Updated: Jan 14
You may recall that I started the Weight Loss Quest series way back in October in order to support you in maintaining your weight over the holiday season.
For me, tackling weight loss used to be so frustrating because often even diligent focus on diet and exercise didn’t seem to work. That’s because, like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, I could only “see” the parts of the elephant in front of me - I didn’t even realize that mindset was the key missing link for me.
The Weight Loss Quest series addresses mindset in four main areas:
Part 1 Compelling Whys addresses why it’s important for you to lose weight. I found it important to brainstorm a lot of different reasons, even trivial and mundane ones I was embarrassed to admit. From there, I was able to hone in on what felt the stickiest in terms of striking that deepest resonance with my passion for brain health.
Part 2 Your Care Protocol focuses more on the nuts and bolts of what to eat and how you take care of yourself. Rather than starting with the ideal care protocol, I encourage you to start with what you are currently doing, and then make a 1-2% shift. As we learned from author James Clear, most of us fail to realize that consistency beats intensity when it comes to habits, so while a 1% improvement can seem trivial - it can lead to 37 times better performance by the end of a year.
I could only “see” the parts of the elephant in front of me
Part 3 Reprogramming shows us how our automated responses (like seeing, wanting and then eating a cookie) feel inevitable. But actually all habits - good or bad result from default programming or neural circuits in our minds. And the good news is that you can reprogram or rewire your brain by slowing down and examining that behavior. Self coaching tools like the CTFAR model help us to analyze what we are thinking and feeling, giving us the opportunity to get intentional about what habits we actually want to cultivate.
This article - Part 4 Monitoring - targets the so-called scientific process, where you get to become your own guinea pig. Because at the end of the day, mindset work is only as helpful as the actions that take you forward in weight loss.
One of the most helpful monitoring tools that I learned from author Dr Katrina Ubell was called the hunger scale. Before I knew about this, I pretty much thought that I could only ever be either hungry or full. Which is a binary scale. Like on or off, all or nothing.
But when I began noticing my level of hunger, I realized that sometimes I was voraciously hungry (and hangry) and sometimes just a bit peckish. Likewise, I started to recognize that being “full” for me usually meant feeling uncomfortably stuffed. I learned that I was most comfortable in the -4 (ready to eat) to +4 (comfortably satisfied) zone.
What was more surprising to me, was that becoming aware of my body’s signals taught me more than just that different levels of hunger exist. I also learned that sometimes hunger signals meant that my body was craving satisfaction from something other than food, like hydration, connection, movement, or even creative flow.
Before I started following Dr Katrina, I had not weighed myself on a regular basis for years. Like most women, getting on the scale was a sort of traumatic ordeal. I usually only got on the scale if I was at the doctor’s office or if I was trying yet another thing for weight loss.
Hunger could mean that my body was craving satisfaction from something other than food
I had learned to dread weighing myself because I associated it with a whole basket of stressful feelings, like anxiety, guilt and shame. No wonder I couldn’t believe it when I learned that actually weighing ourselves daily is the best way to track our progress when it comes to both weight loss and weight maintenance.
And yes, it does take a bit of self-coaching to work through those feelings, but that’s all part of the mindset work that frees us from the habits that keep us trapped in the weight gain cycle. Turns out that the very act of building the habit of weighing ourselves daily is a non scale victory, because we are learning to reparent and soothe our inner child who learned that food was her friend.
Plan - Do - Study - Act
If you have spent any time working in medicine, or indeed any jobs requiring monitoring of quality assurance or safety, you will probably be familiar with some aspect of the Plan - Do - Study - Act or PDSA paradigm.
In the context of weight loss, it simply comes down to figuring out what actually works for you. The Plan phase is deciding what habit to change by setting up the 2% shift protocol for ourselves with a SMART goal. Remember that a SMART goal is one that is: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound.
So when I first decided to reduce my carb intake, I was still having cereal or bread for breakfast, rice or noodles for lunch, and rice or bread for dinner. So cutting back to half a bowl of rice instead of a full bowl at dinner seemed like it should be reasonably easy,
So when I actually got to the Do part, I realized all kinds of problems. First of all, I was not having rice at dinner every night. I might have noodles, or pizza or whatever for 3-4 times a week, so that was more than half the time.
And then I found that it was hard to stop at half a bowl. I would usually go back to fill my bowl because I had gotten used to feeling full only after eating a whole bowl. Also sometimes I would forget and fill my bowl full, and then I didn’t want to waste the rice.
This was probably the hardest part for me. Because I wasn’t in the habit of planning out my food, never mind reflecting on what I ate. I felt like I never had time to keep track of what was happening with meals. But I learned that self care is about prioritizing myself, and my nutrition was important to track, in order to refine my protocols for self care.
I learned more about myself with each repeated cycle of planning and tracking, or trial and error. I also learned to give myself grace, which actually means that we have to forgive ourselves for being human and making mistakes. I had to accept the reality of how I actually ate and lived my life, in order to have a chance to change the status quo.
The epilogue to the carb story is that I ended up cutting way on starchy carbs, and even tried keto for a while, but I found that way of eating didn’t work so well for me. All this does not mean that I would endorse any one-size-fits-all approach to eating for everyone. I believe that we need to each do the work to build and test our protocols, so that we can continue to refine our self care regimes and become more attuned to our bodies.
The longest game
One of my least favourite things about the commercially popular approaches to weight loss (aka the Diet Industrial Complex) is the “quick fix” mindset. Another is the concept of the “right” weight. I get that both have the appeal of being simple and measurable targets, and they can be appealing and motivating for some of us, some of the time.
I am in integrity with myself when I am proud to be taking care of myself in this way
But the problem is that most of us have a limited amount of willpower, or capacity to suffer short term deprivation in the interest of looking good in a bikini over spring break. If you have struggled with your weight, you will know that maintenance is the hardest part. And that’s often because we are too focused on diet and exercise, rather than mindset and programming.
I am an advocate of playing the long game, which means making decisions about lifestyle choices on the basis of two criteria: ease and integrity. A choice is easy if I am willing to do it for the rest of my life, like my low carb eating plan. And I am being in integrity with myself when I am proud to be taking care of myself in this way.
Monitoring is ultimately about trusting ourselves: trusting our ability to read our bodies’ signals and trusting our intuition about when something is working or when it’s time to try something else. And there is absolutely no rush to figure this all out. Because dementia prevention is the longest game. My goal is to be healthy of mind and body at my 100th birthday party, so I have a lot of time to work with.
If you want to coach with me and learn more about tackling weight loss and managing weight loss stress, be sure to sign up for my live online webinar January 12, 2023 - Hack Your Weight Stress.
Weightloss for Busy Physicians -- By Dr Katrina Ubell
Hack Your Weight Stress - live online webinar by Dr Em, Jan 2023
How to Lose Weight for the Last Time: Brain-based Solutions for Permanent Weight Loss by Dr Katrina Ubell
Dr Katrina Ubell shares scientifically proven weight loss strategies to help us to individually rewire our brains to address decades of conditioning that has led to the obesity crisis.