Monday 10 February 2020

The Shrinkening – Weight-loss, Imposter Syndrome and Levitation

The Shrinkening – Weight-loss, Imposter Syndrome and Levitation

By Casey Douglass

Casey Douglass

I’ve lost a lot of weight recently, but I don’t really feel any sense of achievement or joy in this. A short while ago, I reviewed a book about Imposter Syndrome called The Imposter Cure. A key element highlighted by the book is that people who never “feel good enough” usually tend to struggle to internalize any successes that they might have. I think this is something that is tripping me up at the moment.

I’ve been dieting for the last six months and I’ve almost lost 40 lbs in that time, so why do I feel the urge to give it a mental shrug and a half-hearted “meh”? If it wasn’t for the weighing scale telling me I’d lost weight, I’d barely believe it. I’ve even wondered if the scales are going wrong in my darker moments. I feel sad that I can’t feel happier about what I’m doing. So, in the spirit of spending some quality time in showing my brain that I’ve had a success, this post is going to be my weight-loss tale.

Before The Shrinkening

I’ve suffered with health problems since I was 18. While I’ve never been a particularly slim person, I wasn’t massively overweight before falling ill. I enjoyed the gym, mountain biking and whatever else I fancied doing. Over the years of feeling so unwell and being more sedentary, I’ve steadily put on weight. There has also been a big emotional element to my eating, due to suffering with anxiety and depression. I seemed to find many reasons to eat. At my heaviest, I reached 19 stone (266 lbs).

I’ve dieted at various intervals during that time, and at best, I’ve managed to get my weight down to around 16 stone (224 lbs). It would then slowly creep up to the 17 stone region before I’d get my eating under control again. After just such a period, I found myself at 16 stone 10 lbs on the 13 July 2019. I decided to have another crack at losing some weight. At the time, I had no idea that this time would be different. Six months on, I’m currently 14 stone 0.5 lbs (196.5 lbs), and my weight is still falling. So what did I do differently this time around?

Taking Two Things To Heart

Browsing the internet around the time I made the decision to start this diet, I came across two pearls of wisdom that I managed to internalize. I don’t remember the websites I found them on, but I have a feeling that I may have heard these concepts before and simply forgotten them. The first wisdom was that hunger slowly builds in the body and is never dramatic. If it is dramatic, you’ve either been really unaware of how hungry you are, or it’s a craving.

This links to the second thing, which is that you can be sure that you are having a craving if you are reaching past healthier options to eat a particular thing, ignoring the apple for the chocolate bar, when both would actually be capable of reducing your hunger. Seemingly simple things to think about, but I thought about them often enough to take them to heart. I did this by spending time with my feelings of hunger and keeping this information in mind.

Spending Time With Hunger

Once I’d reflected on the nature of hunger and cravings, I decided to spend some time over the next few days, getting used to hunger and the sensations that came with it. I deliberately refrained from eating for certain periods of time during the day, and took a mindful approach to looking at what was going on in my body or mind, which thoughts or feelings might have kick-started a particular hunger pang or craving. It might sound like a real chore, but it didn't feel like one.

I also rediscovered something that I seem to know at times and then often forget: Eating when you are properly hungry is far more satisfying than when you have been overindulging. I also tried to be more mindful when I was eating, to be focussed on my food and to not rush. If I found that I wasn’t being mindful, for whatever reason, I gave myself a mental shrug and decided to try again next time.

Monthly Is Enough

The very next thing that I tackled was the issue of how often to weigh myself. During previous diets, I’d always done this once per week, but this seems to hold a problem for me. My losses fluctuated week to week, one week showing a decent loss, another not really losing anything. Even though I knew I was sticking to my diet, these weeks of low or zero loss were very demotivating. If a 0.5 lb loss occurred when I was really struggling, I would be far more likely to break my diet.

Awareness of this pattern didn’t seem to help, no matter how many times it played out before my eyes. This time, I opted to weigh myself once every four weeks, reasoning that if I was doing a decent job of sticking to my diet, I would still show a reasonable loss over a longer period of time and not run the risk of a demotivating, tiny loss scuppering things.

Goals and Milestones

Once I’d settled on monthly weigh-ins, the prospect of goals loomed. Previous diets have seen me set goals in weight, feeling or aspiration, such as being slimmer for the Summer or getting below a certain BMI value. This time I opted for the general intention to lose weight, and to decide on a goal or milestone to aim for fresh each month.

The only baseline goal that I really wanted to reach was that I hoped to lose 1 lb per week as a minimum. As long as I’d lost at least 4 lbs by the end of each month, I would deem it a decent month, no matter how I actually felt about it. I also looked at where I was in relation to possible milestones and picked those as I neared them.

For example, if I was only a few lbs away from dropping below X stones in weight, that month would have the extra milestone to aim for of achieving that. I also had some “round number" aims that accounted for the lbs I’d lost, so if I’d lost 18 lbs so far, being able to say I’d lost more than 20 lbs in a month’s time was added incentive to keep going.

Eating More at Breakfast

Mornings are the most anxious time of the day for me. If you suffer with anxiety you will likely know the same feeling. This is likely due to the stress hormone Cortisol, and how it is naturally highest in most people around the time that they wake up. One way that I cope with this is to get my breakfast, take it back to bed, eat it, and then to read a book for a little while. By the time my breakfast is digesting, I am more awake and less anxious.

Mid-mornings used to be a danger zone for snacking, so I decided to eat a little more for breakfast than I used to. What I eat varies but I do make sure that I don’t trim too many calories from whatever I have at breakfast time. Since doing this, I’ve not had a mid-morning snack craving once, that I can remember at least. This has proved to be a really effective change for me.

Taking Pleasure in Food Reduction

Once per fortnight I go to one of the Chopstix fast-food places in Norwich and partake in their vegetable noodle goodness. Before my diet, this would consist of a large meal, which featured a base of vegetable noodles, along with three toppings of my choice and a jumbo spring roll. Chopstix is my treat, and there was no way I was going to stop having it. But I could improve my diet by eating a little less.

Before heading into the city for the first Chopstix of my diet, I pondered how I could trim it down a little but still enjoy it, and also feel that I’d achieved something. I decided that opting for a medium meal was a good first step that I could cope with, and felt that having the two toppings instead of three wasn’t really the end of the world. As it turned out, while I was standing there waiting to order, I even opted for a healthier topping too. I’m a big fan of their caramel chicken, and I still am, but on that day I opted for broccoli and stir-fried beef instead. I don’t do this every time but on the day, I was able to enjoy my treat while also knowing that I’d shaved a fair number of calories off what I’d usually be eating. I still had my jumbo spring roll too... and I didn’t feel guilty about it at all!

I’ve approached many of my meals or treats with this frame of mind, looking for small ways that I feel I can trim them without triggering my “feeling hard done by” emotional reflex. This has seen me cutting chocolate bars in half, and sticking to pre-packed crisps instead of the large bags that you can grab heavy-handed servings from. I replaced these things with healthier options where I could but not permanently. I try to eat more fruit and veg and I often replace baked beans in a meal with salad. I look at everything that I eat and try to edge a little more towards less, a little more towards healthier. It seems to be doing the job.

Journaling and Emotions

Mentioning the “hard done by” reflex above neatly leads me on to emotions. I’m an emotional eater and have been for a long time. Food dampens down the feelings of anxiety, depression or “lack” I might be feeling. It also gives me energy, which is an addictive feeling for someone who is struggling with fatigue all day long.

A few weeks before I decided to start my diet, I was doing some journaling and expressive writing aimed at working through issues that were affecting my health. I’ve been favouring the journaling approach of Nicole Sachs, a life coach and expert in Dr Sarno’s mind body syndrome. Nicole entourages a practice called JournalSpeak, a process in which you write totally uncensored and unhindered, excavating how you might truly be feeling about something. You then destroy/delete the journal, as it is meant purely as a means of expression for yourself to get things off your chest and to find new insights into what might be happening with you. Her JournalSpeak is useful for all kinds of things, from chronic pain management to other illnesses and symptoms. I am only mentioning the help it has been for my dieting here, but if you’d like to learn more about JournalSpeak you can visit Nicole’s website here.

I can tell that this journaling has been helping me with my diet as I very rarely have the urge to overeat any more. I’ve never stuck to a diet this long in my life, six months so far, and I’ve also not found it as relatively simple as I have this time around. I think the key component that has made my diet a success has been the emotional journaling work that I’ve been doing, and I’m saying this as someone who has previously done a massive amount of emotional work in trying to overcome my OCD, anxiety and depression. JournalSpeak and TMS notions seems to reach deeper and do much more, and I’m showing it to myself in a variety of ways, but as I say, particularly with regards to this diet.

My 600 lb Life

Something else that I think has been helpful, is that maybe once per week, I watch an episode of My 600 lb Life on the Quest Red channel. The people on that show are literally eating themselves to death, their bodies breaking down as they take to their beds and slowly enter organ failure. Most of them manage to turn things around with some diet advice, some surgery, and often, some therapy to address their emotional eating issues.

I know that the people on My 600 lb Life are far bigger than I’ve ever been. I guess I watch it as a precautionary tale in some ways, showing myself what could happen if I stay on a certain path for too long. On the other hand, I think it has helped me to watch other people with a much more serious struggle with weight, turn things around and kick-start their life again.

Maybe I’m showing my brain that I am attaching more importance to losing weight, and seeing the more extreme version of this weight-loss on screen over and over, seeing people go from eating junk food to salad and leaner meat, is mobilising some aspect of my self-motivation. Who knows. It’s a good show though, and great to see people overcome their issues.

There's Still Work To Do

I still intend to keep losing until I’m around 13 stone in weight, and then I will take stock of where I am. The last few months I’ve only managed a 3 lb loss each time, but the numbers suggest that this is likely my weight-loss naturally tailing off as I near a healthier body weight.

I’m still a little concerned that I don’t really feel I can see the weight-loss. When I went from 19 stone to 17 stone, I was far happier and could “feel” it more. I’m now a weight I haven’t been since I was at college and I still feel how I felt when I was 16 stone. By “feel” I mean in a bodily sense, and also in a visual “I can see the pounds coming off” way. Back then I could see and feel my stomach shrinking. This time... not really.

I’m guessing this is a “problem lies between the ears” issue. Either that or I’m not losing weight and I’ve accidentally mastered levitation to such a subtle degree that it only happens when I'm on the scales. Nice to have something to fall back on if the latter is the case.

Did writing this post help me to take stock of my achievement? I’m going to go all out, be bold, and say “slightly”. Sitting here and writing this final paragraph, I feel quite numb towards the whole thing but that’s okay. I might be sad that I don’t feel happier, but I’m happy to feel what I feel and to be true to that. The rest might come later, and if it doesn’t, something else will.