The Impostor Syndrome can keep you from being healthy.
I recently found fascinating article from the folks at Caltech on an issue called The Impostor Syndrome. The article was published to help students understand how Impostor Syndrome and its disbelief and disconnection affect them in their academic lives and future careers, but it really got me thinking about how these same things can affect our health and self-esteem — the condition of our bodies, our commitment to eating right and being fit and how we treat ourselves physically. I want to share those thoughts with you.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
I really want you to read the article itself, which can be found here, but here’s a rundown of what Impostor Syndrome is:
Impostor Syndrome is a mindset or set of beliefs that tells you that you don’t deserve what you have, that you haven’t earned your success/achievements or relationships or that you aren’t worthy of better.
Surprisingly, Impostor Syndrome is not a matter of low self-esteem and the people affected by it are not under-achievers. Impostor Syndrome affects people who are seeing success personally or professionally — they just don’t think they have them honestly.
Although all of us have moments of self-doubt, the people most likely to have Impostor Syndrome are perfectionists and "Type A" folks, people who expect a lot of themselves and others around them. You’re also more likely to have Impostor Syndrome if your family had a tendency to label you as one thing or another (good labels, but labels nonetheless), or if your family tended to put you and your achievements on a pedestal or support you to the point of making you feel you (or your achievements) were superior to others. Does this sound like you?
How Impostor Syndrome relates to you, your body and your health:
In reviewing the details of the Impostor Syndrome, I realized it’s connected to seven lies I hear often as I coach clients back to health. These lies are directly related to your fitness, your weight, your nutrition and your overall health. I want to share each one of those with you and also offer some ways that you can counter those lies and rob them of the power they’ve been stealing from you.
Lie #1: You don’t deserve good things. Whether you have a lot of good things (nice home, great job, great mate or even just lots of pretty clothes) or you just long for them, Impostor Syndrome tells you that you don’t deserve them.
The effect: If you don’t think you deserve good things, it’s difficult to justify hiring a trainer or spending a little more money to eat high-quality, organic foods or even to feel you deserve to look and feel better.
The counterattack: Health isn’t a privilege, it’s a right and a responsibility. We all deserve to be healthy, just as children in Africa deserve clean water and kids right here at home deserve healthy school lunches. Also, you have a responsibility to be healthy for your family, your kids, your mate and even your employer. You don’t have to "earn the right" to eat the healthiest foods you can find or get help with choosing the right exercise program. You were born with it.
Lie #2: You are not real and worthy. This lie tells you that you don’t belong where you are, that you’re a poser.
The effect: How many times have you walked into a gym and felt completely out of place? How often do you long to join that Zumba or spinning class and hesitate because you’re not athletic enough/fit enough/coordinated enough?
The counterattack: Remember that every other person in that class is too busy worrying that they’re not athletic enough/fit enough/coordinated enough. They’re too busy focusing on themselves to notice whether you have rhythm. Give that class three sessions in a row, and I’m willing to bet you’ll make at least one class buddy, or at least feel much more comfortable.
Lie #3: Don’t even try, because you’ll just fail (or already have before). This preemptive strike against your confidence can be debilitating, because it keeps you from even trying something or from trying again/trying a different approach.
The effect: So many people stop trying to find a diet that works for them because they couldn’t stick to the last one, or they think fitness isn’t for them because they couldn’t hack that CrossFit class.
The counterattack: It would never occur to you to tell your child to stop trying to learn to ride a two-wheeler just because they fell once. Why not? What makes you and your situation different? Here’s another thought: How do you think those people at that CrossFit class got so good at it? They nearly died trying, that’s how! You didn’t fail your diet, it failed you, so read some of my posts on how to really lose weight with a real, healthy plan. If CrossFit isn’t for you, try one new activity every week until you find something suited to your tastes and your current fitness level.
Lie #4: The negative voices in your head are the only ones telling the truth. This one can really crush your spirit, especially if you just started or are in the middle of healthy lifestyle changes. It says that the diet/exercise program won’t work or the weight loss won’t last and so on. It tells you that those niggling, negative thoughts in your head are true.
The effect: You have a hard time trying to get or stay motivated, no matter how much you want to reach that weight loss or exercise goal.
The counterattack: If you can't command those voices to be quiet, then drown them out! For one week, make a note of every single positive thing someone says about you, large or small. Jot down some of the nicest compliments anyone has ever given you, about your character, your abilities, anything. Then add some of your own. When those negative voices start piping up, whip out your notes if you have to, but drown those voices out.
Lie #5: Keeps you from connecting with others. This one compares you unfavorably with others and makes you feel awkward, out of place or inferior socially.
The effect: You steer clear of group workouts you might enjoy or healthy activities like a neighborhood walking group. You don’t ask that super-fit woman working out next to you how to use that cool-looking ab machine. You have trouble keeping yourself accountable to your plans and goals for fitness and diet.
The counterattack: Honestly, just do it. Start small, by asking someone you already know well to be your diet buddy or by saying "yes" to your co-worker's invitation to walk during lunch. People who work out with a friend are significantly more likely to stick to their goals, so get your mate or best friend to pair up with you for yoga, vegetarian cooking classes or whatever you’d like to try. Pretty soon you'll be asking that stranger at the gym how she got those shoulders.
Lie # 6: Keeps you from celebrating your successes. This one kills your motivation and momentum by telling you that one pound of fat loss is just a drop in the bucket or that being able to run a mile is small potatoes compared to what everyone else is doing.
The effect: By stealing your pride in your small milestones, this lie can completely derail your momentum and keep you from feeling good about what you’ve achieved so far. You need those good feelings to keep you working toward your goals and to keep you happy as you move from Point A to Point B.
The counterattack: Celebrate every single milestone, no matter how small the milestone and no matter how small the reward. If you stuck to your whole foods diet for an entire week, go out and get yourself a scoop of sorbet or a pretty new place setting. Lost a pound of fat? Get a pretty new blouse or treat yourself to a new lipstick to play up that proud smile. You went from barely being able to walk to you car to running a mile? How about those fancy-schmancy running shoes or an evening creating a new playlist for your iPod or phone? Or maybe a home pedicure for those hard-working feet? It doesn't matter what you do, just do something. You EARNED it.
Lie # 7: Says your past achievements are a sham, so your future achievements would be, too. This one tells you that luck/connections/happy accident is responsible for your past achievements and would be responsible for any future achievements, so why bother making an effort or reaching higher?
The effect: This one keeps you from progressing from one goal to the next or even from using any past triumph to help you feel you can conquer something else, like a 30-pound weight loss or zero knowledge about weight training.
The counterattack: We’re all making it up as we go. Everyone wonders if some past achievement or result was just dumb luck. The best thing that you can do when this particular lie pops up is to talk to others you know and admire. Ask them about their own doubts and how they see themselves. Realize that we are all human, even the people who seem to have it all together. There’s nothing like finding out your uber-healthy co-worker used to be a junk-food junkie or that your bodybuilding friend at the gym started out not knowing the difference between a dumbbell row and a bench press. These things remind us that everyone starts from zero and they also remind us that our own progress is worthy and real.
Listen, we get enough negativity and self-consciousness from the media. We don’t have to put up with it within ourselves. We are loved because we love others, we have friends because we are good and caring friends and we have our employer’s trust because we work hard.
By the same token, we deserve to eat foods that make us feel good and do things for our bodies that help us feel confident and happy in our own skins, so that we can enjoy life, participate in it fully and keep being all those things that our friends and family believe about us, even when we don’t see it.
So stop giving audience to these lies and start repeating the positive truths to yourself until you believe them, too.
Yuri Elkaim is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and author of the NYTimes Best-selling book "The All-Day Energy Diet." In his upcoming book, "The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet" (Rodale, 2015) he walks readers through a 5-day food cycling program guaranteed to double your weight loss. Look for it in bookstores December 2015.
This article was originally published at Yurielkaim. Reprinted with permission from the author.