My mental struggles – part 2

This was week 128 of my Operation Melt journey that started with my goal to escape obesity and lose over 100 pounds in under a year. As you probably know I achieved that goal (in just 9 months) and then a whole lot more. I went from 325 pounds to completing my first half marathon in just 14 months with a total weight loss of over 130 pounds.

I accomplished this by applying concepts of project management and managing my transformation as a project just like I have helped businesses do for two decades.

After achieving my initial goal, and countless others, my journey of personal transformation has grown into a quest to turn myself and others into goal-crushing machines. My vision for Operation Melt is to build a world where goals don’t die of loneliness.

My weekly Operation Melt blog posts are about continuing to hold myself accountable while sharing my journey with you. My hope is that something that I am doing will inspire you to try to crush your own goal, will motivate you to keep going and will equip you with some additional tools that have helped me manage my journey.

Continuing sharing the struggles…

Last week I began sharing some details about how my journey has been so much more than physical – read part 1 here. Based on the number of readers of last week’s post it appears that this is a topic that resonates with people.

This week I am sharing part 2 of this post including 2 more mental struggles I dealt or am dealing with through my journey.

Struggle #3: food cravings…

This may be very familiar to many of you…. There are foods that I will eat just because they are there regardless of whether or not I am hungry. Plus I find myself feeling hungry when all facts say that I should not be. This is a good reminder that food is emotional as much as it is fuel for our bodies.

Part of this is because of the changes in my daily calorie needs. When I started this journey my daily calorie target was well over 3000 calories per day. Today it is just over 1700 calories per day. That is a big change! My body simply doesn’t require the same number of calories as it did when I was over 300 pounds.

One of the tough realities of such a dramatic and quick transformation is that my brain has not kept up with my body. My brain doesn’t necessarily understand the reality of the new me on an emotional level yet.

One reason that numbers are so important to me is because they take the emotion out of the decision making, to a point, and give me a way to challenge the cravings with facts. The cravings are still there but I have a way to reengage my thinking brain in the process.

Struggle #4: still in hiding…

This last struggle is the one that is the most emotional for me. Sharing it requires a lot of introspection, self-awareness and vulnerability. Even as I write this I am actively second-guessing whether I really want to share it.

Further complicating my decision to share this is the fact that it is something that only became clear to me within the past month. That means I have spent less time reflecting on how to explain the situation so it is still pretty raw. Please forgive me if this doesn’t make complete sense.

Let me start by sharing what it was like to grow up as an overweight kid, particularly as a boy. You get picked on. You get insulted. You get bullied. Other kids look for an opportunity to make fun of you because it makes them more popular. Any way that you are different or any way that you stand out was another way of opening the door to getting belittled.

As you get older the bullying still happens but in much more subtle ways. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago it is mostly kept quiet but you know it is there. No matter what you become a target when you are overweight – very similar to any other way than you don’t conform to people’s opinions of what it means to be “normal.”

Each of us builds our own defense mechanisms to combat this and I am no different. Interestingly enough one of my biggest defense mechanisms may have been completely invisible to most people. I learned to hide in plain sight.

I learned not to draw attention to myself. I kept quiet and faded to the background. I learned to do this until I knew that I had a friendly audience. Once I knew that I was welcome I would open up and be the outgoing person that most people know me as. But, if I wasn’t sure that the audience would welcome me, I would be quiet and reserved and more of an observer than a participant.

I spent 40 years using this proactive defense mechanism. It usually worked well for me but had an undesired consequence. If I overused this tactic in professional settings I would sometimes get feedback that I need to be more confident. I would also sometimes over-rely on an advocate or on someone else to break the ice for me.

One example of how this defense mechanism presented itself is in something as simple as introductions. I would often hesitate to put out my hand and say “hi, I’m Tony.” I would wait for somebody else to make the introductions happen. Pretty silly, huh?

Unfortunately, just like how I mentioned that my brain has been slow to adjust to the new me above, I sometimes still default to hiding. My brain doesn’t always realize that I am not still that target for bullies. I am both physically and mentally more fit than I was back then. I have nothing to be worried about.

But here I am still not confidently speaking up or even introducing myself sometimes. Old habits, particularly in how I think, are hard to break. I am working hard to break those habits but it takes work. Just like breaking the habit of mindlessly eating and not exercising I have to be diligent about not defaulting to my comfort zone.

So what?…

You may be asking why I am opening up so much and talking about how I have struggled mentally through this journey. I have a couple of hopes for this.

First I am hoping that other people who start a journey like this will do so with their eyes wide open. I don’t want people to start a transformational journey and not anticipate that it is a fully physical struggle. I actually think failure to anticipate and manage the mental aspects of a weight loss goal (or any big personal goal) are why so many fail. This is exactly the same concept as failing to manage organizational change in a big business project!

Second I am hoping to help make it ok to talk about mental struggles. I know that the struggles I have discussed over the past 2 weeks are relatively minor compared to what some people face every day. But if we can make it ok to talk about these smaller things maybe we can make it ok to talk about the bigger things.

If we can be a little introspective and listen to our brains (just like we listen to our bodies in athletic pursuits) we can be more aware of how we are thinking. By becoming aware of what is going on in our brains we can proactively manage through these thoughts and struggles. We can challenge ourselves to get out of our own way. If we do that we can all improve our success rates with our big goals. This could truly help build a world where goals never die of loneliness!