Changing Beliefs about Helplessness
Inside Out Weight Loss
Renee Stephens

Episode 21 - Changing Beliefs about Helplessness

Today we go deeper into our series of limiting beliefs. Renee discusses the most common type of liming belief about weight loss, shared by the members of the Inside Out Weight Loss Yahoo group. You will learn about the concept of learned helplessness, and what you have in common with a chained circus elephant. Plus, Renee shares why some people seem to do all the right things, yet still can’t lose weight, as she offers an inspiring example of a woman who broke her 700 calorie a day plateau.



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Renee Stephens: Welcome to Inside Out Weight Loss. I am your host, Renee Stephens, and together we are accessing the control panel of your mind-body system bringing ease and joy to your weight loss journey and fullness to the rest of your life.

What was the situation with the other client I talked about who thought she could only lose weight at 700 calories? Well, in her case, we did some wonderful foundation work and, you know, the truth is I don’t know exactly what it is that worked for her. I don’t know exactly what it is that worked for her. It could be one of two things because this is what I find with people who say that they can’t lose weight even though they do all the right things.

I don’t know exactly what it is that worked for her. It could be one of two things because this is what I find with people who say that they can’t lose weight even though they do all the right things. I remember when I was losing weight on one of my brilliant diets. It was called The Diet Center, and I was eating 750 calories a day. I lost my weight until I got to about three or four pounds from my goal weight, and I just could not drop any more weight.

Today on the show we’ll discuss a pervasive type of limiting, sometimes, even crippling belief. We’ll learn why the circus elephant doesn’t run, and all the while we’ll be eroding those old limiting beliefs and laying the groundwork for action, empowerment and breakthrough.

So, go ahead and set your intention for this episode. Drop inside for a moment and become present with you whether you are at the gym or on a walk or run, in the car or simply relaxing and soaking all of this in. Is your intention to find out what’s here for you in this episode, to move past that old block that has been holding you back up until now, to experience deep gratitude and appreciation for the blessings that you have right this moment in your life.

Whatever it is, go ahead and set your intention now. By now, you know my intent. Mine is to help as many as I possibly can end the weight struggle and replace it with peace, joy and fun. It’s time to open up energetically and connect with all the other listeners of this show across time and space. Feel their presence. Send them your support and feel theirs as it comes back to you magnified many, many times over.

Hey, it’s like a pyramid scheme of support and acceptance. Hey now, that’s the kind of pyramid scheme I can get excited about. There is a power of group intent, a power of the collective that is much greater than the sum of its parts. So, feel and enjoy that energy now. We are a community of people on the same journey.

Do you have a support buddy or group? Have you thought about organizing a podcast club? It’s like a book club, but instead of discussing the book you discuss an Inside Out Weight Loss episode. If you have a club like this going, let me know what your format is. I’d love to share it. Even if you have a successful book club format I’m interested in that, too. I’d love to post it on my blog at By the way, the club could even be virtual via a free telephone conference line. I have a premonition of a blog entry here. I used to do free conference calls courtesy of free conference call lines that you can get at websites, like or, something like that. There are tons of them out there. Anyway, so I am interested to know how your support groups or book clubs are going.

I would like to share with you now an email that I got in response to a recent show. This was on my Success Journal, and it was just so inspiring for me to hear from a listener how she’s incorporating some of the concepts of this show into her life. She writes, Renee, thank you. Thank you for continuing to teach me how to think. The podcasts have been such a blessing to me. I love that I listen to the Success Journal and Limiting Beliefs episode today. Why? Because today, for the first time in my life, I got on the scale and saw a weight loss of more than 10 pounds.

I have lost a few pounds here and there and always gained it back plus more. But, this year I am approaching things differently with your podcast as a guide. I have been successful, and I’ve overcome my limiting belief that I’ll never lose more than 10 pounds. Your statement that weight loss is hard, is a limiting belief was a real eye opener for me, and I’m still processing it.

My immediate reaction was, duh, of course, it’s hard. In truth, I look back over the last six weeks in which I have lost the 11 pounds, and it hasn’t been that hard. In fact, it’s been different. There have been a few hard moments of resisting my kids’ hamburgers and cookies, but really it’s been fun - fun finding friends to go on this journey with; fun learning how to think in a different way and fun to look in the mirror and notice that I’m really working towards my goals and achieving them.

So, this is my first success journal entry, and I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for making a difference in my life and in the lives of my family and friends who are on their own journeys as well. Keep up the amazing work you are doing. I plan to keep up the good work I’m doing, too. Gosh, I love to hear that. It’s so wonderful to get your emails. Thank you so much for sending them.

In the last episode we talked about the power of the placebo effect that, in fact, instead of ignoring it we should be harnessing it. It’s the power of belief. Today, we’ll take it even further discussing one of the main two types of limiting beliefs, beliefs about helplessness. We’ll talk about the concept of learned helplessness as well - so much to say and so little time.

Last episode we also discussed five questions that you can ask yourself to identify your own limiting beliefs. Have you answered those questions? Did you journal about them? Did you discover some limiting beliefs lurking there that have been holding you back because limiting beliefs often are what holds you back?

Even when you think you are doing all the right things and nothing is happening, there is something happening. There is something that is holding you back. You know, I hear this a lot. I hear a lot of people say to me. They’ll come and they’ll say, You know, Renee. I’m doing all the right things, and it doesn’t make any sense.

In fact, I remember one client she came to me and she said, You know, Renee. I can only lose weight if I eat 700 calories a day. That’s the only thing that works for me. I’ve done so much extreme dieting, so much struggle over the years that I know that’s the only things that work for my body, and it’s just so hard for me.

It’s interesting that she even came to work with me. There must have been a glimmer of hope inside of her because if she had truly believed that that was possible, then what would be the point of working with me. But, she did. She came to me and she said, That’s what I believe and I’m hoping that maybe there’s something that I’m missing even though I feel like I’ve tried everything.

Well, let’s talk about this for a minute. What are the causes of that situation? Maybe, you’re one of those people or you know one of those people who say, You know, it’s not fair because I do all the right things. I’m so disciplined and so dedicated and yet the weight doesn’t come off of me.

I had this conversation with a client the other day. She said, 1400 to 1500 calories, I’m worried that I can’t lose weight at that rate. I find it very easy to eat that many calories, but I’m really worried that I can’t lose weight. I don’t think that I can. I don’t think that my metabolism is high enough. And, as we discussed it, she said, Well but, as a matter of fact, I lost a couple of pounds eating that many calories.

I said, OK, well, that’s a good sign. That seems to indicate that you can lose weight on that many calories. And then she said, And well, yesterday I had a big blowout or it was a party day and there were a lot of appetizers and there was a lot of food around and I ate a lot, and I feel accepting of it. It’s OK; I’m self-correcting today, no problem.

I said, That’s fantastic. Clearly, you have made a lot of progress in that area by accepting that and using it as a learning experience. But I also said, You know, it seems to me you can lose weight consistently on your level of 1400 to 1500 calories a day even though you might not think you can’t simply because you are having these blowout days, right? So, you may be good, perfect for two weeks, for three weeks eating at the level that you want to eat at, and then one day you have 3000 calories.

Well, all of those two weeks of 1400 to 1500 calories then you add a spiked day of 3000 calories, and that is going to cause you to maintain your weight. That is one way to maintain your weight, to eat low, low, low calories and then have a day where you have a blowout. That is a good way to maintain your weight if that’s what you want to do. Well, I don’t know if it’s a good way, but it’s one way to maintain your weight.

What we want to do is focus again on self-correcting so that when you do get off balance, when you do have a party day you are back in balance when you get to 2000 calories instead of 3000 calories. Then, it’s going to take you maybe even a full week less to start seeing results on the scale again.

What was the situation with the other client I talked to you about who thought she could only lose weight at 700 calories? Well, in her case we did some wonderful foundation work, and the truth is I don’t know exactly what it is that worked for her. I don’t know exactly what it is that worked for her. It could be one of two things because this is what I find with people who say that they can’t lose weight even though they do all the right things.

The first scenario is the one I just described. They do all the right things and yet they forget about the one blowout day. It seems, it appears as if they are doing a lot of hard work over a long period of time, and yet nothing is working.

But, it turns out that one blowout night, one blowout binge and all of that “hard work” - you know what I think about the hard work idea - is for naught because they’ve just eaten back all the calories that they had saved. In fact, when you really get honest about the calories the average calories is at such a level that you’re not going to lose weight. That’s one common scenario that happens.

Before we go on to the next one, it’s time for us to take a short break to support our sponsors. This is Renee Stephens, and you are listening to Inside Out Weight Loss on Personal Life Media.

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Renee Stephens: We’re back now. Before the break, we were talking about my client who had been eating at 700 calories a day, and one of the two scenarios I find for people who have a belief that they have to eat extreme low calories in order to lose weight.

One scenario is that you eat low calories low, low, low and then you have a blowout, a blowout meal or a blowout day that basically nullifies all of the calorie savings that you’ve had in the past couple of weeks. This is actually more common than we’d like to think.

The other scenario, which is less common but still happens, is that, in fact, it’s true. These people do eat these extraordinarily low numbers of calories, and their bodies don’t release weight. I remember when I was losing weight on one of my brilliant diets. It was called The Diet Center, and I was eating 750 calories a day. I lost my weight until I got to about three or four pounds from my goal weight, and I just could not drop any more weight.

I was following the plan. I even did the plateau buster grapefruit-and-egg day. Oh my God, and you know what? I really hate grapefruit, don’t tell anybody. Anyway, I did these crazy days. I ate their soy crunchies which actually resembled dog food or hamster food pellets, and I was so not losing weight because my body had gone into starvation mode. It was conserving all of my calories and wasn’t going to let go.

Eventually, you know what? I just gave up at three pounds from my goal weight. I just gave up. I’m like, you know what? This weight is good. I don’t need to get to the lower weight. I look great. I’m really happy about it and increased my calories and, unfortunately, eventually, of course, I gained all the weight again.

In any event, so that’s one possibility. The body goes into starvation mode, and one of the causes of that, one of the contributors to your body not releasing weight at these extraordinarily low levels is limiting beliefs. It’s your body literally holding on to a belief and, therefore, holding on to the excess weight.

So, with my 700 calorie a day diet, we addressed her limiting beliefs. We addressed the blocks and the subconscious objections that she had, not to mention some of the trauma from her past. We’ll talk about trauma on a future show because if there’s trauma in your past it can throw a bit of a money wrench into your weight loss efforts, and there are some really wonderful, gentle, compassionate and quick techniques to relieve trauma that I’ve used with some very serious trauma.

In any event, we did these things and by the end of our working together which turned out to be a fairly short engagement, she was happily losing weight at 1200 to 1300 calories a day which she hadn’t even thought was possible. For her, that seemed like a really reasonable level. For her body she was really happy eating at that level, and the weight was coming off. It was wonderful.

All sorts of things can change that we think can’t necessarily change. That’s why we’re talking about these limiting beliefs that can underlie the blocks, the reasons why we seem like we’re doing all the right things and the weight isn’t coming off. We’re doing all the right things, and it’s not yielding the results that we want.

Before recording this show, I put out an email on the Inside Out Weigh Loss Yahoo group asking the members to share their limiting beliefs, and I got a tremendous response. Thank you to everyone who responded.

I noticed as I was reading through the responses that I found that there were some themes. In fact, there was a cluster of beliefs in a certain area. Each of them had a slightly different spin or slightly different wording, but there was a theme that applied to many of the beliefs that were shared so openly on the site, on my Yahoo group, that is.

These were beliefs about helplessness. What does this mean? It means that there are beliefs about lack of personal agency or a lack of personal power, lack of personal efficacy. In other words, you believe that you are helpless to change. You are unable to change.

It turns out that a researcher named Martin Seligman who later became the founder of Positive Psychology has studied helplessness, and in some fascinating experiments in the late 1960s discovered a phenomenon that he called “learned helplessness” that is highly linked to depression.

What is learned helplessness? Think of a chained circus elephant. Here is this huge beast, huge, powerful beast with stunning strength chained into place with a small flimsy metal chain. How could this possibly keep him from escaping? Why, he could break it with the force he uses to swat a fly, yet he doesn’t. What’s going on? How can this flimsy little chain keep this huge majestic, powerful beast in place?

Well, Seligman’s experiments reveal the answer. He conducted a series of experiments, and the first one started with dogs in three groups that were subjected to electric shock. One group was harnessed but received no shocks. A second group was harnessed and received shocks that they could stop by pressing a lever, and a third group had no control over the shocks. They received the shocks, but the shocks appeared to start and stop randomly. It turns out that they were actually being controlled by the dogs in group two. But, to these dogs there appeared to be a random randomness to the shocks that they were getting.

Well, these three groups were then put into a boxed area where the shocks came through the floor, I think, and if they simply jumped over a small partition they could escape the shocks. They could avoid them completely. Who do you think jumped over the partition? Groups one and two jumped over because they had a belief of personal efficacy. They believed that they could change their circumstance. They believed that they had personal agency or efficacy.

So, who do you think didn’t jump over the partition? Group three. Group three had come up with the belief that they were powerless to change. So, instead of even investigating or trying to jump over the partition they just sat there and whimpered. In actuality, they had full control. They had the ability to avoid the shocks, but they had come to believe that they had no control. This belief, not their circumstance, controlled their suffering.

As I tell this story, I want to thank those poor dogs for their contribution to knowledge, by the way. I think of those poor dogs sitting there whimpering just makes my heart go out to them. Anyway, thanks to those dogs back in the late 1960s who had learned helplessness.

So, it’s like the elephant - the chained elephant controlled by a flimsy little chain. And for the rest of us, that flimsy little chain could be one of your limiting beliefs. All that it requires is a bit of a yank, a bit of effort to release you from that limiting belief to the freedom of exploring wherever you want to go. And yet, are you being chained by a flimsy little cord to your past, to struggles that have limited you until now? Thank about it.

Beliefs about helplessness are the most common types of beliefs that came up in the Yahoo group when I solicited them. People said things like, I can’t lose weight because I’ve never lost it before. I’ve struggled time and again. I’ve lost weight and every time I’ve gained it back plus more. That’s almost always plus more, by the way. They’ll say, I can’t lose weight because my family is all overweight. I can’t lose weight because of the environment that I’m in. These are all beliefs about helplessness, about a lack of personal ability to change. They are, in fact, limiting beliefs.

Let me give you an example. I saw a terrific movie last night that you guys might want to go out and watch. In fact, I think I’ll put a link to it on my blog. It’s called “You Can Heal Your Life”, and it profiles Louise Hay who wrote the seminal book, “You Can Heal Your Life”, about 20 years ago really helping so many people.

In this movie Wayne Dyer is interviewed and gives this great example of the belief that many people had, I think it was in the 16th century and before, that boats could only be made of material that floated. Maybe, it was in the 18th century. They believed that boats had to be made of wood because wood would float and, of course, you couldn’t make a boat out of something that didn’t float.

Well, this seems eminently reasonable when you think about it. It seems like common sense almost, and yet we know now that you can make a boat out of all sorts of heavy materials, including steel. Boy, if you drop some steel into water it’ll go right to the bottom very quickly. As it happens, it’s not the material at all that causes the boat to float but rather the displacement of water. But, until that belief was changed no one even tried.

Similarly, when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb some eminent people said that he was a lunatic, he was crazy, that it wasn’t even possible or feasible to create an incandescent light bulb and yet he did it. Here we are enjoying incandescent light bulbs and all the generations of technology that have followed that. I love to think about the possibilities in terms of renewable energy that we haven’t even imagined yet, in terms of what kinds of renewable energy might be possible for us to use. It gets me so excited.

Learned helpfulness is the antidote to learned helplessness. I want you to think about how in your life you can transform your beliefs about helplessness. The first step would be to write down what beliefs you have operating about your inability to change.

You could start with the phrase “I can’t lose weight because” and just answer it. Just do free form journaling on it. So many of you, I know, are journaling and it’s a great activity. Write “I can’t lose weight because” and just notice what flows out of you, and I bet that you’ll find a whole series of beliefs about learned helplessness, about personal inefficacy, about your inability to make change.

Then, on the next episode we’ll go about changing those beliefs, about looking at how fragile and weak they actually are in spite of their appearances, how they really are flimsy little cords that have been holding us to our past that we’ll be snapping even, perhaps, in the process of identifying them. It’s all about knowing how. That brings us to the end of our show today. Thank you for being present.

As you know, perhaps, there is now an Inside Out Weight Loss Yahoo group moderated by listeners. It’s a great place to share your dream, support and be supported. There is a link to it on my blog -

Did you know that I have guided journeys available for sale on my site? They are the same focus journeys that I use with my private clients that are powerhouses of change. If you purchase them I recommend that you use them in this order: The Sabotage Self-Sabotage first; then the Compulsion Blowout and then the Appetite Adjuster. You can certainly then re-listen to them as you desire over and over again to get increased benefit.

The Sabotage Process actually resolves internal conflict and is the foundation piece. That’s why I’d like you to do it first. As you may recall from earlier shows, the most powerful force in the universe is inner alignment, and that’s what this process creates. With it as the foundation, the other processes are very powerful. Without it, you may be leaving some positive transformation on the table.

Those processes again may be found at my website, For other shows on the Personal Life Media network, please visit our website at There’s loads of great content to feed your mind, body and spirit.

This is your host, Renee Stephens, and I am on a mission to eradicate the weight struggle from the planet replacing it with all sorts of positive things; light, love, peace, fulfillment, joy, humor, fun, you name it. Join me as we evolve the world by evolving ourselves. Take good care.

One final note. If you’d like to help me end the weight struggle and free as many people as possible to live their best lives and you have a corporate gathering, event or conference that you would be interested in having me speak at, please send an email to [email protected]. That’s R-E-N-E-E at I look forward to connecting.

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