Tag Archives: Compassion

How to Lose The Weight, Even When You’ve Gained It Back

This summer, my mental health took a dive. When that happens, I gain weight. Pounds accrued between a mix of inspiration/exhaustion, insight/grouchiness, hope/resentment. Between the extremes, I took refuge on the couch, watching TV to calm my ping-pong brain. I knew what could make me feel better. I just couldn’t do it. At this point, it was easy to sink into hopelessness — which I did. Eventually, when hope returned, a question arose like a buoy bobbing up from the deep:

When life gets hard, how are we supposed to keep going?

It sucks to be this stuck. I’m living a nagging paradox:  feeling like less, but still wanting more. I float in lazy limbo, having lost my tether to any tactics I have used to keep going. Little stops and starts fill the time but get me nowhere. I resort to quirky, impulsive attempts at resuscitating hope (“Clear!”)

For example, this summer, I caught myself examining my hands a lot. I used them as a barometer for my entire body. Puffy pillows between my knuckles? Weight gain. Tendons pop as I flutter my fingers? Lost weight. This became my nightly ritual, catching clues out of the corner of my eye while reading in bed. Wrinkles reminded me of Reva. In her 80’s, she was a social sprite with a streak of moxie (the kind of gal I want to be when I’m that age). Sure, her fingers wore wrinkles, but she kept them ringed in cherished bobbles, so I didn’t get it when, one late night at Denny’s, she started crying.

Reva dropped her fork and floated both hands in front of her. Bobbles up, fingers shaking, she held the table in silence. I stopped chewing. Stillness is the best dish for digesting wisdom, and Reva was about to serve some. A tired huff rose from her throat. “These are not my hands,” she objected. I nested my own fork. “They used to be so smooth; they used to be so pretty,” she lamented in a teary tremor, palms up.

When I remember Reva, I wonder…

Will my body eventually drift that much out of reach for me? Will it become a stranger to me?

When life gets hard, and I get stuck, it sometimes feel like that day is closer than ever. Desperation drives me to JUST DO SOMETHING. I plan extreme workouts or consider starving myself. Like an animal caught in a steel trap, I would gnaw my leg off to escape the rusty clench of doom. That pain would be easier to bare than any loss of control. But they say control is an illusion, right? In cheerier moments, I remember that. Plus, I realize that I can micro-measure all I want, but it won’t keep me from finding some other body part to worry into a problem. There’s a better way.

What if I chose compassion over control? Could I learn to become a friend to my body? This is more than just accepting my body as it is (I still want to feel better; I still want to get fit.) It’s not acceptance but insistence. Insistence on kindness: towards me, by me, and around me. This radically-generous approach, in fact, redeems the only control I ever really have. I get to decide how to see myself. I get to determine what health looks like on me. So, recently, I had this thought…

I’m already taking up space with my body. It’s time to start taking up space in my life.

I started where I could. When my dog, Huxley, licked my hands to get me off the couch, I got up and took him to the river. When I arrived river rats were anchoring their kayaks or rafts after a sunny day on the water. I refused to resent their fun. Instead, I insisted on my own version. I threw a stick into the current, and Huxley vaulted in. I scanned the crowd: no kids. I shed my shirt. Huxley nabbed his treasure. I dropped my shorts. He dog-paddled back. I tightened my sandals. Just before he touched down in the shallows, I dove past Huxley – in all my nakedness – leaving him bobbing in my wake. I didn’t glance back. My belly, double-chin, curves, and ripples, they all came unabashedly with me.

By Labor Day, the spirit behind those chunky-dunks had trickled into other parts of my life. Ironically, tiny doses of kindness can bring big healing. Things I’ve tweaked so far:

  • Unfollowing all those fitness sites and filling my Facebook feed with “Body Positive” images. Some of my favorites are Brittany Gibbons, Yoga Body Image Coalition, Girl With Curves, and a favorite You Tube video called This Girl Can.
  • Crafting flexible workouts I can do, no matter how I feel. Using an app called Motive, I programmed a daily text reminder that reads, “Custom movement for today?”
  • Honoring Reva by embracing my own sense of style.       My belly roll bends the lines on my striped maxi skirt, but I enjoy modeling the beauty of a woman who fully inhabits her body.

As of this writing, the river has cooled to a brisk polar plunge. I’ve lost some of the weight I gained. Though, some days, I still brace for a crash on the couch. The hardest part is trust. Trusting my best self to return. Trusting my body to want to move when the time comes. I tuck my soft self between kindness and trust — holding both at the same time – waiting for energy to come. Compassion creates space, and I keep finding ways to take it up by living in the full spectrum of my life. It’s easier to move through the spaces in life (an old Chinese adage). Even if hard times get in the way again – as they undoubtedly will – I’ll have a way to keep going.

Take Home Tip from 100poundsin1year.com

It’s not acceptance, but insistence, that keeps me going.

Explore It More By Following the Links Below

Just Show Up: Why Movement Matters, a 100poundsin1year eGuide

Watch “This Girl Can” video

More Sassy Weight Loss Stories
from Shelby in Every 100 Pounds eGuide

Every 100 Pounds in1 Year eGuide contains

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3 Ways to Get Small or Go Big

60 pounds lost so farFacebook status, 10:15 pm:  Can’t sleep.  Executing inaugural mission of RLF: Rhubarb Liberation Front.  Will post pic of rescue and relocation. 

Facebook status, 10:40 pm:  Mission Accomplished! (see pic at vision board, below) 

Facebook status, 11:45 pm:  Still not sleeping.  Heading out to the Top Hat to write.  Anyone want to join me for a brew?  Just come on down.

No one joined me at the bar that night, but I still had the time of my life.  It was spontaneous.  It was infused with inspiration and energy.  My covert rescue of neglected road-side rhubarb, plus my midnight trip to town for some funk band assisted writing, was decidedly not boring.  This is important for me because a hefty portion of my extra pounds originated from boredom.  I don’t mean the, there’s nothing to do kind of boredom.  I mean, there is nothing to look forward to, a deeper pall.  This numbness greeted me when I woke up each morning and robbed me of my joy.  With those kind of days, it’s no wonder I resorted to using food to feel.  No meal could feed this craving, though.  I craved that geyser of vitality which gushes through the dusty build-up from everyday life and exclaims, “I am alive!”

Whenever I sense numbing boredom, I now understand that I have a choice.  I can get small or go big.  Personally, I’m a fan of going big.  Mostly because I like the thrill of it, but also because I’ve discovered how going big can eclipse gnarly problems and even heal the roots that feed them.

Going big, however, is not always my first instinct.  I usually attempt getting small first.  How does that look?  Well, it’s not so much about how things appear on the outside as the feeling on the inside.  In fact, two different people could be doing the exact, same thing, and one would be getting small while the other is going big.  The difference is in how they feel while they’re doing it.

Getting small feels like:

  • Settling
  • Amputating
  • Shrinking
  • Anything with the word “should” before it
  • Half-nourished while half-starved, like eating a picture of a salad and being bummed I’m not satisfied

Going big feels like:

  • Expanding
  • Stretching
  • Inspiring
  • Heart fluttering
  • Totally full, with lots of room for more

Given a choice to get small or go big, here are three ways I have encountered that decision in my life:

Open Up to Desire

In my last post, Why You Already Have What You Desire, No, Really, You Do, I mentioned that if I want to learn, heal, or do anything worth doing, I need do only one thing:  surrender to desire.  I’m a big believer that wanting something is enough to propel me forward.  I don’t always have to go mining for childhood trauma, emotional scars, or ugly trolls guarding my bridge to tranquility.  Desire is enough.  To understand why, all I need to do is realize the hefty effort I put towards conveniently distracting myself from desire every day.  It’s much easier to be too busy.  Throughout my 100 pounds journey, I’ve learned how staying in that desirous space brings plenty of opportunity for profound work.

Desire, being a deep calling within our hearts, naturally asks us to decide whether we will get small or go big.  For example, I want to lose 100 pounds.  That sounds pretty big, a large number anyway.  I can get small, though, even with such a large number as my goal.  I can choose diets that promise to work by making certain foods my enemy, thereby amputating the part of me that loves to sink my teeth into a cream cheese danish once in a while.  I could force myself to workout until it hurts, pushing my body until I shrink in dread at the thought of another torture session.

In contrast, I also have the choice to go big with my weight loss.  One way I did this was to release myself of any and all food rules.  I aborted the “eat this”/“don’t eat that” mentality.  At first, I didn’t like my idea.  It felt too risky.  I had used food rules to feel like I was at least trying.  What would I do now?  My desire was bigger than my worry, though, and I surrendered to each and every craving.  This was very scary.  And thrilling.  My heart fluttered as I tasted food without guilt.  I felt physically full.  No more deprivation.  Not that small, festering kind of wanting.  Just big desire and big satisfaction.

Such joy with food delivered me to the other side of my eating struggles.  I started to consider how food could help me heal, how it could be my friend.  Could I actually break the curse that had been my rancid relationship with food for most of my life?  I dared to find out.  In this situation, going big helped me expand beyond the tug-o-war and begin to heal from the inside out.

When I released food rules, I discovered one clue that shows me whether I’ve chosen to get small or go big is pretty simple and easy to uncover:  talk back.  When I get small, I have thoughts like, I should…I’m such a… I’ll never…

Going big still produces talk back, but of a different nature.  Often, I’ve thought, This is either crazy or brilliant!  In those moments, I like to talk back to my talk back and say, Yeah, well, that’s what they said about Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon, so I guess I’m in good company.

Be Vulnerable

One experience those three icons shared – each in their own way and time – was vulnerability.  I’m not talking the shallow self-effacing digs that we use to fish for social acceptance.  Jesus wasn’t like, “Dude, I’m totally stressing over these bunions on my feet from all this walking.”  Rather, anyone who makes a difference in anything always encounters deep vulnerability, that tender moment between rejection and flight.

As Brene Brown, leading researcher into vulnerability and shame, explains, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of change.”  Of course, anyone who’s ever wanted to lose a significant amount of weight – including me – is all about change.  I want it off and I want it now!  After three rounds of dieting, melting off payback pounds, then gaining it all back, I can see how I always stopped short before hitting that layer of vulnerability.

Of course, I put that layer off as long as possible.  Like Brene Brown, I fear rejection.  I know she knows how I feel.  In her interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett, Brene said (paraphrasing here) “I was afraid of the intense criticism in our world today, so I had engineered my life to stay small.”  She got away with it, too.  That is, until her groundbreaking TED talk that surpassed ten million views.  When her talk went viral, Brene could have chosen to get small.  She could have listened to the talk back (“You can’t just do that.”) and back-peddled on all she had said.  She could have accepted all the Fortune 100 company requests for executive training that came with one condition (“We would love to have you speak!  Could you just do one thing?  Could you not mention vulnerability or shame?”)

Going big rarely happens without encountering shame or vulnerability.  The good news is, rejection rarely happens, too.  The good news:  my imagined fears are much worse than any actual blow back I’ve encountered.  I am my own, worst critic.  More often than not, vulnerability has opened up my world, built loving connections, and taught me that it’s safe to go big – all things that eluded me when I avoided my shame of becoming obese.

Be Compassionate

Which brings me to a question:  When I confront my shame of being overweight, what I’ve done to my body, or how I became so apathetic about life, then what do I do?  This is another get small or go big moment.

My first instinct tends towards getting small.  I squeeze my life into a tight structure of unyielding routine.  I toughen up.  I stuff my shame down with discipline, like trying to fit a fluffy sleeping bag into the nylon stuff sack it came in (How did the manufacture get it in there?!)  Truth be told, I’ve rarely been able to maintain strict discipline over the long haul.  Eventually, my edges spill out.  When I pop from the pressure, I go ballistic and pack on those payback pounds.  This is why mere discipline often fails and compassion is so important.  Compassion can head off a reactionary binge.  Of course, the last thing I want to do is give up control by getting all soft and understanding, but that’s exactly what I need.

Mine is a common reaction, according to Dr. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development at The University of Texas at Austin.  She explains, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent.  They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.  Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

I may betray my best efforts by poo-pooing compassion.

So what would going big look like, after surrendering to my desires and risking vulnerability which brings me face to face with shame?  Going big oozes compassion.  It honors all the habits I developed to ward off disappointment, whether I numbed myself with food or avoided activities which reminded me of my body.  Instead, compassion thanks those habits for keeping me alive.  It acknowledges my need for them.

Thank you, midnight pizza run, for getting me through my divorce.

Thank you, broken-down couch, for giving me a safe place to cry.

Then, compassion moves on.  In doing so, it validates my desire for more (which has really been my only desire, all along).  Compassion  surveys my heart and says, “Yeah, we can do something with this.”  In the end, I see that I’ve always had what it takes.

I am the space big enough to nurture the biggest of going bigs.

What might that look like?  Well, that’s for you to decide for you.  If I gave you a picture, wouldn’t the very image itself confine your limitless possibilities?  We all accept as much “big” as we can handle in the moment.  It is more than enough to get us where we want to go.

Take Home Tip

Two different people could be doing the exact, same thing, and one would be getting small while the other is going big.  The difference is in how they feel.

Explore It More By Following the Links Below

Watch Brene Brown’s TED Talk on Vulnerability

Listen to Krista Tippett’s Interview with Brene Brown

The Science Behind Acceptance

3 Ways to Get Small or Go Big

Enjoy more Vision Boards at pinterest.com/100Pounds/lose-100-pounds-in-1-year/

Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet:  to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year.  She began on Thanksgiving 2011.    Will she make it?  Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind.  Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.  She also writes a blog about what it means to be true to ourselves at RadicallyAuthentic.wordpress.com.

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Why I Already Have What I Desire, No, Really, I Do

 

Trigger: /ˈtrigər/ (verb) Cause (an event or     situation) to happen or exist; to touch off.

60 pounds lost so farDo you have a trigger?  No, the better question is, “What is your trigger?”  I can’t imagine anyone NOT having some sore spot that opens wide when the perfect storm of circumstance fires an arrow fast through all those layers of self-protection and hits a hard-core bulls-eye, as if the armor didn’t even exist.  Has that ever happened to you?  It has to me.  In fact, it’s happening right now.

I’m writing this post at Bernice’s coffee shop, seven hours after my trigger hit.  I still feel a residual burning in my stomach.  I’ve tried all my go-to work-arounds:  talking it out, deep breathing, asking for hugs, fresh-squeezed juice, looking at the big picture, exercising into exhaustion.  Yet, I have a cup of coffee and a cream cheese Danish next to my computer.  Hold on a sec… just took another gooey bite.

Damn, that tastes good.

This is my world of emotional eating.  This time, I’ve not quite descended into the gorging nightmare that used to be my stress response, as I have collected some back pocket understanding along this journey  For example, I know I’m a “sensual” comfort personality type; meaning, when I stress out, physical comforts like food or massage can chaperone me back to sanity.  Knowing this, my danish doesn’t have near as much guilt sprinkled on top.

Hours before, however, I got a big bite of stress.  I knew pulling out the get-er-done stick wouldn’t work because that’s what caused my panic in the first place.  There was too much to get done already.  Too many people wanting too much time.  I couldn’t keep all my commitments, let alone the promises I’ve made to myself.  No time to work out.  No time to write.  No time to do the things I know to do in order to shape my dreams into reality.  My brain went flat line, overheated by the pressurized push and pull between responsibility and desire.  My body kicked into fight or flight, and I couldn’t do either.  I spent the day stewing in a toxic brew of cortisol, which – I also know – is the ideal way to stay fat (learn more at my post, Chronic Stress and Weight Gain).

This I know for sure:  if I want to outgrow my emotional eating — learn, heal, or do anything worth doing — all I need to do is begin to desire.  I’m not talking about craving a danish.  I’m talkin’ Big D Desire.  I’m unpacking that secret box, the one we all keep buried in our heart’s closet of best intentions, collecting dust like unused sports equipment.  Desire laden with regret as hard and cold as a bowling ball.  For years, I moth-balled my desires.  Then I decided to lose 100 pounds in one year.  That was a big deal for me.  Surrendering to this desire was scary, vulnerable, and very, very brave.  Desiring is a courageous thing to do.  To understand why, all I need is to notice how much I distract myself from doing exactly that.  In my worst years, I chose denial over desire because I thought that would keep me from my pain.  On most days, though, it’s much easier to ignore Desire and stay too busy with everyday life.  That’s why Desire is enough to get the healing process started.  I don’t have to go diggin’ and scrubbin’ for something to fix inside.  Keeping myself in that desirous space will bring plenty of opportunity for profound work.

Most of my life, in order to keep me too busy, I’ve used my Story.  Just like everyone has a trigger, everyone has a Story.  It’s the play of thoughts and emotions we act out, sometimes knowing what we’re doing, sometimes not.  In our Story, we are — at once — the lead, the audience, and the critic.  The stage is our life.  The circumstances may change, like this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park players, but the script reads the same.  This morning, my Story had me as its captured audience.  It would have had you hustling to the popcorn machine during intermission.  Would you have ordered extra butter?

As I was getting ready for the day, familiar thoughts appeared like titles for each act.

Act 1: There’s too much to do.

Act 2:  I can’t do it all.

Act 3: I am not enough.

I can slather a balm of sooth-sayings atop those cutting thoughts.  There’s lots of understanding responses to every Story.  The problem is, a Story must stick to the Story.  Caring words are often rewritten to bring the play back ‘round to plot.  It’s like having an OCD automaton for a script writer.  For example, if I believe I’m not enough, then I’ll edit the kindest thought and boomerang it around in my head until it establishes that, once again, I am not enough.  I’ll prove my point, even to my own detriment.

How does this relate to pounds on the scale?  Consider, if I believe I am not enough, plus I’m a sensual comfort personality type, then I’ve got two options when it comes to my relationship with food

  1. Eat until I’m stuffed, creating a physical sensation of more than enough
  2. Keep weight on, building an actual barrier of body fat between me and the world, thereby making up for the weakness of my lack

There’s only one way I know to short-circuit my Story.  Compassion.  Self-understanding is a form of forgiveness which can disarm the toughest triggers.  Ironically, it’s also one of the last tools we think of when it comes to weight loss.  Jean Fain, a psychotherapist at Harvard Medical School instructor, talks about the importance of compassion in her book, “The Self-Compassion Diet.”  She explains, “Most plans revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect.   Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,”  OK, Jean, I’m going to experiment with compassion right now, in this coffee shop, with this post.  Here goes…

First, compassion begins by asking me to resist the temptation to label my Story as a villain.  “Why not choose gratitude?” it suggests.  I can thank my Story for serving a needed purpose.  O.K.  I’ll try it out…

I want to be enough.  I can see how my Story of “I am not enough” holds the promise that someday – maybe even this time – I will be enough.  Thank you, Story, for keeping that desire alive.

O.K.  So far, so good.  Next, compassion dares me to believe that I already have my deepest desire.  This is hard to see.  No, actually, it blows chunks.  Here’s what I want to say to that lovely nugget of wisdom…

Don’t tell me I am enough when, obviously, I’m not.  You can’t tell me what to do.  Everyone is telling me what to do.

Compassion isn’t putting up a fight.  It’s just there, quiet, letting me rant.  I’m staying angry.  I’m imagining a backstory of tiny offenses to support my victim identity.  I’ll do this until I’m ready to not do it anymore.

Intermission

After all that, compassion still won’t condemn me for my tantrum.  This level of unconditional acceptance calms my defenses, and I feel safe enough to look deeper.  At these depths, stuff just seems to leak out unguarded, like it almost wants to be seen.  If I’m honest with myself…

I want to be not enough.

It’s what I’m used to.

It’s what I’ve always known.

If it wasn’t this stress today, I would find something else tomorrow.

I think I am addicted to my Story.

Compassion is nodding, not with condemnation but with caring.  I hear, in a soft, motherly voice, “That’s not all you are.”

I want to lean in.  If compassion had a shoulder, I would rest on it.  Finally, the acid in my veins is disintegrating.  I can take a deep breath.  This time, each expanding inhale reminds me that compassion is right; there is more to me than this.  I am looking around.  I remember my day.  I see a new reality…

I did get a workout in today.

I am writing, right here, right now.

I will encounter understanding when I explain why I had to ditch out.

While I’m being honest…you should know that I just deleted two paragraphs that I had spent 15 minutes writing.  At this point, I’m tempted to lift my struggle up into a hopeful, insightful bundle of lessons learned and bridges crossed.  If I could send this post to you via snail mail, I would wrap it in a pretty bow.  That’s what I was doing with those paragraphs.  Then, I thought…does it have to always end on an up note?  Sometimes, sure, yeah.  This time, though, I would be cheating you and me both out of a truer truth.

No matter how stressed I feel, how enlightened I might sound, or how messy the space between those two extremes becomes, one thing remains:  I am.  I am not enough, or I am enough.  But I always am.  I am stressed, or I am at peace.  Still, I am.  What if I am is the point of it all?  What if I don’t just set the standard in my life, but I am the standard?  If that could be true, then there is no such thing as falling short or not being enough.  Neither is there such a thing as wanting too much or being too this or too that.  I am is the benchmark.  I am is flexible, too.  It measures exactly enough while still holding limitless potential.  When I start arguing with that paradox, or devising a method to skip over it, then I get into trouble.

My methods usually depend on judging some part of me “good” or “bad,” then making adjustments from there.  In contrast, compassion refrains from judging.  It sees me as whole, even as I birth another sub-species of angst in the diverse ecosystem called “me.”

Where do I want to end this?  No bows in sight, so I’ll just say that I am.  There is no right me.  There is no wrong me.  Sure, I can gain more traction with some choices more than others, but always, I am.  What I really desire, what I truly want, if for this I am to taste sweeter than any cream cheese danish.

Take Home Tip

This I know for sure:  if I want to grow, learn, heal, or do anything worth doing, all I need go do is desire.

Explore It More By Following the Links Below

Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges

“The Self-Compassion Diet” by Jean Fain

You Already Have What You Desire, No, Really, You Do

Enjoy more Vision Boards at pinterest.com/100Pounds/lose-100-pounds-in-1-year/

Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet:  to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year.  She began on Thanksgiving 2011.    Will she make it?  Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind.  Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.  She also writes a blog about what it means to be true to ourselves at RadicallyAuthentic.wordpress.com.

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