Right Here, Right Now: Weight Loss & The Moment

We hear a lot about ‘staying in the moment’ when it comes to weight loss and our diets.  It’s good advice but I think the message gets lost in the verbiage.  Instead of not seeing the forest for the trees, we aren’t getting the point because of the slogan.

Staying in the moment is a relatively simple instruction: what can you do right now? Too often we are focused on how we screwed up yesterday or we worry about what’s coming up.  There’s nothing we can do about either of those: the past is over and done with and the future isn’t here yet.  This is usually where people start ‘planning’ for what’s coming up.  While I am all for having a Plan, a lot of us like to get lost in the planning and strategizing phase! Planning and strategizing aren’t actually actions! We can ‘plan’ to make good choices and we can ‘strategize’ on how to avoid temptation, but when It actually happens, the only thing that matters is what we do right here, right now, in that moment of choice.  We had ‘planned’ on avoiding sugar and we had ‘strategized’ about how to say no to tempting sweets, but right now we are looking at the warm chocolate chip cookies being proffered by a friend: now what? Whatever our strategies might have been, it all comes down to what we do right here, right now.  Do we say “tempting, but no thank you!” in a firm polite tone? Do we say “no thanks…” in a diffident unsure voice? Do we hesitate and say “ummm…. maybe just one?”

We’ve all caved in to temptation which is usually followed by recrimination and regret and then we allow those emotions to beat us up for days afterwards.  We like to think that we use our regret to fuel our resolve and our plan to ‘do better’ but in most cases, it just stresses and depresses us.  We tend to see it as more failure and lack of willpower on our part. Rather than strengthening our resolve, our dwelling on past failures only emphasizes our pattern of failure: “We screwed up last time, so what’s to stop us from screwing up again? Our willpower that caved when faced with chocolate chip cookies? Hah!”

This is the beauty of focusing on right here, right now: forget yesterday, last week, last time and don’t worry about what’s coming up tomorrow or next month. All we are looking at is the choice in front of us and our resolve only needs to be as strong as ‘make the best choice possible right here, right now.’ If the Best Choice is no thank you to the cookies, then that’s what we do! If the Best Choice is packing the gym bag so working out is an option later, then that’s what we do!

Dwelling on past mistakes has another consequence: it reinforces the failures. If we constantly focus on our ‘habit of failing,’ then that becomes our default behavior.  Our lack of willpower becomes our default, as in “I never make the right choice” or “I never pass on the sweets.” When I am faced with temptation, I usually flash back to the last time it happened: didn’t say no then, so I guess I just can’t say no! Why do I remember is so clearly? Because I spent days afterwards beating myself up over two stupid cookies, which as now become four stupid cookies because ‘I just can’t say no!’

I know: it sounds too simple and we are still tempted by cookies and bingeing on whole seasons of television shows and we fear we aren’t working hard enough or making progress fast enough. Berating ourselves emotionally is part of the problem. However, no matter what we are doing, not doing, planning or wanting to do, none of it is as powerful as making the right choice in the situation right in front of you. Focusing on the right choice right here right now has another benefit: it also become a habit.  When we are in the habit of turning down things we don’t want, don’t need, or want to avoid, then making the right choice also becomes a habit.  We let go of fretting over ‘what do I do when the hors d’oevres come to me?’ or ‘last time I ate four of those!’ and we focus instead on taking action! We don’t drown ourselves in regret for past mistakes or anxiety over what’s coming because we are devoting our energy to action! All you need to do is focus: Right Choice, Right Here, Right Now.

 

You Can Keep It Moving: Weight Loss & Not Looking Backwards

One of my all time favorite movies is Thelma & Louise. Aside from the fact that movie is full of first rate actors and has a killer soundtrack, I find it to be a very empowering film despite the ending (if you don’t know how it ends, I can’t help you!) One of the many themes in that film is “keep moving forward, ” which is something I hear repeated again and again in podcast episodes.

Most of these podcasts have to do with weight loss, health and fitness but this idea applies to just about anything in life: finances, jobs, relationships, etc. You would think it’s a no-brainer, but humans with our big brains and big egos easily get stuck in the past. Why? Because we like to dwell on things like people who wronged us, on situations we screwed up, on things that frightened us.  We get stuck looking back at these times and places emotionally and we forget to move forward. How many times have you heard someone say “I would do XYZ but I just can’t get past ABC?” As in, “I would start a new relationship but I just can’t get past that man/ woman who cheated on me.” Too many of us get stuck looking back at things we wish turned out differently and while there is value at figuring out what went wrong there so we can avoid the same mistake in the future, there will be no future until we start moving forward again!

Anxiety and emotional eating are the biggest culprits when it comes to weight loss sabotage. We all know this, but when it comes to getting over the anxiety and controlling our emotions, we get stuck.  We don’t know how to get past those negative feelings because we have no tools to control them other than eating! This is where most of us get stuck in a vicious cycle: I’m scared because I don’t know how to control my emotional eating and I’m afraid I’m going to wreck my weight loss and now that I’m scared and anxious, I really want to eat something but I know I can’t because it’ll wreck my weight loss but I don’t know how to stop being scared or how to calm down without eating something. It can go on and on until finally you either eat something (which starts another cycle of recrimination), or you find something to break you out of that cycle.

It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be anxious and it’s okay to say “I don’t know what to do.” These are legitimate human emotions and even the bravest person in the world has had these feelings.  You can switch out the adjective “bravest” with any other superlative you can think of: wisest, strongest, calmest, whatever, because every human who has ever lived has had these same emotions.  You are not broken when you feel them and there is nothing wrong with you when you feel them. The trouble starts when you allow these feelings to control you. When you get stuck on these emotions and can’t get past them, then there is a problem.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were learning how to do something? It doesn’t matter if it was math or how to hit a baseball or how to dance: as a kid, we are expected to ask for help, and when we reached the “now what do I do?” stage, that’s just what we did.  We asked a teacher, a parent, family member or a friend and they helped us get through it. I’m sure there were times when we were a little embarrassed or shy but no one expects a kid to know how to do everything! It’s the whole point of growing up!

Sometimes though we had to figure it out on our own and that’s where some of us are still stuck in the problems of the past. Something bad happened and now you don’t know how to get past it. All of us have things in our past that were really awful, some more awful than others unfortunately. Most of us need help to past these things but we either don’t know how to ask for help or we are embarrassed that we need help.  After all, now we are adults and we aren’t supposed to need help so we keep trying to figure it out on our own, and this is where we get stuck with emotional eating. It makes us feel better and we forget for a while about whatever is scaring or upsetting us.

Eating an entire cheesecake or the whole can of Pringles is not helping us get past the bad memories, though: it is just a coping mechanism.  It’s also a coping mechanism that is hurting us physically and emotionally. Think about it. Which is more embarrassing: calling a health professional or eating that box of brownies? Which one are you going to regret more: calling your sibling to talk about how you are feeling or eating an entire pizza?

While I realize that this post is more about emotions than it is weight loss, I do know that overeating and obesity for a lot of us are only symptoms of deeper emotional issues, the same way that drugs, drinking or other vices are symptoms. Until we deal with the actual problem, any attempt to fix the symptoms is just damage control. Being stuck constantly trying one weight loss plan after another isn’t going to fix the real issue if your emotions are what you are trying to control with food.  The problem isn’t the food you’re putting in your mouth: it’s the emotions that are driving you to do it.

The only way to get over the past is to make peace with it. For most of us that means looking back at these unhappy events and mentally telling them “you can’t hurt me anymore.” Looking at them is painful and usually scary.  We are all familiar with kids who are scared of the monster lurking in the corner, until you turn on the light and see it’s just the cat sleeping on the bookshelf. The monsters lose their power when you see them clearly in the light: that’s what making peace does to the monsters in our past.  Sometimes though we need help finding that emotional ‘light switch’ and until we ask for help, we’re stuck in the dark being afraid and left at the mercy of our fears. While food may help us forget we are afraid for a while, it’s not turning on the light for us or giving us the courage to get up and do it for ourselves. Asking for help also means taking action to move forward.  We need a hand to get over this bump in the road if we are going to make progress. Asking for help for some of us is considered weak or needy and it is neither. When we are drowning in the river, no one thinks it weak to ask for help so why is drowning in emotions any different?

Life is scary sometimes.  I’ve been through some pretty freaking scary situations myself and bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them and yes, good things happen to cruddy people who also don’t deserve them.  We don’t know what life has in store for us.  That’s what makes it scary and it’s also what makes it exciting. In a lot of cases the only difference is our perspective. Life has enough of its own obstacles to throw at us so we don’t need our fear and our emotions to hold us back. The only way to get through the scary parts is just keep moving forward, otherwise you are stuck with the fear and you already know that is not a good place to be. Keep moving!  Thelma & Louise: Better Not Look Down

 

If You’re Happy & You Know It, Why Are You Eating Cupcakes?: Weight Loss & Attitude Adjustment

I’ve been hearing a lot in the media about being happy.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) is always reminding listeners that outside things aren’t going to fix your emotional issues and just yesterday I heard that idea repeated on a morning radio show that has nothing to do with weight loss. I hate to sound Zen about it, but happiness comes from inside.  Those cupcakes, that new gadget or a pair of shoes aren’t going to make you happy.  The same goes for people: our happiness and sense of self-worth cannot be dependent on someone else validating us. Unfortunately, that’s what most of us do!

We all know what it means to eat our emotions. At the risk of sounding like an escapee from a Star Trek convention, when we let our emotions run our lives, chaos ensues! This doesn’t mean we have to crush our emotions down inside us and never let them out— that is just as bad as allowing them to run loose! The truth is that a lot of us are overweight because we never learn how to deal with our emotions.  We are taught that we should always be happy and that feeling sad, worried, unhappy or any other ‘negative’ emotion is a bad thing which needs to be avoided at all times.  It is okay to be sad or unhappy or anxious.  Those are all perfectly normal emotions and our problem is we need to accept those emotions when we feel them.

This is where I remind you that I am not a therapist or any kind of health care professional.  However, I am person who has dealt with some pretty cruddy emotions throughout life. When I get stressed, anxious, bored or angry, my usual way of dealing with it was to find something to eat- anything would do!- and eat until I forgot about it or the emotion faded. It took a long time (as in, most of my adult life!) before I finally learned that emotional eating is just making everything worse, including my health.  We all know how we feel after we’ve done it: ashamed, guilty, upset at ourselves, which triggers the urge to eat again!

It’s okay when we don’t feel happy.  It’s okay to be sad and to admit that “I’m just feeling a little sad today!” The media and other people lump emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, and others like them as ‘negative’ emotions.  Given the situation, they might be completely appropriate!  Last week is good example for me:  July 26th is my grandfather’s birthday.  He died seven years ago.  I was very close with both of my grandparents and I miss them very much.  When I think about them (like now), I usually start tearing up.  Feeling sad, crying, and missing them are not negative emotions.  Yes, I am sad because they are not here anymore, but these emotions come from the strong bond we had when they were here.  In short, I miss them because I still love them and that is not a negative thing!

Feeling angry, being anxious or upset can be perfectly appropriate emotions.  If I’m worried about a friend of mine who’s not been well, if I am upset because I can’t find something important I am looking for or if I am anxious about an upcoming interview, then these are all normal.  Even if I am recalling a bad situation and I feel that anger or anxiety again, it is still normal.  What is not normal is allowing those emotions to dominate our lives or to refuse to deal with them. When we obsess over people who have hurt us or wronged us or cut us off in traffic, or when we refuse to feel these emotions because they aren’t ‘happy feelings,’ then we are hurting ourselves.  We need to find a way to feel these not-happy emotions without obsessing over them or pushing them away or running from them with food.  When we accept that they are normal emotions and it’s normal to feel them, we are one step closer to letting go of the emotional eating chaos and we are one step closer to being happier overall.

Obviously, if you have serious emotional issues or if you have problems learning to deal with your emotions, you should find a qualified professional to help you with this. FYI: if you need a professional, you are still normal! Most of us, especially men in my generation, are not taught how to deal with not-happy emotions, which is where a lot of our problems come from.  We are taught that if we are not happy all the time, we are somehow broken or defective, but being happy 24/7 is impossible! Things happen in life which are not always fun to deal with and so we find ways to cope, and some of those coping methods hurt us.

One of the ways I learned to cope with some of these not-happy feelings is just by venting. Most of us do it, but again society and the media sometimes looks down on this practice. I will post about something online, write about it in a blog or call my friend and just rant about it. Frankly, I will have a little tantrum about whatever it is that has made me angry, and then once it’s over, the feeling is gone. Having a tantrum is usually seen as being juvenile, but if I’m angry I am allowed to feel angry and if no one is hurt or insulted by my tantrum and the anger is expended, what’s the problem? Bear in mind, I have my tantrum at home (where only my pets can hear me and they are used to hearing me swear a lot) and no one else is affected by it. The same is true for sadness: we’ve all heard about ‘women going on a crying jag’ after a break-up or a fight, and there is usually a negative connotation for that as well, but if I feel like crying, especially over losing a loved one, then it’s normal. Venting or expending the emotion lets you feel it and deal with it and then it’s out.

From my experience, when we suppress emotions, they will eventually come out and usually in inappropriate ways or times.  I heard one therapist refer to is as “gunnysacking.” You get mad because your significant other leaves their clothes lying around but instead of dealing with it, you shove it down inside and you keep shoving things like not taking out the trash, not paying the bills, popping their gum, etc., into that same emotional gunnysack until she comes home late without telling you she’s running late and then you explode at her. The same thing happens when we keep pushing down anxiety or sadness or anger: our emotional gunnysack keeps getting packed tighter and tighter until it finally rips open and when we come up for air, we’re surrounded by pizza boxes and cheesecake tins. Done that a few times!

Happiness isn’t just a state of mind: it’s a process. In order to be happy, we have to let ourselves feel not-happy.  You know that emotional void everyone tries to fill with food? It’s there because we are suppressing our emotions! When we let ourselves feel all of our emotions, there is no void– so there’s nothing to stuff full of cupcakes! That means when she leaves her shoes in the hallway for everyone to trip on, you have to tell her it upsets you.  When you feel like crying because you had a really crappy day, let yourself cry.  When he forgot your birthday, tell him it hurt your feelings, and it’s okay to feel hurt that he did! It literally clears the emotional air and when your riot of emotions isn’t simmering just below the surface, something amazing happens: happiness bubbles to the top.  You find you are too busy being happy to eat the cupcakes in the office. Instead, you find you want to eat something that makes you feel proud or productive or just healthy. You don’t want to stop feeling good by eating something that makes you feel blah.  What’s more, you become more aware of what foods or practices make you feel good and which make you feel blah!  When you’re happy and you know it, you don’t need the cupcakes– because you can’t clap your hands when they’re full of food!