Friday, April 24, 2015

Diet and Polar Bears

When I first met the COG at the tender age of 16, I had been anorexic for about 9 months. I don't really know how I looked, due to the skewed nature of the self-perception of the anorexic, but I would guess I was somewhat skeletal.

Joining the cult gave me a sense of purpose for my life, and a distraction from whatever brought on that eating disorder. My extreme dedication led me to spend any spare moment reading the bible and the various publications of the group - as new members ("babes in Christ") were supposed to do. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2)

As well, since "bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all men" (I Timothy 4:8), I felt compelled to stop exercising and instead spend my time studying.

You can imagine the physical consequences of those decisions.

Anorexia had robbed my body of its natural appetite and natural control. I had lost the sense of proper eating. I ended up, obviously, eating too much for the minute amount of physical activity I was doing, and I gained weight - ending up weighing more than when I decided to stop eating at the beginning of my anorexia.

At age 18, when I moved into the COG colony (as the communal home was called), the problem only worsened with the diet of cheap food and limited, old, poor quality fruit and vegetables. I gained even more, until I was about 10 kilos overweight, which was very upsetting for this former anorexic.

Try as I might, I could not get that weight off. As the years passed, the more I thought about cutting back on eating, the more I didn't cut back on eating. Focusing on dieting always backfired.

It was when I became pregnant at age 23 that the breakthrough came. I finally stopped thinking about losing weight, and changed my focus to obtaining the optimal nutrition for my unborn child. I counted protein grams, and was very mindful of my intake of vitamins and minerals, and I went for daily walks. All this, for the purpose of growing a healthy baby.

The result? When I brought my 4.5kg, 2 day old baby home from the hospital I weighed less than when I had conceived. Changing focus was all that was needed.

Recently I learned of the research done by psychologist Daniel Wegner on "ironic processes." Inspired by Dostoevsky's words, "Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute," Wegner observed that experimental subjects told not to think of polar bears for 5 minutes, true to Dostoevsky's idea, thought of them, on average, more than once per minute.

So it went with my dieting attempts. Trying to think of not eating, made me think of eating, and it followed that trying not to eat, made me eat.

One of Wegner's suggestions for overcoming this tendency was exactly what I had stumbled on - to focus on something else. If our minds are busy with something else, there is no room for the thought we are trying to avoid to enter.

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