Done with Dieting Episode #107: Identity


Have you ever self-sabotaged? It could be how you view yourself.

Our identity has a major influence on our health and well-being. 

If we identify as athletes, for example, we are more likely to prioritize physical activity and healthy eating. On the other hand, if we identify as workaholics, we may prioritize our careers over our health and engage in behaviors that are detrimental to our well-being. 

By understanding how our identity shapes our health habits and behaviors, we can make more intentional and positive choices for our overall well-being. 

To cultivate a healthy identity, it can be helpful to reflect on our values, seek out role models who embody the healthy identity we aspire to, and practice self-compassion and self-affirmation. By making a concerted effort to align our identity with our health goals, we can improve our physical, mental, and emotional well-being and live our best lives.

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If you want to take the work we’re doing here on the podcast and go even deeper, you need to join the Feel Good Sisterhood - my group coaching program for women in midlife who are done with dieting, but still want to feel good! The Feel Good Sisterhood is open for enrollment, so click here to discover if group coaching is a right fit for you and your goals.

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What you’ll Learn from this Episode

  • How we develop our identities.
  • How powerful a shift in identity is when trying to develop better habits.
  • Examples of how we identify ourselves might get in the way of becoming healthier.
  • The 6 different methods you can use to change your identity for the better.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

For many of you who are listening to this episode right now, you identify as a dieter. This is really fascinating.

When you identify as a dieter, what does that mean when all of a sudden you want to stop dieting. You want to get off dieting altogether and live food freedom. What happens then if you have this strong belief system, this identity of well, I’m just a lifelong dieter. It keeps you back in the loop.

You are listening to the done with dieting podcast. The podcast for women in midlife, who are done with dieting, but still want to lose weight and feel good in your clothes.

You know that diets don’t work long term. But you feel like there’s this secret that everyone else knows that you just haven’t figured it out yet.

I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman. And I’ve helped hundreds of women get off the diet roller coaster, change their relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies.

Through this podcast, my goal is to help you too.

Welcome. Let’s get started.

Hi everyone, welcome to the Done with Dieting podcast. This is episode number 1 0 7 and today we are talking about identity. Now, before we get onto the topic of today, I just want to explain a little bit about what identity is. I mean, I’m sure that you know what identity is. But how it really plays into our health.

So, years ago when I was a young, new, fresh, personal trainer, I was all about habits. I told people, all you have to do is do the habit, and once you get the habit, then you’re going to be set for life. Because I believed it. And I was the type of person who was able to just adopt habits that way. Now that’s a good thing, in terms of health.

But it’s also a bad thing because I will often find myself getting into habits of snacking, or I was a smoker, or drinking, or just doing those things that habitually come easy to us. And I don’t want to get too much into habit today because that’s a whole episode in and of itself.

But for the very beginnings of my career as a coach, I would coach my clients around doing things like environmental changes. So, making sure that they set up their environment so that it supported their healthy habits, so that they would do the healthy habits. One of the things that I would tell them, which is a very common habit technique, is to peg one habit to another.

So, examples of that might be things like, if you want to take your vitamins, make sure you put your vitamins next to your toothbrush because your toothbrush is something that’s already a habit. Then when you are brushing your teeth, you see your vitamins and you take your vitamins. That’s just an example of using one habit that’s already been established to create a new habit.

And then, the next layer down from there is starting to develop some skills and abilities. Things like being able to read a menu, or being able to read a nutritional label, or being able to cook a healthy dinner, or run without injuring yourself, or create a workout routine and use all of your muscles. Those are all skills and abilities.

So, when we think about all of the things that I was just talking about, environmental changes, creating habits and behaviors. And then, also having skills and abilities, the problem with that is that those require free will.

If someone in my family comes in and adds a bunch of cookies to my house. I haven’t established my clean environment anymore. Then all of a sudden, my environment is no longer set up to support that healthy habit, right? All of a sudden, my environment has cookies in it, and cookies are really tempting. So, if we’re relying on our environment to support our healthy habits, that’s great. But it also requires upkeep.

Same thing for habits and behaviors. They can be really good established behaviors, but what happens when the habit that we’ve pegged, right? So, another example of that might be every time I bring my kid to the bus stop, I go for a run, or I go for a walk. Well, what happens when my kid isn’t going to the bus stop anymore?

Maybe he or she has grown up and is no longer taking the bus or it’s summertime. That thing that we are requiring to kick off the habit no longer is there for us to keep establishing that secondary habit. And then, as far as skills and abilities go, yes, we can know how to cook a healthy meal. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to do it.

And so, one of the most impactful things that we can do, one of the most impactful changes to our health habits can be how we identify ourselves. What are the labels that we use to identify ourselves? And this episode today was actually kicked off by some of the women in my group coaching program, the Feel Good Sisterhood.

One of them was reading a book and she realized, oh my goodness, I have been identifying myself as a fat person. And why this is important is because when we use certain words to identify ourselves, our brain, our subconscious brain, hears it. And our brains love to be right, and so our brains will do anything they can to not have cognitive dissonance, to not be at odds with what the truth is.

So, if I am telling myself, even if it’s in my head that I’m fat. Our brains are going to go out and try to prove ourselves right. This is one reason why affirmations don’t always work. Because if we’re saying to ourselves, I’m a thin person or anything like that. And our brains really are saying on the unconscious side, yeah, but I’m really fat. Like I’m the fat sister. I’m the fat friend. Then it doesn’t matter what we say out loud, we really believe in something else.

What I wanted to talk to you about today is understanding identity, understanding where identity comes from. And then also, the question that you might be thinking is can we change our identity? And yes, we absolutely can change our identity. And at the end of the episode, I’m going to give you a couple really great techniques on how to do that.

But first, understanding identity. So, what is identity? Now if we go to Google, Google tells us a lot of definitions that don’t really make a lot of sense. So, like for example, the Miriam Webster Dictionary says, the meaning of identity is the distinguishing characteristic or personality of an individual. So, yeah, that doesn’t really help us in terms of how we identify ourselves.

But if we go to Wikipedia, what we can find out here that identity is the qualities, beliefs, personal traits, appearance, and or expressions that characterize a person or a group. And so, that actually gives us a little bit better of a definition of what identity is all about. It’s how we identify ourselves, it’s how we decide what our belonging is.

And humans, we are constantly looking to try to belong. It’s just part of our DNA. We just want to belong. We want to belong to a group of people. When we were in the hunter gathere, it was really a form of self-preservation to belong to a group. And so, we needed to be able to identify with the people that we were cohabitating with. Because if we were left out on our own, then we may not survive.

And so, identity is actually something that’s hardwired into us. We want to belong. We want to identify ourselves and belong with those other people who identify themselves similarly.

From a very young age, we are starting to receive messages from our family, from our mentors, from our friend group, from our teachers, from our coworkers, from everyone around us. What is available to us? Who we are, what type of person we are, and what types of opportunities are available to us.

We receive these messages not only on a one-on-one basis, but we also receive them from the media, from our education systems, from our business institutions, from the justice system, and from churches. So, these Ideologies, and these beliefs, these cultural beliefs of what is available to us, those are all really given to us.

Some of the categories that we label ourselves with, but don’t have to be limited to. Include things like race and gender identification. Do you consider yourself a woman or a man or somewhere in between. What’s your profession? What’s your sexual orientation? Your religious affiliation, your political identification, your socioeconomic class, your educational background.

What leisure activities do you do that allow you to identify yourself? Do you identify yourself as your body size? Or a habituated activity, what you think about. What I mean by that one. That one is actually really super interesting. Do you consider yourself a worrier? Do you consider yourself a control freak? What is it that occupies your brain?

For so many women, we have been receiving messages from society about what it means to be a woman. What are the things that should be important to us? And so, for many of you who are listening to this episode right now, you identify as a dieter. This is really fascinating.

When you identify as a dieter, what does that mean when all of a sudden you want to stop dieting. You want to get off dieting altogether and live food freedom. What happens then if you have this strong belief system, this identity of well, I’m just a lifelong dieter. It keeps you back in the loop. Right?

Now, when I post these questions to the women in the Feel Good Sisterhood, I got all sorts of just amazing identifications. Most identified as moms. Some identified as women. All identified as daughters. We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have psychiatrists. We have such amazing strong women in this group who identify as their profession. Who are very capable.

And some of these labels that we wear, we really take pride in. I take pride in the fact of my career. I take pride in my educational background. We have women who have advanced degrees. But then we also have body size and our habits. So, when we think about those aspects of our identity, maybe we feel a little bit of shame.

So, we have this weird relationship with ourselves where there are some things that we feel really good and proud about ourselves. That we have advanced degrees, that we’re smart, that we’re articulate, that we’re educated. But then on the other side, we’re like, but I can’t get this food thing under control. What is wrong with me? And there’s a lot of shame associated with that.

Again, to go back to how is it that identity is defined. How do we develop our identity as humans, as women. Well, one, we receive a lot of messages through our family. Our family tells us what we’re good at. Oh, Elizabeth, you’re so talented. Or oh, Jenny, you’re so beautiful. You’re the beautiful sister. You are the thin sister. You’re the helper. You are the one that’s so smart. You’re funny.

Because we receive praise from our family as young girls, as young women, we receive praise about our identity. We ham it up, right? We know that that’s how we get approval. And so, we identify as that part.

Now, here’s the thing is that some of those identities are helpful and some of them really aren’t. I’ve talked about the book before Mindset by Carol Dweck. And in the book Mindset, she talks about two different mindsets that we have. One is what’s called a fixed mindset. And the idea there is that we either are, or we are not something. So, some of us may not identify as being an athlete. Some of us may not identify as being a naturally thin person. Some of us may not identify as being creative.

But there’s the other mindset which is what’s called a growth mindset. Someone who has a growth mindset believes that they can achieve anything. We just have to practice. That there is no good or bad in terms of ability. It’s just how much work and how much practice we put into it. Now, none of us want to be beginners, right? And so, we stay away from those things that we see ourselves as not being good at.

But when we talk about family identity, when we are labeled as the good cook, or the beautiful one, or whatever quality our family has given us, we see that as a fixed mindset. I’m never going to be as beautiful as my sister. I’m never going to be as smart as my brother. And so immediately when we hold these identities, we limit ourselves. And that’s really the crux of identity right there are some identities can actually be really helpful and some identities really cannot. Can really hold us back.

Now, culture will also shape our identity through norms, values, and expectations that are prevalent in the society in which we live. Depending on what era we’re living in or what part of the country, or if we are living in the US, or another part of the country, we may develop different cultural norms. right?

And then, social groups. What is important to different people in different social groups such as religious groups, clubs, or organizations can also shape our identity. I know that for many folks, when CrossFit was really popular, people used to identify themselves as Cross Fitters, right? I don’t know if that’s still happening right now. But definitely there’s a cult-like identity formed within that type of exercise modality.

For sure, people who are fanatical about running identify themselves as runners. And what do you think happens when we do that? We do more of it when we see ourselves as being uncoordinated or I hate running or things like that. Of course, we’re going to stay away from it. So, those are just some of the ways that we start to create our identity.

Now, the challenge here is really being able to notice when an identity that we’ve assumed is keeping us stuck. And I think that that’s probably where coaching or being able to listen to ourselves can really pay off. If you are someone who is just so unsure of why it is that you are stuck, if you are unsure of, I’m doing everything right. And yet, I still self-sabotage. It might be time for you to invest in a coach. It doesn’t have to be with me, but of course I would love to be your coach.

But talking to someone and the reason why I say talking to someone is because we reveal our identity through our words. Through the things that we say, we give clues as to what we believe is possible about ourselves. If I say, well, I’m just lazy. Or if I say that I’m just not that type of person who follows through. Those are really powerful words that our brains hear, and they actually work to execute in order to make sure that we are correct.

So, there are a number of strategies that we can use for shifting our identity. One of those is setting intentions. And so, when we go about setting intentions, there’s something that I love to do at the beginning of the year, or whenever I set a goal is I love to ask myself. How do I become the type of person who this goal is already a done deal?

In other words, instead of using the affirmation of I am 150 pounds. Thinking about who do I have to be in order to easily maintain my weight at 150 pounds? What is she like? What does she think about it? How does she prioritize herself?

Instead of thinking, I want to be someone who runs regularly. Thinking about who would I be if running came naturally to me. How would I set my day up for success if running was important to me. Instead of the affirmation of I love myself, what would it look like if I did love myself? How would I treat myself? How would I prioritize myself? How would I not be willing to tolerate anything less than the behavior that I am willing to tolerate as a person who loves herself?

When we can think about identification and when we can think about intention setting for the future versions of ourselves, and what that looks like and how she prioritizes herself. And what she thinks about, and how she acts, and what she does, and how she stands up for herself. And what she’s willing and not willing to tolerate in her life. So, when we can think about intentions, what we can also do is we can also start to imagine and visualize what her life looks like.

Now there are a couple ways that we can look at our identity. And I don’t know how important it is for us to uncover how we are actually identifying ourselves today. What I think is way more powerful is being able to think about how do we want to identify ourselves in the future.

One of the things that you may want to do is you may want to reflect on your values. And this exercise is so incredibly difficult. Because when we look at all of the different values that are out there. Loyalty, humility, compassion, honesty, kindness, integrity, selflessness, determination, generosity, courage. Like all of those values are so compelling. We’re like, yes, sign me up for all of them. But we can’t have all of them. We can’t have all of them because at some point, they start to get in the way of one another.

So, for example, honesty and kindness. We can’t have both of those together all of the time. Because if a friend asks me, how does this dress look on me? And I want to be kind and I want to be honest at the same time. That might not be able to mesh. Right? And so, values are a really good way of being able to figure out how do I want to identify myself.

Then, what happens is once we have our set of three to five core values that we’re like, okay, this is it. This is how I want to live my life. Then, every single decision that we make after that point, we make through the filter of how does this decision interact with my values. How does it support my values?

So, if I want to be a kinder person, when I open my mouth, I have to ask myself, is this going to be kind? Is it going to be kind to me? Is it going to be kind to the person that I’m talking to? And so, that’s one way of figuring out of living a more intentional life. We can also find role models.

One of my favorite exercises that I do with my clients is something called the board of directors. And what a board of directors is, you are the CEO of your life. But you have this board of directors just like a corporation would. Right now, you probably have people on your board of directors who you have not appointed. These are people like your mother, or an ex-boyfriend, or your mean sister, or some other teacher, or something like that. They are the voices of people of your past who are telling you terrible, terrible things about yourself.

And what happens is we believe them. Well, guess what? You have the opportunity to kick those people off of your board of directors. And instead appoint new board of directors. Now, these new people, these new board of directors can be anyone in the world. They can be real, they can be dead, they can be alive, they can be fictional. It’s totally up to you.

But here’s how it works. When you’re making a decision, you ask yourself, what would this person do? Someone who’s on my board of directors is some random white dude. And why I say that is because as a woman, I’ve been socialized to doubt myself. I’ve been socialized to not want to stick my head out for fear of what other people are going to think. Men don’t think this way.

And so, when I feel like I have self-doubt, or when I feel like I’m sticking my neck out, or that people are going to judge me. I ask myself, what would a random white dude do?

And then, I go ahead and do that. And what that’s done is it’s really allowed me to be able to differentiate between how I’ve been socialized as a woman and what I can do as a person.

This board of directors exercise can actually be really super helpful. If there’s someone in your life who you really look up to and respect, you can put them on your board of directors, and all you do is ask yourself. What would this person do? Put me on your board of directors if you’re unsure of what to do in terms of your health. Like what would Elizabeth do? That would be so fun. And if that happens, just tell me. I would love to be on your shoulder, giving you advice.

Now, another way of changing your identity is having some affirmations. Again, I don’t love affirmations because I think that we go in the opposite direction and our brain turns off. And what I mean by that is oftentimes, we’ll look at ourselves in the mirror and we’ll be like, Ugh, I can’t believe my body looks like this. I look gross. And then, an affirmation tells us to say, no, I should be telling myself that I look beautiful.

And if you want more information on this specific topic, I do have an episode all about affirmations called, “Why Affirmations are BS.” And I will put a link to that in the show notes. But what happens is when we contradict ourselves, our brains just shut off. So, when I believe that I look gross because I just said it and I say, no, I look beautiful. The brain doesn’t believe it. I don’t fully believe in affirmations, but I do believe in visualization. And so, really being able to live into the future version of myself who may not have the same belief system that I currently have about my body.

Self-compassion. Number four, self-compassion is a really great way of being able to change your identity by being kind to yourself and understanding that we all have positive, and we all have negative qualities. And we’ll often judge ourselves very harshly for being greedy, or for being selfish, or for being self-absorbed.

Guess what? Everyone in the world has those same qualities and they exert them at different points. So, when we judge others for having a certain quality that we don’t like, maybe being too proud, or being a victim, or whatever it is. We do that ourselves. And when we judge ourselves like, oh, I can’t let them think that I’m dirty, or I’m a slob, or whatever judgment we have about what we should or should not be. Be aware that everyone else has that as well.

So, really being able to have compassion for ourselves and kindness and treat ourselves with kindness so that we can really live into all of who we are. Seeking support will also be really helpful to have a support system of friends, a family, or a coach who can encourage and motivate you to work on and change your identity.

Again, I would love to be your coach. I would love for you to reach out to me and schedule a consult. But again, it doesn’t have to be with me. Just find someone who you can talk to, someone who you can rely on, someone who doesn’t have an invested interest in your change to become a better person, to become this person who you believe that you want to be.

Finally, number six is acting as if. Now, this is actually a really important one. You may not believe that you are whatever it is that you want to become. This always happens at the beginning. We feel like a fraud. We feel like impostors.

And first of all, I want to let you know that that’s actually very true for many women. We constantly feel like imposters. All of us have imposter syndrome. But after you do the thing for a period of time, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this before where you’ve had a new job and you’re like, oh my God, they’re going to find out that I don’t know what I’m doing.

But then, after a while you get your feet wet and you’re like, okay, you know what? I can do this. I know what I’m doing. And then, you get more confident, and more confident, and so on and so forth.

The same thing happens with your health. Now, the difference is that we need to be able to get through that period of discomfort. We need to be able to keep going when we really want to stop. And so, what I want to mention here is that motivation will often come from action.

The more we act as if we are whatever it is that we want to be, the more we go out and do the running thing if we want to be a runner. The more we say, this is just my normal way of eating instead of dieting when we want to get off the diet. The more we are able to trust ourselves around large amounts of tasty food and we keep telling ourselves, we have to keep going with that mantra, with that affirmation of I can totally do this. The more we’re able to do that, the more it will become easier, and easier, and easier.

Generally, identities take a while to shift. But there are instances when we will change our identity in an instant. One of the situations that many women find themselves in is when we give birth, right? We’ve gone from being just a single woman, or a married woman, whatever. Just a woman to all of a sudden having this identity of being a mother. And our identity completely shifts. And with it, all of our beliefs and values, all of our skills and abilities, all of our habits and behaviors and our environment, it all changes to support this new identity.

The labels that you wear can be one of the most impactful things that you ever think about in your life. Because they form how you perceive yourself, what you are capable of, and not capable of, what you aspire to, and what your goals are.

So, why wouldn’t you want to identify yourself as everything that is positive? Why would you want to identify yourself as anything less than what is possible for you?

That’s all I have for you today. Thank you so much for joining me. I will talk to you next week. And again, if this is work that you want to work on, I would love for you to schedule a consult call. All you have to do is go to, and we’ll see if coaching is the right step for you.

Have a great week, everyone. Talk to you next time. Bye-bye.

Hey, Thanks for listening.

If you’re done with dieting and would like to work with me as your coach, I’d like to invite you to reach out to myself and my team to ask about programs and pricing. Go to to get started today. I can’t wait to hear from you. See you next week.

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