Friday, October 31, 2003
All or Nothing Brain
posted by Julie |
The dangers of black-and-white thinking
I'm keenly aware that I've had a bad week. I haven't worked out even once. My regular classes were either rescheduled or I couldn't make them. My diet has been all off track. Memories of weeks when I've been very good seem distant to me right now. I'm working hard, I'm discombobulated. There are stacks of laundry, stacks of bills. Even the desktop on my computer is a jumble of unfiled files, and I'm way behind on emails.
I have no food in my house for a decent dinner, no desire to shop.
Basically, I'm out of control.
Now, this is the perfect setup for a pig-out. This is the time when normally I would call my dear husband, have him meet me somewhere for dinner where the first course is deep fried and the last course covered in a butterscotch syrup. Or chocolate. Or both.
I would basically bury my head in some setting far from home or work and anesthetize myself with carbs of no nutritional value. If I had taken up drinking when I was younger, I'd have used a bottle. But I didn't. I took up eating.
This is also the perfect setup for giving up completely. "See?" I would have told my old self. "You are destined for fatness. Stop pretending to be a healthy, skinny person! Quit faking it!"
This is all-or-nothing brain, deciding if I'm not perfect in my diet, I may as well give up. If I can't be Gwyneth-thin, why bother eating all these veggies? If I can't work out every day or every week, why work out at all? Why have that gym membership if I can't be consistent about it? Why buy those sneakers if I'm not going to run every day? Why get all worked up about writing down calories or points or exercise goals if I don't remember to do it always and forever?
The University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry conducted one of the very rare studies of people who have lost a significant amount of weight and published the results in the International Journal of Obesity back in August. The researchers were trying to understand who maintains and who regains weight. They interviewed women who had lost a bunch of weight and found a number of psychological factors - ways of thinking - common among the regainers. Specifically:
*failure to achieve weight goals and dissatisfaction with the weight achieved
*the tendency to evaluate self-worth in terms of weight and shape
*a lack of vigilance with regard to weight control
*a dichotomous (black-and-white) thinking style
*the tendency to use eating to regulate mood
Well, okay. I've got some work to do. But it's the black-and-white thinking that really fascinates me. Now, I'm not inclined toward a black-or-white view of the world generally. Very much attracted to grey matter. But when it's time to flog myself for my dieting and exercise behavior, it's easy for me to go there, hard for me to cope with my own transgressions, easy to berate myself, easy to lose hope for building better habits.
I have to work hard, when having weeks like this past one, not to let it mean more than it means. A bad week is just a bad week. That's all it is. We all have them. It doesn't ruin anything. It doesn't mean anything. Next week can and should and will be better. I need to remember that I have no deadline for getting healthier. I'm constantly working on it, moving in the direction of better health, every day that I suck air.
I'll have bad weeks. I'll have the flu. I'll have difficult weeks at work. I'll have hardships at home. Things will happen, the stress will get to me. But I don't need to slather food on the pain of it, and follow that up with a heaping of futility pie. I'm not good or bad, on program or off, healthy or unhealthy. Nothing I eat today will "ruin" all my good work this day nor my best intentions. No single workout or string of missed classes will transform me into a blubber ball.
There. Well. That feels better.
International Journal of Obesity Oxford article abstract
Black-and-white thinking defined and tips for getting past it
The link between all-or-nothing thinking and depression
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