Is Your Head On Straight?

I’ve recently been to the doctor for my annual physical. I was lucky enough to snag as my physician a doctor who has been treating patients with a Ketogenic dietary model for over 20 years, so I felt confident that I’d be well taken care of and receive advice that was relevant to me (a luxury that thousands of patients do not have). Imagine my surprise when he advised that now that I’ve dropped so much weight, become fat adapted and restored so much metabolic flexibility, I begin to increase my protein, drop my dietary fat intake and introduce a few more complex carbohydrates (although still very low carb). He was very clear- I’ve pulled the first lever in healing- a lever that was necessary to pull. But there are two more levers to pull: intensive strength training and increased protein. The basic formula is to eat as many grams of protein as I do fat and carbs combined. This will apparently also help to alleviate some of the less pleasant hormonal symptoms of being an aging woman. So I’m giving it a shot. I don’t know if it’s going to work for me the way a medical Keto model has worked, but if it doesn’t, I can just go back to the more strict medical Ketogenic model, right?

So if there’s no harm in the attempt, why did my brain immediately want to reject the idea? Why did the idea literally strike cold terror inside my gut? It’s something to be examined. And the truth is, any number of circumstances have arisen since I took on the task of healing my body that have required examination. The bottom line is that if we don’t confront the narratives of our minds throughout our lives, we will have no access to change and transformation, no matter the context.

The thing is, our thoughts get in our way. We create these story lines inside our heads about what’s true about us, what’s true about others and what’s true about the world around us. We have a penchant, as human beings, to tell ourselves that we or others or things are “just the way we/they/it are”. The problem is that those storylines are rarely actually true and they’re almost never helpful.

When you embark on a life altering transformation, the universe is going to throw all kinds of garbage your way. And if you can’t learn how to identify that garbage and put it where it belongs, your transformation will never be complete, even if you’ve finally got all the right tools you need to get the job done.

Here are a couple of the obstacles I’ve encountered over the past 18 months. In the beginning, I didn’t think it’d be possible to lose more than 50 pounds. I’d never been able to do it before. I was afraid to get on the diet train one more time. I was profoundly afraid of my own early death, but felt so immobilized by my past failed attempts to change my circumstance, that I had accepted the narrative that I was going to die before my husband. Being morbidly obese was just the way I was.

Did you know that not everyone is happy when you change? Not only is that the case, but a surprisingly large number of people are unhappy with it. I have been astounded at the anger I’ve encountered regarding my personal change. Perhaps people don’t like being confronted with an illustration that their own self narrative about the ability to create change isn’t true. Maybe people get uncomfortable when their expectations don’t match reality. It is after all true that we see what we expect to see. If someone expects to see the historical picture of me – smart, funny, fat Brandy and what they get is smart, funny, kind of attractive Brandy, maybe their minds go on the fritz a little bit. I don’t know. All I know is that the hostile attitudes I’ve encountered from time to time have fueled the possibility of total derailment in my transformation. I want to belong just as much as the next person. Like everyone, I’ve spent years cultivating the terms of my relationships with others. Now I’ve changed those terms and didn’t know how to handle it when the relationships too began to transform.

I’m currently learning what I look like. My brain thinks I’m bigger than I am. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? But it’s true. I’ve spent so many years avoiding mirrors and photographs so that I didn’t have to know how big I was, that I can’t now look in a mirror and have it reflect my shape and size back to my mind with any accuracy. The story in my mind about my physicality simply isn’t true.

I’ve approached these and the other mental challenges to lasting change in the same way- by practicing mindfulness. I know, I know- sounds pretty woo woo right? But stay with me here. I’m not talking about some transcendental, existential experiences. I’m simply talking about learning how to observe my thoughts for what they are- pictures in my mind about myself or another or the world. About sounds that I hear and tastes on my tongue and pain in my temples and grief in my heart. And my thoughts about these things cannot inform me of any truth or reality if they are constantly imbued with emotional charge. I’m learning how to observe my thoughts without judgment and for crying out loud, without acting upon them immediately in a scrambled, desperate attempt to alleviate discomfort. Even learning how to practice mindfulness meditation doesn’t create comfort or alleviate pain. It simply teaches me how to hold that discomfort without responding to it with self destructive behavior. It removes the charge. The reality of any given situation exists, whether you ever have a thought about it. So what good is your personal narrative doing? Can it offer you anything other than negative consequences and suffering? I’m coming to think not. I’m not suggesting that anyone become detached from or devoid of emotion. That would be to deny the human condition altogether. But I for one am totally done allowing my emotional narratives, that don’t even reflect reality, to rule my roost.

So that brings me back to that fear I have about changing up my dietary model, even a little bit. It’s not even a change as much as it is a tweak. I realized this week that I have created a ton of charge around the idea that the strictest medical Ketogenic model was the “right” answer. And I don’t doubt that it has been, for a time. Shoot, it may still be. But it also may not be. I can’t know if I’m too afraid to experiment. I’ve told myself that Keto in this particular way was not only the right answer, but it was the one and only answer that I ever got right related to my health and nutrition. So I’ve been sitting with it, observing it. And I’m ready to tackle it.

If you’re interested in learning to practice mindfulness meditation, there are always mental health professionals in every community who are skilled teachers of the practice. Alternatively, there are many apps that are available for all phone platforms. My personal favorite- the one I use every day, is called Waking Up from Sam Harris. It literally teaches you how to practice, from the very, very beginning. It also contains an entire library of lessons outside of the meditative practices. It’s fully fleshed and truly helpful. It’s not free and it’s not cheap at about 15 dollars a month or 100 dollars a year, but if you can’t afford the app, you can email them and they will give you a year’s subscription for free. Look into it. It’s a game changer. You’ll thank me.