Episode 73 Summary

  • Storytelling - human beings are storytellers, we use stories all the time to make sense of the world. We tell each other stories, we've got collective stories in our culture, in our society, stories in our family, and lots and lots of stories within our head. And we really believe the stories in our head.  
  • The stories we tell ourselves - the best stories are the ones we tell ourselves. Sometimes these stories are extremely helpful and useful, for example “There is a powerhouse inside me, and I can change”. In other instances, our stories are unhelpful, such as “I can't even begin to think about changing my diet until my life and house and routine are all completely perfect”.
  • Stories keeping us stuck - by thinking that you need to diet perfectly or that everything needs to be perfect in order to even to start a diet, you can end up waiting for the perfect opportunity, which then never comes so you don't end up starting. This is taking a binary view that you need to do it perfectly, or else you're failing and not actually doing it at all. 
  • A common story is if we are doing everything right with our diet and then we have a slip, we tell ourselves, “I knew I couldn't do this, this is hopeless, I might as well continue to eat sugary, crappy, carby foods because it's obvious I can't do this”. 
  • Other unhelpful, but common stories around food and alcohol include “I can't eat low carb real food, because I have to cook for the kids, so I can't not eat pasta, and rice and toast for breakfast because that's what I'm feeding my children”, and “I've had a stressful day at work. I deserve a glass of wine”. Our brain tricks us, because even though these stories seem quite reasonable, they are often not true.  
  • We don't need to wait for that perfect moment - that perfect moment when everything is ready and the stars have all aligned, doesn't exist and may never exist. And it doesn't need to, you can make the changes anyway. Waiting for the perfect time is what keeps us stuck.
  • You don't need to do things perfectly either - a small change, performed most of the time, will make a big difference. For example, if you get into a regular pattern of meditating just a few minutes a day, within a few days to weeks, you actually literally start changing the gene expression in your body and your brain for the better. 
  • Changing the stories in our head - by stepping back and thinking about the story in your head, you can then decide whether that story is helping you or hindering you. For any story that no longer serves you, changing it is the key.

Show notes:


Are you waiting for the perfect time?


Dr Mary Barson: Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr Mary Barson.


Dr Lucy Burns: And I'm Dr Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss.


Dr Mary Barson: Good morning, lovely listeners, Dr Mary here. And I am joined today by my fabulous friend and colleague, Dr Lucy Burns. Hey Dr Lucy, how are you today?


Dr Lucy Burns: I'm wonderful Mares, I'm really wonderful. By the time this episode comes out, there's two things that I will have done right after this. So the first thing is, I will have come back from a retreat. So some of you know that I help with another colleague run retreats for doctors on self-care. So self-care is something that everybody from all walks of life struggle with, and the retreats are a wonderful restorative process. So I'm sure I will be feeling restored and wonderful. And the other little milestone in my life is that I will have just had my wedding anniversary.


Dr Mary Barson: Yay!


Dr Lucy Burns: So 24 years, I know.


Dr Mary Barson: Wow.


Dr Lucy Burns: You know what? I remember when my parents had their 25th wedding anniversary, and I don't know what I was, teenager of some sort, maybe young adult and I just remember thinking, “Oh my God, they're ancient”. And here I am entering, you know, the ancient and I realised that it's so interesting how age is just your perspective. I don't feel at all ancient. I feel rather hip and groovy, I'm probably not. My teenagers will be rolling their eyes like crazy. But it's amazing, isn't it? It's all just perspective.


Dr Mary Barson: It is all perspective, and I don't think you are anything approaching ancient.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah.


Dr Mary Barson: And yes, I'll go along with you being hip and groovy, definitely.


Dr Lucy Burns: Wonderful.


Dr Mary Barson: And congratulations for your 24 years.


Dr Lucy Burns: I know, I know. Silver next year, so we'll have to come up with something special to celebrate.


Dr Mary Barson: Something fancy, sounds good.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes, more than a cup of tea.


Dr Mary Barson: Yeah, we do like a fancy cup of tea though, that's a great way to celebrate. I will be 28 weeks pregnant when this podcast comes out. I'll be gearing up for my 28-week scan, so that'll be fun.


Dr Lucy Burns: Exciting.


Dr Mary Barson: I'm interested to see how I will be at 28 weeks; I'm looking forward to it. It's a few weeks away now. I'm doing pregnancy Pilates, antenatal Pilates, and I am just for some reason quietly surprised at how I can still get stronger and more flexible, even though I'm pregnant. I dunno, I had this sort of idea that my physical capabilities would just kind of decline, and then I could pick them up again later. But no, actually turns out that you can get stronger and more flexible, even when you're growing a baby. So hopefully I'll be even more stronger and even more flexible at 28 weeks.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely, and look you know, I reckon that there might be a little story in your head there. That is something, I mean for a lot of people pregnancy, you know it used to be called the delicate state, and people were fragile, and they were mollycoddled and wrapped in cotton wool, and you know, the birthing process used to be called confinement, which is just an awful word, because you had to kind of, you know recover. And so I think the, you know new way of looking at pregnancy is that it's a physiological state, and that absolutely, you can certainly look after your body in a way that it doesn't need to be mollycoddled.


Dr Mary Barson: No, no. My beautiful Pilates instructor, she's getting us to do these things that you know, require a lot of endurance and to work past the burn and stuff. She says, “You have a powerhouse inside you”. And I love it. I think that, that we all actually have a powerhouse inside us. I love that you just said the story that I'm sure I do have lots of stories in my head about being pregnant. I'm sure that, that lots of women do as they go through this experience. Because that ties in very nicely with today's topic, it's a little segue. I love a good segue. Storytelling, we humans are storytellers. We are storytelling animals, a narrative species. We use stories to make sense of the world, all the time. We use stories that we tell each other, we've got collective stories in our culture, in our society, stories in our family, and lots and lots of stories within our head. And we really believe our stories, we believe the stories in our head. You know when you're learning your information, if you're going to a webinar or a lecture, if the information is presented to you in a story rather than a list of facts, you're able to remember it much more. It's far more engaging and people who can teach with stories are generally considered to be really engaging, you know talented teachers by leveraging storytelling. And I reckon that the best stories are the stories that we tell ourselves, and Lucy sometimes these stories are really helpful and useful like, “There is a powerhouse inside me, and I can change. I can get stronger and fitter and more flexible”. And sometimes these stories aren't so helpful like, “I can't even begin to think about changing my diet until my life and house and routine are all completely perfect”.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely, and you know, we talk a lot in this podcast about diet culture. And you know, having been an expert dieter, I feel like I am well equipped to comment in this space, because for me a diet was something you started on Monday, you did it perfectly, if you weren't perfect you were breaking it, or cheating, it was quite a negative connotation. And so I often spent months and months waiting for the perfect opportunity to start the diet, because I didn't want to fail.


Dr Mary Barson: Yep.


Dr Lucy Burns: So it's a story that you can't start until everything's perfect.


Dr Mary Barson: Yep, and it's binary. It's either you're doing it perfectly, or you're failing and you're not doing it at all.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah. And this is part of the story in our head that keeps us stuck, so that when we do have a deviation off our path, our brain goes, “Well, that's not perfect”. And then another little sneaky story will come in, which is, “Well, you might as well make the most of this imperfect time and eat everything before you go back to being perfect”.


Dr Mary Barson: Or another story is that if you're going along perfectly with your diet, and you're doing everything exactly right, just like you know, your, your diet mentors told you you needed to do, and then you have a slip up and eat the donut in the team room because you're super stressed or whatever, then the story can be, “Well, I knew I couldn't do this, this is, I knew, I'm hopeless. I can't stick to anything, I'm useless. I might as well just eat all the donuts and then eat all of the chocolate biscuits and get ice cream on the way home and just continue to eat all the sugary, crappy, carby foods that I can for the next six months, because it's obvious I can't do this”. That's a story in our head. It's a pretty common story too.


Dr Lucy Burns: It is, it is. It's really common, the “I can't do it. I won't be able to do it perfectly”. It's super common. And again, you know, not our fault. But it's just a story that's a) Not true, and b) Not helpful. And again, you know, we often talk weight loss is a personal development journey, and part of it is understanding the stories in your head. What is your head saying? What is the story that is coming out? And having the ability to step back and see if it's true? Is it true? So for a long time, the story in my head was that when I go on holidays, I get to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, for as long as and as much as I want, and I'll deal with the consequences later. And that story, you know, you can have that story if you want to, you're the boss of you. Except what would happen then is I'd come back from holiday and then I'd go, “Aww, aww this is going to be hard”. So then my story became, “Aww, this is too hard”, you know, and part of it was that Fluffy's wide awake, I've got sugar cravings galore. And it was hard. And so then my two-week holiday would turn into a six-month sort of deviation way off my path. My all-terrain vehicle was in Siberia. And then, you know, suddenly I found myself 20 kilos heavier or 40 pounds heavier and I'm thinking, “How did that happen on my two-week holiday”? So you know now when I go on holiday, the story in my head is not, “Oh good, you're going on holiday, you can just eat whatever you want”. The story in my head now is, “Oh good, I'm going on holiday. This is a great opportunity for me to really focus on eating beautiful nourishing food”. I've got no other stressors in my life. I'm relaxing, I can choose well. I can you know, go to the you know wherever, depending on where we are I might have time to go to the farmers' market and see what, you know amazing whole foods they've got, or what locally produced macadamias there are, or what local home brew kombucha I might be able to buy. Instead of just assuming that because I'm on holiday I can have you know, 15 ice creams a day.


Dr Mary Barson: That's a beautiful example of rewriting the stories in your head, and we can all do that. So our beautiful listeners, I'd encourage you just to have a think now. Like do you have any stories in your head about food, about alcohol, that are unhelpful to your health and your health goals? What are your stories that you've got about food? Because I guarantee that you have got lots.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And alcohol is a common one. For a lot of people, they have the idea, there's two stories that will often come, or maybe three. One is, “I won't be any fun if I don't have any alcohol. And all my friends are going out to have fun and I don't want to be a downer. So I'm going to continue”. That might be a story. Another story might be, “When my partner comes home from work and they sit down to have a drink, I want to share that with them. So I'm going to have a drink with them before dinner”. Or the third story that we hear a lot is, and we talked a bit about this in last week's podcast, is the “I've had a stressful day at work. I deserve a glass of wine”.


Dr Mary Barson: Yep, all really common stories. Common stories I hear about people who have started their low carb journey, or they feel like they can't and it's not, it's not going particularly well, or they feel it's not going well, or they can't start their low carb real food journey. Stories like, “Well, I have to cook for the kids, so I can't not eat pasta, and rice and toast for breakfast because that's what I'm feeding my children”. And it can be a really convincing story, people believe it. Or one I must say I find, I find interesting is that, “I don't like eggs, so I can't do low carb”. I don't know about you Lucy, but I reckon I've heard that dozens of times. It's a story that people have in their heads, that the only way to embrace the low carb real food diet is to eat a lot of eggs. Spoiler alert, you don't have to eat eggs if you don't like eggs. Putting that out there.


Dr Lucy Burns: I know, and you know, you can see where it comes from that story, because a lot of people will move from breakfast cereal to eggs in the morning because they're, you know, it's a much better option. So there's a lot of images of people's eggs, there's scrambled eggs, there's poached eggs, eggs everywhere. And so people go, “Oh, well I don't eat eggs, so I can't do it”. It's a story. It's an absolutely, seemingly reasonable story. And this is the thing about our brain, it tricks us because the stories seem quite reasonable. It's just that they're often not true.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes, often not true, and possibly never ever completely true. But you can find stories in your head that are closer to the truth than further away from the truth. I'd say the whole breakfast needs to be certain breakfast foods is a collective story in our heads. It's a cultural story that was quite possibly cooked up by Uncle Toby's, Sanitarium and Kellogg's. But you know, I would challenge that story. Breakfast doesn't have to be special breakfast foods. It's, it's food that you are using to nourish your body. It can be anything. It can be a curry, it can be leftover dinner, it can be whatever you want it to be. And it certainly doesn't have to be bacon and eggs.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And it's interesting, in many cultures you know, their breakfast food might be some, I think it was when we were in Turkey, we got a plate of tomatoes, some cucumber, olives, much to my husband's disgust, but I had his because I love them. And like it wasn't mozzarella, but it was a cheese sort of like that on the plate. And I remember at the time thinking, because you know we were about 20 something and it was back when you know, we ate cereal for breakfast and thinking, “Oh, this is weird”. It was weird. It felt weird to me. But it's perfectly fine.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes, it's good food in fact.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And the stories in our head, I mean, I totally love this. Because when you can step back and think about the story in your head, you can then decide whether that story is helping you or hindering you. And you can just change it. And to be fair to us, our stories might come because of past experiences. So as an example, somebody may be able to, again due to that diet culture thing of being perfect, so yeah, when everything was going well, I could stick to my, air quotes, diet, and lose the weight. But once I'm out of routine, I can't do it. And that may have been the experience because that's what you were told. That you either do it perfectly or you're not doing it at all. And so we have this story, and we can reflect back with perhaps some experience and so it makes sense. But you can absolutely change it and in fact, I would say if we recognise that our lives are rarely in routine, because as humans they're not. You know, yeah you might have some things that you would like to do, but there is always stuff that comes up. You know, we're not robots. There is always something, a time where you know, you might go for a walk every day and you like that and that sets you up. But if you know, if your cat gets sick and you have to take it to the vet and you miss your walk, that doesn't mean that you can't do your lifestyle plan.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes. It doesn't have to be perfect all the time. And we don't need to wait for that perfect moment, you know the moment where everything is suddenly all in line, the stars have aligned, everything is calm and there's peace in the house, the kids are all sorted, you know your partner's keeping the kitchen table clear, you know that is the time when you can start tackling your lifestyle change, be that, you know whatever it is. A meditation practice, changing to low carb real food, regular exercise regime perhaps, maybe finally setting down and doing the journaling that you've always wanted to do. The thing is that that perfect moment, when everything is ready, it doesn't exist, it may never exist, and you can make changes anyway.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah. Waiting for the perfect time is what keeps us stuck. And expecting that we will do whatever change we want to do perfectly, also keeps us stuck. You know I say it a lot, that a shower doesn't break a drought. So again, you know, a bit here and there is not a big deal. Shower every day and suddenly there's no drought. And you can do the reverse thoughts if you want. A small change, most of the time, will make a big difference. And I know Mares we've talked about brushing your teeth. If you miss brushing your teeth once a week, your teeth aren't gonna fall out.


Dr Mary Barson: Yeah.


Dr Lucy Burns: But if you brush your teeth for a couple of minutes, most days, you can have good teeth.


Dr Mary Barson: Yeah. Same with you know, meditating just a few minutes a day. If you get into a regular pattern of it, within a few days to weeks, you actually literally start changing the gene expression in your body and your brain for the better. And so it's a very small change that results in really huge benefits. And it's not, you don't need to turn your entire life upside down to start it and you don't need to wait for the perfect moment either.


Dr Lucy Burns: No. I love that expression and we have used it a number of times, that you know, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time is now.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes.


Dr Lucy Burns: Waiting for the perfect time will just result in another 20 years passing and no action.


Dr Mary Barson: Yeah.


Dr Lucy Burns: Go and plant your tree.


Dr Mary Barson: That's right. Go plant your tree and examine those stories in your beautiful brain and know that they're pliable, and that you can rewrite them, and that you're in charge of the stories that you tell yourself.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And you know recognise again, personal development, recognising that we all have like, there's only a few. I mean there's a few, but they're all the same. It's always the same story. It maybe has a slightly different context, but it will always be the same story. And when you can step back and unpack it and look at it and go, “Oh I don't know why I was thinking that”. It's okay, remember thoughts are just connections between two nerve cells. Your brain, the more your brain thinks something, the easier it is for your brain to continue thinking that, just doesn't mean that it's true.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes, our beautiful brains lie to us all the time. They just do. To make stories and to make sense of the world. It's just what happens.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah. And it's not, again it's not bad. It's not terrible. It's just something to be aware of and know that because you are the boss of you, you can change it. You can change those stories in your head. And in fact, I would say that you have to. For any story that no longer serves you, changing it is the key. Wonderful friends, I think that's it for us this week. We will see you next week with another episode. Have a wonderful, wonderful week.


Dr Mary Barson: Goodbye everybody.


Dr Lucy Burns: So my lovely listeners, that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr Lucy Burns. 


Dr Mary Barson: And I'm Dr Mary Barson. We're from Real Life Medicine. To contact us please visit https://www.rlmedicine.com


Dr Lucy Burns: And until next time, thanks for listening. The information shared on the real health and weight loss podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.

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