Saturday, January 10, 2015

When Weight Loss Isn't Self Motivating Anymore: Building Castles

When I first started losing weight, it was self-motivating. At the beginning of this blog I did not have any support, or readers, or comments for awhile... and that was fine! I was using this as a record of the journey (and wow, what a record it has become). I didn't have any lost pounds yet, or smaller sizes, or better health to make me want to keep going yet. When I decided to change my life, the change itself was motivating. Just *knowing* I was doing something big... something that could lead me down new roads... was exciting. Just getting up and planning to eat a salad at lunch felt great! It didn't bother me much that I wasn't eating candy or cookies, because just *being on a diet* was so rewarding to me. I felt empowered and in control, instead of so stuck in the way things were. It was like an awakening, and just the decision to do it was freeing. I *liked* choosing to go for a walk, because just doing that made me feel like a new person (not even the walking... just the deciding to walk!) Each choice I made was kind of exciting and joyful, even when it was hard. Every choice... eating some carrots for a snack, buying chicken breasts, drinking a glass of water, doing some stretches... was like a piece of a puzzle I was working on. It was kind of like building a giant castle out of Legos: with every block I searched for and snapped into place I knew... I had a vision of... what it was going to be. And that was really a driving force, just like when you are in the middle of building a Lego castle on the floor or a 5000 piece puzzle on the dining room table. It can be frustrating, and tedious, and sometimes it takes awhile to find the right piece but you are DETERMINED to find it because you are building something! You are creating something. The process itself is motivating. That is how weight loss felt.

Imagine that thrill of getting that Lego castle project. You buy it because you love how that castle looks and you can't wait to work on it and have that feeling of accomplishment and see the castle forming from your efforts. You have all the pieces, you even have directions, and you are confident. It's really fun and even if there are hard parts and you need a break, you just *know* how proud you will be when it is done. Now imagine you get 3/4 of the way through building your castle and you can't find the next piece. You look everywhere and it is not there. You try every piece you have and can't figure out what to do. While looking for that missing piece, you bump the tower on your castle and it breaks off and falls to the floor, scattering Legos everywhere. Now you are *really* frustrated. But you start rebuilding the tower, muttering to yourself. It is not as fun as it was before. It is kind of annoying. I should not have to be doing this part again! While you are rebuilding the tower, you press a Lego too hard and an archway beneath it collapses. It's a small part of the castle, but this just adds to your frustration. You walk away. You need a break. This used to be really fun but now it is getting old... but you really want to finish the castle. While you are off getting a drink and a snack, your dog runs through the room and knocks another small section of the castle off. You return, ready to work, but there is even *more* work to do now! You have to sort and find and re-place each piece! But you sit down and get to it, because you still want the castle.

You get through rebuilding the section and the arch, and the frustration is finally starting to fade. You feel good again. You've got this! You're careful... you won't knock anything over again and the dog is locked out of the room. But when get about halfway through rebuilding the tower, you realize you are going to get back to the same place where you need that missing piece! You still haven't found it. What good is all this work going to do without that essential piece?

You take a break. You talk to friends and they understand. They will help you! So you take a bathroom break and when you get back to your castle to work on it again... someone has come and dumped a huge box of extra Lego pieces in the room with all the castle pieces. This is not fun anymore AT ALL. Now you not only have to sort through the castle pieces... but you have to sort all those extra Legos that your friends brought. You look at the piles of Legos and the partially built castle, and there is absolutely nothing self-motivating about this project anymore.

I know it's not a perfect analogy. But that's how it has felt to me. It's like in the beginning, just the idea and the excitement and seeing progress and imagining the beautiful end result was motivation enough. But now, I feel like I am sitting in a room scattered with piles of random Legos and a partially-built castle. I want to finish it... but dread the task.

I know the hardest part is starting, and the second hardest part is continuing. I don't like this project anymore. I almost want to throw it all in a box and shove it in a closet. But instead, I have to find motivation outside myself... in my family, in the value of my life... and just make myself start sorting pieces and rebuilding. I know there will come a time I will get to that missing piece in the tower and I hope by then I'll have done enough sorting to figure it out. I know that once I get going and start to catch the vision again, it'll get exciting for me again. I believe it will become self-motivating again at some point. Until then, I just work at it piece by piece for the simple reason that I don't want a half-finished castle and piles of Legos filling up my life. And for now that has to be reason enough.


Anonymous said...

An excellent analogy.

In addiction theory, ANY reason to stop using your drug is a good reason. :)

So, if all you've got is that you're going to eat healthily so you can be vital and present in your family's life--so be it.

Putting your family before your desire to eat those donuts--Well, it's good enough for now. Doing it for your own health and well-being will follow.

heidi said...

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has a wonderful section of the book that talks about gumption. If you have ever done anything in the realm of mechanics, you understand that you can often get overwhelmed. You often don't know exactly what is wrong with a car, and you put a lot of work, money and time into putting in a new part, only to have it not fix the car! What the book covers is the idea of gumption, and how, one of the most important parts of doing mechanics is the acknowledgement of how difficult the task is and techniques to keep your gumption. In the book for example, it discusses taking a break when you are frustrated, or writing things down in a notebook (as well as taking pictures) to keep track of what you are doing (so you remember how to re-install parts or don't end up with extra parts). Anyway, dieting is a lot like mechanics. It is HARD. If it is hard enough, you will quit, despite the need to fix whatever is wrong.

Anyway, the point is, that often when doing something that is incredibly difficult, the retainment of your gumption for the project is the most important thing. You must guard your gumption with everything you have. Anything that steals your gumption is to be fought, because the loss of your gumption might quickly lead to your starting over from scratch or never resuming the project at all.

Gumption stealers in weightloss can be something as easy as regaining weight during a break. So, if you want to take a break, you need to make sure that you don't regain weight during that break.

Gumption stealer number 2 might be exercising a LOT and not controlling your food intake, so you end up with a gain, when you feel like you "deserve" a loss because of your hard work in the gym.

Gumption stealer number 3 might be a gain from high sodium foods. Your calories are on track, but you eat salty soup and see a gain on the scale and think to yourself, "I might as well eat what I want, because I am heavier today, despite being perfect on calories yesterday".

Gumption stealer number 4 might be putting a time frame on your expections of losing x pounds within y days. When it doesn't happen within that time frame, you feel defeated and don't want to continue, because you "deserve" what you expected to lose and not what you actually attained.

Anyway, for myself, I KNOW that any expections of exercise leading to weight loss can be a strong gumption stealer. So I don't do it. My weight loss (75 lbs) has been 100% diet related. I occasionally do exercise with the intent of being physically stronger, but I NEVER do exercise anymore with weight loss in mind, because I know for myself that when I gain weight (water retention) after exercising, it steals all my gumption.

Gumption for the weight loss project is vitally important. It can be helpful to identify what your gumption stealers and gumption givers are. (For example, I can get gumption for weight loss by looking at my old fatter photos or re-reading my old journal entries where I am so upset about my fat existance). Gumption giver - trying on old fatter clothes. Gumption stealer - putting on too tight of clothes. Gumption giver - putting effort into how I look (hair/makeup/outfit). Gumption stealer - eating a junky food that wasn't even that good (like a dissapointing baked good or instant mashed potatoes or something like that).

Anyway, you get the gist. This concept of gumption and how to build it and retain it was a life changer for me.

Hope you find the ideas helpful.

Gwen said...

YOU knocked over the Legos, LYN. No one else. Own your evil, or prepare to repeat. Seriously. Until you accept culpability, nothing will change for you, for long. That's just the way it is.

JM said...

This is an interesting way to look at it, Lyn. I think that it is all perspective. There is no "perfect" castle! THere is always a big mess on the floor waiting to be cleaned up that others mess up when we are not looking. Maybe its not wise to think of it as a project that you have to clean up? Maybe leave the legos there, or maybe even sweep it all into a box and donate it to goodwill! Start over, with progress not perfection. Listening to your feelings, doing your therapy, and following some food plan, any plan works! As long as you follow it. Those of us with "issues" cannot usually trust our thinking when it comes to food. We are sneaky experts at sabotage. Best to not think so hard?

Lyn said...


Agreed, any reason will do for now :)


thank you so much for your insights. Those are really helpful thoughts and very true. I am going to see iff my library has that book, too. Thanks.


I'm sure you don't mean it this way, but you come off as a bit condescending and judgmental. I always appreciate thoughtful input, but don't need a mama's scolding.

Also, I think you missed the point of the post. It's about how I *feel*, not about blaming others.


another interesting way to look at it. I'm not sure what I am doing with the "Legos" but I am definitely not leaving them on the floor in a mess :)

Anonymous said...

You know, the part about the dog knocking over "a small part" caught my attention, too, so I went back and reread the whole analogy.

Fact is, most of what you had was not pointing the finger elsewhere and, here's some truth: sometimes the dog DOES knock off a small piece. :}

We've all had weight loss damage happen that is not under our control. Like, an unexpected 3 pound gain over a weekend that was spot on food-wise. Or a certain food was advertised as sugar-free, that we later discover was not...and we unexpectedly got bingey. Or that ow-glucose episode that triggered all kinds of sequelae, both physical and emotional.

That dog can cause "small parts" can be dislodged causing frustration. While I acknowledge that it is our choice how we react to that outside source of damage, denying it's existence just sets us up to learn the hard way.


heidi said...

Gumption giver (this is one of my big ones) - take a hard look at a package of 4 sticks of butter. That is what 1 pound of fat looks like. Each stick of butter is only 1/4 pound. So even thinking about losing 2 sticks of butter off your body each week would be an awesome accomplishment (which is only 0.5 lbs!!). Each pound of fat DOES matter. So, keeping your calories 400 calories below need for the day would lose 1/2 stick of butter of fat off your body. That is actually quite a lot, when you hold it up. These visual reminders can keep my gumption up.

Rampaige said...

Hi Lyn,

I don't know if I have ever commented before although I have been reading your blog for years. Recently I have found your posts particularly insightful. Having been on a similar roller-coaster to you, losing a lot and gaining some or all of it back (depending on the cycle), I empathise fully with where you are now. I too have been at the building the castle stage, and at the "I have done it and want to share the secretes" phase and at the despair phase.

Just thinking about your analogy though brought about a bit of an epiphany for me - I have a tendency in diet and in creative projects to go for too big a castle before I am ready (aim for the stars and all that) and then usually I am obsessed for a while, and then a bit bored until eventually I shove the thing in a cupboard before eventually giving it to someone who is more interested (in the case of Lego or crafts - not diets).

So, my humble take away from what you wrote, is maybe I should create a cottage properly before I go for the castle. If I get that done and have something to look at it may inspire me to create the mansion or village (gumption creator - I like that Heidi - I too will read the book) and then eventually the castle.

CatherineMarie said...

Lyn, *hugs*. Sometimes you need to stop. Stop trying to lose weight. This is a little bit scatty, kind of free-associating here...

Go see Cloe, work on valuing yourself first. January is NOT actually a good time of year for weight loss. So, pick up all the lego pieces, put them in a bin. Throw out the shakes, powders, bars.

Work on maintaining your weight, just for now. Do some stuff that makes you feel good. You have been slogging at this for a while, and you need a new approach.

I met someone yesterday who had lost 70 pounds, and got into bodybuilding. She works at it. But it has a payoff for her in that it has given her some tools and a new goal/way to manage her health.

Maybe you need a reframing.

Put all the legos away. Don't give up.

Cloe will give you some new legos, and new directions, so that you can build a bigger, more gorgeous castle.

You need to find a motivator that is not your family, because if you are doing it for someone else, it will NOT LAST. You need to feel good about yourself.

You have gumption. You have willpower. That is not the problem. Google "Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen". Her books are out of print, unfortunately, but some of her recipes are still up on Food Network.

Question: Do you have mirrors in your house? And do you look at yourself in them? Find one thing you like about your body. Add to the list.

Buy yourself some pretty clothes, without holes, that fit. Buy some new makeup, or get a new haircut. I'm going to go buy some wild hair dyes, I need to do a color, maybe red or purple... Do something liberating with your clothes...Modcloth has some cute styles for larger women, get something you feel cute in!

For me, I have lost weight more consistently when I feel cute. I am making an effort to go out and buy some cute boots/tops/etc, take advantage of the January sales... If nothing else, buy some pretty jewelry.

Pack up the weight loss for two months. You will not regain all your weight in two months. Try to maintain instead. Good luck.

CatherineMarie said...

Just read this, great article.

Monique Noel said...

Weight loss is so much easier than building a Lego castle. You know that your maintenance calories are 1400. You should track your food and eat below that. You have written that you don't think calorie counting will work for you again. Why not? When calorie counting stopped working for you, it was because you had lost so much weight that you needed to lower your calorie intake to lose more. Now that you have regained, I imagine calorie counting could be effective again. Once you got down to the 175-180 point again, you could continue to cut carbs, add more protein, cut overall calories, or add cardio intervals to your workouts to continue losing weight.

Don't overthink it.

Susan said...

Lyn, in Christ you are a new creation, old things are passed away and all things are made new. That's the truth. They are not reformed or recovering they are new! Born again! Be careful in accepting titles that have been made up by men. I see way to much phycho bable from commenters and they are all in the same boat as you find yourself. Im exhorting you to refocus your affections on things above and let the lesser things fall in place. Not necessary to post this... I'm talking to you not contending with the others. Recently there was a discussion about forgiving yourself or loving yourself don't quite recall exactly but this verse/truth came to mind..*[[Eph 5:29]] KJV* For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
We do give considerable amount of times to ourselves which can become sinful if we aren't careful. Here is another scripture that might help you to understand in part what I'm saying *[[1Ti 4:8]] KJV* For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
if you have truly come to the conclusion that you are a sinner in need of a Savior and have confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord tgen you must conclude that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you. And He will help you when you get your focus off yourself and on Him.

Susan said...

*[[1Co 6:19-20]] KJV What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.*[[1Co 3:16/KJVLite]]* Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Vickie said...

In my opinion, thinking "diet" is self sabotage. If you look around at the people who take it all off, and keep it all off, what they tend to do is change their habits.

Weight loss is practice for maintenance. They figure out which habits are self HELPING and they figure out how to do them daily.

None of this do it for three days or a week, get tired of it, and go back to the self destructive ways. They change their lives, one habit at a time.

And usually weights loss habits are just one part. They work on clutter, proactive, boundaries, priorities, paperwork, etc too.

It is a progression.

Once the weightloss habits start to get in place, then all forms of self sabotage become more aparent and start to really fester.

The fat tends to be the part most easily seen. There are usually a lot of other parts too.

Vickie said...

I guess what I am saying is self sabotage will make you feel the way you describe. I understand about the Lego analogy. I understand you were writing about how you feel. But everything you describe in your analogy is the things we do to ourselves. Or let others do to us. We have all done them. We have all let them happen. My biggest inner work happened after I lost the last of my weight. It was all in the form of priorities and boundaries. Positive work, consistent habits, and those feelings, those negative loops, stop.

Susan said...

I'm sorry but my phone wont let me see what I'm writing..I wanted to lwave you with those last to verses. Btw.. I remember you talking about your mom and her forcing the notion of

you not being good enough because of sin.
True the bible does say there are nobe good,
no not one. But it also says when a sinner
becomes born again he is a new creation.
the apostle Paul refers to the new believer as Saints of the most high. Yes, we still sin but it is not the direction or course of our lives. We see it we are reoulsed by it we cobfess it and we are cleansed from it because Jesus paid the price for it so you would not have to.

Lyn said...

Wow, what a great bunch of comments to wake up to this morning! I love the insights and different perspectives here and I learn from you all. I absolutely need to reframe, because if I keep looking at this whole thing as the 'same old project that I am tired of working on but have to' I am going to hate it the whole way, even if I do finish it.

I do need to take greater pride in myself, and take better care of me and not *wait* until I am a certain weight to feel good about how I look.

I do have mirrors and they plague me because I tend to feel soo discouraged when I see myself these days. Again, need to reframe...

Calorie counting would definitely work... as would AIP or low carbing... IF I could get a grip on my eating. I will write more about this in another blog post. I have not given up... and am eating so much better now than I was. Just apparently not better enough (or less enough) for a loss because this morning I am still 246.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lyn - I actually think part of the problem is that this analogy needs adjusting.

If you'll ONLY be happy if you finish the entire Lego castle to perfection, then, you know, yeah, probably weight loss isn't going to work for you.

This is because we all still end up with bodies that are imperfect.

I think a better analogy would be something like planting a garden, that you wanted a garden that had fresh herbs of all types, tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers, etc etc etc. But you end up with "only herbs and tomatoes", the peppers don't do so well, the cucumbers are going like gang busters to the point you can't eat another cuke, for realz! but the zucchini's won't produce. Oh, and there's weeds. You have to weed it all. the damn. time. When it's hot out! And muggy!

Yeah, that's what changing how you eat and live CAN be like. So sometimes you just leave the weeds where they are, if it's hot out (metaphorically). Take a step back and realize what a bounty you still have - you have a garden, after all! (Much more enjoyable than a partially-built Lego castle.) Enjoy the herbs and tomatoes. Give away those cukes you can't eat anymore. Research why the zukes and peppers didn't do so well, or just resign yourself to buying those. There's no shame in revising your plan. That's actually called learning and growing, I think. :)

There's a lot of value to a partially grown garden, just like there's a lot of value to a partially-completed health-improvement plan.

That said... it sounds like at this point, you may not be ready for this. You're resisting. This is not a judgment! Really, it's OK. When you're ready again, you can re-start then, where you are.
All best to you.

heidi said...

fitteratfortyish - I love that. Gardening definitely applies here. What's funny with the gardening analogy (if you've done any before), is how it really points out that there is a honeymoon period, a period when you are over it and don't want to put the work in any more (weeds get out of control for me at this point) and that the work NEVER ends. But you think of yourself as a gardener. It's so much nicer to go out to the garden and "be a gardener" when it's working. No-one wants to be known for being a gardener and then having this crazy weed infested eye-sore in their back yard. Just as it's embarrassing to be known as a dieter and have all this weight regain.

Anyway, whether I'm fat or thin, those that know and love me, know that this is my issue in life. It is what I struggle with EVERY day of my life. It will always be that way for me. And that's OK. As Vickie points out, it is about acquiring a bunch of new habits that become the foundation of who you are. They aren't things you do while you are dieting and trying to lose the weight. They are patterns that you hold onto long term that hold your weight lower than it would be if you reverted back to your old way of doing things. (So for me, breakfast is always coffee with heavy cream now, versus cereal with skim milk in the old days). Whether I am losing weight or gaining weight (cause I have bad weeks and bad months just like everyone else), that habit of drinking coffee with 50 grams heavy cream instead of eating processed carby cereal with skim milk is permanent. Another permanent change is I ALWAYS have appropriate food in my house now. Frozen meats, frozen, fresh and even some canned vegetables are always there, so I CAN make a healthy meal. (Even when I am making wrong choices, the option to do better at the very next meal needs to be available). (And yes, I do have fresh produce go bad and yes it is a waste of money and I no longer blame myself when that happens). My third permanent change is I weigh EVERY single day and record it in fitday. (I ate my husband's M&M's and nutter butters last night and I am up 3 pounds this morning, but I got on the damn scale and then put it down in Fitday). I think this has really helped me with getting back on track the next day when I do eat a bunch of junk one evening.

Anyway, what works for me won't necessarily work for you or anyone else, but maybe part of what will work for you is making a list of all the dietary and behavioral habits that DO work for you and working to keep them present and strong in your life.

divad said...

Please, please, please read, "The Diet Fix", by Dr. Yoni Freedoff and be prepared to have some of your questions answered regarding why it isn't self motivating anymore. He is a well respected, non surgical obesity Dr and his book has helped me so much in answering questions!

His insights and writing will disagree with Gwen's comment of owning it and accepting culpability. He says that way of thinking is exactly what turns us traumatic dieters away from eating well. The diet industry and diet culture is to blame, not Lyn. It's wonderfully freeing and he helps build the tools to get back on whatever program you choose to follow, because there is no magic program.

Chastine Stewart said...

Lyn you are a huge inspiration. I hope to offer some in return. The analogies we chose for ourselves are extremely important because we subconsciously try to fulfill them. Respectfully I offer some questions to consider while you are re-framing your outlook. Don’t take the analogy you created lightly…why did you pick a castle to build? What is a castle anyway? Does anyone really *need* to live in a castle to have an amazingly happy life? The basic need it fulfills is shelter. Symbolically they are beacons of status, functionally they serve as a fortress from the outside world. Also, while you can indeed take centuries to complete one, a war or natural disaster could wipe away all your hard work in an instant. But what if you gave up the castle, and decided you only needed say, a lean-to you could throw together today and you’re done. Doesn’t matter if it gets wiped out by a heavy storm tonight, you just make a new one tomorrow. In fact each one you build will be better because you’ve had that much more practice. It meets the same basic need as a castle; shelter. It will cover your head if not much else, but do you need the status and protection to be happy? Who are you proving yourself to and what do you need protection from? Could you let those worries go? So instead of focusing on your shelter all day long that could take years of investment and get wiped out in a heartbeat before you get anywhere near completion, you have something simple you can put up every day and spend your resources and energy on all the other amazing and important parts of your life. And most importantly when something bad happens, you’ve lost absolutely nothing but the effort you put in THAT particular day. You will be fine or even BETTER tomorrow. Imagine the weight (no pun intended) you would feel lifted if you told yourself you didn’t need to build a castle, you just need to get your head covered for the night so you can live your life.

Lyn said...

Insightful comments, and very helpful to me. Thank you.

Amy said...

I know you aren't a fan of the Geneen Roth thing, and that's cool, but I do agree that what lies beneath is way more important than than the castle or the dress, etc. dieting and weight loss are distractions we use to guide our focus away from that which we feel is too painful to deal with. Will losing weight truly make you happier? What about when you lose a bunch of weight but it doesn't change how your mother treated you as a child, or that time that lapses and everyone stops telling you how great you look? Can smaller jeans fulfill you to the core? Maybe you want to stop emotional pain and find some inner peace. Until your foundation is firm, that castle will never be able to stand tall.