Yes, I think too much

The Incomplete Lifestyle Change

with 4 comments

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.

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Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 19, 2011 at 2:44 am

4 Responses

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  1. I love this post! Well written and sooooo true! I hope more people can get to that place in their lives to rethink food and weight loss. Thanks for your words.

    Karen Diaz, RD

    January 19, 2011 at 3:16 am

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment and for reading, Karen. I really want it to be my future career to help people reach this point. It is terribly hard, and the results are imperfect (you can’t expect to simply never have to give diet and exercise a second though, but you can hope not to be maddeningly preoccupied with it).

      yesithinktoomuch

      January 20, 2011 at 1:40 am

  2. thank you for this post. i’m lost in my evolution. i’m going back to re-read your previous blog. i have spent far too much time criticizing myself for doing well and moving toward a healthy lifestyle. I havent felt as ease with this evolution since the beginning, it gets me bogged down with pressure and expectations. I dont know how to just let go.

    phelpsvj

    January 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    • I can very much empathize with how you feel about being “lost in (your) evolution”. Even now, I feel lost a lot of the time, but not really so much about this particular aspect anymore. For me, there’s just so much fear about everything to work with and overcome and I’m pushing myself ahead all of the time.

      Like you, I started off with a highly critical voice, but I have silenced that voice over the past year and a half because I realized just how destructive and unhelpful it was. I stopped saying, “I’m weak” or “I failed” and started working more with, “this is going to take awhile and I just have to keep trying and look to small successes as indications of progress.” In essence, I stopped looking at what I did wrong and focused on what I did right. I know people say that sort of thing all of the time, but once I fully internalized that this was a manifestation of perfectionism, and perfectionism was me setting myself up to fail so that I could continue to hate myself (because I was so comfortable hating myself that I was reluctant to let it go), then I could focus more on small successes instead of any perceived failure.

      I know all too well about being bogged down by pressure and expectations and can so very much understand what you are feeling. I still do that to myself, but much less than before and the castigation/forgiveness time lapse has improved a lot.

      If you’d like some unsolicited advice about letting go, and you’re getting someone who has been like a dog with a bone all of her life about everything and has had a terrible time letting go, do it with baby steps. When you’re obsessing, develop some sort of mantra or internal dialog to get yourself to change your thinking. That is, if you’re thinking about how you should have eaten less and beating yourself up, tell yourself that the consequences of an individual act are inconsequential and it is your aggregate behavior that matters. Remind yourself that there is no value in wasting energy on regret and infinite value in growing from experiences. Focus on what you will do next time and commit to doing it, just once. Just that next time, promise that you will do it. Don’t look at the distant future (that is where you start to overwhelm yourself). Once you succeed that one time, you will regain your confidence for the next time.

      I’d also recommend thinking about the origin of the voice that is so critical that you can’t let go. Who put that inner voice in you? Society? Your family? You didn’t start out like this. Someone planted that in you and you need to know that and come to understand where it came from and just how destructive it is to carry it around with you. The motives of that voice are to tear you down so that someone else can build themselves up. It weakens your ability to be whole and happy. It does not motivate you to try harder because it makes you feel like a failure.

      I’ve come to understand that a lot of the pressure I put on myself came from old voices in my past – my mother, my peers from school, and society at large. None of those voices cared about me, though they often pretended to or told themselves they did. They cared about judging, not helping. Understanding that helped me let go of perfectionism and the tendency to beat myself up.

      I’m not suggesting people say, “I’m OK, so I don’t have to try”. I’m suggesting people say, “I’m OK, but I want to be a different type of person, so I’m going to try my best, and I can succeed because I am OK.” Winning the inner battle will help you win all of the mechanistic ones.

      My very best to you.

      yesithinktoomuch

      January 20, 2011 at 1:56 am


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