The Mental Games – May the Odds be Ever in Your Favour
I consider myself a good driver, and every once in a while, I have a little fender bender. However, this time I was caught by a radar camera. How dare they have a police officer sitting on a side street without telling me, and then catch me driving 15 km/hr above the speed limit?
On top of that I didn’t even have a good excuse for speeding… “I never expected you to be sitting on a side street?” I would have to come up with a better defense than that, as I went down to traffic court to see if I could sweet talk my way out of it – or at least get it reduced. With this being my first traffic violation, the odds were looking good, plus added the leverage of a great driving record, I felt fairly hopeful. I really hoped I’d be able to say “I rest my case” or “I object”, but I knew that was pushing it. The important thing was to just get out of this ticket.
The room where you see the judge/crown prosecutor to negotiate your fate has multiple cubicles, so you grab a number and wait your turn. There are makeshift dividers providing minimal privacy, and you are able to overhear each individual next to you plead their case and ultimately the crown prosecutors decision.
So, there I was on my best behaviour, and ready to address my case. I hoped the judge was in a good mood, but it was hard to tell from their stern expression. I provided quick and clear answers and patiently waited in silence until I was asked to speak. During the silence of my own case, I overheard another case being discussed a cubicle away:
The judge: “Why were you speeding?” The lady: “Well, I woke up…and right off the bat I was stressed.” It sounded like she had quite a lead up before she was in her car and got caught speeding. The day each of us was caught speeding was similar. We each were heading off to our respective workplaces and got caught speeding, but my morning had been fairly peaceful and easy, hers in comparison was full of little hang ups and roadblocks.
I managed to get my ticket reduced and left after the discussions were finished. I don’t know how her case turned out, but it got me thinking. I don’t know what this lady was going through, maybe she was looking for excuses to get out of her ticket and embellished her story, or maybe she was actually dealing with a number of stressors that I couldn’t relate too.
For me, I was not stressed out over this ticket. I was more annoyed that I would have to pay a fine. To this lady, the speeding ticket was just another problem on top of all the other problems she was already dealing with. Regardless, her ability to plan, organize, and be thoughtful about her decisions, habits, and behaviours on a daily basis is likely impaired.
This is not unlike many of our patients who are trying to manage their weight. Obesity is a complex disease that often involves a large mental health component, that can be overwhelming from the minute you wake up until you go to bed. If we are not managing your mental health, you might have continuous roadblocks every step of the way – setting you back, or making steps forward much more challenging.
Obesity is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination.
Obesity is the disease you wear, and there is a significant amount of stigmatization and mental health disorders such as depression, and anxiety that are associated with the disease itself. You are not only having the daily war in your head – managing low self-esteem, negative self-talk, dealing with failures from past diet attempts, seeing your weight yo-yo up and down. You are also dealing with how society will treat you for being overweight – being judged for buying a lunch because you forgot the one you packed at home, being passed over for promotions or jobs, healthcare professionals telling you that you are ‘fat’ and need to lose weight…
Does this all sound familiar? Maybe on top of all that, you suffer from an eating disorder (binge eating, bulimia, and night eating syndrome). After your usual day, you head home binge and self-medicate with food in an attempt to reduce your stress and anxiety, to what we can hope is a tolerable enough level to sleep. Then, you wake up and do it all over again.
No amount of pep talk, inspirational quotes from Facebook or Instagram, or motivational videos on YouTube will “snap you out of it”.
As you struggle to cope, are you thinking, “Hmmm, I better pack some healthy snacks for tomorrow and coordinate my outfit for my planned physical activity as well.” Probably not. Any of these are a lot to deal with and #thestruggleisreal, very real.
The journey towards a healthier YOU takes a lot of preparation, organization, and thoughtfulness. You have to be privileged in order to change your habits. From having the time to plan out your week, to determine what you will eat, when you shop, preparing your meals, scheduling physical activity, affording your meals, etc. While many of these tasks are not overly difficult and can easily be done once, replicating them on a regular basis is the challenge.
Depending on the level of support you need, the following could be useful tips:
Engaging your team of healthcare professionals to support you
Developing your support system through friends and family, or through peer support groups
Find an accountability partner
Take small steps; don’t try to make drastic changes over night
Practice gratitude on a daily basis
If you are suffering from a mental health disorder, such as depression, before we embark on any lifestyle changing efforts we need to ensure we are properly addressing your mental health FIRST!
As I said, changing your habits requires planning, organization, and thoughtfulness and having something like uncontrolled depression is going to make it near impossible to carry out those practices.
It is OK NOT TO BE OK!
It is a common misconception that losing weight will help to treat your depression and anxiety – this is just not the case.
So, if you are the one going through this process, remember PLEASE be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself in the way you would talk to someone you love. Be gentle and compassionate. We are all doing the best we can, and small progress is better than no progress at all!