The “Secret” To Weight Loss May Lie in the Mind – And No, It’s Not About ‘Willpower’

Hey guys!

Today’s post is going to be a long one – it’s about my weight loss progress and how dealing with my personal issues helped with it. 

My weight has always been a touchy subject for me, but I feel that I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on it, how I’m trying to overcome challenges, and hopefully help others who are in the same predicament.

For the longest time, I felt like shit about how I looked. 

As an Asian with a larger-than-average physique, I grew up with body image issues; no thanks to relatives and a toxic culture that glorifies a certain body shape/look. And while the body positive movement has been going strong in the West for awhile now, attitudes in Southeast Asia (and many parts of Asia, for that matter) are still notoriously slow to change. Partly, it has to do with our ‘collective’ culture: in the West, being different is good; in Asia, as the Japanese saying goes, ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’.

Growing up, I was not exactly chubby – but I was definitely taller and bigger than my peers. By the time I was 14, I was taller than my mom (who is 5 feet and weighs 40 kilos). The running joke among members of my extended family was “what genes did Nim (my nickname at home) inherit? lol”  since my dad is also around 5’4, and my younger brother is as petite as my mom. It didn’t help that I was constantly told things like “don’t eat so much, you’re getting fat”, or “your breasts are too big, you shouldn’t wear those kind of clothes” by people who were close to me, which really affected my self confidence. Were my boobs that big? Was I eating too much? I ended up wearing a lot of shapeless hoodies and slouched whenever I walked, because I was made to feel that men would look lustfully at me if I didn’t hide my chest. That it was my fault if I somehow attracted their attention.

When I was 19, I went through a traumatic experience. I wasn’t able to find the support I needed, and basically had to deal with the entire thing alone. I believe it was then that I started to comfort-eat. My metabolism at the time was still that of a teenager, so I could still eat junk and all kinds of shit without putting on weight, but it laid the foundation for the very unhealthy eating habits that would persist into adulthood. These bad habits worsened when I entered the working world, and I found myself putting on a lot of weight. It was a vicious cycle – I’d get stressed, eat for comfort, feel disgusted, and eat again for comfort. And this went on for years and years. At my heaviest, I was 82 kilos (181 lbs). I have a big frame so it was not extremely noticeable, but if you passed me on the street, you’d definitely call me fat. Obese, even. 

My weight became a point of contention between me and my mother, so much so that there were heated fights that nearly resulted in us severing ties with each other. I know she was trying to help in her own way, but being an Asian parent, she was notoriously bad at showing it. (you know, like when they do something wrong, instead of apologising, they make your favourite food and try to skim over the whole thing?) Instead of encouraging me, she (sometimes unconsciously) shamed me, which hurt me more than what strangers could ever throw at me: because the one person who should be standing on my side wasn’t understanding. So I gorged on food and let myself go.

Some people who have never suffered food addiction think that it’s simply a matter of willpower – that some people can simply will themselves to lose weight. That is a simplistic way of looking at things. There are people who have superb willpower (which is awesome, more power to them!) but weight loss and the journey to a healthy lifestyle is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Oftentimes, comfort eating is deeply rooted in psychological issues. If you’ve ever watched my 600-lb life, Dr Now, the resident doctor, often addresses the person’s emotional issues as part of their therapy, because their eating behaviour is often rooted in those unresolved psychological problems.

The reason I eat isn’t that I’m hungry – it is because food equates to comfort, and since I am not able to find it anywhere else (such as a good support system), I turn to eating when I’m stressed, or angry, or sad, or bored. You can go cold turkey on ciggies, or drugs, but you need to eat to live – and this makes things a lot more complicated when it comes to weaning yourself off an unhealthy relationship with food.

Since 2013, my weight has yoyo-ed dramatically. Back then, I had anxiety (still do, but it’s slightly more manageable these days), which was not helped by the stressful nature of my work (I was a newspaper journalist). It drove me further down the rabbit hole of unhealthy eating. Stress does things to you. Many of my ex-colleagues smoke and drink, and a good number die from heart attacks, which is a common disease among journalists.

Sometime in my mid-20s, I tried Herbalife. It worked while I was taking it, but once I stopped, the weight came back on again, because the bad habits were still there, and the psychological issues that drove me to comfort eating were still there. It’s true what they say about magic pills. There is no such thing.

And so it continued … until this year. In retrospect, despite all the bad things that have been happening around the world (pandemic, riots, uncertain economy, etc.) this quarantine has been good for me, because it allowed me to take a break and re-centre myself. Previously, I’d spend three hours in traffic each day, so much so that I’d feel too tired to work out (I left home around 8.30AM and got home around 8PM). But now that I have a more flexible working schedule, I’m able to set aside some time each day to unwind and do activities that I enjoy.

Another major reason that I think contributed to a positive change is my relationship with my mother. Those who have family members suffering from anxiety and depression know how hard it can be to deal with. Thankfully, our relationship has improved lately. As a result, my overall mood and feelings have improved, and in turn, I no longer feel as much of a need to binge or comfort eat.

What makes the attempt to lose weight different this time, you ask? 

You often hear weight loss stories where they ask the question, ‘what kickstarted your weight loss journey’? Most of the time, the answer would be ‘I woke up sick and tired of being unhealthy’. And perhaps that is the main motivator for many people.

For me, I think the catalyst came a couple of months ago, after a particularly nasty fight with my mom (related to my weight, again). I think she finally understood that her way of ‘helping’ was doing more harm than good – and she agreed that she would not comment further about my weight.

See, it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate her ‘help’. She’d make home-cooked meals for me in an effort to get me to eat healthily. But it wasn’t the support I needed. 

You know how some people fight because the other doesn’t understand their needs? Like a boyfriend gives a girlfriend a teddy bear even though the girl has already said she doesn’t like stuffed toys, then he gets upset because she ‘doesn’t appreciate the gift’. The same applies here. I know she was trying to help in her own way, but it wasn’t what I needed. I needed her to step back and stop commenting about my weight. 

The thought that I had finally broken through to her gave me courage. I now had the freedom to do things my way.

To other people, this might seem like an odd line of reasoning. But to me, growing up with the need for approval to make my parents proud, to be a ‘filial’ daughter, it makes perfect sense. I was finally free from the shackles of ‘what was expected’ of me; that I had to heed certain advice and follow them simply because my family felt it was best. The moment I no longer felt burdened by the fear of what my mother thought I should do, the power was in my hands to do with my life as I see fit and that became my greatest motivator. (does that even make sense? the human psyche is an odd thing. lol).

It might come as a surprise to some people, but when I was at my lowest point, I did not care if I had pre-diabetic symptoms due to my weight – my thought process was basically “If I die, I die because I’m already like a piece of shit anyway”. I think that a lot of obese or fat people with health issues KNOW that they are in a bad state (don’t you think they know people are sniggering behind their backs? I certainly did) but the hole of despair can seem too big and too difficult to climb out of, so you switch to this apathetic state where you give up on trying or caring.

People say that a healthy lifestyle is not a sprint, but a marathon. I started this journey just over two months ago, so there is a long way to go. But I think the difference this time is that I am in a better psychological state to commit to the race, because my reasons for losing weight have changed. Now, I truly feel that I want to lead a healthy lifestyle for myself, and not for someone else’s approval. 

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PS: I actually started writing this post on a somewhat related note (I wanted to talk about how my weighing scale broke and it was actually a good thing) – but somehow it became super long…so I think I’ll write about that in another entry. 😀 

There’s Always a Reason

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a video  called ‘The Suicide Experiment’.

I cried after watching it, because it touched me on so many levels.

Suicide has always been a topic close to my heart. Since I was a teen, I’ve suffered from bouts of depression, struggled with low self esteem, anxiety and feelings of alienation.  I think that experiences in our early life shape us, and sometimes these memories never really die. You can try to put them away, but they’re always there under the surface.

There are days when I go back to being a 13-year-old being bullied by my schoolmates and a teacher for being ‘different’.

There are days when I’m 15 again, and had my heart completely broken by my first ‘love’ who was a cheater and a liar.

There are days when I’m 18, struggling to come to terms with growing up and to communicate with my loved ones, who were not offering me the support system I needed because they didn’t know how to talk to me. Not having many friends to begin with because of self-confidence issues, it broke me down further.

There are days when I’m 19. When a friend betrayed my trust.  I won’t talk about that here because I don’t want to open that can of worms. It’ll only cause grief and hurt beyond repair for certain parties.

But yeah. There are days when I go back to being that girl.

I wanted to be needed by somebody, anybody – so much so that I chose to throw myself at whoever wanted me. I have had many failed relationships because I’d always fall for the wrong ones, and when the good ones came I screwed them over because I felt that douche bags were all I deserved.

I contemplated suicide. I know, that sounds very ungrateful because I have so much more than a lot of other people. I live a relatively comfortable life; I’m not prostituting myself on the streets or begging for money and food. I should be grateful.

But deep down inside, I still felt empty and hollow. I thought about how meaningless life was when I have all these material comforts but I couldn’t be happy because I had no one to talk to, nobody to love me and to love.

Some days I buried myself under the blankets and cried. I cut myself with switchblades. I thought of suicide often. I was once showering in the bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and just started laughing hysterically for half an hour. Other days, I just felt.. nothing. I went through my motions, smiled at friends, did work, etc.

When it got too much, I tried talking to my family. But they didn’t understand. I didn’t expect them to. Because living with someone who is constantly in a negative state of anxiety and depression is so hard, some people find it easier to just think that the other person is being emo and has an attitude problem.

 

When you’re so broken, can you be whole again?

I had…. still have, so much rage and anger and disappointment in me.

But even on my worst days, when the hurt and pain was too much to bear and just ending it all seemed like a legit way out… I didn’t do it. Part of it is because I was scared of hurting the few people close to me, because no matter how misunderstood I was to them, they were still my family and they would blame themselves. The other part is that deep down inside, I still believe that tomorrow will be a better day.

I used to be a happy child before life fucked it all up. And I think that there’s always a part of me that keeps that happy child in my heart, even if the brooding teen and negative adult rear their ugly heads quite often.

At my lowest point, it was kind words and understanding which led me out from the darkness.

I’m still struggling with issues. New ones pop up all the time and I’ll get emo but I don’t think I’ll ever contemplate ending my life again. That is way past.

The point is, never underestimate what understanding and kind words/deeds can do for someone, even a stranger.

And to those thinking suicidal thoughts, believe me when I say I understand. I hope you get through it. And remember, there’s always a reason to live. You just need to stick around long enough to see it.