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getting out of the shame cycle

I am hoping the New Year can bring about some change for my partner and I. We both struggle with our weight and have been unsuccessful with trying to change our habits of eating unhealthy foods and avoiding workouts. This struggle can tend to fuel tension and arguments between us where we blame each other for the problem. I tend to beat myself up for not going to the gym and when I do manage to get there I am so aware of how good everyone else looks and become so self-conscious about my growing belly. We are having less and less sex as we both feel crappy about our bodies and this isn’t helping matters much. How do we go about trying to get fitter without it creating so much stress and conflict?

                                                   
Lucien

It sounds like you and your guy are stuck in a shame cycle and you can’t get out. While weight and exercise have been a source of stress and conflict, there is an opportunity here for you both to join forces and encourage each other to live healthier lives, both separately and together. Criticizing yourselves and each other is only going to fuel negativity and will likely maintain this pattern of frustration.

If going to the gym becomes a way of confirming that you have worth and not going means you are a piece of crap, you will ultimately avoid the gym altogether as it becomes all too loaded. Working out at the gym needs to become a practical choice again, rather than some sort of definitive statement about your personal value.

While I don’t want to minimize how frustrating it can be to establish an exercise routine, I do want to suggest that your self-criticism is broader and likely predates this particular issue. A lot of queer people grow up feeling inherently not good enough—this sense of unworthiness has an unseemly ability to attach itself to ever-changing aspects of ourselves (I’m not slim enough, rich enough, cool enough, butch enough etc.) So whenever your inner critic says you are too fat, remind yourself that it isn’t really about weight but stems from something old and outdated. Wanting to eat healthier and lose some weight are fine goals, so long as there isn’t an assumption that self-acceptance is only an option at the end of the rainbow.

Shame is never going to be an answer to this issue. We can tend to think that berating ourselves is going to fire us up to make positive change, but really this inner criticism exhausts us and makes us and our world feel even smaller. We can limit ourselves by thinking we have two choices: chastise ourselves as an attempt at self-motivating or be passive and give up. A middle option would be to be your own best coach—one that supports you when you are down and honours your achievements when you make strides. Zen teacher Cheri Huber writes about a concept she terms Compassionate Self-Discipline. I would consider utilizing this as a motto for 2014 and beyond.

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