Do you think you’re an authentic person?
Do you think you live authentically?
What about when it comes to you losing weight and keeping it off?
Do you think you live in an authentic manner when it comes to being truthful with yourself about eating less and exercising more?
Is your level of authenticity and your body weight interlinked?
Let me shed some light on the relationship between striving to live an authentic life and successfully attaining your healthy body weight goals. My purpose in this article is to show you that attaining your goals will occur as a consequence of choosing authentic commitments.
Authenticity is defined as:
- An undisputed origin and not a copy
- Based on facts
- Accurate or reliable
- Denoting an emotionally appropriate, responsible mode of human life
It comes from the Greek authentikos meaning one who acts independently, to have full power. Thus, functioning authentically is reflected in our ability to develop and construct a core-self which is maintained over time; by being the master of our own domain (1, 8).
Authenticity dates back to the Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, where in his work Nicomachean Ethics he emphasised the importance of pursuing the higher good, explaining that ‘activity of the soul is in accordance with the best and most complete virtue in a complete life’ (2), and such pursuits are ultimately tied with our well-being (as attained through self-realisation and doing activities that reflect our true calling) (3).
I believe that weight loss and weight maintenance blends well with Socrates’ philosophy because looking after your body (weight) reflects a survival mechanism of behavioural self-regulation and organisation that enables longevity and disease control. This philosophy sustains health, vitality, and happiness throughout life.
Being authentic means being true to yourself, which entails acting and thinking in a way that reflects the ethical core values you hold and believe in (7). When you’re authentic, your values aren’t decreased by someone else’s inability to see your worth. In addition, when you’re authentic, your weight loss values aren’t decreased by a situation that challenges those values. As Ralph Waldo Emerson (the 19th century Transcendentalist American poet and philosopher, 1803-1882) said: ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment‘.
‘To thine own self be true’ is a line from act 1 scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. Polonius’ advice is summed up with the lines: ‘This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man’. Is Polonius true to himself? Due to his unnecessary and flowery language, Polonius is the complete opposite of what he claims to be. Although Polonius counsels his son Laertes: ‘To thine own self be true’, he doesn’t follow his own advice, and apparently neither does anyone else in the play. (Will covered all the bases).
Benefits of Being Authentic
Living authentically by an honourable ethos can lead to negative feelings of being judged by others, which can lead to anxiety and fear. Of course, there is no end to this when it comes to losing weight and challenging peer pressure. Building authenticity therefore, calls for strength and courage. Living an authentic ethos is like building your muscles; it takes time, patience, practice, and a belief in yourself that you can change and grow as a person. It involves being comfortable with the vulnerability of authenticity. For example, losing weight, sustaining your goals, increasing your health status, and making helpful choices in your life is all about self-development and change, and this process is constantly evolving over time.
You are your own best friend when you act in an authentic way to yourself, with honest and open feelings and thoughts. When you’re honest and genuine, you can’t be ‘found out’, or feel guilty or ashamed of yourself. Practicing authenticity is a self-fulfilling vision because the more you practice being vulnerable, the more comfortable you will get at being authentic in a variety of environments and with a variety of people.
Trying to act authentically sharpens your focus on your long term goals, and on being truthful to yourself. Diet fads are short term thinking. They don’t support authenticity. They increase the lies you tell yourself. Weight loss and maintenance goals are a long term journey. Focusing on these long term goals helps to reduce the lies you tell yourself, builds rationality, objectiveness, and emotional intelligence. Sustained weight loss has to be a rational learning process over time.
Characteristics of Authentic People
Authentic people possess a number of characteristics that show they are emotionally mature. See how you fit into these characteristics. Authentic people (7):
- Have realistic perceptions of reality, and are more realistic about themselves and the world around them
- Are accepting of themselves and of other people
- Are thoughtful
- Have a non-hostile sense of humour
- Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly
- Are open to learning from their mistakes
- Understand their motivations
- Are resilient and have a high capacity to problem solve
- Are mindful about the direction they are taking in life
- Are likely to express who they are and engage in activities that express who they are
- Are likely to utilise their strengths
- Are clear about distinguishing their boundaries and are clearer to others about what is acceptable to them and what isn’t
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Conversely, inauthentic people:
- Are self-deceptive and unrealistic in their perceptions of reality
- Look to others for approval and to feel valued
- Are judgmental of others
- Don’t think things through clearly
- Have a passive aggressive sense of humour
- Are unable to express their emotions freely and clearly
- Aren’t open to learning from their mistakes
- Don’t understand their motivations
So, these are some of the characteristics of authenticity. There are also three concepts that involve authentic living, and these include the domains of society, openness, and functional flexibility.
Society, Authenticity, and your Weight Loss
It’s likely, as it is with most people, that there’s often an internal battle inside you with authentic-self versus a false-self, i.e., a protective, defensive social mask, when it comes to your weight loss (or any endeavour in life for that matter). Thus, false-self behaviours represent the lower end of an authentic spectrum.
Social pressures can include:
- Other people’s views and beliefs imposed on you (i.e., what people or diet books think you should eat and drink)
- Environments in which the crowd or scenario set an agenda of behaviours/actions (i.e., what is expected of you)
- Traditional cultural and religious beliefs (i.e., institutional decisions on food, behaviours, or feelings influencing your weight loss goals that tend to also produce pseudo-individuals of ‘the crowd’) (1).
Self-monitoring is an important tool to help overcome societal pressures when it comes to attaining your weight loss goals. This includes:
- Thinking about how and what you think
- How you behave and feel in various social situations
- Managing your impressionability (i.e., managing how impressionable you are in various social situations)
- How you decide to express yourself socially to attain your weight loss goals while acting authentic (true-self) or inauthentic (false-self)
Challenging these issues and overcoming false-self behaviours reflects the continual tension between you and your social structure, and the social obligations within the continuum of authentic weight loss. Ultimately, we have to learn how to take responsibility for our choices of who we’ll be, and what we’ll become, beyond the socially and culturally imposed identities.
When building your true-self in the pursuit of weight loss goals in social settings, it’s understandable that you may experience negative emotions such as anxiety, defensiveness, and fear. There can be great ambivalence in experiencing social pressure in one hand, and joy/excitement of your freedom for chasing your goals in the other hand when becoming your own goal-orientated self (the essential authentic purpose).
Openness, Authenticity, and your Weight Loss
Authentic people tend to be open to new experiences and outcomes, while at the same time their actions reflect their true-self, that is, autonomous and self-determining (1, 4). As our body loss and maintenance becomes more authentic, we find ourselves willing to perceive ongoing experiences accurately, without attempting to distort or avoid these experiences. Openness helps us to develop a high tolerance and acceptance for experiences without finding them threatening or becoming defensive.
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Openness, flexibility, and adaptability to new experiences while staying true to your self are keys to achieving your weight loss goals. Personal freedom develops when you can adopt an attitude of choosing how to control your weight when in an environment that tests your weight loss goals. This means that you’re creative in your approach to living healthier, rather than falling back on behaviours that are unnecessarily restrictive to weight gain.
Functional Flexibility, Authenticity, and your Weight Loss
The concept of functional flexibility involves having the confidence in your ability (1, 5) to deal with challenging situations that are contradictory to your weight loss endeavours. Functional flexibility enables you to call forth different strategies to overcome anxiety, difficulty, and pressures in compromising surroundings and people. For example, you may have to use different character traits, manners, personal interactions, and strategies in a situation (5), in order to attain your weight loss goals.
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The Four Pillars of Authenticity
Authenticity is demonstrated in four philosophical pillars:
- Pillar 1 – Self-awareness: Authenticity involves self-understanding and self-examination
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Authenticity involves self-understanding and self-examination (1) of your weight loss/maintenance needs and wants. Self-awareness involves knowing your motivations, desires, understanding your feelings, and being aware of your strengths and weaknesses (1, 8). Analysing these attributes has positive implications for your mental well-being (8), and controlling your body weight over the course of your life is a reflection of this.
For example, you’ll be acting authentically when you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings in a problematic situation that potentially threatens your weight loss goals; you examine the potential outcome, and change your behaviour to act in a way that allows you to maintain the body and health you want.
- Pillar 2 – Unbiased Thinking: Authenticity involves behaviours that are rooted in self-knowledge with the pursuit of the highest good in mind
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Authenticity involves behaviours that are rooted in self-knowledge with the pursuit of the highest good in mind (1). The second pillar of authenticity involves unbiased thinking of relevant information (1). Often we think things without questioning ourselves, where we get the information from, or how the information helps us in the best way. Biased thinking involves internally denying, distorting, or exaggerating external information (1, 8). Therefore, self-determined and authentic people don’t engage in biases following either success or failure (6).
Your beliefs can either take you further away, or closer to your weight loss goals. Therefore, practicing unbiased thinking increases your integrity and ability to seek out, and master your learning and goals (8). Unbiased thinking involves:
- Taking a step back from how you interpret things
- Analysing your own thoughts, emotions, and the information and knowledge you have acquired
- Objectively reflecting, or investigating if your thoughts, emotions, and information are true and helpful (to you losing and maintaining a healthy weight)
- Openness to recognising the full factual information of yourself and the world
- Finding the importance of knowing what actions you carry out from the thoughts you make, and changing them to new actions that are aligned with factual information (about diet, nutrition, and exercise)
An example of biased thinking would be joining a gym and never going, even though you tell yourself all kinds of lies to convince yourself that you’ll go. Or following a pseudo-scientific diet because it fits in with your food interests and preconceptions.
Another example of biased thinking involves misreporting, particularly under-reporting, energy intake in self-reported dietary methods such as counting calories. This is a well-documented phenomenon (10). It’s been observed in adults and children, particularly in overweight and obese people than those of a healthy weight (10, 12).
When you reduce your biased thinking, you become less defensive and ego driven in your behaviour, and more secure and self-compassionate (1, 6). This in turn allows for increases in self-knowledge, which fosters self-acceptance, and helps you attain a long term healthy body weight. Unbiased thinking allows you to have a learning attitude, and it’s my opinion that losing weight and keeping it off is something that must be learned (refer to my Weight Loss SOS plan).
- Pillar 3 – Behaviour and Values: Authenticity involves your willingness and capacity for objectively acknowledging and accepting your core-self
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Authenticity involves your willingness and capacity for objectively acknowledging, and accepting, your core-self (1). The behavioural component of authenticity refers to whether you act in accordance with your true-self, with your ethical values, preferences, and needs, as opposed to acting merely to please others or to fit in with peer pressure through acting falsely (8). If you behave in accordance with ethical values you’re more likely to experience flow at work, have higher self-esteem, and be intrinsically motivated and personally expressive (1, 8).
There can be considerable negative body weight implications when you live against your true values, such as destructive behaviours (binge eating), self-sabotage (getting fat and ill), and negative feelings like denial, guilt, anger, jealousy, and depression. When you live in conjunction with your true values, such as valuing a healthy mind and body, and chasing physical ease rather than dis-ease, you live life with added meaning and purpose which makes you happier long term.
Maintaining a healthy weight involves reducing self-deception and biased information, and aligning your behaviour and core-value system (i.e., what you truly value) for your own greater good.
For example, a healthy body weight depends on your ability to break down internal and external barriers that occur in your head, and in different situations in your life, and objectively analyse your beliefs around the subjects of eating, drinking, and exercise.
- Pillar 4 – Relational Orientation: Authenticity involves a particular orientation towards others
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Authenticity involves a particular orientation towards others (1). The fourth pillar of authenticity is relational in nature, and proposes that being authentic means being yourself and being honest with your friends, family, and colleagues (9). Relational authenticity means being genuine and not ‘fake’ in your relationships. It involves valuing and striving for openness, sincerity, and truthfulness in close relationships (8).
In terms of weight maintenance for a healthy life, relational orientation includes dealing efficiently with peer pressure, building helpful and honest relationships with people that will support your goals, being genuine with your expressions, and orientating yourself towards others that support you in your journey. In short, high relational authenticity means experiencing healthier, more satisfying, and fully functioning relationships than people low in relational authenticity (9).
The Bottom Line
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Trying to live a more authentic life runs the risk of promoting other’s scorn or ridicule. Self-knowledge and unbiased processing can be painful, as you encounter negative information about yourself. Becoming aware of your limitations in social skills, or finding out that you’re not as athletically minded or talented as you had hoped may be painful. Perceived discrepancies between your actual and ideal qualities you believe you should possess can produce negative emotional consequences (11). Experiences may be unsettling and even threatening, as your vulnerabilities are exposed in life. Reflection itself may heighten unpleasant feelings, particularly when it involves attempts to understand yourself better.
However, with practice, courageously behaving authentically will dissolve controlling tendencies and conflicts between you and your peers or authority figures. Behaving in ways that are in line with your deep ethical beliefs and values (true to you), will promote your well-being, self-confidence, reliability, trustworthiness, and strength.
Living an authentic life involves listening to your inner voice which tells you what truly makes you happy over the long term (which includes having a healthy body weight). You can begin to change once you can accept yourself just as you currently are. You’re more authentic when you display minimal defences, open to experience, and learning about yourself in an honest way. Look at both your flaws and strengths, and be critical of your behaviour in order to learn and change for the better.
Authenticity, weight loss and weight maintenance are highly correlated, although there’s no research on specifically linking authenticity and weight loss. There’s copious research on willpower and weight loss but willpower is a misnomer. This is evident when you progress through my Weight Loss SOS plan; naturally emphasising a philosophy of authentic mastery rather than willpower. You can have all the willpower in the world, but if you’re not acting, thinking and expressing yourself authentically, you’ll miss your desired outcomes and develop negative emotions and experiences from misguided willpower. Willpower is also a short term tool; authenticity is a long term tool.
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- Hutchinson, D. S. (1995) In J. Barnes (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. (pp. 195–232). Cambridge, UK: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
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- Deci, E., and Crittenden, K. (1982) ‘The psychology of self-determination’, Contemporary Sociology, 11(3), pp. 343.
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- Heymsfield, SB., Darby, PC., Muhlheim, LS., Gallagher, D., Wolper, C., and Allison, DB. (1995) ‘The calorie: myth, measurement, and reality’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(suppl), pp. 1034-1041.