Willpower and Panic Attacks
December 11, 2007
Yesterday, when I finally made it back to the workout club after my recent hiatus (Nice to see you again, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks! Good day, Sixty-Something Woman with the Spiky Hair! How ya doin’, Teenaged Girl with the Chirpy Giggle!), I was astonished to find that I had actually lost more weight. (Oh, and also that an earlier blog entry appeared in the Best of Holidailies! Awesome!!).
I got to thinking about what, this particular time round, has made the difference that’s allowed me to lose weight. Did I suddenly acquire some new form of willpower?
Well, “willpower” isn’t exactly the right word, I think. Because what I’m experiencing just doesn’t seem to take that much effort on my part. Oh, and wait a sec, I did eat the majority of a 150 gram white chocolate bar the other day–so I’m not consciously depriving myself, either. In fact, I seem to be able to basically eat whatever I want, whenever I want—even if it involves ingesting copious amounts of chocolate—without the same repercussions as when I last did more or less the same thing, about a year ago (when I capped off my weight gain with yet another 10 pounds, pushing me past my previous all-time record).
Something struck me as odd about this latest turn of events. Decades ago–before there was even a term to describe it–I used to suffer from debilitating anxiety attacks. Lacking confidence, living alone in a strange city without any close friends or family, I began to find myself at 3:00 AM fretting about the sudden pains in my chest or the alarming pace of my racing heartbeat. After hours of internal battles and too scared to sleep, I’d finally wear myself out and fall into an exhausted slumber for a couple of hours before daybreak.
After fielding endless frantic queries about the myriad symptoms of heart attacks and several other fatal illnesses over the course of a year, one day The Nurse finally said to me, “Look, I just don’t get it. Instead of staying up all night stressing about whether or not you’re having a heart attack, why don’t you just go to the emergency room as soon as it starts? You’ll get examined, they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong with you, and then you can go back home and go to sleep.” And of course she was right; the few times I did go, the doctor’s reassurance caused the the symptoms to subside, and I was able to relax and go home to bed.
It had never before occurred to me to just “give in to it.” I’d always felt that I was required to somehow vanquish the fear, that if I succumbed and went to the emerg, it would mean that I was intrinsically weak willed and would, therefore, never overcome those panic attacks.
Well, after about 3 or 4 weeks of acknowledging those symptoms and having them deemed harmless, those panic attacks naturally began to diminish. To this day, I don’t really know why; it was something about giving up the fight, acknowledging them as the current reality–however negative–instead of trying, for the entire course of an excruciating night of pain and hyperventilating, to deny their existence. They just went away.
As I’ve mentioned before, the last time I lost a fair amount of weight (also rather effortlessly) was about 4 years ago, as a student at my much beloved nutrition school. About a year after that, the weight began to sneak back up. Since then, I’ve been struggling to lose it again, failing miserably time after time. Except now, since October. Why?
Perhaps the same principle applies to binge eating as to those anxiety attacks. Accepting the bingeing as reality (which is NOT the same as condoning it or embracing it as a welcome practise) without trying to deny, suppress, erase or judge it–may just be the ticket to eradicating it. At that point, the binges may just decide to go away of their own accord.
I don’t know whether this is the case in my situation, but I am most thankful for the current trend. It may simply be that trying too hard to prevent a particular activity–protesting too much–may, ironically, exaggerate the activity even more. I’d love to know how others feel about this one.
(“Well, Mum, we think it’s a great strategy. We just eat whatever we want, too, though we never do get quite as much food as we’d like.”