As part of letting people know about my lowcarb website, I sent a blanket e-mail to people who had contacted me over the years to personally discuss their lowcarb journeys, people who had dropped out of lowcarb forums long ago.
“Sally’s” response to my note included the following paragraph and it was then that it finally struck me how off-topic chit-chat and cheerleading, while well-meaning, is ultimately unproductive, and in the long run, it can even be counterproductive to both the giver and the receiver.
She wrote: I’ve bookmarked your site and I will make a point to read more soon. Don’t know how active of a poster I’ll be, though I appreciate that you’re trying to keep the board “trim” as far as what is discussed. I think that that was one of the reasons I bailed on the old Atkins board…I just couldn’t keep up with the “chit chat” posts that were going on. It felt “all or nothing,” like if I didn’t respond or acknowledge nearly all of them that I’d hurt someone’s feelings or something. Like I have THAT power, right?? lol Just more of the learnin’…
It is because when we try to be helpful in this way, we slowly take on the unnecessary and distracting “responsibility” not just to lose weight and improve ourselves, but the additional duty to become a “good” friend and forum member. Then suddenly we’ve got a new worry about responding “right” to others in order to somehow make their feelings and their journey go better, and gosh, well now that we’ve been encouraging or complimentary to one person, then it behooves us to show others that we’re nice, good, polite, loving, giving people or, holy cow, we might accidentally insult or hurt them by our omission!!! Because we didn’t say something nice or encouraging to them!
So here we are trying to have some (unnecessary!) impact on others’ feelings which is in a sense overstepping a healthy boundary. And okay, c’mon, when we give out plenty of cheers and compliments, we’re also having at least a little impact on how the other forum members feel about US too! The more we cheer, the nicer we are, the more others will like us! But I think if over time, you carefully pay attention to what is at the core of a lot of people with emotional eating problems, you’ll see that what is deep down inside many of us is that we really don’t like ourselves too well.
See how tangled this can get? Ever considered that somebody can just BE momentarily happy and proud of themselves and that’s enough? That those feelings don’t need our embellishment?
The process of trying to be this kind of “good” forum member also makes it almost effortless to shift the focus off ourselves. We get distracted! Emotional eaters and addicts love to be distracted from focusing on our own eating behaviors. We’ve become adept at making distractions and complications.
Part of the reason why Sally disappeared from her support board was because she wore herself out trying to do the list right instead of focusing on getting the diet right for herself. So all her hours of giving and list participation ultimately didn’t help her get to her goal, and I would be willing to bet that all the cheerleading she offered was not a significant part of why anyone on that list eventually succeeded either (in fact, it was a remarkably low-success list, in my not-so-humble opinion, because it got so chatty and atta-girl focused.)
Take a look at this from the cheerleading recipient’s point of view. Let’s take a poster who once shared with me privately that she was hesitant to return to her lowcarb forum after she started to stumble. After hearing almost nothing but awe, praise and cheering for the great strides she made toward goal, she hesitated to return to “the cheering place” to admit any kind of defeat when the going got tougher.
Some of my views (as well as my success at this journey, I think) have been strongly influenced by the fact that I work at what I would term a progressive early childhood center. Believe it or not, one of our thrusts is to be very careful NOT to over-praise children.
There’s a fairly new concept arising from some of the fallout “praise, don’t punish” mindset: the praise-junkie. Educators are noticing a disturbing trend that many students are working for praise and good grades, instead of learning, growing and giving of themselves for the sheer joy and inner rewards of doing something challenging and personally satisfying. They are learning to please others instead of themselves and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
At our school we try not to say “good job” when a kid puts on his own coat for the first time. Instead we say “Wow, I see you just did that all by yourself!” When they say, “Do you like my painting?” we say “You used a lot of green. Tell me about this painting, do YOU like it?” We take note of their progress and their successes, but try not to mindlessly and endlessly praise them about every little thing. We don’t want them striving to be approval-seekers; we work to shift the focus onto how they feel about their own choices and accomplishments.
I don’t want or you to be “good” or “supportive” here. I don’t want to provide an atmosphere for trying to make you or anybody else feel any certain way. I want you to focus on you and your eating choices, I want you to be able to talk safely about your sometimes conflicting feelings about what you’re choosing, and the ramifications of your decisions on your feelings and on your progress. I want you to be able to really state how YOU are feeling, which is not necessarily how you or others might expect you should feel. I want a safe, but challenging place for people to gather and share their information and experience, then muster the courage to risk changing if/when it’s necessary.
I’m not perfect, I’m journeying too. The message board will evolve into whatever it evolves into—or it will fold if there’s insufficient interest. And it’s not that I don’t want people to become friends or that I can’t or won’t be friendly. I just want to remain focused as much as possible on the one thing that brings us all here in the first place.
Not getting focused on cheering others on is one little part of what I do differently here. Here’s to hoping it’s a service to the strugglers among us.