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?
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