The Weight Escape

I started reading a book called The Weight Escape earlier this year. It’s based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which I found helpful working through depression so I wanted to see how it applies to food. I started working through the book enthusiastically, but haven’t been back to it for a couple of months – so much resistance!

ACT is based on taking actions that bring you closer to the things that you truly care about – the things that you value. I value my health – physical, psychological and emotional – so I considered how a healthier relationship with food would improve my health:

  • It would free up time for other more satisfying things, like socialising, art, reading, exercise – it would generally make me more available. Even this weekend I’ve declined plans with friends in favour of going home to binge.
  • It’s good for my mental health – if my relationship with food is under control, I feel more in control in other areas of my life and more motivated to do other things like looking after myself and my home, cooking, exercising. What I eat effects my mood.
  • I feel better about myself – both how I feel in my body and how I look.
  • I care about my physical health. I want nice skin, to feel energised, to sleep well and know I’m eating a healthy diet with all the nutrients my body needs.
  • Eating the right foods and being lighter makes exercise feel easier. I enjoy running with a group.
  • Freedom from the guilt – food never satisfies me, yet I binge again and again. I want to be free of that.
  • It’s better for me financially – the money I waste on unhealthy food could be spent on food that is more nourishing.
  • If I can get on top of my relationship with food, I’ll feel less dependent on external support.
  • I’ve struggled with this for 15 years. I don’t want my whole life to be like this.

The book also encourages you to reflect on your values. Whilst we have lots of different values that are likely to change over time, I’ve focused on three that feel important right now and motivate me to improve my relationship with food:

  1. BEING FIT AND ACTIVE
    • It feels good
    • Looks after my body
    • Sense of achievement
    • Feeling part of something – running group and gym classes
    • The willpower it takes to exercise has a positive impact on other areas of my life
    • Connection to others
    • It’s good for my mental health
    • Taking care of myself
    • Helps me sleep
    • Makes me more likely to eat well, or at the very least off-sets it a little bit
  2. EATING FOOD THAT GIVES ME SUSTAINED ENERGY AND HEALTH
    • So I don’t have to spend so much time feeling guilty, craving and desiring
    • Feeling sustained and satisfied
    • It’s good for my body – giving it what it needs
    • Gives me the energy for other things that are important in my life
  3. LOOKING AFTER MY MENTAL HEALTH
    • I read somewhere that there are some lessons that we can’t afford to learn again. That really resonated with me, as I worked so hard to get where I am, I don’t want to have to do it all again.
    • I’ve had some of the best help and support available – don’t let that go to waste
    • So I can enjoy life and achieve the things I long for

I’ll try to post some more as I work through the book and hopefully I can remember to look at what I’ve just written when I feel tempted.

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All the bright places

All the bright places

I’ve just finished reading ‘All The Bright Places’ by Jennifer Niven, described as “The story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die.”

I’m drawn to books about or by people suffering from mental illness – partly because when I’m suffering myself, they are the only books that speak to me. They make me feel less alone.

The boy in this book is called Finch. He suffers from the intense highs and despairing lows of bipolar disorder. There are so many things he said that I identify with and want to share here.

  • Each day he wakes up and asks himself “Is today a good day to die? If not now, then when”
  • Standing on top of the bell tower at his school he thinks “I could just step off.It would be over in seconds. No more hurt. No more anything.” I often have this thought walking along the cliff tops, the roof of a multistory car park but the top floor of the office at work.
  • How for the millionth time in his life he wishes he has an illness that people could see.
  • The suicide ideation – researching various methods like hanging, drowning, over-dosing, shooting himself, stepping in front of a train.Finch also struggles with images of seeing himself dead which is something that also really affects me when I’m not well – I see myself hanging – it’s not just the thoughts but these images that appear in front of my eyes.

Violet, the female character in this book who meets Finch at the top of the bell tower describes her experience as:

When I went to the tower, I wasn’t really thinking. It was more like my legs were walking up the stairs and I just went where they took me. I’ve never done anything like that before. I mean, that’s not me. But then it’s like I woke up and was standing on that ledge.

This sounds very similar to my own experience of attempting to end my life on December 2nd last year. I hadn’t slept for a few days and laying in bed at 4am in the morning, decided I need to know how to tie a noose if I was going to hang myself and looking it up on You Tube. I was in a bedroom at the same psychiatric hospital I’d been in 5 months before. During that first admission I’d fantasized about hanging myself in the shower. This time I was going to do it. I had a scarf with me and also my laptop cable.  I took them with me to the bathroom and I remember looking in the mirror and seeing someone staring back at me. It didn’t feel like me.  It’s like it was my evil twin who was trying to kill me.  Obviously it didn’t go as planned as I’m here writing this, however that feeling of not recognizing the ‘me’ that was doing this and the image staring back at me from the mirror is haunting.

Finch and Violet quote Virginia Wolf poetry to each other. I’ve imagined that this could be my suicide note too and wonder whether it would be any comfort to my mother.

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel that we can’t go through another of these terrible times…So I am doing what seems to be the best thing to do….You have been in every way all that anyone can be…If anybody could have saved me, it would have been you.

Finch writes a list of things that help keep him ‘awake’ which reminded me of own list of Things that (sometimes) make me better. His list also including running, writing, being around water, planning and organizing. I’m understanding more and more that it’s the everyday things that make life more bearable and enjoyable – the little things.

Better than before

Better than before

I’ve just finished reading ‘Better Than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin so I thought I’d share a few of the things that I’ve taken from this book.

The essential seven

Gretchen observes that most people want to foster these seven habits:

  1. Eat and drink more healthily e.g. eat more fruit and veg
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Save, spend and earn wisely e.g. stick to a budget, pay of debt
  4. Rest, relax and enjoy e.g. get enough sleep, less screen-time, spend more time in nature
  5. Accomplish more and stop procrastinating
  6. Simplify, clear, clean and organize
  7. Engage more deeply in relationships

I’m an obliger

Gretchen identifies four personality types; upholders, obligers, questioners and rebels. When cultivating a new habit, the strategies that work for you will vary depending on which category you fall into.

As an obliger, I’m motivated by external accountability which is why I run as part of a group – I go even if I don’t feel like it because I don’t want to let others down.  While losing weight I saw a nutritionist who have me an eating plan. I managed to follow the eating plan as I knew I’d have to go back and show the nutritionist my food diary and that she’d weight me.

I exercise regularly because it feels like a commitment to my depression – I need to do it to stay well and my very expensive psychiatrist has told me to.

Before committing to new habits, Gretchen suggests exploring the following three areas to understand ourselves better. Here’s what I know about me:

1. How I like to spend my time

  • I feel energized in the morning and tired after 3pm
  • I don’t like to feel hurried
  • I sometimes spend too much time on my phone or watching TV shows that don’t enrich me
  • I’d like to spend more time engaging in activities that make me happy, feel meaningful and bring me closer to the life I want to lead
  • I need to have things to look forward in the short and long-term
  • I can read for hours without feeling bored
  • When I was 10 years old I could spend hours drawing and colouring

2. What I value

  • Saving time is more important than saving money or effort as it frees up timing for things I want to do and that are good for me
  • I enjoy being different to other people
  • I spend too much time worrying about work
  • I like to listen to experts and then put things in practice for myself
  • Spending money on something makes me feel more committed to it
  •  I’d like my future children to be more confident and self-assured

3. My current habits

  • I’m more likely to indulge in a bad habit when I’m alone
  • If I could magically change one habit, it would be to get up earlier and make the most of the time before I go to work in the morning
  • If the people around me could change one thing about me, it would probably for me to be kinder to myself and appreciate myself more
  • I’d like to see my future children adopt my love of self-exploration and creative expression

Where to start?

There are four areas that do the most to boost our feelings of self-control and strengthen the foundation for all our habits: Sleep, nutrition, exercise and de-clutter. The following strategies can help:

  1. SCHEDULING
    If it’s in the diary, it happens. For me as an obliger, having something in the diary is a form of accountability. When scheduling a new habit, it helps to tie it to an existing habit e.g. meditating for 10 minutes after I clean my teeth in the morning. Then there’s no negotiation about when to do it. Consistency, repetition and no-decision making is the best way to cultivate a new habit. Gretchen says “the habit of the habit is more important that the habit itself.”
  2. BE ACCOUNTABLE
    I feel accountable to my therapist, meditation teacher, psychiatrist, the ladies I run with.
  3. THE BEST TIME TO BEGIN IS NOW
    I think a lot of people fall into the trap of waiting for the right time to start something but there is no better time than now.
  4. MAKE IT AS EASY AND CONVENIENT AS POSSIBLE
    For example I pay more to go to a gym that I have to drive past on my way too and from work which makes it harder not to go. I go food shopping at a more expensive supermarket because it’s smaller and I’m less likely to give in to temptation. I keep a gratitude journal and pen next to my bed so I don’t have to remember to get it out and write in it each day.
  5. MAKE BAD HABITS MORE DIFFICULT AND INCONVENIENT
    You can do this by increasing the amount of energy required, remove visual ques, delay it, engage in something meaningful, raise the cost or block it altogether. This works for me when I keep my phone in the kitchen over night and not next to my bed, I got rid of excess medication in my home so I couldn’t be temped to take it and found I fantasized about it less, I also find reading a good distraction, I don’t buy chocolate when I go shopping so if I really want it I have to leave the house and not just eat it because it’s there.

And finally…

Having reflected on this, what habits do I want to foster?

  1. To get out of bed when my alarm goes off – putting my alarm clock on the other side of the room is helpful! This will make me feel less hurried in the mornings and give me more time to get breakfast, make lunch and tidy-up.
  2. To start meal planning and keeping a food diary again. This worked really well for me before but my weight is starting to creep back up so I can’t be complacent.
  3. To exercise five times a week. Again I was doing this before and now it’s three to four times a week. I know that I get a lot of benefits from five times a week though and my doctor told me to!
  4. To clean and tidy as I go – if something only takes a few minutes then do it straight away.

 

Things that (sometimes) make me better

I recently read ‘Reasons to stay alive‘ by Matt Haig and was inspired to write my own list of things that (sometimes) make me better.

Good sleep

Exercise

The sea

Sunshine

Running group

My dog

Taking a shower

Clean hair

Clean teeth

Healthy food (Even if it’s only poached eggs on toast, and even better if they come from my uncle’s hens)

Thinking of special friends and family that I know are there unconditionally

Daylight

Early nights

Jazz – especially Jamie Cullum’s show on BBC Radio 2

Reading

Slowing down

Being outside

Spinning

Being around others who have been there and understand

Writing

Doing some art – I’ll post some of my ‘angry art’!

Taking some form of action, it doesn’t matter what it is, just making the decision to do something

Documentaries – especially about travel

Taking a bath

Having something to look forward to – especially a holiday