Disordered Thinking

There have been a few times in my journey to healthy living where I recognized that I was having disordered thinking. The first time was when I was 250 pounds and I had given up on the idea of ever losing weight. I had resigned myself to always being obese, but part of me always thought “I’d be happy if I was skinny.” Of course, losing weight in itself didn’t make me “happy” but getting healthy certainly did.

Another time I recognized this disordered thinking pattern was when I was about 30 pounds away from reaching my goal weight. I had all this extra energy that I’d never had before and I hated to just sit still. If I had free time, I’d go work out. I was also sooo stuck. The scale was not budging. I hit a plateau that stuck around for so long it made me crazy. My solution? To work out every day. For 28 days straight, I worked out in some fashion–gym, swimming, running, walking. This was most definitely disordered thinking! Rest days are important for the body and the mind and I was clearly overtraining. This experience was the birth of my “two rest days a week no matter what” edict.

Fast forward to reaching my goal weight. I was happy, I felt accomplished and satisfied that I’d reached the goal of losing 100 pounds–and kept going! 110 pounds! I was so proud. Then I made the classic mistake: I stopped doing what worked to the lose the weight and thought I could maintain without counting my calories. Add a medication that causes weight gain to the mix and the scale steadily crept up. This time the disordered thinking was denial. I blamed the 15+ pounds on muscles, on training for Hood to Coast, on everything BUT my own behaviors.

Last year about this time I was getting a little obsessed with the scale. Too focused on what that number was. Thinking too much about those stupid ounces or pounds. Weighing too much. STOP. This is disordered. Walk away from the scale. Thus began my Scale-Free Summer which released me from the unhealthy patterns. It broke the habit of the scale, it made me more comfortable in my body and released me from the chains of unhealthy thinking.

I do not have this disordered thinking pattern 100% beat. If I had to guess I’d say it’s about 80%. Most of the time I am comfortable in my own skin, I am happy and content with my body as I maintain my weight loss, I am proud of losing 110 pounds. But every once in awhile, that disordered thinking starts to creep back into my brain…that little voice that says “I feel so fat.” (Note: Fat is NOT a feeling. I need to remind myself of this!)

Lately I’ve been looking at some photos of myself and thinking, “I don’t like how I look in that picture” or “I wish I didn’t have a muffin top.” I weigh the same as I’ve weighed for a long time now. So why is my brain playing tricks on me? Maybe it’s a control thing…there are things in my life that have happened recently that I cannot control and it sucks feeling like you can’t make decisions or go for your goals because you are waiting…waiting…limbo…But controlling food and exercise is not the area to remedy that.

Maybe I will never be 100% over it. But the most important thing to take away from this lesson is this:

I recognize when my thinking is disordered

and I put a stop to it.

Walk away from the scale, stop obsessing, think of something else, change the behavior when you recognize it happening. I need to celebrate my victories, recognize my non-scale victories, remind myself of what I have accomplished and the amazing things my fit body can do! It’s hard, it takes work and positive thinking, but it can work.

QUESTION: Can you recognize when you are slipping into disordered thinking and change it?

Desperately Seeking Dopamine

Recently I went to an all day training for work at PSU. It was called ADD/ADHD Coping Skills. I went to the class because I thought it would be beneficial for me in both my work and personal life. I have coworkers with ADD and the clients we service  are a very high risk group of people (antisocial behaviors, mental illness, drug addiction) and ADD is a huge percentage of their chronic conditions. Not only that, I have a few friends with ADD and Michael has it.

It used to cause conflict between Michael and I. Sometimes Michael had a hard time focusing on too many things at once–so if I email him with a bunch of stuff, several issues in one email, or offer him too many options he can get overwhelmed. I’ve learned the beautiful art of being succinct, using bullet points and asking very specific questions without offering options. 🙂

This post is about some of the tidbits I found interesting about the class but it is also relevant to my blog’s theme about weight loss. So here goes. ADD/ADHD was described as “the emotional frenzy” and a lot of the coping skills were about calming that frenzy and making simple, realistic, and achievable goals.

  • A daily planner that is followed every day sets structure for people suffering from ADD.Set a specific time and place each day to plan each day’s activities (including meal times, work, social, exercise, downtime, etc)
  • Instead of overwhelming people with ADD with big tasks or deadlines, set up START times instead.
  • Kids in the US are prescribed ADD medication 300% higher than any other industrial country.
  • Gym classes were cut from schools and there is a higher rate of ADD and mood disorders!
  • Belly breathing calms the frenzy down. Sit in a chair and put your arms behind the chair, hold your hands and take deep breathes.

Studies have shown that as we as humans moved culturally from the hunter/gatherers to the farmers to finally an industrial nation, we’ve changed. We are LESS active and that has resulted in having less attention. Our brains are being rewired and with the internet age, things are changing even more. We can’t concentrate. How many of us flit from webpage to webpage, skimming instead of reading and connecting? How many of us multi-task to an exhausting level (ME!)? We are always connected, always on, but our relationships are diminishing and our attention spans are shrinking even more. The more stationary we get as a society, the worse we get. [Steps off soap box.]

The Exercise Cure

What I thought was the most interesting parts of the class were the brain studies. If Dopamine levels are high in the brain, it’s hard to move out of that “pleasure zone.” People with ADD have 10% less oxygen in their prefrontal cortex BUT EXERCISE RESTORES IT!

People who suffer from ADD and depression have less dopamine in their brains. PET scans of the brain in people with ADD show that glucose levels are very low. Glucose is sugar, and also our body’s key source of energy. Glucose is in our bloodstream and carried to the brain. If we don’t get enough sleep, the glucose levels in our brain decrease!

Did you know that serotonin is stored in the stomach lining (90% of it). The serotonin is released when we eat, drink, exercise or belly breathe. Then it’s released into the bloodstream and heads to the brain. Why is this important? Because serotonin is what makes us happy. People with low levels suffer from depression and anxiety. It was a lightbulb moment for me. This is why FOOD makes me happy! Eating releases serotonin from my stomach, which surges through my bloodstream into my brain = HAPPY. Duh. It makes so much sense. That’s probably why food addictions are so hard to break. You have to have food. And if your body is naturally low in the chemical that makes you happy and the only thing that works is eating…it’s easy to see why food would be the answer every time.

Something else that I had no idea about: people who have gastric bypass surgery often suffer from depression because of the serotonin levels being stored in the stomach and part of the stomach being removed! I had no idea!

The instructor told a story about a 40-something woman who was struggling with ADD, obesity and heart issues. She had crippling depression and couldn’t exercise because was too tired. Her doctor said her life depended on exercise and she had to start. She just couldn’t. It was too much, too overwhelming. She felt too depressed. She was instructed by her doctor to go to the ADD group therapy that my instructor led and he asked if she had 30 minutes a day to go for a walk.

“No, I don’t have 30 minutes a day. I’m too busy. I’m too tired and depressed.” She was insistent. He tried to help her. He asked if she could do 20 minutes a day? No. 15? 10? Not even 5 minutes a day? She couldn’t do it. Finally, he said, “Can you walk for 30 seconds each day?” She said sure. So the next day she gave it a try. She went for a walk for 30 seconds and decided to keep going. She felt so good and positive after moving her body that she kept doing it! Each day she decided to go for a “30 second walk” and each time it turned into a 30 minute walk! Dopamine levels increase when you move your body and this woman discovered it on her own, and felt better.

I’ve talked about taking small, easy, achievable steps when trying to lose weight on my blog many times. I guess I never broke it down even smaller. If you cannot do 30 minutes a day, start with 30 seconds a day. Put your shoes on, plan a time in your calendar/planner and then go for  30 second walk. Or do squats and lunges for 10 seconds. Do jumping jacks for 20 seconds. Whatever you can commit to and start, do it. You never know, 30 seconds might turn into 30 minutes.

Exercise has helped me in so many ways. It has given me more energy, it curbs that winter depression that I struggle with living in Oregon, and gives me focus. One of the suggestions from the instructor was that people with ADD should try reading while on an exercise bike to find focus. I just love how a simple act of moving the body can be so beneficial!

QUESTION: Do you have anyone with ADD in your life? Has exercise cured anything in your life?