Monday, August 1, 2011

"Magical Thinking"

I've lost a substantial amount of weight twice now in my life. The first time was in my junior and senior years of college and the second time is this time. As I've mentioned in other posts, I lost in college by exercising for 90 minutes a day and adopting a Draconian attitude toward food (little fat, no sugar, no red meat), but absolutely no portion control. I ate a lot, and I ate things like cheese, chicken, whole grain bread and crackers, potatoes, turkey, fruit, and some vegetables. This got me down to about 160-170 lbs.

Because of that success, I eventually decided I was "normal" and could eat like "normal" people. I slowly started eating food that was verboten and I changed jobs and could no longer devote copious time to exercise. I regained weight and then some. I never dealt with my psychological issues and I never learned to moderate how much and how often I ate. Once one variable (my free time because of a work change) changed, my entire "system" for weight loss fell apart. 

This time, I decided that I couldn't rely on exercise to aid in weight loss because of my crippling back pain. Even though my back pain has been greatly ameliorated by weight loss and regular walking, it has been replaced by sometimes agonizing knee pain. This time, I approached things from the viewpoint of how I eat rather than only what I eat and set exercise aside as an aid to weight loss.

One of the things that happened to me last time as I got to a lower weight was that I decided I was "normal" and could live like "normal" people. They ate candy bars occasionally so I should be able to. They didn't exercise for a big chunk of their free time, so I shouldn't have to. This wasn't a mistake. The mistake I made was not understanding that volume was my problem, not exercise nor the types of food I was eating.

I learned something from this and was determined this time around not to repeat that particular mistake. That being said, lately, I've started to feel that I'm on the cusp of a different mental error. Lately, I've been eating close to the line. That is, I've been eating around 1800-2000 calories and some days close to 2500. If I were at my target weight, this wouldn't be an issue, but I still have between 30-40 lbs. to lose. The question is, why am I doing this? The easy answers are:

1. I'm tired of doing this and am growing slack.
2. I'm so close to the end that I'm losing motivation.
3. I'm getting lazy.
4. I've slipped back into the same thinking I had before in which I am thinking I am "normal" and can eat like other people.
5. My circumstances may be changing and compelling me to be more casual about my eating/habits. 

I say these are the "easy" answers because they're the ones most people come up with as they get closer to the end and start to be less vigilant. In my case, they also happen to be wrong. I'm not tired of doing this, lazy, etc. I'm not seeing myself as "normal" and my habits and circumstances have not changed. I also don't think I'm so close to the end that I don't have to try hard anymore.

I often encourage people not to land on the first explanation because it's often wrong, and in this case the common answers don't fit. Last night, after a wonderful dinner out with friends in which I ate more than necessary (beyond satiety, either emotional or physical), I realized what the issue was. I have had success for so long even with numerous "slips", "failures", and eating more than I planned, that I'm developing a sense of my own diet invincibility. I'm starting to think that I can continue to lose weight even if I eat more. Some part of me is thinking I'm "special" in some fashion and have built up a gifted metabolism through my choices. 

This is, of course, magical thinking. I don't know how good, bad or indifferent my metabolic rate is, but I'm pretty sure that it isn't such that I can eat close to a maintenance level and still lose weight at much more than a snail's pace. While success hasn't given me any sort of ego boost about my "stellar habits", it is making me think that I "can't fail" on some level. Indeed, it seems to be leading me to believe that I can't do anything but succeed since that has been the case all along. At the very least, I'm doing some "limit testing" on my body to see what I can get away with and still lose weight. 

Fortunately, realizing that I'm developing this sort of thinking is going to help me reign it in and snap back into reality. Last time I weighed myself, I had neither gained nor lost any weight. Though it would appear this is the result of my changes in habits, I actually don't believe that is so. I've seen body fat distribution changes (areas of my body have visibly gotten smaller) and I'm sure I've lost fat. I've been exercising more since fully recovering from my back pain earlier this year and that would easily account for stabilization in weight when I step on the scale. I think that the lack of a changes on the scale aren't related to my consumption, but rather other factors. 

So, I'm not concerned about how I'm eating based on this lack of change. However, I am concerned on the whole about falling back into a mental trap that may send me someplace emotionally or mentally that I don't want to be. Two years of success does not mean I'm a metabolic super woman.