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Lose Weight or Ace Your Extraneous Goals? Pick One.

Tuesday November 28, 2017

While I was recently cramming for my FCC amateur radio exams, I had a sort of diet revelation that was worth learning but mega-frustrating.

In a very high-stress situation, it was nearly impossible to stick to my diet plan. I had started a cut, but I had so much going on, including the exam studies, that I was pushing myself way too hard psychologically for the cut to work. I had two businesses to run, a volunteer leadership role on the side involving traveling & public speaking, family obligations, and then along with all that, this new, exciting hobby which requires studying for exams.

I wrestled with the problem, which I first figured was just a diet thing. Was I losing my touch? I lost 100 lbs. before…but had I now reached that point where my luck had run out, and I’d just gain it all back?

(People periodically ask me: “Aren’t you afraid you’ll just gain it all back?” And I’ll just say that you should never ask big weight-losers this question, because they will insta-unfriend you if you’re lucky, and smile at you and make plans for your demise if you’re not. You have now identified yourself as the face of the annoying voice in their head that has posed this question literally hundreds of times.)

So I tried all kinds of alterations to my diet, really fixed up my macros, got more sleep, less exercise, then later I tried more exercise, injected more fun into my day, avoided the kitchen at mealtime, tried more frequent eating schedules, heavy doses of stress-journaling, meditation, dream analysis, and asking friends for help. Intermittent fasting, just skipping breakfast, even skipping dinner and going straight for dessert, in case there was some dessert-calories limit I’d naturally reach (there is not). I tried more bodybuilder recipes off of Youtube, but you know—you can eat too much of those, of course, and that’s essentially what I did.

In the end, stress-eating (more like stress-gobbling) is just what I do under extreme stress, and it was alternately hilarious and terrifying to watch how much I was overshooting my caloric intake goals. I would swear up and down in the morning that I would not cheat, but come lunchtime it seemed that no amount of calories would fill me up. 1600 calorie goal? Still hungry, maybe I have some disease! Try 1800. Nope! And then 1000 calories after that, you simply can’t eat more.

Stress hunger is seriously hard to distinguish from actual hunger.

My “diet” ended with me gaining 5 lbs. by the time my exams were done. Ugggh.

If you’re a big person like I used to be, 5 lbs. might seem like nothing. But keep in mind I was fighting this dragon tooth and nail. Those weight loss tools I listed above—they work! But this time I had too much stress on my plate.

Regarding the stress, beyond the stress journaling I tried developing new frameworks for approaching high-productivity living, I tested my executive functions, I swallowed frogs (metaphorically), I attacked the stress head on, and I used special tricks of the intuition to attack them asymmetrically. But nope.

So in addition to the weight gain, I also have a journaled collection of depressive episodes that I worked through during the same period. I was exhausted and I literally put myself to bed multiple times on some days.

(Of course, it wasn’t a total loss…err, gain. I’m now an extra-happy Extra Class radio operator. Burp!)

After all of that, though, I figure I came out a bit ahead of the game. I had been running an analysis right along with all the troubles. No matter how I felt—depressed, stressed, whatever, I was right there with the problem, keeping pace and taking notes.

Once the exams were done, I had an incredibly valuable bit of information: Fast-paced self-improvement on top of other life duties is going to come at a cost, and for me that cost is probably going to start with weight gain and depression.

I could have spaced the radio exams over the course of 30 years and no one would have said a thing, but it would have bugged me. So I went through with the exam studies even after I figured this out. That’s a bit inflexible—I have now been warned. I know multiple people who have dropped out of university studies completely due to depression and anxiety, and their situations almost immediately improved. And this hobby is nothing compared to university studies.

Now that the exam studies are done, my weight is going down again. Of course, it feels like it’s so easy to stick to a diet now, as long as I work the plan I’ve known all along. All my tools work again: The analysis, logging, the macros, hydration, everything. I torched about 500 calories on exercise today and I’m still on track to meet my no-exercise caloric intake goal. Where was this superpower when I needed it?

So: I’ve done a lot of stuff this year, and I’m super proud of everything I’ve accomplished. This has been one of the highest-achieving years of my life. But that middle ground between “high achiever” and “low achiever” is not the most comfortable to me, and I can benefit by exploring that fact a bit. This aligns with what I know of other INTJs I’ve coached.

This may be really good timing, though. Last year was the first year I personally correlated extreme New Year’s resolution-setting with depressive episodes, and I’m excited to absolutely dominate next year’s resolutions by more carefully tweaking the engagement level and required time allotments.

I’m curious: What was the most difficult goal you ever achieved? What did you have to give up to reach it? Did you have any out-of-control habits that went back to “normal” after you achieved the goal?

My email’s in the sidebar. On Twitter, I’m @systematikk. (And on the ham bands, I’m KM6NHH, doing some AMSAT hobbying lately.)

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