A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Whatever you think about your body weight, one thing is clear, almost everyone at some time can say they feel they need to lose weight. I have a medium-boned frame, and I was packing about twenty pounds of extra weight earlier this year. That made getting into clothes problematic and looked bad on me.
I have been thin most of my life, but as I aged, I gained weight via the usual suspects: too much food, too much drink, and too little exercise. Of course, being a desk jockey didn't help either.
I had lost weight before and remembered what a chore it was. I wasn't looking forward to the process but was eyeing the results in my imagination. This motivated me to pull out the ol' weight loss routine and begin to reshape my body. During the several-month process, I learned a few things about myself and my relationship with food and my body. Here are five things I discovered.
#1 – I felt my body again.
Now I don't know the scientific mechanism here, but as I began to lose weight, I began to "feel" my body again. As the fat burned off, the underlying muscle began to stick out, and as I moved either in exercise or just in simple movements, I felt like I was aware of my body again.
Perhaps, adding layers of fat prevents us from feeling the muscles tighten and contract, but I distinctly remember this feeling from the last time I lost weight. It was a pretty good feeling; clothes fit better, I looked better in the mirror, which was surprisingly effective in motivating me to continue the diet.
My best barometer for weight loss was not the scales but rather the way my clothes fit. Feeling the extra room in my pants was an immediate reinforcer. This put me back in touch with the sensory elements of my body in a positive way. The many nerve endings, constantly passing feedback to my brain, kept me ever mindful as the weight slowly but steadily melted away. It helped anchor me again in the physical and reminded me I am also made of flesh and blood.
#2 – I became mindful of the food I ate.
One of the things I would remind my former hypnosis clients when they requested weight loss hypnosis was that they still needed to be mindful of the food they ate. It is important to remember to think about eating food and what our motivation is for eating. So often, we eat without thinking, habitually binging food, mindlessly eating, not thinking of the calories or quantity of the food we consume. All too often, it is a mindless exercise in self-medication to eat without awareness. Before you know it, you have consumed calories that your body doesn't need.
To keep me on track, I used Livestrong's My Plate app to help track my daily caloric intake to ensure I ate my caloric goals for the day. Tracking the food forces, you to be mindful. Like any habit, it takes time and repetition to form the practice of mindfulness. However, it helped me mind the calories as well as the nutrition. The act of keying in the food for the day, although initially a pain, proved to slow me down enough to think before and after food intake.
As the weight came off, which is an inherent payoff, the tedious task of tracking food began to have a purpose. I knew that if I hit my daily goals, I would lose pounds by the end of the week. It worked.
Most importantly, it kept me mindful of not overeating. I began to feel satiated more easily, my mind rewarded me with a dopamine hit when I stayed in bounds, and my body rewarded me with fat-burning weight loss. I began to appreciate food in a new light. It wasn't about quantity, but rather the quality, and I felt the difference.
#3 – What I learned from the hunger.
In the beginning, I felt hunger pangs. For me, that always served as a cue to grab something to eat, to quell the growling - fill-up the grumbling gut and refocus on my tasks. But with weight loss, we have to look at this process differently.
I heard a lot about intermittent fasting, where you only eat during certain hours and then fast the remainder. So I thought I'd give it a try. Part of my regimen was to stop eating at 8 pm and not eat again until around noon. This initially caused hunger, especially in late morning, but I pressed on and was able to go 14-16 hours without eating within a short time.
During the last few hours of the fast, I began to appreciate the hunger for food. I realized that hunger was not always a bad thing. I could feel my stomach (the internals), and it felt good to be hungry and be in charge. I knew that being hungry was not necessarily a nutritional deficit; rather, my stomach was now not bloated with food. I felt lighter, more aware of the spiritual aspects of the physical.
It began to be a cue not for running to the kitchen but rather to sit in my hunger and feel the emptiness of my stomach. It helped me turn inward. Often, I would drink more water and, after a glass, would feel less hungry. Feeling the water travel down your gullet to your stomach is quite an experience.
We seldom realize the difference between our appetites and our need for nourishment. Living in a country where food is plentiful makes it easy to lose sight of what true hunger is and how we take for granted the ease with which we can procure food. Hunger by appetite is a never-ending satiety game, while hunger by nourishment needs is a completely different and conscious endeavor.
#4 – I found a new relationship with food and understood why I ate so much before.
I ate a lot to quell disappointments or feelings of depression. A cookie or a sweet would momentarily trigger-happy emotions and seem like the antidote for feeling alone or sad. I did this way too often but was unaware of the Stimulus > Trigger > Response mechanism occurring unconsciously. It was a roller coaster. After the treat, the inevitable sugar high, then crash, which would set off another round in the chain.
As I started losing weight, I noticed I avoided sugary foods. If you avoid sugar-laced food for a while, you begin to recognize how overly sweet our confections are. I also saw the mood swings planed off, and I felt a more level stream of emotion.
I took food out of the happiness equation and saw that food was no longer a drug or product to self-soothe. Reframing food to mean nutritional needs helped elevate my mood naturally. I still enjoy the taste of food, exploring savory spices, or some light sweet flavors now and again. As my father used to say, "everything in moderation."
I began to enjoy meals and healthy snacks and enjoyed the taste of food, savoring flavors I would often overlook before. I slowed down my eating, enjoying each bite, not rushing to inhale the food to get back to other distractions.
#5 – I proved I could reach my goals.
Lastly, I proved to myself that I could reach my goals. Other goals not involved with my body are relatively easy for me; things I can accomplish quickly are not so difficult. Yet goals that require patience, persistence, and the slow churn of day-to-day compliance are more challenging. Weight does not fall off quickly but comes off at a snail's pace.
But persistence, coupled with daily rewards (nonfood), kept me at it until I reached my goal and even surpassed it. For an HSP, the rewards, physical, mental, psychological, and egotistical, are quite enjoyable. I was truly proud of myself for reaching my goal.
For some, weight loss is a dreaded chore. For others, it is a life and death matter. The battle with food and excess weight is largely a mental one that presents in physical form. Much of weight loss is not about the food but the emotional rewards of feeding oneself and the external and internal sensory stimulation. This is taken to the extreme when food is plentiful and easily had. The reminders of cookies at grandma's, ice cream for chores, better times, or a distraction to life become a feign attempt at self-love. It is hard to relinquish all those emotions we tie to food. Like Pavlov's dog, we salivate at the thought of food.
Before you attempt to lose weight, work on the mental part as a prelude to a diet. Find ways to reward yourself with nonfood items. Enlist support with your medical providers, your family, and friends. At first, it may seem impossible, but if you focus on the journey day by day, let the goal take care of itself, you will find a feeling of peace in the mindfulness you learn about food, yourself, and your relationship with pleasure.
It can be done. Trust the process, trust yourself and be healthy.
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Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.