Monday, May 10, 2010

On Learned Helplessness (a.k.a., “When did my boyfriend become so insightful?”)

I’ve been struggling for the last few days. I’ve had to really buckle down and study, and studying makes me a VERY unhappy person. I’ve been overeating a bit, too, and this also makes me unhappy. I also seem to get very anxious about whether I’m doing SFT “right” as I approach the start of my new weight watchers week (i.e., my next opportunity to switch back to Points).

Add to all of this my wonderful hormones and a tedious experience finding summer housing and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm of weight loss self-doubt.

I generally try to insulate my boyfriend from this kind of thing because I don’t want to be that girl, but I was just in that kind of place tonight where I wanted to reach out to someone. I thought his advice really cut through a lot of the negative inner dialogue I had going on. In a nutshell, he observed:
  • It’s probably pretty common that people who have lost weight eat a little bit more at first because they think they are “over” the issues that caused them to gain weight in the first place.
  • You’re not STUCK on Simply Filling...you can always switch back to Points.
  • You will get there. It may just take a while to understand your hunger rhythms and food intake needs.
  • It’s exam time. This is not a normal laboratory.
It was so good to hear these things, especially since they corresponded quite a bit to some of the negative self-talk I’ve been having trouble fighting lately. I’m sure a lot of folks who have lost/are trying to lose weight have struggled at some point with the prospect of failing, or backsliding, or not getting the results you want when you want them. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that, amidst the wild fluctuations of our body weights that we have control over the ultimate trend --- upward or downward.

I read about a study of learned helplessness that was performed on dogs. [Ed. note: this blog does not condone animal testing] In this experiment, the dogs were placed in a cage. One half of the dogs’ cages was electrified.


Let’s just pretend the dogs are ugly disgusting pugs, so we don’t feel bad about this.


So, experimenters would shock the dogs on one half of the cage, then see how the dogs reacted. All of the dogs, after receiving their initial shocks, would try to hop over to the other side of the cage. But here’s the catch: for some of the dogs, the OTHER side of the cage was electrified, too.

That’s some shit, right?

The dogs who were able to hop over the center-cage barrier to a nonelectrified floor remained perfectly happy and well-adjusted (albeit totally disgusting and unappealing) pugs.

But the dogs who were not able to escape the shocks no matter what they did became depressed. Despondent. Withdrawn. Even when these dogs were moved to a cage with a NON-electrified second half, these dogs wouldn’t even try to hop over the barrier. They just assumed that this cage was like their other cage...they’d be electrified no matter what they did, so why bother?

I’ve been ignoring my own tendencies to take the wind out of my own sails...to electrify my own floor, so to speak. I don’t know where this attitude came from...perhaps it has something to do with the slower results on Simply Filling...or the fact that the feedback is not as exact. On points, if I stayed within my points then I did “well.” It’s tough to be that exact on SFT.

I guess it’s good to realize and acknowledge the fact that *I* am the master of my own weight loss destiny...I control the process just as much on SFT as I did on points. But how do I turn this knowledge into an action plan? Should I just give up on greater self-awareness until after final exams? After all if I could just gain an awareness of itemized deductions in Federal Income Tax law, I’d be in pretty decent shape...

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