Boundaries

Weight loss can feel like a constant internal battle (though it doesn’t have to, especially if you employ mindfulness tools in your daily life – see Part I and Part II on the SMWL blog).

One thing that can come as a surprise is that weight loss can also have significant – and sometimes hard-to-navigate – impacts on our external relationships, too.

That’s why boundaries become so important during a weight loss or health-related journey.

Use Cases

Amy, a patient with whom I work, had been on the Sound Medical Weight Loss holistic plan for about four weeks. She was doing incredibly well on it in all senses; she was creating new habits, defining her goals, understanding her triggers, getting in touch with underlying emotions and sensations, and discovering new foods and movement types that delighted her.

One thing Amy hadn’t yet navigated was how to incorporate these new habits and ways of being with her friend group, which she had avoided for the past four weeks. This friend group met weekly, on Saturdays, for an elaborate dinner party complete with a four-course meal, free-flowing wine, and lots of intimate discussion. Amy was feeling isolated, fearful of re-integrating herself back into that scenario, anxious about whether she’d slide back into old ways of being, and filled with shame about the idea of not fully participating in the group’s typical activities.

Another patient, Max, was five months into his Sound Medical Weight Loss journey. He had lost a significant amount of weight in a healthy and holistic way, altered many of his old emotional eating habits, and navigated successfully through some difficult scenarios that could have thrown him “off plan” (e.g. a work trip). The one thing Max hadn’t yet navigated? Visiting with his sister, who in the past had made frequent judgmental comments about his weight, and who herself had some disordered eating patterns he was terrified of picking up.

The Purpose of Boundaries

For both Amy and Max, the anticipatory fear and anxiety is understandable. They’ve both worked so hard to change their own habits and internal dialogues; they don’t want any external forces to “mess it all up.” At the same time, both recognize the inevitability of “reemerging” back into the world.

It’d be impossible to ever fully isolate ourselves against any external forces; it also goes against human nature to lock ourselves up permanently. Humans are social creatures. We crave and need others to survive.

So where is the line? How do we toe it successfully, during a weight loss or any other journey?

By creating boundaries. According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not ‘own’ my life, my choices and options become very limited.”

In Amy’s case, preparing a set of boundaries before next Saturday’s get-together will give her the freedom to know what’s her responsibility – e.g. what she eats -- and what’s not – e.g. any emotions that may be triggered in others because of what she eats or doesn’t eat.

For Max, preparing a set of boundaries before visiting his sister will give him the freedom to define what’s him and what’s not him. He’ll be able to define his new habits as his own, and his sister’s eating habits as her own. He’ll have the choice to discuss

his body (or not – more on this below). He’ll be able to know what’s his responsibility – e.g. what he says and does – and what’s not – e.g. how his sister reacts.

Creating Boundaries

For those of us who can sometimes be people-pleasers, or who tend to over-explain, creating and sticking to boundaries can feel hard – especially at first. There is a secret, though – it’s just about practice. Being able to set boundaries isn’t a natural-born trait or something you’re magically gifted with. It just requires repetition.

Here’s a simple formula you can use when faced with a situation or relationship you suspect may need boundaries.

1. Get really clear with what, exactly, you need. Meditate or sit quietly for 5 minutes. Tune into the sensations, emotions and thoughts you have. Focus especially on what makes you uncomfortable/stressed – either in past situations or in hypothetical situations in the future.

2. Write your boundaries down. Don’t worry about perfect word-smithing at this point. Just make sure you capture as much as you can (list form, bullets, mind map or any other format is OK). Include all of the stressors/discomforts from #1.

3. Add in any support that could help. At this point, think about things that could help that you might like to ask for. Write those down, too.

4. Turn #2 and #3 into sentences you can say to the person(s) to whom this exercise is directed. Try to remove emotion here; just include boundary and need, as well as gratitude for their support.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Enlist the support of someone you trust to practice with; practice in front of the mirror; just practice. When the time comes, you’ll be glad you did!

6. Be a broken record. If/when your boundaries are violated or your needs overlooked, repeat them.

Here’s how the output of this exercise could look for Max, visiting his sister:

“I’ve decided to not talk about my body this trip. I’m so grateful for your support in that. I would, though, love your help in telling the rest of our family when they come visit us both this weekend.”

Note: Max need not jump off the plane and scream this statement off the bat; I recommend he only use when needed (e.g. after his sister says something about his body).

 

Tell us – has there been a time when you’ve needed to use boundaries during a weight loss or any other type of journey? Let us know in comments below! Need more one-on-one support? Give us a call or book an appointment online at www.soundmedicalweightloss.com!

Author
Mariel Ilardi  Mariel became a weight loss coach with SMWL after being a patient herself -- having lost 65 pounds through the program! In addition to coaching SMWL patients, Mariel is the founder and CEO of Haven Coaching, an executive and career coaching company.

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