That's according to the woman behind the UK's leading alternative health and weight loss retreat. Change your mindset and the weight will follow, says positive psychology coach and international yoga teacher Mercedes Sieff
With so many trendy diets on the market today being touted as THE one to shed those extra pounds, it’s become increasingly difficult to figure out exactly which way of eating (or in some cases, not eating!) to follow. While we’re all familiar with the catchy headlines and the promises of a paleo , alkaline , gluten-free, sugar-free or low-carb diet , there’s something crucial missing from the weight loss conversation.
As co-founder of health retreat Yeotown , based in Devon and Madeira, a positive psychology coach and yoga teacher, I’ve spent the past decade getting to the heart of what really weighs people down. Far from being a high-minded theory, I can say from a lot of hands-on experience and observation that a lighter body means nothing without a lighter mind. Which is why we need to be a little more honest with ourselves about what is really weighing us down and what kind of 'weight loss' is actually going to benefit us.
More than ten years ago, when my husband and I launched Yeotown health retreat in Devon, nearly all of our booking inquiries were centred on weight loss. Questions like, “How much weight can I lose during my stay?” and “Can you help me lose ten pounds by next week?” were regularly asked. Now, however, the discourse has shifted. And it hasn’t been a subtle shift either. I’d be hard-pressed to remember anyone asking about weight loss in the last couple of years. The motivation for signing up for our five-day programme is starkly different. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. I can’t sleep. I’m depressed. I want to feel happy… are now much more commonly heard.
At the same time, I've noticed now much more willing people are to engage in activities outside their comfort zone. Five years ago, when we would tell guests it was time for a meditation session, people would literally run and hide. One time, a client hid behind a bush hoping no one would see her. No exaggeration. I practically had to drag her into the studio! In contrast, these days our guests are keen to learn more about mindfulness and meditation, even requesting regular meditation sessions during their stay. Attitudes are indeed changing.
OUR MINDS ARE FEELING THE WEIGHT MORE THAN OUR BODIES
No more apparent is this change than with yoga. When we first opened our doors, people would say they almost didn’t book in because of the yoga classes included in the programme. Now, we run several yoga classes a day to cater to various levels and everyone is eager to participate. Overall, the consistent feedback has been that yoga makes them feel much less stressed, rejuvenated, and happier.
Why this organic and seemingly universal shift in attitude? There certainly seems to be an almost insatiable need for something more than just fitting back into our old skinny jeans. In my view, life is just getting too hectic, too stressful and too unmanageable for many and, for the most part, we haven’t been taught how to cope with the demands of our busy lifestyles in an effective, healthy manner. And it’s beginning to take its toll not just physically, but mentally too. We tend to equate this heaviness to a physical weight, but for the most part, our minds are feeling the weight more than our bodies.
MORE GLOSS: best supplements for focus and mental health
As a positive psychology coach, people often speak to me about feeling heavy, assuming that if they just lose those last ten pounds they will finally be happy. However, once they begin talking about their lives and the things they are going through, I can tell very quickly the real weight isn’t on their thighs but in their head. In other words, it’s their mind that’s weighed down by things that need to be dealt with. At the end of the day, you might lose ten pounds off your waistline, but if your heart is heavy with stuff you aren’t dealing with, then your happiness with any weight loss will be short lived.
The beauty about working on losing the mental weight is that physical weight loss becomes a natural by-product of feeling better about ourselves. When we feel happier, we tend to want to eat better – less for emotional reasons and more for increased energy and vitality. When we feel good about ourselves and our place in the world, we tend to want to move more, exercise and get out and do things. And without starving ourselves, or thinking much about it, the pounds tend to slowly drop. And even if they don’t come off, our happiness is no longer predicated on what size we are. Indeed, a lighter, happier mind also comes with more peace and acceptance around any extra physical weight we may be carrying.
5 steps for achieving a lighter mind
So how do we tackle the weight of the mind? I am always trying to steer my coaching clients in the direction of what’s going strong versus what’s going wrong. We focus a lot on identifying top character strengths and how to use them more effectively in solving problems and shift from functioning to flourishing. Positive psychology doesn’t try to pretend the bad doesn’t exist, but rather gives us tools to deal with the not so great things life may throw at us. There are five character strengths which consistently appear in various positive psychology studies on optimising happiness and wellbeing. Below is a list of these five strengths and tips on how to more effectively bring them into your life.
Hope is the feeling or desire for a particular thing to happen. The late Zen Buddhist monk and prolific author Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear any hardship today.” People who use the strength of Hope on a regular basis believe the future will be bright and work hard to achieve it.
Tip to increase hope: Grab a piece of paper (it is more powerful to write something down than to just think about it) and write down the answer to the following; what are you looking forward to this week, this year, in general? What are you excited about and why? The ‘Why’ is very important as it makes us better understand what we value. Even better, discuss this with a friend or someone close to you and tell them what you are looking forward to.
Zest is a dynamic or ‘high energy’ strength, and defined as “living life with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and energy.” People who use this strength regularly approach life with a sense of adventure and become motivated towards action when faced with a challenging task or situation.
Tip to increase zest: Try a new exercise class. One you have always wanted to try but haven’t gotten around to trying or have been too scared to. I do this whenever I need a kick of energy and want to shake things up. Instead of my regular yoga practice, which itself is quite dynamic, I sign up for a random exercise class that forces me to move in a completely different way. It’s also empowering trying something new and a great way to increase your sense of zest and energy.
Love is a great pleasure of interest in someone or something. A strong feeling of affection.
The happiest people have been shown to also have a great capacity to not only love others but be loved by others. They spend their energy promoting what they love versus bashing what they hate.
Tip to increase love: Like the exercise on Hope, it starts with a question. Who or what do you love? Except instead of writing this down for yourself, find someone you are comfortable speaking with and ask them to tell you who or what do they love and why? Listening to others and making a concerted effort to better understand what is important to them not only increases our compassion but helps to grow trust and intimacy, hence leading to experiencing more love in our lives.
People who use the character strength of curiosity ask questions about anything and everything. This strength also tends to emerge frequently in studies on happiness and life satisfaction. Curiosity is about having a strong desire to increase your own personal knowledge and exploring new activities, ideas and experiences.
Tip to increase curiosity: Next time you find yourself in an activity you dislike, be it at work or play (maybe it’s a challenging move in that new exercise class!), rather than focus on your dissatisfaction or how difficult/boring the task is, try to identify three things you hadn’t noticed. I’d love for you to become more curious about the thoughts that are coming up for you, your triggers and why you are reacting the way you are. Ask yourself, how can I look at the situation from a different vantage point and what can I learn that will increase my knowledge?
Gratitude is about being aware about the good things happening to you and what you have, not taking it for granted. The happiest people have been shown to be those who use this character strength daily, and when things are going wrong, they can also find the things which are going strong.
Tip to increase gratitude: Throughout your day tell people, “Thank you” as often as you can. Every night at the end of the day think about three things you are grateful for and why. If you have children, this is a great Positive Parenting exercise to do with your kids every night as you are tucking them into bed. It also helps them develop gratitude from a young age, a powerful tool as they grow older and navigate through life.
Find Mercedes at yeotown.com and Instagram here .