Monday, March 1, 2010

To Lose Weight: Avoid Emotional Drama (at least I think so)

Have you ever read something that you think about for days, like a song that gets stuck in your head? All weekend I thought about one line from the cover story in this month’s Arthritis Today. It was like a hammer to the head – an AHA! moment – only I didn’t know why. I couldn’t immediately (and still can’t…thus this blog) connect it to the context my subconscious saw was there.

Sandy is a 50-year-old woman living with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. I can only imagine the kind of pain she lives with, and yet she walks up to 5 miles on the beach every chance she gets. That’s inspirational to me in and of itself. But that’s not what dogged me all weekend. It was this line: By getting regular exercise, as well as closely monitoring her diet and avoiding emotional drama, Sandy says she’s been able to safely manage her RA and fibromyalgia.

The first two principals – exercise and diet – we all know in a yadda-yadda-yadda kind of way are keys to losing weight and keeping it off. But what about that third principal: “…avoiding emotional drama”? Yes, Sandy was talking about managing a disease, but I really believe emotional drama – both our own and other people’s – matters in how we lose and maintain weight.

Maybe ya’ll have already thought about this, so forgive me for being late to the party. I’ve just not put the two together in cognitive terms before. The rest of this blog is about the links I’m starting to see between emotional “drama” and weight.

Excess weight is its own emotional drama, right? Whether we feel ashamed or embarrassed about our bodies, or beat ourselves up when we fail, this lack of self acceptance fuels the gain-loss-gain cycle. Nothing like a little Ben & Jerry’s to ease the pain of self-flagellation or my personal favorite: “I can never change, so why bother?”

Avoiding emotional drama of excess weight doesn’t mean avoiding the issue of weight. It means swapping negative for positive dialogue and not engaging in “poor me.” The moment I start in with negative self-talk is the moment I want to dive head first into a box of Teddy Grahams. Recognizing the relationship between food and my emotions helped me adopt alternative coping mechanisms, like the question I ask myself when faced with a food dilemma: How will I feel five minutes after eating this?

That was the easy drama to dissect. The more complex and sticky drama is that which belongs to our family, friends and associates, and in how we engage in or move within that drama.

One of the things I realized this weekend is that when I engage in someone else’s drama, I avoid my own issues. I think this is why that line – “avoiding emotional drama” – struck such a cognitive chord. When I was finally ready to lose weight for the last time, I’d made myself a priority. To do that, I had to lose the emotional baggage of others. This is a fine line, though. You have to learn how to stop placing yourself in the center of someone else’s issues and listen from the outside and be compassionate from the outside rather than trying to always solve someone’s problem or, worse, think they’re problem is somehow about you when it’s not. That’s different, obviously, from the times when we have caused someone pain by our actions or lack of action.

Over the last five years, I’ve come to hate emotional drama. My friends and (some) family understand that. If I’ve done something that has hurt someone I love and I have no clue, I rely on them to tell me rather than ignore me. I spent years pacifying people and I don’t have the will or energy for it anymore. I’m learning to own my issues (whether I recognize them on my own or are brought up to me) and to separate other people’s issues from our own. Working out issues before they become emotional drama is worth it with those we love. It’s not easy by any means, but what’s most important to achieve in our lives is rarely easy.

So how does this all relate to weight loss and maintenance? For me: Teddy Grahams. Or mashed potatoes. Or stress (cortisol, anyone?). Or negative self talk. When emotional drama enters my life, it eventually shows up on the scale.

I’m doing pretty well with the diet and exercise principles in Sandy’s story. The “avoiding emotional drama” part is a little more tricky.

So….do you think emotional drama hinders weight loss and maintenance? Or am I totally off base on this?

14 comments:

Sunny said...

Any time we knee-jerk react to any stressor in life, whether emotional drama or whatever, and we knee-jerk react by reaching for food, instead of going within to discover what's emotionally going on and then figure ways to self-soothe WITHOUT eating....yes. It affects weight. To me, the two key changes in my behavior that have made me successful this time (blogging would be the 3rd) is portion control, and what I call responsible eating (well, exercise too, but I digress.) Not knee-jerk reacting to things by shoveling food in. Stopping to discover if I'm physically hungry, or emotionally hungry. And if it's emotional, making damned sure that trigger food is going to be worth the calories to consume it, but trying to find some other way to soothe myself instead.

You definitely are on to something. Nice AHA moment! :)

aninvisiblegirl said...

Lynn, I couldn't agree more. When I avoid the emotional trauma and focus on putting my needs at the top of the list, things move along quite smoothly.

However, life can get hectic and I can lose sight of taking care of me. When that happens, I can let the emotial crap creep in and trouble begins, which is what I'm recovering from right now.

Before I lost weight I never really got the connection though. I remember experiencing a HUGE life crisis after I lost the weight that involved extended family. I caught myself physically cramming food down to stuff down the feelings. While it was a scary moment, it was a huge realization. I stopped what I was doing and headed straight for my exercise bike. I spent most of the time on the bike crying uncontrollably, but at least I didn't stuff food at the problem. We all know how well that works!

It continues to be a process. Sometimes I'm better at it than others.

My weight is up more than I like right now, but I try to remember what I learn from the feedback...it is not about the perfection, and just because I experience the fluctuations, 10 lbs doesn't translate to 100.

Vickie said...

This is my mantra only I call it staying EVEN.

I am extremely careful what I 'expose myself to'.

Movies, projects, family drama, over scheduling, clutter, over spending, the list goes on and on.

The positive impact this has had on my family is HUGE. My kids are very relaxed and are very good about applying this to their own lives also. And they notice immediately when they are at 'drama queen' houses (mothers of friends).

I personally think that when I used to get sucked into too much and other people's drama - it was ME looking to busy myself so that I had no time to take a good hard look at myself.

Yoga had a GREAT deal to do with my making piece with myself and being able to quiet my mind.

Lori said...

Emotions are totally tied to weight loss. I firmly, firmly believe it is all in how we talk to ourselves. I think I have said this a few times in the comments here (and other places as well).

Negativity breeds negativity. Positivity breeds positivity. If we think our ourselves like we do children and that we still need to be nurtured and loved and treated with kindness, it goes a long way to keeping the drama from happening.

Mary said...

I agree Lynn. It is hard to act from a calm center if one allows themselves to be drawn into drama...or if one chooses to JUMP into drama. I do think that the only way I will be able to make good consistent choices is to get to that point of inner calm.

Sarah said...

The only thing that I can change is the way that I react to other people. For example, my twin sister is always going to bring the drama. There is nothing I can do about that. But it is her drama, not mine.

I have to be the one to let it go, I have to be the one that changes how I react. I can't avoid her and her drama, because she is my sister, my twin. I don't actually want to avoid her, I don't feel like that would make me a very good sister. But I can't let her take away from me, from who I am. I've had to figure out how to work through it without turning to food to comfort. Life is always going to be dramatic for some. It's only dramatic for me if I let it be.

Cammy said...

Have you been spying on me? :) I just had to remind myself yesterday that I don't play the 'Drama Mama' game. Excellent post!

Colleen said...

I have learned 2 things related to this in the process of maintaining a 50 lb. loss:

1. When my life and schedule are particularly unstable, my eating will be also. This is ok as long as it is very occasional and temporary.

2. When emotion completely drives a person's behavior, you can't deal with them as a logical being. I have a friend who has complex self esteem and self identity issues that I believe are at the core of her inability to lose weight. Once I accepted that those factors prevent her from being open to help, suggestions, or even discussion it took a great weight off our relationship. It also depersonalized the negative comments she has made about my own weight loss - I know that it's her issues speaking. I do feel like I had to let go of the illusion of having a close, open friendship with her - but that the reality of having a more distant but healthier relationship is much less stress!

Kaki said...

Wow! You sure are speaking to me, here. I grew up with a lot of drama, and I always turned to food. My drama is less now, but I have to work at it to keep from getting sucked into other people's. I found your blog after I started my own. You're quite the inspiration! I read you every day. Here's my link if you ever want to look. www.kaki-fitby40.blogspot.com

Shelley said...

Great post, great comments - as I am late to this all I can say is YES!

South American Slimmer said...

It's funny, but for me, emotional stress and drama take away my appetite. (Boredom on the other hand, really makes me want to eat, as does anything (illness, injury, etc.) that stops me from exercising. But when I'm really emotionally stressed, I get a lot of stomach aches and just don't feel like eating anything. I just want to take lots of really long walks. I lost 20lb without trying and actually became underweight once when I was fighting constantly with a horrible boyfriend. Now I almost feel like telling him to come back, and that all is forgiven, because I could do with losing a few pounds. Almost.

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

South American Slimmer...I've been thinking about you. Have you been affected by the earthquake? I wasn't sure if you lived in Chile or Argentina. Either way, I still think about you and wish you the best :) I love that you read my blogs. Thank you, as always, for your insights :)

South American Slimmer said...

Lynn, thanks very much for your concern. I live in Argentina and far away from any earthquake zones, thank God. Actually, lately I have been feeling extremely lucky and priviledged to have the life I do, especially after becoming more aware of how people live in places like Haiti. So I gain weight more easily than some people (except when severe emotional stress) -- what a minor disadvantage among the many, many blessings I have.

PS The Bastard Boyfriend Diet (BBD) is not one I actually endorse.

Carla said...

Yes, emotional drama hinders weight loss. It wasn't until I got out of bad marriage and moved myself to a new home (in my case, all the way to England), met and married a wonderful man, left my high stress job and took one that paid half (but that I enjoy doing and can forget about when I go home) that I was able to lose the weight and keep it off for good. Not everyone will need to make so many changes as I did, but I was FAT until my life became happier. Then I lost the weight. Not the other way around.