The Naked Project: Part 3 - Faulty Wiring
And we are back!. In our last article we broke down how habitual shitty self perception is a problem and why we should care. To read that article click here.
This article will go a little deeper with a case study and a scientific research on the power of the mind.
It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life, it’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. - Robert Kiyosaki
Wall Street banker Nancy Menendez is typical of the kind of urban warrior who shows up at my boot camp class at 5:30 a.m. every other weekday morning, rain or shine. She has a successful career earning high six figures, with a walk-in closet full of designer clothes in her spacious apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, not to mention a house in the Hamptons. Super fit and determined, this hard driving New Yorker has been doing everything right to keep her body in shape, including eating portion-controlled, nutritious meals and keeping consistent with high-intensity workouts. And it shows on this 45-year old, superwoman, who appears healthy and smoking hot for any age. To look at her, Nancy is every inch a winner.
But you should hear this lady shit talk her own body! For all of her accomplishments, she considers herself a complete failure. No matter what she does, she carries an extra 20 pounds on her hips that no amount of squats or intermittent fasting can budge. Nancy has so much to be proud of and celebrate, but her self-loathing is set on a constant loop.
“Ugh, I hate my thighs,” she tells me during one of our training sessions, gripping a chuck of flesh so hard that it dimples and turns pink. “Look at this cottage cheese. I feel gross!” And that’s on a good day. “I just want to take a carving knife and slice off five inches of this glop,” she announces on a so-so day, over coffee. “I look horrible!” And she’s not kidding. This isn’t some attempt at self-deprecating humor. Listening to Nancy constantly grind herself down is painful. It’s as if that little bit of extra fluff negates all of this woman’s incredible victories in life.
This is your brain on crappy self-perception. It gets stuck inside a pattern of negative self-talk that stops you from appreciating where you are now and blocks any progress you hope to make in your weight loss goals. It tells you that you are fat, ugly, or a slob and feeds into a sense of self-disgust and shame that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, producing a biochemical reaction that slows down the metabolism, limits nutrient absorption, causes inflammation, lowers immunity, and a cascade of other negative physiological effects that make losing those extra pounds a near-impossible struggle. Thoughts and feelings impact your body at every level, from cell reproduction, to DNA, genes and regeneration. Faulty subconscious programming and negative thinking can totally fuck with your overall wellbeing, especially when it comes to your weight.
I know for a fact that Nancy never cheated. She’s not a yo-yo dieter or an emotional eater. Over the years I’ve spent many nights and weekends with her and I’ve seen no evidence of night-time binges. She doesn’t have food issues or other behavioral patterns that are causing her to fail. She’s meticulous about checking all the right behaviors off her list. But it’s not helping. Why? Because it’s all in her mind…literally. Decades of beating herself up has hard-wired her neural circuitry into a well-worn pathway of negative self-perception she’s struggling to override. She has work to do, and it’s not the kind most weight loss experts would prescribe.
I’ll get to exactly what that is later. Meanwhile, let me break down the science of mind/body connection between emotions and weight loss. Self-awareness is the first step towards changing these destructive thought patterns, so it helps to understand what’s really going on in our brains and the impact on us at a cellular level.
Through a Dark Lens
I prefer the term self-perception because it goes much deeper than self-esteem, which refers to a more general emotional attitude about one’s self. Self-perception is a more detailed cognition of who you are, or who you think you are, processed through the physical senses and the mind. You tend to take a highly critical inventory of your behavior and appearance, as you might think an outsider would. Except that you’re not an outsider, and you’re not being truly objective, because your consciousness filters things through a particular lens that’s based upon your belief system and all the things you were told or exposed to from the time you were born.
In the case of most women, that filter tends towards the dark side. Nancy’s case may be extreme, but her view of herself is all too common. In fact, more than 80 percent of women above the age of 18 hate looking at their reflections, and more than half may even see a distorted image, experiencing a version of body dysmorphia similar to what might stare back at you in a fun house mirror. So let’s call it what it is: an epidemic of self-disgust.
The Mirror Test
Over the years, I’ve done countless informal surveys online, and I always ask the question, “When you see yourself naked in front of the mirror, your first thoughts are _______________?” Here are just some of the answers:
FAT UGLY OLD
My body is gross
I need to work out ASAP
I don’t look at myself naked in the mirror
This must be a skinny mirror. I don’t look that bad now, but it’s out in the world that I really start to hate my body
You’re fat but you’re fat because you don’t do shit about it
I need to tone up
I hate my body
What have I done to myself?
I am disgusted with myself for not taking care of the beautiful figure I once had
I’m a big gross blob
Wow, how is this possible? It is amazing how fat and big my belly is but I’m sure I am not pregnant
I am okay naked, but now I am past 50 and my metabolism is slowing down I could be better
Thin, small chest, gross butt and thighs, nice waist
Wow, I really need to firm up my thighs
I have to put more effort into my diet
Gotta lose 10 pounds
How am I so thin yet so unfit?
As you can see, almost all of the self-talk is critical, and even when it’s something vaguely positive there is a “but clause” along the lines of, “I look okay but I need to firm up my thighs.” Whether the person standing in front of the mirror is five pounds overweight or 150 pounds overweight, the commentary is almost identical. The only exceptions I came across in my research were men. A Dutch guy who spent a lot of time nude in saunas was completely comfortable with his naked reflection, writing. “I am glad I have maintained my health and fitness as I have aged.” If only we could all say, and see, the same.
These negative thoughts are much more potent than most people realize. A single one releases up to 30,000 different neuro-chemicals which instantly translate into a change in the nervous system. So thoughts become matter in the very real sense that we feel the way we think and we think the way we feel. When we have a thought, there is a biochemical reaction in the brain which then releases chemical signals – or messengers of thought – that get transmitted to the body. The thoughts that produced the chemicals allow the body to feel accordingly.
Take for example a recent Harvard Medical School study on the placebo effect, in which 60 patients responded positively to taking pills even when they knew they were placebos. As humans, we are so suggestible that even the ritual surrounding seeing the doctor and getting a prescription filled reduced their symptoms. While it might not work in the case of every illness, like cancer, “Basically the scope where a placebo effect is relevant is any symptom that the brain can modulate by itself,” explains Ted Kaptchuk, a professor at Harvard Medical School who ran the experiment. Our mind/body response is so malleable that some patients even experienced the side effects suggested on the side of the placebo pill bottle.
So now you know. Science has proven that thoughts affect the brain and body. Stay tuned next time we talk more scientific shit about thoughts, feelings and our physiology.
Questions or comments? Hit me up here or on any platform you want!
Thanks so much for listening to your body with me. And with every conversation please: Love, Energize, Move, and Rise!