What are you worrying about right now? If you are like most of us, many hours of your day are spent with a nervous eye on the future: “What am I going to do if I don’t hit my goal at work this month?” “I can’t possibly get everything done by Friday!” “I HAVE TO lose 30 pounds by my sister’s wedding in November.” Planning and worrying are two very different thinking processes. When you are planning, you are mindful and creative; you are here and now. When you worry, thoughts are more unconscious and lack imagination. They are based on fear with a focus on the future. Planning feels positive. Worrying feels negative. Planning is productive. Worrying has no good purpose. “How does this relate to eating, Ms. Dietitian?” you may wonder. Well, I’m glad you asked!
A real life example appeared last week when a client came in for a visit. She had been doing well with her weight loss plans, and had lost a few pounds after 3 weeks of effort. During the appointment, however, it became obvious that my client was very worried about the next month, because she had a packed social calendar. What she visualized was a bunch of unknown situations with lots of food and alcohol, and her mind started spinning mindlessly into a state of fear and dread. This woman’s mind was sitting in the undefinable future, in fact right in the middle of several future events that turned into one big monster in her head. These parties she would normally have looked forward to became obligations. If she had stayed in this mindset, she would probably not have even had to wait for the first party to sabotage her plans. Stress-induced overeating would derail her before she even got dressed for the first gathering.
This thinking process clearly did not work well. It was not creative and no solutions or increased well-being were achieved. But wait! That was not the end of the meeting, thank goodness. We started talking about what she could do to feel more in control at the upcoming social events. We mapped out a flexible enough plan to accommodate the situations. We talked about how a plan is nothing more than mindfully intending to do something, and to be mindful you must be here and now. The plan can be anything, but the mere act of planning will make better eating more likely simply because you will be thinking. By the end of the meeting, my client looked more relaxed, was smiling, and said she felt much better about the next month. Only by doing what we could constructively do NOW could we be productive at setting up future problem solving. When the mind spins wildly in an unknown future situation, no benefits result.
Keeping a focus on the present tends to keep efforts manageable. Another example that comes to mind is the story of a female runner I read in the New York Times recently. Diane Van Deren is an ultramarathon runner, which means that she runs distances of at least 100 miles. The fascinating thing about Diane is that she had an operation to remove part of her brain because of seizures. As a result, she has no sense of time or space. Obviously she has some problems with navigating her life in general, but the brain deficit makes her unaware of the dread of upcoming miles. Isn’t that amazing? She can run long distances without the constant wish to be farther along or finished with the race. Without the future focus, she has no real choice but to live in the present, without the fear of what’s ahead. A 100 mile race really is only about what each step feels like. Wow, I could not help but think that she may have a leg up on the rest of us beyond her running abilities. She has the advantage of not being able to worry!
The connection to eating is an important one. Feeling good is more weight loss friendly than feeling stressed and out of control. We are all less likely to feel out of control if we try not to jump ahead in time and magnify the effort. Just like the ultamarathon runner, one step in front of the other is a good focus. One hundred miles is just too much to think about at one time!