Denial: a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality
You gotta love Merriam-Webster. Denial (and denial of denial!) has been the principle theme of my life’s weight journey. Sometimes I denied myself food (sugar or fats or meat or whatever) and sometimes I denied how much I was eating (800 calories in a smoothie??). Either way, the results were not pleasant.
Three years ago when I got the ‘click’ and began a weight loss program that required me to write down every bite I was eating, it was a revelation. Having willfully ignored the amount of calories I was eating, I had a built-in capacity for immediately forgetting what my last meal contained. As a result, when I started my food journal, I struggled mightily for the ability to come clean on paper. And then I had the breakthrough. Writing it down was accountability not punishment. Awareness was the key to long-term success. Denial was to be banished for all time. I was born again – no more avoiding the truth. I eventually developed a wonderful electronic spreadsheet for counting and tracking all of my progress. I still use that today.
But somewhere along the line, my old friend denial crept back on stealthy feet, so quietly that I never saw it coming. Sure, I was making a living giving weight management advice, and I was standing up day after day as “proof” that long-term maintenance was possible. Sure, I was doing research, listening to the experts and keeping up with the latest information on weight loss. Nevertheless, along the way I began to believe that I had forever escaped the pitfalls of the past. Since I no longer lied to myself about the amount of food I ate or the amount of exercise I was getting, I was certain that I was immunized against relapse. And in that moment, I unwittingly embraced a new kind of denial – the kind that stopped me from remembering my own human frailty and imperfection.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have had some life-altering changes over the past year, and from time to time I have fallen down and gotten mired in negative eating habits. Each time I would pick myself up and say “Okay, Jonathan, you know how to do this! Open up your eyes and look at what you’re doing.” But gradually and steadily, small incremental weight gains from each of these experiences has built up, defying my new-found awareness and challenging my every step. And now, finally, its time to wake up and take a look in the mirror.
Denial isn’t just about having food amnesia, or rejecting the fundamentals of weight loss. Its also about the foolish reasoning which says I must be perfect and I must go it alone. Today my focus is therefore not just on what I’m eating, how much exercise I’m getting and the results on the scale. Instead, its about paying attention to my moods and feelings, embracing the mistakes that I inevitably make, being aware of the need to forgive, and asking for help when I need it.
So far, so good. I’ll keep you posted.