In the depths of my bulimia, I met an angel who had a great influence on my recovery. Her name is Renée Stephens and her podcasts Inside Out Weight Loss changed my whole outlook on body image and dieting.
Renée has recently consolidated the wisdom of her podcast episodes into a book called Full-Filled: The 6-Week Weight-Loss Plan for Changing Your Relationship with Food-and Your Life-from the Inside Out.
She was generous enough to answer the following questions I put to her.
It seems everyone has a ‘rock bottom’ moment when they realise they have a damaged relationship with their food, their body or exercise. When was the moment you knew you had to change?
Being a stubborn sort, I needed several “rock bottom” moments to get me to do something. The first came when I miraculously kept and shared an honest food diary of one of my binges with a nutritionist. At the time, the only thing sweet in the house was Hershey’s chocolate syrup, so I slathered it on everything I could find from crackers, to crackers with butter during a late night pantry rampage. I’ll never forget reading her note in red pen on my food diary “frequent use of chocolate syrup”.
She diagnosed me with a food addiction and recommended Overeaters Anonymous (OA). It took me a year of self-torture to actually go to a meeting, and another year of unprecedented weight gain to work the program.
I lost the extra weight in OA, but continued to obsess about food and my body, to the point of bingeing on things as tasteless as rice cakes! In OA, I had learned that I would always be a compulsive overeater, and I needed to forever stay away from my trigger foods of sugar and white flour or I would plummet right back into my addiction. For over a decade, I “white knuckled” it through, still obsessing, still controlling and counting.
It wasn’t until many years later that I began to imagine that more was indeed possible for me. Surprisingly, that realization came courtesy of a health and career crisis. I contracted glandular fever (mononucleosis) for the second time, and it devolved into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It took me over two and a half years to recover my energy, by ever so slowly letting go of my need to earn my self-worth by being thin enough, fit enough, smart enough and successful enough.
I quit my job and decided to follow my heart instead. I began studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which taught me amazing tools for change. I realized that I might actually attain peace with food and my body, and right in the middle of my first training, I had an epiphany. I knew that my life’s work was to help others overcome their weight struggles and open up to the rest of their lives.
Your show is called Inside Out Weight Loss — can you explain how losing weight happens from the inside before it shows on the outside.
How many of us don’t already know that broccoli is generally a better choice than a Big Mac? We all know what we should be doing to lose weight. Yet how many of us actually do it, for the long run? We don’t. We can’t, and sadly, we blame ourselves for our lack of willpower and self-control.
But what if it’s not our own flawed willpower or sluggish metabolism that’s to blame? What if we’ve just been using the wrong tools for the job? The truth is that dieting actually makes us fatter because it’s focused on control and deprivation.
Lasting weight loss is not about self-control, it’s about self-care. To be slim and healthy, we have to take great care of ourselves through eating well, exercising, resting and renewing. And to do that, we have to like ourselves enough to want to take care of ourselves. We have to feel we’re worthy of delicious self-care. And that’s an inside job. That’s what I teach.
You talk about finding your “soul’s gifts”. How do we find out what our soul’s gifts are when we haven’t got a clue?
When we haven’t got a clue what our soul’s gifts are, it’s typically because we are so tuned out of our bodies and our intuition that we can’t tell. I teach how we can tune back in to discover what our gifts are.
While there is a great variety in how we express our gifts, through service, creative expression, charity and kindness, at the most basic level, we all have the same soul’s gift, and that’s love. Our ability to love ourselves and others unconditionally is the greatest gift each of us can share.
Self-love is a term we hear all the time. What does self-love mean to you and how can you tell if someone loves themselves?
Self-love is unconditional. In other words, we love ourselves even though we are flawed and we screw up. It’s loving ourselves anyway. We can tell if we love ourselves by how forgiving we are when we screw up. If we relentlessly beat ourselves up with harsh self-criticism, we’re not there yet.
If we forgive with kindness and compassion (which allows us to learn from our mistakes, btw), then we have found self-love.
How do YOU hold on to your authentic self in the midst of an imperfect life?
My authentic self doesn’t require holding on to, because she’s always there, beneath the screw ups, and the pretenses, and the people-pleasing. It’s when I become quiet and also when I abandon myself to do what I love that I remember who she is and what she likes.
Sometimes I can only glimpse her in the eyes of someone who loves me, like my husband, and that glimpse reminds me that it’s time to come home to her again.
Renée Stephens is an internationally recognized behavioral weight loss expert. Her Inside Out Weight Loss audio program is the most popular weight-loss podcast on iTunes, with more than 3.5 million downloads to date. She has consulted for Weight Watchers International; runs weight-loss seminars for Fortune 500 companies, including The Gap, Oracle, and Whole Foods; and is featured in the documentary film The Inner Weigh.
A Certified Hypnotherapist, Life Coach, Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Destination Method Coach, she holds a BA, with Distinction, from the University of Virginia and an MBA from the London Business School. She has two children and lives with her husband in Mill Valley, California.