March 05, 2012

I Used to Weigh Five Hundred Pounds


Well ok, I never literally topped the scale at 500 pounds.  In fact I'm one of those boring fitness bloggers who completely lacks a triumphant story of dramatic weight loss. At most I was maybe 20 pounds heavier than I am now, so I'm talking metaphorical obesity.

But it occurred to me the other day as I flailing around on the elliptical, grinning like a deranged person from the endorphin rush, that I've actually been losing a lot of emotional "weight" over the last few months.  Is it possible for a lifelong pessimistic worrywart to transform herself into a happy, hopeful, live-in-the-moment, greet-each-day-with-gratitude sort of optimist?

Well, I ain't completely there yet, but I've been on a crash "happiness" regime, and it's really working!  I'd say on the emotional obesity scale, I've already shed well over half my excess worry and negativity.  And I'm totally psyched to keep working hard on all this sappy self-improvement crap until I'm so blissed out that I'm completely insufferable to be around!

So what combination of lifestyle changes and self-help initiatives has created this bizarre change in my outlook and mood?

Well, there are lots of components, some of which have to do with awesome life and career changes.  Life Coaching and bicoastal living really agree with me. And on the self-help front, it's been a lot of different things, which of course means there will be a ton of blog posts about it all coming up. (Lucky readers!)

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Rick Hanson from the get-go, since he was the inspiration for this whole Rewiring Crabby's brain project. His book Buddha's Brain led to my doing the Enlightened Brain review, and his wise advice is a big part of my new and possibly irritating positive outlook. So blame him if one day you come here and the blog has been rechristened Perky Fitness. Oh, and FYI, he's just starting a new telecourse on "Taking In the Good" in mid-March which I suspect will be quite worthwhile.

But anyway, whatever the reason for this sudden self-improvement orgy, it strikes me how similar my Personal Development journey is to the stories I hear on so many great weight loss blogs.  So many of you have been down that road and reached your "happy ever after" goals, so I figure there are some lessons I can learn in my quest to make life one big freakin' all-you-can-eat cupcake buffet.

Note: your version of paradise may include slightly fewer carbs.
Photo: rosebengal

Overcoming Denial About Health Consequences

I was born a worrywart, and I suspect even in my crib I was anxiously conjuring up possible worst case scenarios.  (Is that spoonful of baby food infested with worms and spiders? What if the vacuum cleaner escapes from the closet and sucks me up?  Will the cat chew my leg off while I'm asleep?)

Photo swiped from learnvest

Over the years I've tried lots of stuff: deep breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation, self-hypnosis, positive self-talk, yada yada yada.  But after a while I'd usually give up again and I'd spend all my energy focused on the healthy eating and exercise part, which came naturally, and ignored the psychological stuff, which felt way harder to deal with. (And yes, I am a licensed psychotherapist, and yes, this does serve to further reinforce the notion that therapists can be every bit as f-cked up as the clients they treat. Sorry, non-neurotic therapists of the world).

So many folks who have struggled with weight issues finally get serious when they allow themselves to face the health risks, and it was the same for me: I think my first post-menopausal physical was a bit of a wake-up call.  Numbers were not what I was hoping, despite eating boatloads of veggies and working out religiously.  (And my crappy family medical history doesn't help either--my father and maternal grandparents all died in their early 50's, and at least two of these early departures probably could have been prevented with lifestyle changes). It's not exactly a big secret that stress is bad for your health.

Though now that I'm sufficiently motivated, I'm forgetting all about medical threats and concentrating more on all the positive benefits I'm seeing. Somehow worrying about what will happen if I start worrying again strikes me as a bit counterproductive.

Not Giving Up When Results Aren't Instant

Some tricks I've tried have helped me quickly and dramatically; others takes weeks and weeks to have any impact.  Still others that research says will be helpful eventually now just seem like hopeless tedious time-sucks. I still can't meditate to save my life, unless I do the easier guided kind that is isn't really building up my brain's ability to focus the same way as the hard kind.  Whatever.  This time I'm going to experiment with lots of different kinds of meditation, and try to do something every day, and keep at it even when I continue to suck.  I notice that almost all tales of successful weight loss seem to involve fits and starts and slippage and stuckness, so why should I be any different?

But Getting Excited About Incremental Progress

Another trick I'm stealing from weight loss champions is to borrow some of the energy and excitement these folks bring with them all the way through the journey.  They don't wait until some final ultimate "goal" weight is reached to celebrate success; success happens every time a thought or behavior is different and a tentative new habit gets carved deeper into the brain.  I've been taking the time to notice the many ways I'm thinking and behaving differently than I used to, and examples are everywhere! I can't help noticing that I'm happier than I've ever been in my life.

Ditching Perfectionism

I know that the struggle to be perfect is the Worst Weight Loss Mistake one can make. So I'm hoping to take some inspiration from all of you who've mastered the art of staying positive and not giving yourselves a hard time whenever you screw up.

Finding Your Own Path

Holy crap, the need to customize your approach to what works for YOU and not someone else is absolutely crucial to either losing weight or finding bliss.  The same way that "primal" or "vegan" diets don't suit everyone, approaches to finding happiness are not one size fits all.
In fact, most psychological self-help literature is wildly enthusiastic in tone, dismissive of potential obstacles, and tends to promise amazing changes with ease if you only follow a few simple steps. Self-help literature is basically designed for sunny suggestible optimists who don't need self help!   If you are a skeptical cranky pessimist like me, you need to tailor an approach that is research-based, realistic, and sensible in tone and content.

Again, more detail later, but I've been finally finding the "right" kind of self help resources, and learning how to sift out the helpful nuggets from books and CD's that might otherwise make me feel barfy. 

Becoming a Proselytizing Pain in the Ass

Yes, this is the unfortunate side effect of experiencing powerful personal change.  Like the formerly obese person who is now fit and trim and goes around lecturing helpless bystanders about the wonders of kale and egg-whites and interval training, it's hard not to find myself preaching the happiness gospel.  I have to resist the temptation to run around sharing "helpful" insights with people who really don't give a crap. However, I believe that's why they invented blogging--to keep those of us prone to climbing up on soap boxes far away from the general public!

Anyway, does anyone else work on psychological self-improvement?  Got any other lessons from the weight loss or fitness arena that may help me on quest for perpetual bliss?


  1. Good on ya, Crabby. I've nothing to add beyond it is good to celebrate the little bits. Reinforcing the incremental progress is good for the soul.

  2. Thanks Leah... one of the biggest changes is my growing sense of gratitude, and you've been incredibly helpful with your weekly reminders!

  3. I've been working at it. My MSc + new job + life has led me to go somewhat crazy, and I've had to take the time to work at it and try and be more sane. It's finite...I will finish my thesis eventually (oh please oh please) but for now, I'm learning to cope without going mad. So far. He heh.
    Sometimes we get lost in looking after our bodies and forget the rest of us :)

  4. Ummm... what was the question again?

    Glad to hear things are going well for you! Have to admit, though, I was disappointed by the lack of before and after pictures.....

  5. This is awfully timely. See, since the whole CANSUH thing, I've gotten much more cheerful and positive about life in general, except for one. . .little. . .thing.


    I realized this morning, having taken a "mental health or else I will pat you on the head with a chair" day, that my job isn't good for me. The commute is getting sucky, the people I work with are insane, and although I love the nursing part of it, the rest can go to Hades on a full scholarship.

    So now I have to figure out what to do. The way I see it, the changes can either be internal (learn to let go of the annoyance, use the commute to learn Spanish) or external (find a job within biking distance, win the lottery). It's an open question at this point which one'll work better, as I've just now figured out why I get so grouchy.

    So that's my emotional spare tire, identified at last! Huzzah! Just keep all the loose chairs away from me while I figure the next bit out.

  6. Hmm, the consensus seems to be: work sucks! Or, at least it's a bully and takes up way more space than it should.

    Jo! Great to hear from you!!!!!

  7. Welcome back Crabby. So glad to see you in my reader again. I have really tried hard to change the tapes in my head that play when I stumble. While I may say "Oh crap I ate a bag of jelly beans" and it put me over my calories, I don't then go and say "well that day is ruined" and not only eat the jelly beans but go and get a big mac and shake as well. Now I just plug in the calories and vow to do better the next day. I think really trying to change those tapes in my head and beating myself up is a good thing. Another thing I've learned to do is not focus so much on diet foods vs. bad foods. Food is food. Yes some are not that great for you, but I feel like if it's off limits, I want it more, so now i'm really just focusing on moderation. So if at lunchtime I eat a peanut butter cup, I plug in the calories on my fitness pal and I know that i have xx amount of calories left for dinner and plan accordingly. or if I am going out to eat, I check out the menu ahead of time and have absolutely what I want, even if that means a huge burger, but I plan the rest of my day, my workouts everything so that I can fit that burger in. No feelings of deprivation, makes things much easier.

  8. Great ideas, starving bitch!

    And I have to confess I laugh every time I see your name. Great blog handle!

  9. Well, Crabby, have you every listened to Zencast? You can download through iTunes or on their website. They are in the middle of a 6 week Intro to Mindfulness Meditation course. Might find it helpful. I did, even though I've been meditating off and on for over a decade now.

  10. Lots of good stuff, and good for you. I am a positive person, and I love to see others who are too. There's enough bad shit going around in the world, it's to much of a drag to be around depressed people. So smile on!

  11. OK, so I would fit into the "Before" category here. OK, maybe not completely, but just a few steps on the path.
    Over the past couple of days I've been taking a good look at the deep-seated beliefs I have about myself. Man, I am like a high school mean girl! It's time to start changing those beliefs!

  12. So, for now, you are "Somewhat less than Crabby"? Good for you and I hope you have continued success in avoiding the dark side of your thoughts. I am trying to avoid that particular abyss myself - having so-so luck.

  13. This sounds great, Crabby, and i doubt it will turn you into an annoying perky person. You will still be able to be Crabby, just with less worry and more ability to see the good sides of things.

    For me, ditching the perfectionism is the hardest part.

  14. I was born a cockeyed optimist and have managed to hang on to my optimism to this day. I found out a long time ago that 'friends' that make you feel rotten are not friends at all. Now I just want to be around happy people.
    Smile at everybody! Even if they don't smile back, you'll make them wonder what you're smiling about.

  15. Yes. I work on this constantly. I too was born a worry wort. I subscribe to Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog. It is wonderful and has really helped me and my daughter who, of course, is a worrier too. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Just google The Happiness Project.

  16. Love this post because it really is about finding what works for you & that is what matters & nothing else.

    There are so many great programs & new ways to work out & foods & meditating & breathing & all kinds of stuff.. but for me, it all comes down to what works for me, what works into my life & lifestyle, what I really really like to do & using that knowledge as I age to keep modifying & trying things that will help me battle - yes the hormones & age related stuff.

    I know people like cross fit & functional training & all other things but for me & what gives me the results I want is mostly standard lifting techniques - modified to what I learned about myself obviously. Yes, I do some functional stuff but the way I work out is fun to me, it makes me look the way I want to & so I do that. Does not mean it is right for others.. :-)

  17. it is for me the celebrating the incremental progress.
    in fitness and EVERYTHING ELSE IN LIFE.

  18. Thanks everyone, and wow, some great resources here! I'll have to check out zencast, happiness project etc.

    You guys are awesome!

  19. Oh my gosh I just adore this post! For me, gratitude is a big one - seems to be connected to my level of stress, anxiety and joy. And so this would be a great time to thank YOU for your friendship & wisdom & amazing writing! :)

  20. Crabby, I have to admit, I always took you to be an exceptionally positive person.

  21. I've got nothin', born optimist and relentless cheery person that I am. (Though not perky, I swear.) Just keep on plugging is all I can say.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  22. I'm all about psychological improvements!! I know I sound crazy now but I'm actually light years better than I used to be. I did Aaron Beck's CBT to help me over come some vicious negative thinking/depression in college and I'm not being hyperbolic when I say it was a lifesaver. So this: "I'd say on the emotional obesity scale, I've already shed well over half my excess worry and negativity. " is really inspiring to me! I need to check out this book

  23. I've been wired to work on self improvement from the get go. I was raised in a pretty dysfunctional family who were scarred by who raised them!

    I would say I've made substantial progress.

    A few years ago I flew to Key West. That change in latitude had a six month change in my attitude before I returned to baseline.

    Hawaii does that too, I see :-)

  24. Just stumbled across your site and I love what I've read so far! You've got a great sense of humor and writing style. Being a life coach myself (and former therapist), I LOVE what you have to say and totally get the therapists are more f*ed up than their clients. I mean, I don't get it from personal experience…just saying. I'll be back!
    (PS. No I did not write this to be spammy and drum up business. I truly love what you have to say.)

  25. Until recently I was hardcore, chicken little, doom and gloom, OCD worrier. But I think that was mostly due to having too much time on my hands. Since I begun exercising again and having a project to work on I have found I just don't have time to worry about things as much.

  26. Funny story

    Benjamin Raucher

  27. If you need motivation when you aren't getting results, check out fitocracy. It is kind of addictive. Only downside is you need to get an invite to join.

  28. Cranky Fitness- i like this discussion. i often refer to a similar name with my patients. in the spring i Find my patients are doing more gardening. so they often come in for adjustments when they have done a little too much. Great info. get adjusted by your chiro when you have cranky fitness body ache.

  29. First time reading your blog. SO funny and yet you manage to sneak in meaningfulness. Nice.

    OK - If you get all happy - WHAT will you do with your Blog name? I worry.

    I am a recovering worrier/hand wringer/negative nelly myself. I found that hanging with positive, upbeat people made all the difference in my life. My hubs is crazy positive and sunny. It is hard to maintain my cloudy disposition when faced with Mr. Sunshine Ray-O'light.

    I bid you good luck in your quest... Blog name be damned!

  30. In regards to meditation, you might try guided meditations by Kelly Howell. The Universal Mind Meditation (uploaded by Dazbar 2 on YouTube) is wonderful. Her meditations and the music that goes with them have changed my brain chemistry for the better. Good Luck!


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