The skill of acceptance for fat loss and happiness

acceptance behaviour change fat loss habits mindset tara brach Oct 22, 2021

A book that’s been on my radar and I had a sneaky suspicion would be useful for Sustain clients (spoiler: it is) is "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach. 


So, how is “acceptance” going to help you lose weight and be happier? And what even is it?


Here’s my thinking. 


Most people don’t eat high calorie food in fat gaining portions because the trade off is worth it. It’s rarely a conscious choice where the pros are worth the cons. 


It is almost always as a result of circumstances people struggle to control. Namely energy (they don't eat enough, crave food and then can't control themselves) and emotional regulation (they experience emotions they find difficult and use food to comfort / distract / avoid). 


In short, people refuse to accept hunger, sadness, anger or any number of negative physical or mental scenarios but namely emotions.  They refuse to tolerate or accept it and use food for comfort. Excessively, which leads to weigh gain.


And so if people can learn to accept these feelings. To sit with them, and let them pass, then they can both lose weight and be happier. 


The happiness part comes from the fact these emotions are uncomfortable and if we can get rid of them faster then life feels better. We can’t live in a state of ecstasy or 8, 9 or 10 out of 10 happiness, but if we spend less time in the lower numbers then the average goes up and life is better. 


There is actually a study that mirrors this. “The German beeper study” where people were given beepers and asked at regular intervals how happy there were on a scale of 1-10. 


When good things happened, people moved to 8, 9 or even 10. Until the moment passed, normality returned and happiness returned to a stable 7. 


The same with negative events. 1, 2, 3 or 4 on the happiness scale and eventually, when it passed, back to a 7. 


Acceptance is, in my opinion, a way to move out of the lower numbers faster. And if you, like most people I work with (myself included) and most other humans, have a tendency to eat when the numbers drop, then this is useful stuff. 


Right Joe, I’m on board. How the hell do I do this? 


Pause. Wait. STOP reacting to things immediately. This is often an ego piece. I LOVE getting my point across but if I just shut up for a bit and realise I don’t have to voice every concern, quibble or passing thought I often end up in less trouble than if I let my gums flap and vocalise every thought that pops into my head. 


This is hard. People like being heard. But often it’s not necessary and is just what you want to do. And not what the situation necessitates. So try it. Be quiet and wait, ALL emotions pass. Granted people can grieve for years, decades or lifetimes but this isn't constant. All emotions fade to manageable levels at some point.


In this interval we have a chance to engage our brains and question our inner thoughts and gut reactions. We can then decide what to do. 


And this is something most people have never tried. Lean IN to what’s going on. Use the meditation tactic of "noting" and note or detail what is going on.

Rather than being swept away in a tide of emotion, how awful this is and how angry you are, and how much of a cow your neighbour is. Simply note the physical sensations and the passing thoughts. For example, when I'm frustrated the process would go like this:

  1. I can feel a lump in my throat, like someone is standing on my neck
  2. My breathing rate is faster and stronger
  3. My heart rate is up
  4. I am thinking about how unfair this is
  5. I am thinking about how someone else has done me wrong

We can then go further into the thoughts and unpick them. This is leaning in. Why is it unfair? What assumptions am I making?

Answer - I have a set of values that someone else has crossed. They are, in my eyes, not being considerate. I am assuming that my values are right and there actions are gross misconduct. This is of course, up for interpretation and there are innumerate circumstances where their actions are valid, or at least not crime of the century. It is likely they feel like they are in the right and it's unlikely they have done this as a personal affront to me.

This is where emotional intelligence comes into play. And hold onto your hats here, a lot of people who struggle controlling their food are not as high on the emotional intelligence scale as they'd like to think.

Before you mash the keyboard comment section into oblivion, look at the definition:

Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

For me, in my humble opinion, if someone uses food for comfort because they struggle to handle uncomfortable emotions then they are not managing their emotions in positive ways (is eating a positive coping mechanism? Personally, it's a no). Empathising with others (this is so unfair!) Communicating effectively (often it's the refusal to communicate that leads to food). Or overcoming challenges (eating is hiding away from the reality).

And this exercise will help.




This stuff is NOT easy. People spend most of their lives believing that every little thought they have is a legitimate desire. There is no CEO in your brain who directs every decision. And if you believe there is, try and meditate for 5 minutes. Actively try and hold your attention on your breath. Breathe in and count "One" and breath out and count "two" continue this going up in a relaxed manner and see how high you get without any other thoughts.

Many, many, many of our thoughts are passing whims or desires, throwbacks from our evolutionary days. There are too many decisions to make and actions to take day to day for our brains to manage them all, this is why habit change is big business now. Our habits will determine a large percentage of our actions. SO we have to change on both a subconscious and conscious level. Why else would so many people fail on so many diets so often? Because the underlying habits haven't changed.

Work on accepting your thoughts and emotions as valid, they are allowed to be present, we just don't have to act of them. And actually sitting with them will hep them dissipate and disappear faster than ever.

If you need help working on this, drop me an email at [email protected] and I'll happily talk you through the coaching options available.