I have obsessive-compulsive disorder. My particular variety of OCD is heavy on the "O."
This isn't the "OMG, I just have to have my book shelves alphabetized" sort of OCD. No, I have an automatic response to stress that causes me to take one topic and tear it apart like a dog with a couch cushion. Thoughts get stuck on repeat and nothing else gets done.
I'm also north of 200 on the scale, so the easiest thing for me to fall into an obsession spiral about is weight loss, often taking over my brain and pushing all the joyful, productive thoughts out. But since I believe weight loss shouldn't come at the expense of happiness, my goal has to be ending this mental war and making peace with food.
The first step to getting rid of an obsession is identifying it. To that end, here are five habits that can stem from spending too much time thinking about weight loss.
1. Keeping more than one record.
There are a lot of things you might keep track of when it comes to weight loss: food, water, exercise, scale readings, thoughts and emotions about food, and maybe more specific things like sodium, fiber, calcium and other nutrients.
At one point, I had a journal in my front room for food, another in the bathroom for weight, a calendar on the refrigerator with my exercise plan and a blog at a weight loss website. I spent a lot of unnecessary time and brain power on keeping track of minutia.
One notebook is all you need. And when it's full, throw it away. It's old news. Get a new one and start fresh.
2. Weighing yourself before and after everything.
In my experience, the two most popular "before and after" weigh-in times are around a super-sweaty workout and pooping. But neither of these show real weight loss. It's not as if we won't regain that water weight or never poop again. By weighing ourselves like this, we're just looking for that little rush from seeing the number go down.
Unless you're doing it for a lark — "Hey honey, I pooped one pound, two ounces today!" — then what this shows is desperation, so great a need to lose weight to feel good that you'll deceive yourself. I'm still working on letting of this one.
3. Taking your diet to bed with you.
This category covers thinking about what you ate or what you're going to eat the next day, and letting this be the last thought before you go to sleep or your first thought on waking up.
I had a ritual where I'd lay in bed and visualize everything I'd eaten that day spread out on one table. And you know what? It always looked like a lot of food. And you know why? Because it was. Even the most reasonable meals laid out next to each other at one time are going to look excessive.
Let bed time be about relaxation and sleeping, both of which are important for losing weight. Stressing out about what you did or will eat only increases cortisol and other anxiety-related hormones that make us gain weight faster.
4. Spending your leisure time on weight loss media.
I've wasted so much of my life here. For a time, I was watching every TV show and movie about weight loss out there. I read dozens of dieting and nutrition books. I joined websites to track my food, water and exercise.
I was hoping to stumble on a secret, some new perspective that would make the information overload fall into place. I was also sure that if I didn't fill every free moment with health-related input, I wouldn't take my food choices seriously. I had to learn to trust myself with spare time.
5. Appraising other people's weight.
The more I thought about my own weight, the more I thought about other people's. I'd compare myself and have horrible, judgmental thoughts like, "She must starve herself. Being skinny isn't that important!" Or "At least I'm not that big." Awful, terrible thoughts about people I didn't know.
The root issue here was lack of self-acceptance: I wasn't comfortable with myself so I looked outward for reassurance that I was OK. But that never works. Self-acceptance can only come from inside. Once I got over my own flaws and learned to love myself, highlighting my good qualities and accepting my shortcomings, it became so much easier to accept others the way they are. There's so much more love this way and love is, in the end, what it's all about.
Now, for the two steps to reclaim your brain from weight loss obsession:
Once you realize you have an obsessive habit, whether in thought or action, the next step is the same: let yourself become fully conscious of it.
Watch yourself do it. What are your thoughts? Why are you doing this? Being self-reflective like this takes guts. It's brave to strip away whatever story we've created to make excuses for our behavior. Yoga and meditation provide immeasurable support here.
Then, when you've shone a bright light on your obsessive habit, decide what you'd like to replace it with and get to work. For example, when I find myself passing judgment on others, I try to replace it with compassion. At first it seemed foreign but new thought patters gradually developed.
That's it. It's that simple. Step one, catch yourself in the act. Step two, replace it with a new thought or behavior. It won't happen overnight, but eventually old habits DO fade away. And as we gain more control over our minds, we make room for more joy, more vibrant health and a better life overall.