Amy Culver - The Queen of Lean
August 04, 2008    

Mental State

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Amy Culver
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Mental State

Yogi Berra once said: “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”  It's a famous quote, not because of the incorrect math but because it is so applicable to many circumstances in our lives.  Weight loss is no exception.

I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure how it works this way, but I find it just about physically impossible to lose weight if I'm depressed.  I suppose there could be some sort of chemical reaction that happens in my body, but that doesn't seem likely and I've never seen any solid research supporting it.  What is more likely is that when I'm depressed I am less active, my workouts are less vigorous and I probably have a tendency to “nibble” unconsciously for comfort.

Even worse, depression and weight gain combine to create a disgustingly perfect vicious cycle.  When I am depressed, I gain weight, and when I gain weight I get depressed.  Thus my exercise becomes even more sluggish.  I will feel more tempted to succumb to the comfort of food – and then I gain weight and I get more depressed - and well, I imagine you know the picture all too well.

For many of us food addicts this depression / weight gain trap seems to continually lie in wait.  It presents an ever-present danger that we must always be wary of and do whatever we can to avoid.  Despite my best efforts, I still find myself getting blind-sided now and then and I wind up in “the pit” before I even know what hit me.  I suspect there are at least a few of you who have the same struggle, so I'd like to share some tips I've learned on avoiding the pitfalls and how I manage to get myself out if I do happen to fall. 

One common depression trigger for me is the time following a holiday or vacation.  Oddly enough, I do pretty well with food during the actual holiday or vacation.  This is because I usually have many upbeat and very fulfilling things to focus on during that time.  It's when it's over that I struggle.  I am left with an empty feeling that screams out to be filled with food.  Since I know that this is likely to happen I can be prepared for it.  For vacations, I plan my meals for the week we return BEFORE we leave on vacation.  I also shop ahead for those meals and make a list of what needs to be purchased fresh upon return.  This way I don't end up coming home and planning “comfort food” dinners, and wandering the grocery store danger zones.  Generally, all I will need are milk and produce so I can stick to those safe outlying zones and get out without buying the wrong things.  For holidays, I get all of the holiday food out of the house immediately following the celebration or perhaps one day after.  Then it is all gone and there is no more left around to tempt me. 

Another trigger, and one that can't always be anticipated, is hormones.  This is especially true for women as we get older and our cycles are not as predictable as they once were.  I find there are days when all I want to do is sleep and eat carbs.  And boy, are those days tough not to give in to.  And yes, sometimes I do give in.  When this happens, it's important to recognize what is going on.  Usually the actual hormonal influence lasts about one or two days.  Even if you give in to the cravings, you can recognize it for what it is and know that tomorrow it will likely be easier to stick to your food plan. 

There are times when you have to give yourself a little bit of permission to eat something that you consider a treat.  I find that giving myself permission to do so helps to satisfy the craving without causing additional depression.  In other words, I have a talk with myself.  Once in awhile I will allow myself a big bowl of cereal (which is my personal comfort food) and recognize that there will be some negative effect on the scale for it.  I also know that one day of permission is not going to suddenly erase months or even weeks of hard work.  Remember, one day, a little bit of permission.  We are looking to take the edge off, not necessarily dive in.  Indulge a bit, but stay in control.  This will help to keep you from falling head first into the pit.

Okay, so we all have some known depression triggers in our lives and we can do our best to prepare for them and cope with them when they are upon us.  But what about those times when we are deep in the pit?  We may know how we got there or maybe it's a complete surprise.  It doesn't really matter when you are stuck down there, does it?  How do you crawl out?  The answer that I have found is that it usually needs to be done slowly and with care.  Yes, there are times now and then that some very wonderful external influence comes along to rescue us, but you can't count on that.  When you are stuck and there seems to be no way out, you need to start climbing a little at a time.  This is where that “90% mental” comes in.  Once you have made up your mind to make that first tiny step out of the pit, you are already well on your way.  In the same way that depression snowballs, you can get your recovery to snowball as well. 

When I get stuck in my pit, life tends to start piling up all around me.  I do only what little needs to be done every day (if that) and not much else.  Often, I can start that climb just by doing a small chore that has been hanging over my head for some time.  There is something about this that helps me to feel in control again and that give me energy to do more.  I tell myself that all I have to do is some certain thing, and I can go back to sleep or whatever when it's done.  Or, I tell myself that I just need to spend one hour working on a task and I can quit at the end of that hour, no matter how much gets done.  Usually I end up happily getting many more chores (or hours) in.  Fulfilling that one required task gives me the sense of accomplishment that I need to keep moving.

Move, Move, Move….

Even if it's doing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, or taking a walk, get moving.  Preferably out of the house and if possible, out of doors.  There are times when I just have to push myself to get to the gym and all I can manage is a half-hearted 30 minute workout.  But I get that much done and the next day I get more time in and eventually I'm back into my swing again. 

Stay away from the sugar.  Sugar highs are depleting.  They leave you with no energy and they perpetuate the addiction cycle.  Again, the decision and initial push are the hardest part.  One way to help break the sugar cycle is by pushing lean protein.  I like to use protein shakes made with milk.  It makes me feel like I'm having a milkshake and caters to that sweets craving, but there is no high and no crash.  Make sure you use a protein source that is low in fat and sugar.  Light yogurt and cottage cheese are good options as well.

Ask for help when you need it.  Make sure you reach out and ask for a rope to climb if you just can't get moving on your own.  I confide in my husband.  He is a great source of strength and accountability when I need it.  I also have my workout buddy.  I know that she counts on me to keep her accountable as well and that is often all it takes to get me out of bed and to the gym. 

Remember folks, none of us is perfect.  Don't set an impossible standard for yourself.  Accept your goofs, forgive yourself, and get back on track just as soon as you possibly can.

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For more tips on making small changes and overcoming cravings – be sure to check out my latest articles.

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