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Mindful Bytes: Finding your Problem

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

So in my first post on Mindful Bytes I highlighted three areas that explained how Hedy and I worked on our wellness journey.

The first was the realization that I didn’t have a weight problem, my weight was the outcome of my set of problems. And that set can be long or short, but I’ve yet to see one that doesn’t include “abusing indulgent food” or “inconsistency”. Both were at the top of my list.

And I acknowledge that “you don’t have a weight problem” sounds super marketing-y. As well, I doubt anyone reading this hasn’t heard the statement “building sustainable healthy habits”. Hedy and I talked about this a few days ago, how those catch phrases get used so much that they kinda pass in one ear and out the other. That’s how they were to us, up until now. But I had spent my life trying to fix the wrong things. Let me paint a picture to see if it brings that into focus.

In the past when I decided that I needed to lose weight and get serious about my health, I’d start with at least a decent amount of enthusiasm for the struggle, ready to try for the thousandth time. And I’d do well the first few weeks. If I was part of a program that I was paying for I could usually extend that success into a few months. I’d lose weight pretty consistently. Not massive relative to my weight, but pretty regular. There might even be a couple weeks where my eating would slip, but the scale would be kind and I’d get a few losses that I didn’t deserve (and I’d be thrilled with that). But eventually I‘d get at least one week where the scale didn’t represent my effort. At all. And I’d do the healthy self talk: focus on what has changed and what I’m proud of….blah blah blah….but deep down I’m pissed. There’d also be weeks where the scale definitely reflected a bad week. And I’d bounce back pretty quick getting back on track. But those weeks with disappointing scale results relative to my perceived behaviour would start increasing in frequency, and I’d start questioning the journey. “What’s the point?” entered the conversation. And stuck around.

Also, eventually a long weekend rolls up and instead of keeping things reeled in, I’d go off. Hard. And this time the bounce back isn’t so fast. And a really indulgent long weekend would turn into a whole week of eating what I wanted, in whatever quantities I wanted. And those feelings of helplessness and anger and frustration start to bubble up. By my fourth “reset”, I’m fighting cravings and my emotions together, and that reset starts on Monday but by Wednesday something stressful hits my life and I’d have a bad binge. I wake up Thursday morning and know this is going to be another gain on the scale so “what’s the point?” I’ll reset again on Monday.

All of that. That’s what trying to lose weight looks like to me. My mindset was “If I could just lose the weight, things would get better”. I never noticed that I did lose weight and while things got better, the amount of better never outweighed the amount of struggle. The struggle was at least partially created by focusing on weight loss, which doesn’t give me a big enough payoff for the sacrifice I need to achieve it.

No where in that “lose weight” scenario was a commitment to change established habits. The focus is 95% on the scale and doing whatever (binge and starve, tolerating hunger, under-eating) to make it move. If it’s down, I’m good. If it’s not, I cut back as far as I could to see a loss, doesn’t matter if that amount of food is unsustainable. Just whatever makes the scale go down. Also mixed in there were weeks I ate well but I considered those weeks a failure because my weight was up, and then there’s weeks where I ate poorly and considered those a success because the scale said so. I had weeks where by Wednesday, 8 out of 9 meals were great but 1 was horrible, and that caused me to throw in the towel for the other 12 meals of the week because what’s the point of trying if the scale’s going to be up anyway? Some people call that an “all or nothing” attitude, in my world that’s just trying to lose weight. Once you’re not going to lose that week, what’s the sacrifice for?

How you figure out your real problem and how you address is up to you. There’s no “one way”. I can say the overwhelming majority of people find it by accident, when they stop sugar coating/overvaluing past experience that ultimately wasn’t successful.

This time, Hedy and I started eating well really consistently. Including long weekends and special occasions. I didn’t know how powerful that would end up being. In the past eating like this seemed so extreme and unsustainable that honestly we had never tried it before, even when we were being good. Our failed versions of getting healthy were hard enough. Truthfully? We did it this time out of fear from my diabetes diagnosis. But because of this new eating pattern, we noticed things changing that had never changed before.

Compared to other health journeys, we noticed cravings were 1/10th of what we were used to. It might have had something to do with deciding this time that we were going to eat when we were hungry instead of tolerating or creating hunger. We just ate healthy food 95% of the time to get full. Not mixing in treats because they fit or trying to satisfy cravings that never seemed to be satisfied. We ate until we were full on food we didn’t abuse, fruits, veggies, and protein. That was drastically different than any other health journey we had attempted.

We noticed bigger changes in how food tasted, how much energy we had, our moods, our attitudes, everything was WAY better. We had noticed improvements on other journeys but nothing this dramatic. No where close. We were focusing on how we were feeling a lot more than what we weighed. Eating healthy started to be the way to keep feeling great. At this point I had lost about 80 lbs with roughly 80 more to go. And i wasn’t white knuckling to live this lifestyle anymore. I had lost a lot of weight before. I had been closer to goal than within 80 lbs before. But I had never felt this good. The consistency of eating was clearly creating habits, we started reaching for healthy food automatically. And it was the easiest journey either of us had been on. No more “resets”, fewer disappointing weigh ins. It was shocking. We had changed more drastically for this journey, and instead of being harder, it was getting easier.

I wasn’t internally negotiating over every food choice anymore. I didn’t give into cravings to get rid of them. We planned one indulgent meal per week. Every week. No exceptions. We removed the negotiation and “can we fit it in?” moments. It either fit into our one indulgent meal per week plan, or it didn’t. We had started changing holidays for our goals instead of changing our goals to suit holiday behaviours. Gone where the discussions about “what are we getting into Friday night???? 😈😈”. If it wasn’t our scheduled indulgent meal, then we ate on Friday like it was a Tuesday..

The scale still mattered. I still got upset by unearned gains. But it just mattered so much less. There was all this other stuff that was changing and getting better, and it felt like it kept improving every time I ate chicken and roasted veggies instead of finding every excuse to order take out because I was “enjoying myself”. I was protecting how great I felt, instead of simply resisting foods I wanted.

And through all of it, my lifelong abuse of indulgent food became clear. I used to eat when I was stressed, celebrating, sad, scared, bored, happy. Indulgent food was used too much. To the point where when I decided to eat healthier i was so dependent on indulgent food that I refused to consider changing habits, I figured weight loss was enough. I had a hard time noticing how autonomic indulgent food had become, unconsciously protecting behaviours and habits that held me back.

The struggle was mostly gone, so now the sacrifice payoff ratio was really heavily weighted on the payoff side. I had accepted this is what I do now, this is what I have to do. I still made big mistakes, but I didn’t make them nearly as often because a mistake didn’t wreck a week, because I was looking at behaviours more than my weight. A mistake was one meal out of 21 per week. I was measuring how often I ate my plan vs how much I weighed.

Again, how you find consistency, how you change behaviours and habits doesn’t really matter. Your solutions don’t have to be as dramatic as mine. But it starts by looking at previous journeys and understanding that losing weight and changing habits is NOT the same thing. You have to figure out your real problem and build solutions that address that problem.

My biggest problems were abusing indulgent food and not being consistent enough with new behaviours. When I created goals around consistency, and measured behaviours more than weightloss, the journey got easier instead of harder. I found the thing that had always been missing. My eating is far more moderate now, I gain during some special occasion, but it’s from base of consistent new behaviours that keep indulgences far more moderate, and the bounce back happens much faster.

I know it sounds like cheap marketing, but you don’t have a weight problem. I can promise you once you pinpoint your real problem, setting goals that address your real problem will help you change your life like it changed mine.

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