Friday, May 8, 2009

The Deep Issues Behind the Fat

The more time I spend working out my own escape from obesity, the more I am convinced that there are (at least) two kinds of people trying to lose weight. There's people who don't really understand or are not focused on the principles of good nutrition... who just plain eat the wrong kinds of food in the wrong amounts because they taste good. One day they wake up and say, "I really want to lose weight!" They figure out how to change their eating and start moving, and they pretty much just DO it. They start eating chicken and broccoli and apples, they get on the treadmill an hour a day, an after months of work they have lost the weight. Period. Then there are the people who, even after they *know* how and what to do, they stumble and straggle and suffer along, maybe losing weight, maybe not... regaining, losing, struggling, and wondering, "WHY can't I lose weight and keep it off?" They see the people in the first category, who report that they just "decided" to lose weight and were "determined" to do it, and they think, what is wrong with me, that I cannot do what they did? And they usually stay fat or, if they do lose weight, regain it all within a few years.

I am, of course, in the second category of people. What is going on here? Why can some people up and change their lives without a lot of drama, while others seem to be unable to make real progress?

I'm not saying that if you're in the first category that it was EASY for you to lose weight. I am sure it always takes hard work to make big changes like that. But I've read blogs of people like this. Their weight loss graph is almost a straight line going downward, and they are so inspiring! But then people in the second category read their stories and think it must be impossible for THEM to lose weight, since they go up and down and regain a million times and it is *such* an inner struggle every day to stay on plan. And I think people in category A have a hard time understanding people in category B... because they think it is a matter of "just doing it," of willpower, of excuses, of "just" putting down the fork and being determined to change.

But it's not that simple.

The more I focus on getting the weight off, the more I am learning not only about myself, but about other people and their weight loss journeys and what makes people tick. And I think I've figured something out.

My getting and being obese is a matter of being "checked out" more than I am "checked in." Let me give a few examples of checking out... because it isn't really about food.

There are people whose lives are so stressful to them that they use drugs as an escape. Or alcohol. Either way, what they are doing when they use/drink is "checking out" from what is bothering them. Checking out from THAT LIFE while they are high or drunk. Then when they sober up, they are forced to check back in and deal with the emotions and problems... unless they check back out again.

There are teenagers (and older people) who use sexual activity as a way to lose themselves from whatever things are troubling them. Problems at home with parents, school issues, whatever. When they are lying in bed in the throes of a sexual high, they forget all about those problems. They're checked out. Sometimes teens who have a lot of stress but don't drink or use drugs will use sex as their escape. It turns their brains to something else... something that is pleasant and exciting and NOT their current life problems.

It's not just limited to pleasurable activities, either. Some kids cut themselves as a way of checking out. It's all a matter of doing *something* to get to another place. ANY other place than the life you should be dealing with.

Video games... computer time... the Internet... gambling. All are ways of checking out. How much time are you on the computer? Playing games? Mindlessly surfing? A LOT of people these days claim "Internet addiction," where they spend hours and hours staring at the computer screen each day instead of tending to their real-life responsibilities. I personally have watched someone sit at the computer for 8 to 10 hours A DAY chatting, playing Solitaire, doing nothing, really... in order to escape from the reality of things that are stressful or upsetting. And I have been guilty of doing it too, on occasion. As a matter of fact, a couple days ago I had an upsetting incident in which one of my teenagers could have been severely injured (but thankfully is FINE)... and I sat on the computer ALL DAY "checking out" because I just could not stand to think of him being gone and couldn't handle the emotion anymore.

I am pretty sure a lot of us check out through food. That's why what I wrote the other day about eating in front of a mirror works. It brings reality back, and makes it impossible to check out. And for me, at least, the point of a binge or overeating is pretty much to check out. Call it a coping mechanism, call it an addiction, say it is avoidance. All true. All checking out.

Being hyperfocused on *something* lets you forget about whatever it is you wish did not exist in your life. If you're obsessing about food all day, then you can forget about the laundry, the dishes, the bad marriage, the economy. When all you're thinking about is sex and when you'll get your next lay, you don't have to focus on the fact that your mother is dying and you can't afford your car payment. If you're spending every moment counting calories, fat grams, weighing food, exercising, then you can ignore the other things that need your attention that you don't want to deal with. Not that being diligent about calories and exercise is BAD... but it can certainly take the place of binge obsession to the point of *still* being checked out even while losing some weight.

Being checked IN is about living life in your body and not in your head. You are actually DOING things that need to be done, you're outside taking a walk or you're lifting weights. You're dealing with life, not avoiding it. Being checked in CANNOT involve sitting for 4 hours a day in front of the computer or making 3 runs to the store for Pringles and ice cream and Coke and then wolfing down Happy Meals in your car on the way home and hiding the evidence in the trash before you get there.

How many hours a day are you LIVING your life?

Checking out is a coping mechanism that has its place. Sometimes we HAVE to escape from the stresses of everyday life or some crisis that is occurring. We read a novel or watch a TV show or read blogs for awhile. We can do that and be healthy IF we come back and check in and LIVE each day.

Whenever my child has a tantrum, I get a distinct impulse to run to the kitchen and shove food in my face. I actually used to do it. She would be screaming and I would go to the kitchen and eat a whole piece of cold pizza or a donut or a handful of cookies in 30 seconds flat. I don't do that anymore, even though I still have that fleeting impulse. So I really think this can be changed, if we are conscious of what we're doing. But breaking free from food obsession (or any obsession) actually frees us to focus on other things. That can be good, but it can also be scary and uncomfortable for someone who has coped through avoidance for so long.

Pay attention. How much time are you spending "checked out" on food, games, Internet, etc? Maybe it's time to check back in and deal with life. It is, for me. How about you?


Anonymous said...

brilliant. thank you. :)

jo said...

You just nailed me.

I just blogged about the fact my house used to be immaculate, now it's clean but messy needing its weekly cleaning.

I have to exercise now. I'm going to turn the computer off for the rest of the afternoon.

Pubsgal said...

This is a brilliant post. The sad part is that the food way of "checking out" is one at which other people can more easily point a finger. It was my way for a long, long time. The only thing that caused me to check back in was the diabetes wonder I felt like I was waking up! The pain of staying the same finally became greater than the pain of changing.

In some ways, I still find myself trying to "check out" with food, and that scares me. I'm enjoying feeling healthy and fit, even though I still want to get into my "normal" BMI range. I sure don't want to blow what I've accomplished so far, but I also find myself reaching for food (albeit nuts instead of sweets) at times when things are stressful. I think that's why my progress toward goal has slowed.

Jaci "Big Mac Addict" M. said...

There is also some brain biology behind this too. I'm currently an addictions student and everything you've said is SO true. Some people have an overactive amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotional responses and hormone secretion, etc) and the only way for them to feel better is to find a self-medication. Sometimes people have positive self-medicators like exercise, but a good majority of the time it is alcohol, drugs, sex, or eating... all which in heavy doses can cause lots of problems.

Anyways, I really appreciate this post because it gives me a very humanistic perspective on the stuff I'm learning.

Thanks!! :)

andrea. said...

I like this post a lot! Although I would actually disagree that the people who drastically change their eating habits and lose the weight quickly and consistently are actually doing anything different -- I think (at least sometimes) those changes require an extreme focus on dieting /working out -- and that is just another way of doing exactly what you said: checking out.

Tina said...

This is a wonderful post Lyn. Thank you!

skinnyhollie said...

I am REALLY trying to work on this balance. I have noticed that since I have stopped letting stress and emotions drive me to a binge, I have been finding other ways to "check out", either with the Internet or with crocheting. I am thankful that I am no longer using food to dull the pain, but I do realize that I need to "check in" and deal with the problems, not hide from them.

Building a healthy relationship with food is one of the hardest things I'll ever do, so if "checking out" by playing Mafia Wars or working on my blanket helps me stay on track, I will do it. Hopefully I will gradually learn how to deal with stress and emotions in a way that is actually constructive and not doing harm to me or my body.

Hanlie said...

I spend a lot of time on the internet, but it's a productive effort. My checking out mechanism is smoking and reading. Give me cigarettes and a few thrillers from the library and the house can fall down while I sit on the patio, come rain or shine, smoking and reading. Usually I drink coffee while I do this, so it really is a double whammy! I never want to go there again...

Melda :o) said...

I've combined two of my favorite check out mechanisms, overeating and surfing the net...I don't think I have to tell you what that combination does to my body...

I'm new to your blog, haven't commented too much as of yet because I'm still trying to read my way through your archive but I couldn't resist to comment on this post, I loved it! Sad but very, very true!

Dinah Soar said...

Spot on Lyn. I've been doing tht lately--checking out.

Moving necessitated time away from my blog. I thought not blogging about food might help me turn my interest elsewhere and I could get back to the way I was when I was young and food had only a minor role in my life. I thought directing my focus away from food would be a good thing.

Well, it would be if I directed it toward something productive. But all I've done for the past couple of weeks--since I got my internet up and running here at the new place-- is sat at the computer reading (mostly non-food stuff) but doing nothing.

Bottom line--I've checked out.

It dawned on me earlier today that I'm becoming a bit of a recluse, drawing in and away, and that food has been my whole life for years and years. Ending that, what is left?

Not much. Me, disgusted with myself, and my fat, feeling like a slob and a failure. But I'm doing this to myself. I only feel like a slob because I've checked out..I'm not making the effort to improve myself, to do, to live, to move forward.

I need to check in--get off of my butt and change my life.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I'm going to forge ahead and quit sitting on my butt. I'm going to do some of the things that I need to do, that I know will make me feel better, and I will be better for it. I have many blessings and opportunities that I'm letting drift by. Carpe diem is the order of the day.

Great insight in your post. I think you, and myself too, are getting to the bottom of the reason we struggle with weight loss.

Anonymous said...

i was reading an article on chewing and tasting the food and then spitting it out, not purging, and it reminded me of your blog and how important it is to have healthy eating habits, and i was grateful for all your kind words on having compassion for other people, like the girl with this bad habit. thankyou for your blog and all that you share. i check it every day.

The Hopkins said...

Great insight! Weight loss is such a complex issue. I lost 65 pounds 3 years ago and now work with people at WW. I learned something new that I think is another piece to the puzzle.

I don't sell anything on my video blog - just sincerely interested in figuring out how to help us all lose weight and keep it off. If you're interested check the post on thoughts:

mythreemonthokinawadiet said...

What a brilliant post. I wrote this before - you are a great communicator. I think I am half A type and half B type. I can be the A type until I lose focus. Sometimes with knowing it - I slip into B type (with food and beer) without realizing it.

Thanks for the post

beerab said...

Ug I just "checked out" with a cupcake today and it sucks! At the time I just wanted it!

I definitely fit in with the "type B" since my loss of 23 lbs I've totally stalled, I'm hoping when my class I'm taking for work to be over in two weeks that I'll get back on track- I haven't lost a lb since then. Correction, I've lost and gained back the same 3-5 lbs!

DEBRA said...

I have lived almost 5 decades overweight. I have struggled with food basically my whole life. I have lost 100 pounds or more 3 times! THREE TIMES!!! You would think after the second time something would have clicked, but no I gained it all back and more. Then I got aggravated and decided to quit fighting "it" and what happened? I got diabetes and had high BP and my body just ached. So finally after so many years I had it. I had to do something to reverse the direction I was going in for my health. I had to. I didn't want to. I struggled and cried and did the 'woe is me' stuff and after that I got on with it. I am now closing in on my third 100 pound loss. I get it. Finally. I get it. I had to have it drilled into me. Food is an addiction -- it is as powerful as heroin or crack. I feel (and perhaps it is because it is my addiction) that is MORE powerful than drugs because we all must eat. At least with drugs, alcohol or cigarettes you quit totally and don't ever take another needle, bottle or smoke. Food is always around, everywhere and you can't just leave it alone. Now I live with making the choice each and every day and after nearly two years it has become normal for me to make healthy choices. For me, for what is best for me. And since making those choices I am no longer diabetic, I am no longer have high BP, my chest doesn't hurt, and I have energy.
I truly believe we all reach a water shed moment and once you do you can make sense of the food addictions and never let it fool you again.
Sorry this is soooo long.

Lyn said...


thank you so much for sharing your story! It's good to hear from someone who has struggled so hard and long and is finally succeeding! I wish you ALL the best :)

Anonymous said...

Oh me, Lyn. You always manage to kick me where it hurts! :D But you are so right--it's just hard to admit it and even harder to fix it! Kudos for bringing it to our attention!

T-rex said...

Oh Lyn, this so speaks to me! Having an addictive personality, it's always been something with me - be it reading, fiber arts, the Internet or food - I always have my check out mechanism. But what has made this lifestyle change work so well for me has been truly believing and living that food is JUST nourishment, nothing more, and that making it anything else destroys my health and happiness. By honest-to-goodness putting my priorities straight my desire to check our becomes less and less, and the healthier I get the more I enjoy the realities of my life.

Your blog and a few others have been such a big help to me, and slowly but surely I am becoming that first type of dieter and not the second.

Laurie said...

I think you nailed it! I was a catagory B, and couldn't figure out why? Then I started my Options class and it really opened up my eyes to my relationship with food. Now I am an A- (inbetween A & B, but more A. But this has been a 5 month process of weeding out and making changes, exchanges, and a better mind set, a healthy mind set. Sometimes I want that donut or cookie. But I've learned to grab a Yogert or sting chees instead!! Not easy but It is becoming natural now.

Anonymous said...

This is a valuable piece of writing here, Lyn. Thank you again.

My current most useful way of checking back in is to ask myself "What's happening now?" It's become a very neutral, very grounding thing to begin to be present with what is.


bbubblyb said...

Great post Lyn.

Sarah said...

I don't think there is much separating those types As from type Bs. I was type B my whole life and then my switch flipped and I was a type A. I just went down... with a long plateau in the middle, but I just made the switch... If I could bottle that or even explain it better I think I'd be rich!

But now, I'd consider myself a type B again. 4+ years into maintenance and I put back on 15 pounds. You forget skills if you don't use them... and losing weight is not the same as keeping it off. I had checked out again as you call it. Thankfully I woke up before it got out of control, but I think there maybe a Type C, which is how I prefer to think of myself after this recent regain... The constantly vigilant. We've been there and done that, and have no interest in doing it again.

A said...

You are a genius. I really enjoy and have learned so much from your blog. I wish you could be a real-life friend!!

Laurie said...

Amazing!! Very well said!

Twix said...

Some good advice and points to be had in this post. Thanks for sharing.

I think perhaps I'm in another catergory. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in the land of fat, even though I am one of the fat. I've tried to go into detail on my blog before then I just delete or not post those. It's hard to explain something that doesn't quite fit the mold. ok enough of my rambling...


Fat[free]Me said...

Bother! I have replaced one way of checking out (eating) with another one (internet). Hmm, need to sort that issue.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Thanx a lot.. xoxo

redballoon said...

Loved the post. Really wonderful, as in, I can identify with this and use it!

Forgive me if I repeat someone else's comment. I'm rushing here and haven't read all the comments, but I did see one where the person said focusing on losing weight was another form of "checking out." I understand what they're getting out but I think it's more along the lines of possible obsession if taken too far and channeling, focus, concentration if not.

I love this expression you're using, "checking out" because, yes, that is exactly, what we're doing, spacing out basically and avoiding certain issues.

I guess what is needed is an expression when the result is something positive. I mean if I am contemplating murder a lot, as in frequently, then I suppose it would be very beneficial to those around me if I learned to space out, check out, as in focusing on singing songs in my head or something.

I guess the thing to look at is if the outcome is beneficial then go for it. If it's not, if the result takes us away from our wishes, then no. In either case call it what you want. Checking out can be a very good thing. It's a form of meditation. Maybe that's what we need to do, is learn to meditate without sticking food in our mouths. Of course, the neat thing about food is you can eat while doing just about anything...

But, maybe it's just a case of one man's meat is another man's poison.

Ok, enough, sorry for being anal.... :) Your post got me thinking!

45 and Aspiring said...

Hi Lyn,

It's interesting to me that no one here has used the word "depression." Don't you think our choice to check out and stay out is a sign of depression. . . ?

This is something I've wondered about. . .

Claire said...

I think its about deciding if you are a victim of circumstance or a creator of your own life. I took responsibility for myself and checked IN - and so far have lost 100 pounds. Is it easy? No it's a struggle. It's hard not to eat when you are stressed for 2reasons - 1) you crave the food, 2) you have to FEEL what you are avoiding. Its hard and real and a million times better than the alternative.

Tami said...

Great post!
I'm in the second category and I've been there for years now.

I'm trying hard to be more checked in with my life and learning to enjoy it NOW instead of waiting until I'm thin.
Not an easy thing to do.
Checking out is more natural after all these years.

Greg At Live Fit said...

It's not uncommon for a person's hobbies and interests to consume them. That's when they become destructive. It doesn't happen quickly either, but rather it creeps up on you slowly.

Heather said...

this was definitely a great post! For me, I think that its also about finding the right way to become healthy and having the time. I was always of the second category where I try to lose weight but never could. for me I feel its because I was trying to lose that weight in a way that was totally conflicted with my way of life. therefore I hated doing it even if sometimes it worked and I would lose. this time around, I actually enjoyed what I was doing and felt it was the right thing for me and my life. and it helps that I dont have a family, havent been addicted to food for 10 years, and have a personality that has always helped me go after things I wanted such as getting my masters, being financially independent at 22,etc. the more things I think you have stacked against you, the more you may want to check out and it just sucks you down deeper and makes losing weight hard. no one said it isnt hard, but being aware and honest with yourself will get you far.

My Bento Diet said...

Wow great insight! I am definately a "checked out" person when it comes to stress. I use to do all the bad things (drinking, drugs, smoking, sex) and I thought I had finally beat my bad habits. I'm seeing now I just use food and the internet instead. I favorited this article so I can remind myself to stay "checked in." Thanks!

antgirl said...

Very insightful and very deep.

Cathy B said...

Very insightful. I am definitely in the second category of hopeful weight losers. I've known how to eat right for years, but I definitely eat as an escape. I've been blogging much like you since last August to try to fix my head and lose some weight, but so far I'm just yo-yoing the first 5 pounds. "Checking in" is a good concept!