself.

My weight gain made me feel disgusted and embarrassed about myself. I just wanted to hide. Having sex was awkward. I felt compelled to apologise and clap my hands in gratitude for anyone being willing to associate with my swelling body.

If anyone had suggested a visualisation exercise of myself with a skinny body and thick, flowing hair, I would have had a rage attack. I couldn’t stand my body and to think about it only made me feel depressed.

Researchers have now found a more successful approach to visualisation: to visualise yourself in action towards your goal. Because while there might be limits to the awesomeness of our final look, we do have control over the actions that we are taking.

Back in my sales role, I was not using the poster with company logos for wishful thinking. Instead, it was a reminder of the actions that I needed to take to achieve my goal. The vision gave me fuel for the numerous calls, meetings and emails I had to keep going with to close the sales eventually.

Today, I’m at my target weight. The turning point came a couple of years ago when I found the Bulletproof Diet.

Cutting sugar and unhealthy carbs and choosing healthy fats, grass-fed protein and lots of vegetables instead did wonders to my emotional wellbeing. My mood stabilised, and my doctor realised that the bipolar disorder diagnosis had been incorrect. I quit the damaging prescription drugs and lost all excess weight on my new diet.

I don’t waste energy thinking about my weight these days, but I’m also not taking it for granted. As part of my daily morning routine, I give thanks for my health and visualise the actions that I will take for my healthy day ahead. At the moment, that is a run on the beach, a swim and a Bulletproof meal in the evening.

How to Think Your Way to Skinny:

1. Create a vision board. Choose pictures of taking action towards your weight loss goal: for instance, running on the beach. Some like to make a physical poster. If you are on the go a lot like me, you might prefer to google images and collect them in for instance Evernote.

2. Engage your senses. Close your eyes and activate as many senses as possible, for a more powerful visualisation. How does it feel running on the beach? Can you hear the waves and smell the ocean?

3. Beware of your surroundings. Having slim “friends” complaining about their “fat” is not helpful for creating a healthy vision. Explain why you don’t want to hear about it, or get more supportive friends.

It’s now morning in Cape Town, and I’m about to go down to the beach for my daily run and swim. In a way, I feel like pinching myself that I am in this incredible location.

On the other hand, visualisation made it happen: I spent my New Years Eve creating my vision board for 2017. I put pictures of Cape Town, Buenos Aires and Dubai on my board and those are the destinations that I now have scheduled for the next few months. Wishful thinking? No, that’s the power of visualisation.

Alexia Bjarkan

Weight Loss Coach at The Benefactory.

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