Stress raises the heart rate. Does that make it aerobic? I wish, because if it was, I'd be getting quite the workout today, with my rent due but coming in too slowly, work due but getting done too slowly, and some personal/emotional/closure sorts of stuff I'm contending with after a week of putting some pretty big things behind me. Whenever I get like this, it is very hard for me to focus on anything, let alone my calorie counts, but I have learned that one of the keys to losing weight is to make sure your brain is in the game. I am convinced that the mind may be our biggest asset in helping us get smaller. For this reason, I wanted to share a few of the brain games that I have successfully used during my journey. Maybe they will help you, too, because as much as we hate to admit it, many of our brains work the same way. (No, I'm NOT saying you're as nuts as I am, so please don't take that as an insult!)
BRAIN GAME 1: Do you want worms with that?
When I was a kid, my Uncle Kent did something really quite mean to me, though he thought it was hilarious. As the firstborn grandbaby in the family, I was a kid when my uncles and aunts were just teenagers, and we spent a lot of happy times together. I really enjoyed being spoiled by them all before the next slew of grandbabies came along. These days, I'm still the oldest of a brood of 20+ grandkids and I don't know how many great-grandkids and grandkid-in-laws, but for those first few years of life, it was all about Autie. I'm blessed to still have all my maternal uncles and still love them dearly, but I also remember the ornery things some of them did to me. In Kent's case, it was worms. To this day, I blame him for my scoleciphobia (So-leh-kee-pho-be-ah), my severe fear of/agression for worms,night crawlers, and any other such legless creepy-crawly. I distinctly remember a day in the garage with him, when he said, "Hey, Aut, I'm putting some candy in your pocket," then reached his closed fist into the pocket of my little blue windbreaker and dropped something there. I gleefully reached in to retrieve those treats, only to find a handful of slimy, oozing, squirming worms, and I don't mean the yummy gummy kind. I was appalled, grossed out, and terrified, and I ripped the jacket off and instantly developed a nauseating disdain for all things worm. What does Uncle Kent's naughty prank have to do with weight loss? I use it by enacting the brain game of visualiazation/imagination. Many foods that resemble worms (with a little imagination) are not good for us--things like pasta and fries. In 2003, when I managed to go through successful weight loss, I learned the tactic of literally envisioning these foods as those worms I hate. It may sound a bit insane, but thinking of French fries as if they are nightcrawlers makes them a whole lot less appealing, and imagining a big plate of spaghetti the way they serve it on Fear Factor actually kills any craving for it. Use your imagination if you have to and visualize unappealing things in place of the things you crave most, and you might be surprised how easy it is to avoid them. And now that I mention this, I suppose I should send Uncle Kent a thank-you card...
BRAIN GAME 2: Fridge Freeze Frame
You all have seen some of my fatty-fat pictures, those rare snapshots of me captured over the years at my biggest sizes, like Sasquatch sightings (only not quite as hairy). I do not like posting and sharing them, and I certainly don't like looking at them, but I find it therapeutic, and others have said they find them inspirational. I am sorry they even exist, but they are a huge part of my arsenal when it comes to the battle of willpower. I have one of the worst ones posted right there on my refrigerator door. I have even considered placing one on the door of my snack cupboard. Why? Because when you SEE where you were before, you will be more apt to eat less and better. It is not so easy to devour a whole bag of Ruffles or an entire leftover pizza when that former fatty is looking back at you. No matter where you are in your journey, even if you are on day one, post these pictures of your bigger self where you are forced to see them before you choose what to eat, because it will remind your mind to make wiser choices.
BRAIN GAME 3: Size Matters
Picture a plate, a perfectly round, perfectly big plate. On that plate, picture whatever food you love. Maybe it is mac-n-cheese. Maybe it is French fries (Ew! Worms!) Maybe it's ice cream. Maybe you're one of those weirdos who actually likes healthier things and it's a simple salad with nothing bad in it or on it. When you picture this food, picture it only in the middle of that big old plate, only taking up the center, with space all around it. If you sit that plate in front of you, you will see the empty parts first. You will feel cheated. You will say, "Hey! What's with all this empty space? Let me just go back in there and fill this plate up..." We are naturally inclined to want a mile when we're given an inch, so the key may be to play against that human mind of yours and give yourself only an inch in the first place. Use saucers. Keep, wash, and re-use those trays from the low-cal frozen meals you've eaten. Use coffee cups instead of giant soup bowls. Use dishes that are small enough that your one smaller portion looks like an overflowing mass of yumminess, instead of a mere morsel in the center of a vast porcelain desert. Believe it or not, your mind will be tricked if you continue this over time. Simply putting the same amount of food in a smaller space makes it look like you're getting more bang for your bites, and that is one way to use your silly mind to your advantage. Size matters, and if you want to make yours smaller, start by shrinking your dishes.
BRAIN GAME 4: Look what I can do!
I have said all along and will continue to say that the most crucial things in a weight loss journey is to keep going. You will have setbacks. Heck, just these last two weeks, I've been struggling with ups and downs and self-inflicted plateaus and gains. You will be tempted to quit many times. Do you even know how many times a week I drive past my favorite Chinese buffet and think, "Man, what I wouldn't give to go in there and devour 300 rangoons and then dip a bunch of those pastry cookie things in that chocolate fountain and chase it with sushi...and they've got that American-junk-food bar too, with pizza and chicken nuggets and..." Well, you get the point. Persistence is hard. One way to help keep yourself in line is to force your mind to focus on what you're gaining while you're losing. For me, it's been a matter of mobility and fashion. I get down on myself often, and not just for weight, because I have always struggled with much self-doubt and low self-esteem. For that reason, it's quite easy for my brain to convince me that I should just give up. When I feel like this, which is often, the only way to turn my brain from a kill-joy to a pep talk is to force myself to see what the weight loss has done. Sometimes, that means getting all dressed up in an outfit I couldn't wear before, even if I don't have anywhere to go (still haven't been blessed with that Mr. Neon yet!). Sometimes, it means actually physically doing something I could not do before. Yesterday, it was as simple as reaching behind me to push my boot up on my heel. Sure, I see you saying "Oh brother. That's nothing," and rolling your eyes, but you must understand that when I started this journey, there was far too much junk in my far too large trunk for me to put anything behind me, least of all my boot. I'm surprised I wasn't charged with assault and battery many times for inadvertently knocking people down in the Kroger aisle three feet behind me with my unnaturally prominent sway. Not only that, but my knees that used to resemble a shar pei were in no way able to bend that far backward. I called my kid in the living room and shouted, "Look what I can do!" sounding just like Stuart from MAD TV, and I was thrilled that I could put my white boots on that way...and that they fit over my calves too!
Exercise is important, and I don't mean stress aerobics, but remember that your brain might be one of your biggest muscles for working out your weight loss. It really is a matter of mind over matter and what your mind does matters a great deal. Trick it if you have to, stretch it when you need to, and force it to think positively every day, and you will do better on your journey.