I read an article a few years ago written by Martha Beck in O, The Oprah Magazine. Beck was talking about whether an issue that was bothering you (your weight for example) was a designated issue. She defined a designated issue as an issue that dominates our psyches so that other problems, issues or troubles can remain unnoticed. The designated issue is the container for all of the other stuff that you don’t want to look at or acknowledge. The designated issue, weight in this case, won’t go away until the other issues are dealt with.
Your weight suit is the manifestation of all of the scary, sad, humiliating, disrespecting, depressing experiences that make up your life story. These are all the stories that make your soul cry.
I used to run an emotional release weight loss program. It was quite clear that weight was the designated issue for my clients. They knew that if they spent all of their mental energy focused on this issue, then there was no space left with which to look at their core issues. It was as though they were saying, “If I give weight all of my thought and focus, nothing else in my life will hurt.”
Designated issues consume all of your mental space and energy. All of my clients spent their whole day obsessing about their weight, what they ate, how much they ate, whether they exercised, how much they weighed, how badly they felt they looked in their clothes, how better things would be if they were at their perfect weight. When I asked them what they would think about if they didn’t have a weight problem, almost all of them couldn’t imagine not obsessing about their weight. Unless this designated issue was serving them somehow, why wouldn’t they want to move on and think about other things? Weight is such a fantastic container to hold the thoughts, give focus, and keep the world safe. Why would anyone want to let this go?
One client spent her whole day obsessing about her weight so that she didn’t have to look at the hurt she felt towards her parents. Her mother was so focused on being faithful to her faith that she had no time for her children except to be extremely critical of them. As well, this client’s father was very disengaged in her life. To make matters worse she married a man who was just as critical as her mom was. So, from her perspective, what would be easier to focus on, her weight, which kept her contempt limited to herself, or her parents’ lack of interest in her, which would now include contempt for her parents?
It was through this designated issue of weight that she kept her focus on herself. By obsessing 24 hours a day on her weight, she didn’t have the space to peek outside of that to see what the real issues were. When I asked her how she felt about her mother’s behavior, she wouldn’t even allow herself to go there. Everything came back to how she hated herself because of her weight. If she let the weight go, the container which previously held all of the sadness and despair would no longer exist.
Another client’s weight held all of the sadness and humiliation of her mother’s alcoholism. The feelings of neglect and abandonment were too much for her to look at so she focused on her weight 24 hours a day. Even though she knew and was able to express that she was really angry with her mom, she couldn’t face looking at these issues.
My mom’s weight contained all of the distress of her father’s womanizing, her mother’s long battle with cancer, her husband’s passive-aggressive behavior and her promise to her mom to watch out for her older sister after her mom’s passing. All of these issues were too much for my mom to look at. It was only when she started to release these issues bit by bit that her weight started coming off. As she started to address the issues around her father, she lost 20 pounds in two weeks. The weight loss was so rapid that her doctor thought something was wrong and sent her for tests. Everything came back fine. My mom knew that it was the releasing of the off-limits issues that caused this change.
Beck, in the article mentioned at the beginning, said that a great way to identify if something is a designated issue is to see if it gets resolved. Designated issues never seem to resolve themselves no matter what solution has been applied to the problem. This is definitely true for my weight-loss clients. Regardless of the diet or exercise plan they followed, nothing made a lasting difference. You would think that if weight loss resulted from fewer calories, one of these diet plans should have made a difference. But, nothing lasted. What was truly interesting with these women was that as they started to release the emotional reasons behind their weight and started to see positive changes, they all fought the success they were having. They needed their weight in order to keep their world safe.
Weight loss, or your designated issue, won’t go away until the issues are dealt with. It is too much to deal with all of the scary, depressing, humiliating issues all at once. It is possible, however, to deal with them bit by bit. Weight loss is all about focusing on the process of becoming happy. It is impossible to imagine happy when all you can focus on is how miserable you are feeling being overweight. As you release the stories that make your soul cry and step-by-step take necessary actions that make your life lighter and easier, your designated issue, the extra weight, will shrink away.
Are you ready to let your designated issue go? If so, I can help you with that.