Yes, I think too much

Time to let it all go

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I have wanted to use this blog to build up an identity divorced from weight loss issues, and in part it has. Unfortunately, I think that having it at all encourages me to keep a toe in. I even have either talked myself into getting involved in weight loss forums again. I told myself that this involvement was a means of sharing what I have learned in helping “cure” me of my food relationship problems, and that there was value in putting it out there to see if it helps other people. That may or may not be true (I actually believe it is), but I think I need to make a cleaner break of it.

I think that I already write enough for outside blogs (again, completely different than this) to have an identity apart from this and this may have just a transitional aspect and I have to utterly abandon any association with weight-related issues, at least for awhile. I believe the time has come to let it all go and walk away for a long time. It’s not that I don’t have a separate identity (because I do), but just that I think I’m clinging to this in a way which really has no value for me anymore. There comes a point when you convince yourself that you mean to “help” people, and indeed you may really want to, when it’s as much or more about validating your view (by proving that it works) than about actually helping. I do want to help people with weight problems, but I think that the internet is neither the time nor the place for such help. I know that seems like an odd thing to say as many people do get/feel helped, but I’m dubious of the long-term outcome of such assistance. And, what is more, I’m also dubious of my motives and to what extent this is about me instead of about others. This is an answer that can only be had by cutting the cord between me and anything connected to weight loss.

Before I started losing weight, I never talked about it or read various resources. That is the person I must be again, and that is the person I will return to (sans the weight and bad relationship with food). That person’s interests on a daily basis were in no way connected to talking about bodies or food. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I think it’s time for me to at least move entirely away from it for at least 6 months in order to¬† see where it takes me. If it brings me back, I may start posting here again. If it doesn’t, then I wish everyone who has so kindly followed me the best in their lives. I’ll be out there somewhere doing something else. Who knows, you may even stumble upon me. ūüôā

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 29, 2011 at 1:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Borrowing a “Parent”

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Back when I was writing my old blog, and talking about how I didn’t need to be chastised, have fingers wagged at me, or barked at like a drill sergeant in order to lose weight, I said this was so because I am an “adult”. This meant that I could analyze my own behavior, motivation, and choices and act in my own best interest. I didn’t need someone else to tell me that I was “good” or “bad” or guide me through.

I have also written on this blog about the way in which the psyche is divided into three parts in the theories underlying transactional analysis. Those three parts are parent, child and adult. The child is our emotional self, the part that acts and reacts emotionally, sometimes to our detriment. The parent is the sum of all of the doctrines, platitudes, and rules that we have encountered. It is the voice of authority directing us without explanation. It is the voice that says, ” just do what I say and shut up about it.” The “adult” is the voice of reason which analyzes all available information and acts in what is our best interest rationally. It’s the one that tells us that we should ask for a raise if we feel we deserve one rather than act on our fear of having such a conversation with the boss (which is the voice of the child).

Many people think they are “adults” simply because they have assumed that status in society by reaching a certain age, getting a job, paying taxes, etc. On an emotional level, however, many of us are not truly adults until we stop acting on our need to be children or on our childish impulses. As of late, I have finally come to understand why some people are attracted to being “bullied” by various gurus, experts, etc. in order to achieve their goals. These people are, in essence, looking for a “parent” to push them to do what they cannot manage to do themselves.

Since parents are the ones judging, cajoling, and ordering, it would make sense that a person who is too mired in his own sense that he or she is a child with a problem that is too big to handle on his or her own would look outward for a parent to both bark orders and pat one on the head. The orders that come along are potent motivators outside of oneself as people often yield to authority better than to their own sense of reason. The reward of being told one is a “good” girl or boy is also potent since it provides a tangible external seal of approval. However, it does betray an inability to find intrinsic value in ones own achievements. Essentially, it’s like doing well on a test not because you acquire knowledge which will enrich you as a person, but simply because you really want that gold star from the teacher.

People who will accept abuse or harshness in order to assist them with their goals believe they need to beat themselves up or be beaten up to succeed, but what they really need is to look outside of their need for a “big daddy or mommy” to get them motivated. They have to stop looking for external validation or motivation and develop their own adult processes so that they can feel good about themselves because they accomplish things of value for themselves, not because someone else tells them to.

As for the people who relish in playing the “parent” figures, I imagine that for them, it’s about power. There’s no person more powerful than a parent who can direct and control their child’s lives. There’s also the fact that, much as parents take credit for their children’s successes, a guru, guide, etc. will take credit for the success of his or her followers. One of the reasons they become angry when “disobeyed” and highly blameful when their acolytes fail is that they have assumed the parental role and disobedience both undermines the sense of power and failure takes away their capacity to reflect in the glory of their followers.

Understanding this dynamic is of value to me mainly in knowing why some people would subject themselves to what appear to be obviously abusive and bizarre relationships with people who are, quite frankly, horrible human beings who seem to exercise extreme myopia in the name of “helping others”. I know now that the people who seek the help are looking for the “parent” they have long-since outgrown in chronological terms to come in and solve their problems, much like the one that did so for them when they were children.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 22, 2011 at 7:42 am

Posted in psychology

Doing What You’re Good At

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Since getting the food and exercise thing largely in hand, I’ve been pushing ahead on other goals using a similar method to try to accomplish other goals. This may sound like a doddle, but it’s actually quite difficult for a variety of reasons, and I think it is related to why many people who have mastered their weight loss processes continue to focus solely on them rather than move on to developing a more balanced life.

The primary issue, as most people are aware, is that losing weight or maintaining losses takes extra effort. For me, the time I spend shopping and preparing food has greatly increased, but there is also the time spent on exercise. I’m no gym bunny, and tend to only walk and do weight lifting and various stretching and calisthenics at home. It’s very modest by most people’s standards, and I tend to space out these activities and do a few repetitions of one activity here and there. However, the aggregate time that these things eats up in the day is not insubstantial especially when necessary activities (work, house cleaning, personal hygiene, etc.) are added into the mix.

That being said, while time is certainly factor, there is also the fact that I find myself burned out mentally and in the evenings I just want to stare at the computer screen. While I have developed a habit of getting up and doing a little exercise between sessions on the computer, I haven’t carved out a habit of doing other things, especially mentally engaging activities like reading the non-fiction books I’ve bought, writing, studying languages, etc. And, incidentally, I exercise here and there not because I’m obsessive about it, but becuse studies show that sitting for long periods of time is quite bad for you. I also tend to feel sleepy if I stare at the computer for too long without a break.

While I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing my mind to “rest” by watching DVDs, reading unimportant things on the computer, there are things I want to do and am not doing. In general, I think that people tend to be far too hard on themselves when it comes to how they spend their free time and tend to think they should be productive and efficient every minute. They view time spent doing things like watching T.V. as “wasted” and think they should be doing something else. I think humans were not meant to be occupied in highly productive work frequently. Our minds are meant to wander. Our jaws are meant to be slack for certain periods of time.

Getting back to my initial point though about how this situation causes people to focus on diet ad weight control exclusively. One of the things I have noticed about many people including myself is that becoming good at something breeds a desire to focus more on that thing. Some time back, I studied professional graphics software including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I became quite proficient in all of them and their intricacies. Many people dabble with these applications, but only work with them superficially. I learned the deeper workings and how to take advantage of the power they have to work more efficiently. In fact, I became a certified expert in Photoshop.

Once I became so good at these programs, I became rather stuck on and in them. I would use them even for things which they weren’t really intended for, like word processing or web page content. I did this because I was already good at them and would prefer to work with what I knew well than learn other types of software. I not only identified myself as a power user of these applications, but I felt like a “fan”. The truth was that I was staying within the bounds of where I had become successful. I was good at these things so using them made me feel good about my abilities. Stepping outside and doing something else was not only more difficult and time-consuming, but less rewarding. That meant I rapidly became frustrated with feeling like a beginner who wasn’t accomplishing much of anything.

In regards to weight loss, once you “master” the process to a certain extent, and you have spent time immersed in the diet culture, you may feel you are “good at” it. Being comfortable talking about it, practicing it, and deriving a sense of satisfaction and esteem from it is natural, much as my sticking to my Adobe apps was comfortable. There were far easier applications that I didn’t learn how to do basic tasks in (like Microsoft Word) because I’d rather stick with what I knew. There may indeed be easier things than diet and weight control that people could put time and effort into, but they will choose to remain deeply immersed in the area in which they feel they have mastery.

Mastery is a sort of trap in this way and I think it factors just as much into people not expanding their identity or spending their time on other aspects of their lives as the oft-stated “time” issue. Yes, dealing with weight control takes time, but the truth is that people make it take more time because they’re already good at it and expanding their interests will be much less rewarding than playing in the weight loss sandbox. While I knew that I never wanted to end up as one of those people who lost weight and then made it the center of her existence because I didn’t want my body and the related issues to become my identity, I hadn’t considered this particular aspect before. In essence, we don’t do it to become good at it, but rather are good at it so we do it.

Regarding my goals, I used to be good at certain things but they have fallen by the wayside in the past decade or so. I used to be great at studying things, but am so out of the habit that my skills have rusted. I also used to read a lot of books, but have become so bound up in briefer articles that it has become nearly impossible for me to finish a book even if I am interested in it. These are important things for which I will need to refresh my old capabilities, but I’m finding it difficult to get rolling. I decided that I’m going to take the same “small steps” approach to these as I did to my changes in lifestyle (both mentally and physically). I don’t have to sit down and read a book for a half hour or an hour. I just have to read 10 pages a day. I don’t have to study for a long time, I just have to learn one new thing and remember it. I don’t have to speak a language well in a certain time frame, but I do need to learn and have good recall of a few phrases or words per week.

The bar is low so I have a very good chance of clearing it. When I’m good at clearing those low hurdles, it’ll be easier to move on because the increased pleasure and esteem I receive from dealing in things in which I have mastery will continue to push me forward. Mastery can be a potent motivator as well as something which can hold you back from moving on.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 20, 2011 at 2:51 am

Posted in goals, psychology

The Incomplete Lifestyle Change

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I try not to think or talk too much about weight loss, as I’m laboring to marginalize that aspect of my life. I find that unless one makes an effort to minimize the influence of the shadow of weight loss over their lives, it will eclipse all else and become the sole definition of self. That being said, it’s rather hard not to think about it when you’re sitting around taking in your bras and pants (yes, you can take in a bra), weighing your food, and logging your calories online in order to keep track. Whether I like it or not, it is a part of my life, though thankfully not an all-consuming one by any stretch of the imagination.

Since I abandoned my old blog in the middle of last September, I’ve lost about 20 more lbs. (now about 215, though I haven’t weighed myself for 2 weeks so I can’t know for sure). That puts my loss rate “down” to about 5 lbs. per month, but that lower average loss comes with a caveat. I’ve stepped up certain types of exercising that build muscle mass and I’m sure that I’m regaining muscle lost during the initial year or so of loss. In terms of overall size, I believe there have been some more tangible losses, so I’m not too fussed about dropping from nearly 10 lbs. of loss to 5 lbs. per month. The numbers on the scale matter less than perceptual changes in overall size. This all serves to reinforce the notion I have had all along that the scale needs to be used sparingly and as a very rough and somewhat poor measure of overall progress.

At any rate, this is not a progress report on my weight loss, though it is reading like one so far, but rather some thoughts on the way people talk about adopting “lifestyle changes” in order to lose weight. Most people talk about such things in a manner which I think are difficult to relate to because they convey the idea of drudgery (forcing oneself to exercise) and deprivation (eschewing certain foods). I’ve found that that is absolutely not necessary, though clearly big changes are necessary, but not the mechanistic ones that people tend to focus upon.

One thing I have noticed is that people tend to talk about “choices” a lot, and I’ve written before that I believe we do make choices, but our capacity to make good ones is not equal. Each person is driven by their personal history to choose a particular path and the momentum that drives an individual to make poor choices is stronger depending on your past. It has been my focus throughout my weight loss process to work with the factors that drive choices rather than focus on the choices themselves so strictly. If I remove the forces that drive bad choices, then I am freer to make better ones.

As I have grown nearly completely comfortable with living a lifestyle which is conducive to weight loss, I’ve come to understand just how powerful and important the psychology is. It’s even more potent than I have felt from the start, and I felt pretty strongly about it initially. I mainly notice this because I realize more fully how expectation, perception, and the ability to delay or mitigate the need for certain types of gratification factor powerfully into fully embracing a “lifestyle change” without serious difficulty and especially resentment. There are many people who have lost weight and even maintain it who still struggle with the boundaries they have to live within. They struggle to stay within the lines of their calorie guidelines. They obsess about food. They hate their limits and exercise needs. They do it, but they fight it and struggle every inch of the way and the fear of regaining or falling off the wagon is a specter that lurks over their lives.

The reason that people struggle with this is that they have “normalized” their behavior but they haven’t normalized their thought processes in regard to their necessary lifestyle changes. By ignoring the underlying attitudes and emotional issues and focusing on the mechanistic aspects of weight loss, they have made the healthier choices, but not dealt well with the personal history that makes them want to make the unhealthy ones. Imagine someone driving a car which has a steering wheel that pulls to the left and they have to fight very hard to constantly force it to go to the right. It’d be a lot easier to ¬†keep going right if you fixed the thing that was pulling you in the opposite direction rather than just kept applying brute force against it.

A true and lasting “lifestyle change” doesn’t simply mean weighing your food, counting calories, and exercising. It means you place food in its proper context rather than view it in a distorted fashion which makes you feel deprived. It means you don’t find food calling you to your doom like a siren, but rather see it as a source of sustenance and pleasure. Exercise isn’t something you force yourself to do, but something you do because you feel good doing it. In essence, all of the emotional baggage that is associated with food and weight being jettisoned is essential to a real lifestyle change.

Most people refuse to acknowledge the psychological component, and I think it’s because they deny that there is an issue in that quarter. I’m not sure if this is because they lack sufficient insight to see a connection, feel uncomfortable (or ashamed) with the possibility, or are too uneducated in the complexities of psychology to realize that many of the pat explanations for “emotional eating” are shallow and imprecise. They see a lot of talk about food and psychology and can’t see themselves so they assume that is not on the table for them. It’s not all about trauma or Freudian substitutions for love or emotional gratification. Sometimes, it’s about habituation, conditioning, etc.

The reason that this has been on my mind as of late is that I struggle very little these days with my relationship with food and exercise and on those occasions when I do, it’s much easier to push back against my urges than ever in my lifetime. The relative ease with which I battle my hunger on days in which I’m hungry all day (generally just prior to or during ovulation) occurred to me and felt quite gratifying. The notion that “it’s only food” comes very easily all of the time. And when I say that, I don’t mean that “it’s only food” in a manner which minimizes its importance as a substance or diminishes the pleasure I take in it. I mean “it’s only food” in that it no longer drives me powerfully psychologically. Food has assumed it’s proper place in my mind so doing whatever I have to do to continue to lose weight is easier.

Right now, the next stage in my “evolution” with my relationship with food is going to restaurants. I have been reluctant to go to them mainly because it often requires that I accept a level of uncertainty and potential “sacrifice” of calories to err on the side of caution when making calculations. Since I don’t live in America, restaurants rarely offer nutritional information so it really is about ¬†my existing “education”. However, what I am finding as I wade into these waters is that it’s easier than expected. The food is more caloric than what I prepare at home, but it’s very easy to simply not eat it all and control the calories with portions. I’m always satisfied when I finish and enjoy the different food immensely. I also don’t feel unhappy about “wasting” food I paid for and leaving it behind or resentful that I can’t eat it all. After all, it’s only food.

I’m not claiming that it was easy to get to this point, but I am going to say that this is a great place to be emotionally and psychologically. It took a lot of work (as detailed in my former blog) to get here and it does take continued (though actually quite small) effort to stay here. I still have to kick in a mantra or two occasionally and resist eating when I ¬†might prefer, but it really does come more naturally and more easily as time goes by. I have no doubt that this is a lifestyle change that I can maintain for the rest of my life and that it will lead eventually to a healthy weight, and I didn’t get here by hating on myself, drinking water until I felt like a fish, or categorizing food into “bad” and “good”. I got here by avoiding those things.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 19, 2011 at 2:44 am

“Currencies”

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Most people with a rudimentary knowledge of history know that ancient civilizations used different materials for currency than modern civilizations use. In fact, if one were to travel back in time to the pre-Columbian era and land on the shores of Mexico, one would find that the Aztecs were using cocoa beans. Your paper dollars would be meaningless to them and their beans would be nearly as meaningless to you. In essence, an offer from one side would be of no value to the other and, what is more, rejection of the other party’s currency would be seen as an offense and personal affront. It would not only confuse, but possibly anger the other party.

Currency is a way of representing value. Paper ¬†money or coins themselves are not inherently valuable, but they represent value based on the economic potential of the country that issues them or something more concrete such as precious metals. In many ways, we also employ the concept of “currency” psychologically without even realizing it. We choose things, experiences, interests, or hobbies as representations of value to us. We value them and if others value them, they accept our personal “currency”. Respecting the things we value is equivalent to respecting us. Rejecting them is the same as rejecting us.

One of my husband’s friends had an experience recently which brought this concept into full light, but it is something which I have had a lot of personal experience with as the years have gone by. His friend’s experience ended with the loss of a long-term and valued friendship, and I think it was at least in part because she and her friend no longer carried out friendship “transactions” with the same “currency”.

Personally, I’ve been struggling with friendships which FaceBook has brought back onto the table after years of dormancy. I used to be a very ardent follower of a famous 70’s glam rock band and I had a lot of friends that I made through this interest. As the years went by, I married, moved abroad, and let go of most of my material interests including my interest in this band. In fact, not only did I lose interest in them, but I lost respect for my former favorite member of the group because of the crass commercialism and open greed he expressed at every turn. Years later, my friends seem to continue to remain fans and value this group while I’m many years past my interest in them.

What I’m finding now is that it has become very difficult to relate to these friends because the currency we once freely exchanged in our friendship has lost all of its value to me and the new “currency” which I use has little value to them. In fact, one of those friends recently insulted one of my current interests by saying that she felt it was a “waste of time” to engage in that activity. In essence, she overtly snubbed this “currency” by commenting on a FaceBook status message. Frankly, it wasn’t she who it was being offered to but my newer friends who share this activity with me.

I was slightly annoyed at this person for what she did, not because I agreed with her, but rather because she’s applying a value judgment to me and I make an effort to refrain from applying those to her and others. The truth is that I feel that it is imperative for someone who is as overtly non-materialistic as myself to make such an effort or risk become smug and self-satisfied. There is a difference between not becoming overly materialistic because it doesn’t ¬†suit me and would inhibit my growth as a person and believing that that would be best for everyone else. It’s not my place to judge the choices others make, and I wish they would at least try not to judge me. My friend could go ahead and render judgment in her own mind, and the only thing she had to do to show consideration for me was to say nothing, but she didn’t even extend that courtesy.

Speculating on the reasons why she may have decided to go ahead and say something overtly rude is interesting because I think that perhaps it is as much about showing growing discomfort that our currencies are not of value to one another anymore as it is about possibly elevating the value of her choices over mine. It could be that she wants to believe her choices are right, or it could be that this was just one more indication that we can’t have valuable friendships transactions anymore and she acted in a manner to indicate that. I cannot know for sure, but nonetheless, I think recognizing that people put their interests out there as extensions of themselves for others to accept as having value is important.

When a friend of mine offers a status message about how attending a concert, meeting an 80’s has-been celebrity on a cruise, or attending a convetnion of 70’s T.V. stars makes her excited and I say nothing to affirm that the experiences are of value, interest, etc., she may feel as if I’m rejecting her with my indifference. Not caring about what she cares about is the same as not caring about her. These are not merely interests, but projections of herself that she closely identifies with.

To a far greater extent, I think that people with children also employ a common currency which people without children reject. They believe that their particular “currency” (their children and spouse) is more “valid” or “real” because it deals with people, but they are also merely extensions of oneself that one attaches value to. Your children and spouse are not you. Rejecting them is not rejecting you, but if they are your “currency” with which you conduct friendship transactions, you will be extremely upset if others do not accept it.

I think that Americans in particular are prone to deal in currencies of this sort both because the culture is heavily consumerist and because it is lacking in a cohesive national identity. We know what it is in certain terms to be “American”, but those terms are not ones which offer true definition. Being American actually means being independent and an individual. Beyond that, you can be anything you want to be. Without a concrete identity, we reach out to things around us to act as extensions. Trust me, as someone who has spent a few decades in an Asian culture, when I say that this does not apply to every culture in the world. While each person has his or her own identity, many people in other countries define themselves without using such extensions in the same manner as Americans.

What I realized from pondering this line of thought is that many people define themselves in accord with “negative space“. Negative space is a term used in art to talk about the space around an object rather than the object itself. The less we know about what is inside of ourselves, the more we define ourself by what is around us. It could be a lack of self-understanding that causes this, but I have a stronger sense that we do this out of a sense of our own smallness inside. In a world where everyone in the media comes across as larger than life or too small to be of interest, there is no subtlety or texture to our way of conceptualizing ourselves. We are so big that we are awesome, or we are so small that we are worthless.

If we feel we are small, we look around us to attach ourselves to something which is greater and more awesome than we are. In many cases, that is our interests. My friend may be doing a boring retail job after having failed at her last two attempts to start a real career and her marriage, but the celebrities she meets and has her pictures taken with raise her interest level in her estimation. She goes from mundane to fabulous by defining herself by that which is around her. However, that illusion is shattered if I reject her particular currency as valueless. If I don’t care about the celebrities, then she remains the lone object in the picture ¬†devoid of the benefits of the negative space around her.

The value of this recognition for me is in trying to do my best to never overtly reject anyone’s currency and to try and develop empathy for the things of value to them which are valueless to me. I don’t have to think that having ones picture taken with has-been celebrities is a wonderful thing, but I should at least try to internalize the value of the experience for my friend and express my happiness at her happiness. I don’t have to accept her currency, but I can recognize that it’s of great value to her.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 5, 2011 at 3:48 am

Posted in friendships, psychology

The Opaque Jar

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The past month or so has been an incredibly busy time for me. I posted previously that I was having problems mentally adjusting to all of the exposure to the outside world and changes in my life beyond the changes involved in continued weight loss. Going out and about was overwhelming. Spending money was creating anxiety. It was the next level of change and I felt as if my mind was somewhere back in my almost hermit-like existence while my body was ready and at least semi-willing to start living more “normally”.

Somewhere between infrequent posting, my mental transition made a jump, and I developed not only a sense of calm and acceptance with the increased activity of life, but a craving to push forward. Part of it was deciding to climb a mountain and actually succeeding, and part of it was simply wanting to make the most of the past holiday season and the time off. I’ve found that FaceBook coupled with a potent motivation to imprint highly meaningful memories before I leave this country coupled with a very much improved confidence level in my capacity to navigate the world physically has spurred me on. I wouldn’t say that I’ve cleared all hurdles, but I would say that a serious alteration has occurred.

The interesting thing which I have discovered about all major life changes is that there are always periods of struggle and fear which take energy and effort to cope with up until the moment they are suddenly gone. I have experienced this twice now in the past year. First, around February of 2010, I stopped obsessing about food and seemed to reach an adaptation point where it no longer became necessary to fret over when and how much I could eat. The problem  just evaporated as psychological and physiological adjustments reached a critical mass. Then, sometime in the last month, the same thing happened with a lot of my anxieties regarding going out, spending money on things which are utterly reasonable and well within my means, and generally living life in a normal fashion.

These changes psychologically are difficult not only because I had to push on everyday, but because the changes aren’t gradual. It’s like putting marbles into a huge opaque jar without any sense of how many more it will take to fill up. You spend a great deal of time and energy constantly adding them in. It’s laborious and feels like it will never end and suddenly, it’s full to the top and you had no idea how close you were. This is what these changes have been like for me. Each step and every internal dialog and mental readjustment is hard work up until the work is suddenly done and I’m free.

I don’t know if it is like this for other people or if it’s just this way for me, but I want to recognize and comment on the pattern. Knowing that this is the way it works will make it easier to be patient with future challenges when it seems like I’m getting nowhere. I have to have faith that eventually I’ll arrive unexpectedly, because I have done so in major ways twice already.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Posted in psychology

Yesterday…

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…I climbed a mountain, and 1.5 years ago, I couldn’t walk five minutes. Things change for the better, but it’s not easy.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

December 29, 2010 at 11:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized