Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

stress and irony

I’ve officially declared it: nothing sabotages my “gain-my-life-back” lifestyle like the stress of my lifestyle.

At least for me, a healthy lifestyle requires a balanced triangle:  mindful eating, meaningful exercise, and time.  (You just can’t accomplish healthy eating or exercise without time.)  Stressful events or trends in your life suck away time, leaving you unable to eat well or exercise.

When I was completing the final stages of my graduate school program in late 2005 and early 2006, I gained about 20 pounds back of the 100 or so I’d lost up to that point. I was preoccupied with finishing my degree and starting a new job.  I didn’t really eat more than I had been, but I certainly wasn’t exercising like I should have been.

After losing weight again in the summer of 2006, I gained a few pounds back in late 2006, when work got really busy.  I started eating poorly, and I was not exercising.  I got things under control again this year — I’ve lost about 20-25 pounds again since January, but the overall “net loss” has not been much, because I just keep losing the same few pounds I gained when life got stressful.

When things get stressful, that’s when we should take care of ourselves the most.  But, the “time-sucking” factor associated with stress turns our attention away from our health needs.

What do I do when I get stressed about something?  Well, either I completely throw myself into the situation to fix it, or I do nothing and avoid it.  No matter what, my chronic headaches intensify, and they just make me want to go to bed.  When I get a headache, the last things I want are 30 minutes on the treadmill and a salad… an afternoon on the couch and a plate of pasta sound much more appealing.  And I would guess I’m not alone in these desires.

Despite my best personal efforts to work against the elements of my life that stress me out the most, I am not sure I will be successful unless a societal shift takes place, mainly because I do not know how to disconnect from the stressful elements long enough to recover from them.  Our “always-on” society implies that we should stay constantly connected to our jobs, our families, the news… and, as a result, we have no time for ourselves.

Even now, as I’m writing this post, I cannot seem to stop checking for new emails, looking for online friends on my IM list, or thinking about the project I’m supposed to be doing right now.  I’m working on my laptop while sitting in front of the TV, and a few minutes ago, I saw our satellite TV service flash the name and number of somebody calling me.  (The sound of the phone ringing exacerbated my headache.  ha!)

So what do we do?  As we attempt to keep up with it all, we “grab ‘n go” fatty, sugary, processed foods at the vending machine or the convenience store, and eat it in front of our computers or in our cars.  Our exercise consists of rushing to our cars between errands, as long we opt to not use the drive-thru.

For now, and for always, I will attempt to keep the following promises to myself:

1.  I will exercise at least three times per week, remembering that exercise decreases stress, both immediately and over time;

2.  I will not allow the general stress in my daily life, or particularly stressful periods, to negatively influence my food choices;

3.  As any physicist will attest, I cannot “make time” for myself, but I will control the amount of time I give to others’ demands;

4.  I will listen to (and respond to) my body’s signals that I am pushing it too hard;

5.  I will have faith that keeping these promises to myself will ensure my continued success in my weight loss efforts and in my life in general.



Guilt has manifested itself throughout my weight loss process in so many ways.

I feel guilty when…

— I cheat on my eating.  This actually does not happen often, because after I eat something I shouldn’t eat, I don’t feel well, so it’s not worth cheating.  (After you haven’t had sugar for several months, and then you eat ice cream, the sugar high is akin to feeling drunk.  And it’s a bad kind of drunk, not a good one.)

— I spend extra money because of the weight loss process.  It simply costs more to buy healthy foods than it does to buy junk food.  (Question for the corporate food makers, who make a profit off Oreos but not off apples:  is this intentional?)  I’ve had to buy progressively smaller clothes, and I have a professional job, so I need to dress well.  Gym fees cost money, too.  So do nutritional supplements.  On the other hand, as my husband has pointed out, it’s better to spend money on getting *truly* healthy than it is to spend money on hospital visits.

— people get jealous and bitter with me because I’m losing weight and they’re not.  In many cases, they’re gaining weight while I’m losing it.  But, it’s not my fault they can’t put down the brownies.

— I take time to exercise, when I believe I should be working.  Since my job is quite demanding, I feel like I should be putting that time in at the office rather than at the gym.  It doesn’t help when people make pointed remarks like, “Well, I don’t have time to exercise.  I have work to do!”It just makes me feel so incredibly selfish for taking care of myself.  However, I think more clearly when I exercise, so my time actually spent working is therefore more productive.  Also, if I continue gaining my health back through exercise, I’ll lose less work time in the long run.

— my unusual (to most people) way of eating makes social situations awkward.  For example, last weekend, we visited my parents, and my mom wanted to get take-out fast food.  I insisted that I couldn’t eat that way, and I felt like she became irritated with me.  It is a similar situation when I turn down homemade desserts, etc., at family gatherings made by relatives with the best of intentions.  But, if they truly care about me and my health, they will respect my need to eat this way.

Losing weight is already enough of an uphill struggle… the last thing we need is guilt to compound the struggle.  I still have not worked through this part of it all.  What turns some of us into “people-pleasers”, anyway?  I think people-pleasing is at the heart of the problem.  Does anybody else have any thoughts on this?

the psychology (and physics) of weight loss

“The Psychology of Weight Loss” is the title of a chapter in the Atkins book.  While he did a fairly good job at addressing some of the issues associated with psychology and weight loss, I think there are some psychological concerns associated with losing weight that are difficult to understand unless you’ve actually experienced losing a large amount of weight yourself.  And these psychological issues bleed into the physical issues.

The biggest of these issues, for me, is recognizing the “new me.”  I spend a lot of time staring at the “before” and “after” pictures I’ve posted here, trying to comprehend the “new me.”  It’s like my brain has not yet caught up with the physical realities of my changed body.

Yesterday, I worked out with my personal trainer, who, of course, is beautiful and has a perfect body.  We did “core” exercises together (the “core” includes the muscles in your abdominals, back, etc.) in front of a mirror in the gym.  I had a difficult time looking at myself in the mirror during the workout, because I felt like my body looked so awful compared to her body.

Why do I do this to myself?  I’ve lost 120 pounds, and I still see this fat blob of a body sometimes when I look at myself!  Besides, after what I’ve been through, I shouldn’t expect my body to compare with the trainer’s body; she’s never been overweight a day in her life. My trainer has told me that it’s not just fat I still have to lose to get to my goal of 150 pounds, it’s also “extra skin.”  The skin thing is definitely contributing to my “fat blob of a body” self-image.

While it may or may not fix this psychological issue, I do think I might need surgery to fix the “extra skin” problem.  Nobody ever told me about the “extra skin” problem that results when you lose this much weight.  When I started losing weight, I thought my body would just snap back to its original 130 pound shape, just like it was in high school.  WRONG!!!  I found this article, published in March 2004, after it was too late and I already had the issue.  Somebody I know had a tummy tuck operation after losing 80 pounds, and lost more weight as well as 2 more sizes.

Of course, it is not standard practice for health insurance companies to pay for these procedures, because they are considered “cosmetic” and therefore not medically necessary.  Are they really just cosmetic?  If a tummy tuck could improve my self-image, would that not be considered mental health?  And if I could lose more weight as a result of a tummy tuck, and it puts me in whatever range the powers that be consider a “normal” weight (whatever that means), could that not be considered “medically necessary”?

Sorry… didn’t mean to start a rant.  But, I do think if the medical community wants to keep lecturing Americans about how they need to lose weight (Aggie Doctor included), they need to really find ways to support us both physically and psychologically as we do it.  Just telling people to “diet and exercise” will not help.  I had to do massive amounts of my own reading and research to understand how and why bodies respond to things we do (or don’t do) to them, and I still read things almost every day.

Wow!  No wonder it’s so difficult to lose weight.