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Be Mindful When You're Mind's Full

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I am happy to report that I am on the downward track again in my weight. I had picked up about 7.3 lbs. since Goal Day (when I hit my 155 lbs. on 4/11), but I am back to my 1,200 calorie regimen till I hit that goal again and maintain it for two straight weeks, at which point I will go into maintenance and allow myself that 1,300-1,400-calorie budget and up my physical activity a bit (I still have to get that Christmas bike put together, but I've never been very good with screwdrivers of any variety.) This morning, I weighed in at 157 lbs., so I'm 2 lbs. from goal, but it's also a 3.5-lb. loss since my heaviest point in the last week or two, so I'm happy about that. I will eventually stay in that plus-3/minus-2 cushion, but for now, I want to get back to goal and go from there.

For the last couple weeks, after toppling off the wagon instead of into proper maintenance, I've really been thinking about the whole thinking part of weight loss. In doing so, I've come to realize that even more than those muscles in our arms and legs, the one muscle we really must learn to stretch during a weight-loss or maintenance effort is that big, gray matter one in our heads. What happens within our heads and hearts definitely takes as much of a toll on our weight as what happens in our stomachs and intestines.

I had a bittersweet conversation with another Sparkie via email this morning. She told me about how she has been struggling since the loss of her husband in September. I can completely relate to this, after losing Mom and Dad in June and November of last year, as well as adjusting to single life after being married for 8 years. Something happens to us when we grieve any kind of loss or go through any kind of major life change. Some people stop eating. Some people eat too much. Some people just start eating whatever. Stressful emotions like grief, worry, anger, sadness, and all those other Eeyore sorts of feelings that come along with life cause our bodies to do weird things. God equipped us all with a bit of emotional Kevlar, and to protect us from the onslaught of stress and heartbreak in life, our muscles tense, our jaws clench, and our heart rates go up, due to the extra adrenaline we need to get through the hard times. What does this mean for dieters? Well, first of all, you are expending energy you may not even realize. Grieving and worrying literally burns calories. Then, just like any engine, when you start running on fumes, you need to fuel up, and when you are so upset that you cannot mentally focus on anything else, it is very easy to just grab and go, without thinking very much about what you're grabbing or where it's going to go.

Another issue - and the one I've been dealing with the most - is that our human brains are equipped with a survival instinct. God gave this to us as well, with good reason. When we are pummeled with stress of any kind, it is our mind's first instinct to interpret it as some sort of danger, a threat. Some people's minds actually get all Spike Lee with it and do the right thing: "Oh no! We're in danger," that mind screams, then breaks out into a chorus of "Y'all ready for this?" That brain tells its owner to get fit and lean, to prepare for the oncoming battle. Unfortunately, my brain is not connected to a jock and, therefore, doesn't start playing jock jams at me that have me running up any concrete stairs. Instead, my brain tends to say, "Start singing, fat lady. It's over." My brain reacts to stress or even my attempts to restrict calories as an oncoming famine, and it tends to sing Weird Al at me: "Eat it! Eat it!" hoping to stave off the emptiness I feel or the terror of any coming tragedy. Not only does the mind affect how we eat in stressful situations, but it also starts stirring up a whole cauldron of hormones, some of which, like cortisol, quickly fashion a spare tire or two around our middles. Most of us fall into one of these categories, and that's why some people can eat 4,000 calories and not gain an ounce, while the rest of us gain 5 lbs. just by sniffing the fried chicken at the grocery store deli. It's why some of us don't feel like eating at all when the sky is falling, while the rest of us run around beneath the crumbling cosmos, devouring every morsel of everything we can before the doom ensues. I'd venture to say if I was one of those wanderers back in the day, I would have been guilty of taking more than my fair share of manna, because while I am a woman of faith, that faith tends to get really shaky under even the slightest bit of stress. My calorie-counting gets shaky, too, while my emo-eating cravings increase exponentially.

Grief is hard. Losing someone we love is hard. Changes in life are hard. Financial and health problems are hard. And every one of you on Spark knows firsthand that weight issues are hard, and many of them are impacted by all these things. One of the keys I've discovered as of late is that we must be mindful, especially when we are mind-full. Over the last couple weeks, I've been so busy focusing on so many things--my kiddo's graduation, bills, work, celebrations, adjustments, and life in general--and I haven't been mindful. Because I hit that goal weight on April 11, I allowed my mindfulness to slip and my mind to fill with other things. Instead of being mindful to eat only half of a treat or a reasonable "cheat" meal, I mindlessly devoured them all. When the mind is too full to be mindful of how full the belly is, most of us pack on the lbs., either by eating too much or eating the wrong things. When our minds are too full to be mindful, we don't record or even make a mental note of our calorie intake. When our minds are too full to remember, "Hey, half a cookie is still great, right? Why not share it with the kiddo?" we will soon find that our jeans are too full as well.

I cannot speak to how difficult physical exercise is, as I would truly feel like an alien if I voyaged to any Planet Fitness, and the hardest physical thing I've ever done was gym class, circa 1988, when they made us play repeated rounds of pickle ball till we were out of breath. I'd feel like a dumbell if I ever tried to use any equipment, and something about thin people in Spandex frightens me. I watch THE BIGGEST LOSER in horror, because in spite of all the foods that show shamelessly advertises (sorry, but there is no reality in someone having a ten-minute conversation about a certain brand of yogurt over the kitchen counter), the main part of that crazy weight loss on that show results from 9,000 hours of working like an old farm ox, throwing things around and pulling heavy things while being screamed at by an angry trainer. I can tell you, though, that the mental aerobics I've gone through during my weight-loss journey, especially during my bereavement times last year and my stressful times in recent months, have been the most difficult part of my weight loss and, most recently, my maintenance. One thing that is very important to remember in that jam-packed mind of yours is that even if you've lost the ones you loved, they loved you enough that they would want you to take care of you...and you are still here for a reason. That should be reason enough to be mindful of how you are treating yourself when it comes to food.

Take time to grieve, even if that means loosening up your dietary reins for just a little while, because giving yourself time to heal is important. Take time to take care of your responsibilities, those things that you can control. But in the midst of it all, be sure to be mindful when your mind's full, so you can still keep an eye on what's going into you, even while life is taking a lot out of you. Many of the lessons I share here are those preachings I need to practice, so rest assured I'll be working on this one!
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