Curate Your Environment
One of the first things I do when I’m trying to implement a new habit or hobby is I start to surround myself with the people, information, images, books, videos, and communities that contain the identity of who I want to become.
This is called immersion, and it’s one of the most powerful tools on your Ideal Body journey. However, when used incorrectly, it will be one of the most detrimental influencers to achieving your goals.
So many of us are focused on our physical diet. We spend countless time and emotional energy to curate what we put into our mouths. We’re constantly trying to bring in more whole foods and cut out the foods that don’t make us feel our best. But then when it comes to our mental diet, we don’t give it much thought. Instead, the information we allow into our minds creates unnecessary resistance to the things we’re trying to accomplish.
We touched on this in the Identity Change chapter. If you remember, our behaviors and outcomes are direct beneficiaries of our beliefs and identity. But what you might not realize, is just how much our beliefs are formed from the information we consume, aka our mental diet.
Your mental diet consists of all the auditory and visual information you consume both consciously and subconsciously. This includes, but is not limited to, social media, magazines, product marketing, TV, articles, and even the words of people – strangers and close relationships alike. Images and words you absorb have the power to either take you to your goals, or prevent you from reaching them altogether.
When you have a good mental diet and intentionally feed your mind information that aligns with your desired identity, it provides a sort of lubrication for your behaviors. But when the information you consume is not in alignment with who you want to become, you create unnecessary resistance to new behaviors and habits. Everything feels hard. It feels as if you’re dragging yourself across sandpaper. You face a strong headwind – requiring you to rely more on finite willpower to get you through your days.
The quality of your mental diet directly influences the quality of your behaviors and the quality of your life experience. I would even go so far as to say that your mental diet is more important than your physical diet, if only because your physical diet tends to be a side effect of the former.
Your mental diet affects whether you feel good or bad about your body. It can make you restrict calories or ignore your body’s hunger cues when you shouldn’t. It can make you live in fear of judgement. And it can even create states of anxiety that put pressures on you to cope using food.
Someone else’s before and after weight loss photo celebrating a smaller body can trigger you to feel less-than. It can reinforce that your worth is in your body. And it can lead to you going on yet another diet that doesn’t work.
Reading about eating 1200 calories per day or cutting out carbs in order to lose weight from some credible person with a series of letters after their name can make you restrict food and calories when you shouldn’t. It can lead to you ignoring your body’s needs in favor of adhering to an arbitrary calorie budget, which just leads to inconsistency and disappointment in the end.
Hearing one of your friends talk about the diet she’s on and how much weight she’s lost, or listening to a friend talk about how much they hate their body, can influence the way you view your own. This can keep you from healing your relationship with your body and keep you stuck with a negative body image.
So when you’re ready to be someone different, aka transform yourself, you need to make sure your mind is immersed in the right environment. Trying to heal your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind while you follow accounts on social media that are constantly showing before and after progress photos is not going to help you break your disempowering belief that your body is your worth. Constantly talking to your friends about diets and calories and how much you all hate your bodies isn’t going to help you eat and see your body from a place of self-respect, self-care, and self-love.
Start feeding your mind with the same intention that you feed your body. Immerse yourself with people and information that align with who you want to be. Curate your environment in a way that pushes you to success. And cut out anything you’re immersing yourself in that creates resistance to your goals.
One of the biggest contributors to your mental diet are the words and behaviors of the people closest to you. Our family, peers, friends, and co-workers all have their own belief systems that are constantly being projected outwards in many ways. And if you aren’t careful, their thoughts can pollute your mental diet and throw you off track.
Very rarely do others do this on purpose. Most of the time the people closest to you just want to share their own life and thoughts. Other times they say things out of so-called concern for your well-being. But there are times when they will say things with the intent to hurt too. Whatever the case, it’s going to be necessary for you to set boundaries so that you don’t internalize information that goes counter to your goals.
I’ve experienced situations that needed boundaries many times. And so have all of my clients. From the clients whose spouses are always policing their food choices, to the critical parents who are always commenting on your body – there is no shortage of toxic information you’re going to have to contend with.
You might have a friend who is constantly talking about her diet and weight. You might have a friend group that is always criticizing their bodies. You might have co-workers or family members who think it’s best to always be questioning your goals under the guise of “trying to understand”.
It doesn’t matter what it is or the intentions behind it, anything in your environment that degrades your mental diet is going to add unnecessary resistance to your Ideal Body journey. And if you aren’t careful, it can tempt you to the point that you go back to your past Diet Culture ways.
So what do you do? You set boundaries. And believe me, I know this isn’t easy for most people. People don’t like conflict. They struggle to stand up for themselves and say what they need. They don’t want to rock the boat or create an uncomfortable situation.
But do you know what else isn’t easy? Having your parents comment on your body every time you see them. Listening to your friend talk about how great her new diet is and how much weight she’s lost, while you are trying to work through your emotional eating struggle. Having an arrogant or even abusive spouse shame or laugh at you because you ate a candy bar while you’re working on healing your relationship with food. At least when you set a boundary the discomfort has a future payoff.
You’re going to have to ask yourself what the better approach is – setting a boundary, or working on not internalizing other people’s beliefs and opinions. The latter is necessary regardless, but a boundary doesn’t always need to be set.
If a situation happens infrequently, say you see a sibling during the holidays once a year and they’re always talking about dieting, then it might not be worth the investment to establish a boundary. On the other hand, if someone is part of your day to day life, the emotional investment in a boundary is going to be worth the payoff.
Setting a boundary is simple. You respectfully say what you need and why you need it. And then you release yourself from any reactions.
Deanna once set a boundary with me. We were sitting down in our media room getting ready to watch some TV. She came in with some snack food. I made a comment teasing her about it, something like – “ohhh… look at what you have.” To me it was innocent. I had no ill intention with what I said. But for Deanna it made her feel guilt and shame around food. It made her feel like her eating choices were being watched.
So what did she do? She simply said – “can you not comment on the food I eat?” And while I’m sure I got defensive, I honored the boundary she set. And the neat thing was that I could also count on her to not comment on the food I was eating. Like most boundaries, it is a win/win scenario even if it’s hard for the person receiving the boundary to see past the initial defensiveness.
Stand up for yourself. Say what it is you need. Don’t assume people know. And don’t assume people will even understand once you explain why. They don’t need to understand. They only need to honor what you’re asking for in order to thrive as a person. If that person loves and respects you, then it shouldn’t be an issue.
The Food and Body Police
As you work towards achieving your Ideal Body you’re going to come up against a few different kinds of food and body protagonists. These people can apply resistance or force to your thoughts and behaviors – neither of which are in your best interest.
Take the food police as an example. They are there to get you to stop eating the way you’ve decided, and they make you second guess the food choices that are best for you. On the flip side you have food pushers. The food pushers try to get you to eat when you don’t want to, and they too get you to make food choices that don’t have your best interests at heart.
Food police and food pushers don’t have to be separate people either. They can both be part of the same person, like one of your parents, or a friend that always has an opinion on how you should be eating. And here’s the kicker – they can be someone else, or they can come from within your own head. That’s right – you can be, and often are, both of these people.
Once you realize this you’re going to see food policing and pushing everywhere. You’re going to notice the voice in your head telling you not to eat something because you won’t be able to lose weight. You’re going to hear it say just get the salad when you’re eating with your friend because you don’t want to look like a pig eating what you really want. It’s going to tell you to eat your Mom’s lasagna even though you aren’t hungry so that you won’t hurt her feelings.
And then you’re also going to hear the comments from friends and family. They’ll tell you to live a little when you really just don’t want to have donuts for breakfast. Or someone will be more blunt and shame you for ordering dessert to make sure you know that’s a no-no if you’re trying to lose weight.
And then you’re going to have to deal with the body gatekeepers. These people will always be telling you that you should have a different body than the one you currently have.
Sometimes they’ll say you need to lose weight. At times it’ll be criticism. Other times it’ll be out of concern for your health. Other people will tell you to stop losing weight. That you’re getting too skinny. That you’d look better weighing a little more. And just like with the food police, the body gatekeeper could be you. You could always be telling yourself that you should look different. In the end, these people are simply projecting their own insecurities, beliefs, and desires onto you. Or if these people are you, you are just speaking your limiting beliefs into existence.
All of these things apply pressure to your ability to make choices that are best for you. Instead, you start making choices to appease other people. And you start creating feelings of guilt and shame which inevitably lead to inconsistency, frustration, and feeling stuck.
First things first – recognize and be aware of when it’s happening, and whether it’s originating externally from other people or internally from yourself. If it’s coming from other people then don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and defend your boundaries.
If you’re not hungry then say you aren’t hungry. If someone is constantly commenting on what you eat and it’s bothering you, then politely tell them you’d rather not talk about your eating choices. If the comments are about your body, then say you’d appreciate if they didn’t comment on your body. You don’t have to explain why, but you can if you think it’ll help.
If the policing and pushing pressures are being applied from within your own head, then you need to recognize it, challenge the limiting belief, and then remind yourself to always make the choice that will meet your needs of the now, as that’s what will make you feel your best in the long run.
Part of achieving your Ideal Body requires you to set boundaries in your life. It’s a way of showing respect to yourself. It’s not always an easy thing to do or talk about to people, but neither is living in a way that you don’t feel your best.
Developing Your Mind
Your mental diet isn’t just about curating your environment in a way that removes resistance to personal growth. It’s also about consuming material that directly contributes to your personal development.
We want our identity to continually be evolving and transforming itself for the better. And the only way to do that is to feed your mind with information that allows for that growth.
Something I do is I commit to an hour each and every day to consuming some form of personal development content. Most days it’s more than that, but at the very least, I listen to either a personal development podcast or audiobook on my daily morning walk. By the time 8am rolls around I’ve already gotten in an hour of movement and an hour of healthy brain food, and this calibrates my mind and body for a productive day. Each day I grow and develop my identity just a little more, and then this new and improved identity interacts with my environment for the day.
10 years from now I would be perfectly happy if my body didn’t change. In fact, I’d be thrilled if I maintained my Ideal Body for the next decade and it was as healthy as ever. However, if in 10 years I’m still the same person and haven’t grown, then something went wrong. The goal is to continually be understanding yourself and life better and to be able to live your life to the fullest of experiences. And you can’t do that if you aren’t developing your mind along with your physical body.
Reading, watching, and listening to content, or even putting yourself into positions to have new experiences all feed your mind with new input that drive your growth. This growth changes your identity, which influences your behaviors, which affects your outcomes in life.
And here’s the really neat thing – all personal growth has carryover to other parts of your life. Improving your health and fitness transfers over to your relationships and other aspects of your life. Developing your spirituality impacts your health and fitness. Learning about personal finance can change the lens in which you view the rest of your world.
In fact, most of the breakthroughs I have with health and fitness nowadays come from the things I learn from other passions, such as business, finance, or even my hobbies. Because when you consume this content from the point of view of a particular identity, you filter the information through that identity. And that helps you to fill in the holes and make connections that enable you to have breakthroughs.
When you develop your mind along with your body you create a synergy and an upward spiral – allowing one to feed on the other. Your diet and movement create a physically healthy brain structure that is able to assimilate information that helps you grow. And then this information influences your diet and movement behaviors for the better.
This is the reason why keeping your mind stuck in Diet Culture is inhibiting your growth and preventing you from experiencing transformation. It takes more than eating chicken breast and fruit to transform yourself. Losing weight doesn’t change who you are either. You have to change your identity. And to do that you have to intentionally and consistently feed your mind information that allows you to grow.