This feature was first published in Fibromyalgia monthly magazine. It explores how living with a chronic disease can affect one's self-perception and ability to feel personally empowered to make health improvements. Changes can be made and here therapists Sally Baker and Liz Hogon share some of their techniques.
You are already well aware of how challenging it is to live with Fibromyalgia’s inhibiting symptoms of physical pain, cognitive impairment, and erratic levels of energy. You also already know how the unpredictable nature of Fibromyalgia means that even when your symptoms alleviate your ability to live life to the full are hugely inhibited as you are never sure how long a remission will last.
You are also well aware that a lack of mobility, and even taking some prescription medications, including those to counter depression, can make it even more challenging for you to maintain a healthy weight. You also know that extra weight has been scientifically proven to compound Fibromyalgia symptoms, and increase the frequency, and degree of pain, which in turn decreases mobility. So, there you are in the midst of a vicious circle of carrying excess weight leading to additional pain, leading to reduced mobility leading to further weight gain that feels almost impossible to break.
Worse still you can feel it’s your own fault your symptoms are so debilitating when you have so conspicuously failed to lose weight.
Losing weight is a challenge for most people. In addition living with a chronic disease means the typical emotional drivers to overeating such as comfort, and stress eating play a larger role making weight loss seem even more intractable. Therapists Sally Baker, and Liz Hogon specialise in resolving issues around emotional eating so that people who have struggled with weight loss for years can finally successfully lose weight. Their clients are mostly people who feel particularly over-whelmed with the challenge of weight loss, and they often have other long term health issues to contend with such as depression, IBS, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. As therapists they understand, and particularly focus on the power of the mind body connection to harness the power of the mind to resolve, and release self-limiting beliefs, and end self-sabotaging behaviour, especially around food.
Living with little or no confidence of how one will physically feel from day to day encourages self-doubt, and frustration. Feeling negative about oneself can becomes its’ own vicious circle of frustration, disappointment and anger, all of which are often directed inward.
When Baker and Hogon work with issues around weight loss with clients living with chronic ill-health one of the first therapeutic approaches they make is to encourage the person to gain an enhanced level of self-awareness to highlight the impact those uncomfortable emotions have on themselves.
In their book 7 Simple Steps to Stop Emotional Eating they have taken the therapy tools they use in their own individual practices, and made them accessible as easy to learn, and easy to apply self-help tools.
They found one of the most beneficial ways of discovering if a person is prone to negative thoughts about themselves is to explore the kind of things their inner voice says to them. If on reading this your response is, ‘What inner voice - I don’t have one’, then that is your inner voice. Your inner voice runs a continuous internal dialogue commenting on everything you do, and often makes judgments on how well you do it too. Happening as it does just below conscious awareness one’s inner voice goes unchecked, and unchallenged for most of the time.
For many people, especially those living with chronic illness, their inner voice is rarely a source of uplifting encouragement. It is more likely to be an unremitting flow of self-criticism, and negative self-judgements. Taking the time to become aware of how your inner voice speaks to you can accurately demonstrate to you your own level of self-judgement, and self-condemnation. Tuning in, and clearly hearing your inner voice is the crucial first step to silencing the draining, and dispiriting stream of negativity that can hinder moving forward, and making positive changes.
They encourage their clients to spend a little quiet time, just a few moments, every day for about a week to tune-in to their inner voice, and simply listen and note down the negative statements. A therapy tool they use to facilitate this is called Emotional Freedom Technique, (EFT or Tapping). ***See text box for instructions. EFT is an energy therapy that has proved highly effective for revealing true feelings, in this case negative, self-limiting beliefs.
Once you have a greater awareness of your own unique brand of negative self-talk you can then apply another of their core therapy tools called Percussive Suggestion Technique (PSTEC) to turn-down, or dispel the emotions attached to the negative beliefs you have about yourself. Turning off negative self-talk is the beginning of a powerful journey which can transform a former inner-critic into your greatest advocate - someone cheering for you instead of undermining you.
***Instructions for EFT are available as a free resource on this site see Therapy Tools/EFT