Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why do I have negative thoughts about my weight? Particularly, when doggone it, people like me!

The unsung hero of modern American thought, Stuart Smalley *

Well, I definitely seemed to land on a rich topic with the guilt post.  You all gave me a lot to think about, and as always it's helpful to hear how everyone else is experiencing and managing the same terrain.

First, I'd like to make a PSA/reminder:  when I blog about my own weight loss experiences, I am not doing it as a way of giving instruction or expressing any official Weight Watchers position.  We have people much more qualified to do that:  our meeting leaders.  Rather, as noted in my intro copy on top, I use my blog to share how I personally deal with my own weight-related challenges.  It should go without saying, that my head is not always on straight, and I've got a lot of the same crummy hang-ups shared by so many others.  It's probably a judgement call for me to share my own warts given my role, but it also seems that being honest is a good way to engage in important discussions.  That approach is VERY Weight Watchers.  So for the benefit of full clarity, I have no intention of launching the sale of the Guilt-o-lator on late night TV infomercials.  To be clear, the Guilt-o-lator is a million miles away from ever being a sanctioned Weight Watchers device.

While I'm at it, how about a second PSA.  Please don't ever put your head in the oven because you had a bad week.  It's just not safe.

PSA's aside, all of your comments on dealing with negative emotions made me think more about negative emotions.  Thanks for that (irony intended here).

I spent some more time thinking of how dark thoughts impact me and my efforts to maintain my weight and healthy(er) lifestyle.  They don't happen all the time or even that often.  Most times, I feel good and proud about what I have been able to do in steering my life in a much healthier direction.  Yet, like most of us (I think), I have my own inventory of evil spirits that periodically come to torment my otherwise happy mind:

The freak-out:  This usually starts with the following sequence of events:

  1. I spend a week (or two) where I am slacking off on sticking to my food plan, maybe instigated by too much socializing and eating out.  During this time, I am absolutely avoiding the scale.  
  2. Typically on a Saturday or Sunday, I will weigh myself thinking/hoping that maybe I really haven't gained any weight even though I logically know that I probably have.  
  3. That hideous troll, known as the scale, punches my solar plexus and knocks the wind out of me when it delivers the dreaded digital readout evidencing my massive personal failure.  
  4. I completely lose my mind and start pacing and storming thinking the worst possible thoughts about myself.  "I am such an idiot!"  "How did I let this happen?"  "What the h*ll is wrong with me?"  
  5. I then quickly move to a series of dramatic resolutions such as "I am so getting my rear on plan this week!"  "Enough is enough!" "I will never let this happen again!" etc.  
What's good about this?  I definitely course correct and regain my focus.  

What's bad about this?  Lots of things.  Why can't I course correct without the step of chewing myself up and out?  It's not like this has never happened before, and it's not as though I wasn't able to dust myself off and get back on track.  Why all the drama? Why all the stress?   

Malaise.  This is usually the feeling prior to the Freakout above.  
  1. This usually starts with the non-specific feeling that I am slipping.  Not like a massive swan dive into a swimming pool of Cheetos.  More like little, pernicious choices creeping up on otherwise healthy days.  Maybe a bit of after dinner grazing.  Maybe cutting the workout a little short.  Maybe cleaning my plate to an unnatural level of spotlessness.  
  2. I start to get the nagging feeling like my regimen is slipping away.  It's more of a feeling of uneasiness than rampant stress.  Yet it quietly weighs on me.  
  3. I might have fleeting thoughts about letting myself slip into even worse habits.  I really would like to start a new diet of gigantic breakfast burritos.  A pint of Ben & Jerry's might be nice.  Maybe I don't have to wake up every morning so early to workout.  It might be nice to sleep in more. 
What's good about this?  When I get this feeling, at least I know something isn't quite right.  I've experienced it enough times to know that I am heading toward something not good.  It's kind of like getting used to know what the river patterns look like right before the water fall.  And I know that I definitely don't want to pack myself into a barrel and take a leap down the Niagara falls of gluttony.  

What's bad about this?  Feeling malaise is a really crummy way to spend quality time in my life.  Why not get better at identifying those nasty little habits before they start accumulating.  More mindfulness in the moment would be much more constructive than relying on the dull and non-specific feeling that I am somehow screwing up.  

Hating the old body.  

OK, this is a tough topic that probably deserves it's own post(s).  Maybe by way of preview, this is the well worn practice of staring in the mirror and looking for imperfections, lumps and other physical examples that I am not a completely perfect profile of healthy life. Yes, men do this too (at least this one does).  I think I do this because I know that I'm indulging some bad habits, and so I look for evidence to confirm the fact that I am screwing up.  When I can get the mirror to confirm my own worst fears (never mind how massively I might be distorting such imperfections in mind), I let myself jump into a little whirlpool of yet more self-abuse.
    What's good about this?  Nothing really.  

    What's bad about this?  Everything.  I don't think I need to go into the myriad of reasons why negative body image is a really crummy phenomena.  At it's worst, it leads to eating disorders, depression, and a million other bad things.  In a sad example of increasing gender neutrality, negative body image is no longer the exclusive domain of women, but men as well (to be discussed in a future post).  

    So what to do with all of these negative emotions?  

    First, recognize that they happen.  Negative emotions are a fact of life.  They happen, and I cannot ignore them or pretend they aren't there by saying I'm somehow above them.  If anything, I need to get better at recognizing them more quickly rather than letting them quietly accumulate in my mind like so many dark clouds.  

    Second, when they do show up, I need to have the presence of mind to reframe them.  In truth, like many people, I have always been able to use negative emotions (stress, anxiety, anger, righteous indignation, guilt, etc.) to help me achieve goals.  However, I have slowly come to the point of view that nothing good truly comes from relying on negative emotions to move forward and improve.  They work in the short term, but not in the long term (at least not for me).  Therefore, the trick for me is to recognize them, and then perform a little alchemy and turn them into a more positive and optimistic intent.  

    An example might go like this.  Old Me:  "I completely screwed up this week, and I'm up five pounds.  I am a lowly person.  I deserve to be pelted with rocks and garbage.  I shall flog myself furiously with a Cat o' nine tails in the form of a spartan healthy meal regimen.  That will show me."  New Me might say:  "Well, that wasn't the smartest way to spend last week.  I know I feel better when I'm eating healthily/moderately and exercising lots.  Therefore if I will start making those better choices, and I can look forward to feeling great."    

    It's hard to argue against the point of view that the suffocating blankets of negative emotions can make weight management and healthy life a miserable and sometimes destructive process.  The choice to live in a healthy way is a happy one.  Why not treat it that way.  

    One last point on negative emotions.  Even though I know they aren't very helpful and that I'd like to have less of them, dark thoughts will happen.  No point beating myself up when they do.  Because really, that would be a double negative, which is a grammatical no-no.  

    In the words of a world's most influential philosopher:  "I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am attractive person. I am fun to be with."  You were right Stuart Smalley!*  



    * For those who have no idea who Stuart Smalley is, I'm sorry for the confusing cultural reference.  Please see early 1990's Saturday Night Live starring current US Senator Al Franken.  Sadly, all of the old Stuart Smalley clips have mysteriously vanished from the Internet.  


    1. I'm so proud to see our fearless Weight Watchers Leader stepping up and being honest about the daily struggles of life. We all have them and it helps people to know that we all deal with the same issues deep down inside.

      I applaud you and your honesty. I also wish you the best with your positive thoughts. Life isn't easy. We can choose to make the most of it though!

    2. For what it's worth, I enjoyed your "tongue-in-cheek" Guilt-o-lator.

      I look forward each week to your blog, as there really is not much out there for the issues we lifetimers face with maintenance...and it is soooo different than when we were in "weight loss mode".

      Thanks again, and no I do not take you every word in your blog as official Weight Watcher's dogma.

    3. They have disappeared because he is now a U.S. Senator and doesn't want anyone to think that he makes fun of gay people- or anyone that might be insecure. Guess that would include me since I have been known to be insecure.

      Very insightful post. This is just my second installment, but I will return.



    4. This was a wonderful post. You have put into words what so many of us do... the guilt, the body image stuff. One of my funny, but not so funny, things is when I eat a big meal and go to the bathroom, I hold my breath... sure that when I look in the mirror I am going to be back to being the fat man that I used to be (160 pounds ago!). Of course, I am not. I am still thin and I try to use that to stop the overeating.

      Most of the time I have eaten too much good, filling foods. I don't eat much that is anything but... so the damage done from overeating is minimal. Like you though, that does not stop me from berating myself... rather than patting myself on the back for sticking with good food! But for me, I try never to be stuffed so when I am, I am hard on myself about it.

      As for what RLC said above... YES - it's much different to be on maintenance than in weight loss mode! WOW, our struggles are SO different at this stage. BUT, it feels great and I intend to keep feeling good about how I look and feel as a thin man.

    5. Thank you for saying what most of us think at least once a day. It can be hard to let go of our negative thoughts and self defeating behaviors.

      I am a lifetime member from many years ago (can we say more than 20 years?) and I am back on the plan to lose it for good this time. I have allowed myself to make excuses due to travel for work, raising a child, the illness of a parent, moving (twice to another state) and many other things. I have started on the plan again four times in the last 20 years, but now I do not allow myself ANY excuse.

      I think what is different for me this time is that I have changed many of my bad habits. This is a lifestyle change for me, not a diet. I am looking at the reasons behind my weight gain and I am finding other ways of dealing with my issues.

      Looking for the positive in life's challenges can help us all along the way.

    6. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me." Mr. Smalley has been one of my mantras for years. I agree though, some days are better than others.

    7. I am a leader and find your insights great and share with my members all the time. In fact the guilt topic was so huge on your blog it Should be a Meeting Topic.

    8. Very interesting topics.I am looking this type of topics, I need more informations because everyone knows "Health is wealth" is very much known to all and everyone wants good health. That means no one wants to leave this wealth. So, Let us build a food habit discipline, keep pace with work, rest and or exercise to Achieve good health, The ultimate wealth.
      Our Healthier Living

    9. so many of us who struggle with our weight do so because we use food to punish/abuse/berate ourselves. I had to accept that since I must eat every day, I had to learn how to do so in a positve/healthful way and without negative self-talk. Although it has taken me 18 months to see myself differently (and positively), it really helps me stay on track. It's a lot easier staying here than it was getting here.

    10. Have you read the book Woman Food and God? It was just on Oprah for an Hour. All about losing weight and the self loathing with the DIEt cycle. Fascinating stuff. I wish WW could add a spiritual dimension to the program. It would help so much with members. I try at every meeting to do that and have them dig deep. But to see it woven into the program would be so great. I always tell the members weight loss happens between your ears. The author of the book is amazing and I think you would benefit from the read since you are in the Weight Loss industry.

    11. I've been dealing with some negative emotions this week too - and it's not so normal for me. I've learned to feel them, embrace them, allow myself time to get in touch with what's really wrong, and then make a plan to go forward and take steps to solve them. Thanks for this post.

    12. I'm one of your leaders, and I just about died when I read the Stuart Smalley reference!! I actually quote that line in my meetings sometimes. My members know I'm a hopeless 1980's TV/music/movies freak, so they're used to it.

      Love your blog by the way... refer my meeting members to it all the time ♥