Uncovering the connections between beliefs, personality archetypes and weight gain
What if your beautiful trait of loving and nurturing others had you giving to the point of depletion? What if carving time out for yourself resulted in feeling painfully guilty? What if these behaviors lead to storing body fat everywhere, particularly on your upper arms and thighs?
What if your admired quality of getting things done had you doing until the point of depletion? What if your life was so full that you didn’t have space for restorative downtime or even ten minutes of daily meditation? What if these behaviors led to that belly fat making you feel depressed and irritable?
Have you ever contemplated a connection between the two — that what you consume literally and emotionally manifests itself physically?
After working with over 1,000 women, this is what I have observed:
Behind a woman’s (or any person’s) behavior lies a subconscious belief in value.
In these two examples, the belief is “I am valued if I care for you” and “I am valued if I achieve things.” But the converse is also true: “I am less valuable if I can’t care for you” and “I am less valuable if I don’t achieve things.” While these may not be intellectual truths, the subconscious believes them and can have you giving and doing until you hit rock bottom.
These scenarios represent two of my female archetypes, the Nurturer and Wonder Woman. Archetypes are models for describing certain characteristics such as your personality traits; I often incorporate them into my work as tools for uncovering the underlying belief system. Ask the Nurturer not to give, and she’ll feel like you’re asphyxiating her. Ask the Wonder Woman not to finish something (perfectly), and she’ll smugly justify why you’re not as successful as she is.
But it all comes at a cost — a cost both to emotional health and physical well-being, including how fat is stored. The connection goes like this:
Our thoughts (conscious and subconscious) alter our behaviors and our food choices. And what we eat directly impacts our hormones, which directs where body fat is stored and changes the shape of our physique.
I’ll use my client Lee, a Wonder Woman, as the first example. Lee is perturbed by her belly fat. She feels confident when it comes to her business, but she’s disappointed in her appearance. During the workday her mind is wired, and she is too busy to nourish her body appropriately. She’s been forgetting things lately, and this has scared her more than her belly fat. By the time Lee gets home from work, she’s exhausted. She can’t imagine an evening without a glass of red wine. It’s her solace, her reward, her chill tonic. Every day she promises to eat better, but she finds herself mindlessly eating her children’s leftovers and finishing her husband’s pasta. Lee can’t sleep, so she’s on the Internet searching for diets to lose that belly fat. She crawls into bed at 1:00 am with the alarm set for 6:00 am and the intent of getting to the gym but she rarely does.
Lee’s cortisol levels (cortisol is the body’s long-term stress hormone) are nonexistent. Cortisol should be elevated in the morning to help you get up and out and then gradually tapper off throughout the day so you can get to sleep at night. Lee’s levels are low in the morning, remain low throughout the day, and then in the evening, they slightly elevate, making it difficult for her to fall asleep.
Excess cortisol directs the storage of fat to the belly (some of you may know this from late-night infomercials touting belly fat-reducing supplements). When cortisol is depleted, not only do you retain belly fat from the previously high levels, but the low levels make it extremely difficult to lose fat from that area. Aargh!
Lee needs to regulate her cortisol levels by eating regularly throughout the day (skipping meals is a physical stressor) and removing foods like gluten and dairy, which can indirectly disturb her cortisol levels. But she also needs to reinterpret how she values herself, as a dramatic lifestyle shift is required to restore her adrenal function… and decrease her belly fat. Once she disassociates her worth from her professional success (because she herself is so much more valuable than her achievements), then these changes will be significantly easier to implement. I gave Lee the goal (because Wonder Women like goals) of being a complete woman instead — to be balanced in her professional and intimate life, as well as creating a healthy relationship with herself. It took her six months to do this. Not only did the belly fat disappear, but she created a much more loving and deep relationship with her husband, children, and herself.
The Nurturer has a different body shape. She stores fat everywhere, particularly on her upper arms and upper thighs.
My client Laura is a Nurturer. Laura is 47 years old and the mother of two teenage girls. She often feels unsupported even though she’s been with her husband for 25 years. She feels like she is the sole caregiver and that her daughters take advantage of her kind and generous nature. She doesn’t want to upset them so she says yes to everything. This carries over into her eating habits. She feels as though it would be offensive to say no to food being offered, so she always says yes, even though she’s been on a diet for 20 years. She’s 50 pounds overweight, tired, and has no libido. She blames it on age and believes she’s going through menopause. She eats bread and cookies to numb the frustration she feels in her relationships.
Laura’s secret eating habit is comforting herself with carb-heavy meals. These food choices lead to glucose and insulin spikes. Imbalanced insulin causes fat to be stored all over the body so that the Nurturer often feels like she’s wearing a fat suit. Insulin also makes more estrogen freely available and excess estrogen causes fat accumulation on the upper thighs. While there isn’t enough scientific research to connect a specific hormone to upper arm fat, I believe that the Nurturer stores fat there so she has arms large enough to carry the weight of her world.
To reshape her body, I asked Laura to increase her cruciferous vegetable intake, including foods such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, as these foods increase the clearance of estrogen and insulin from the body. I also removed starchy carbohydrates from her diet for four weeks. Within that month, she lost 10 pounds. To get rid of her upper arm fat, I asked her to balance her emotional giving and receiving equally. As much as she gives, she needs to receive. I suggested removing the phrase “No, I can do it, I don’t want to bother you” from her vocabulary and instead respond with “yes” when somebody offered her something she wanted. I asked her to practice this for six months. When she was frustrated, I suggested she pause and find some non-food activities to nourish herself, such as reading, dreaming, journaling, or connecting with friends. Laura and I delved into her childhood to identify the experiences in which she received attention for her loving, which created the imprint of love equals worth. As she released and reinterpreted this, her weight, energy, and libido all rebalanced themselves with a much happier Laura. This wasn’t a quick process, but it profoundly shifted Laura’s life, and today she is a much more peaceful and graceful woman.
Examine yourself and ask, where are you storing body fat? How are you valuing yourself? What can you do to reinterpret your worth? What can you learn from the Wonder Woman and Nurturer?
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