Cutting 4700 calories, and changing stories

photo-165I always love a good weight loss story, so I was intrigued by the Wall Street Journal’s recent offering. Former NFL lineman Brandon Moore used to eat like, well, a 300-lb lineman. He needed to be bulky for his job, and as a professional athlete, he exercised a lot. He could absorb 6400 calories per day (the total for a menu he provided). This included such meal choices as 7 beef tacos for dinner, and a half-pint of butter pecan ice cream for dessert.

Then he retired. He stopped logging 20 hours a week of practice, training, and games. He realized he was going to have to learn to eat differently, both since he wasn’t getting as much exercise, and since he didn’t want to be 300 lbs if life wasn’t going to involve plowing down other players. With severe menu adjustments — like cutting 4700 calories from his daily total — he’d already dropped to 268 lbs. He was trying to get to 250.

It’s an inspiring story, and also touched on something I’ve been thinking about lately — how we decide to change scripts that are no longer true. For many years, Moore was a big guy who could eat like a big guy. He’d go out to eat with his teammates and order every appetizer on the steakhouse menu. Then his identity changed. Moore was able to stop thinking of himself as the guy who eats a 4-egg omelet for breakfast, and become the guy who eats Multi Grain Cheerios and grapes.

Pro athletes have a lot of discipline, but even so, many can’t make this transition. The rest of us also have a hard time with changing our stories. I don’t eat 6400 calories a day, but I’ve been working on changing my own script of what I choose to eat and what I don’t. I’ve been thinking of other scripts I’ve had to change, too. Years ago, when I switched to a much more demanding high school for my junior and senior year, I had to change my story from “I’m the kind of person who aces tests without studying” to “perhaps it would behoove me to study.” Some people can never change this script — one reason bright kids drop out of college. It’s hard to go from a story of effortless brilliance to a story of success through hard work. It’s easier, sometimes, to argue that no one understands you.

What scripts have you managed to change? How did you do that?

Photo: Is this in the script?

31 thoughts on “Cutting 4700 calories, and changing stories

  1. I changed my script from being the “tough guy” who never quits. I worked in the oil patch in the Aughts, and as you can imagine, it’s not a particularly welcoming place for women, although it’s getting better all the time. I had a supervisor who had it out for me, trying to make me quit. I worked on a rig that should have had two people in my position, so I pulled (highly illegal) 21 hour days for over two months. Honor preserved, I quit to go back to school in the fall, and my body just shut down. I wound up in the hospital after fainting as I climbed a flight of stairs.

    After that, I realized, that I am tough. That my body will sustain me when I need it to, but I also have to cut it some slack, and not redline it when it isn’t required. It took a while, but I reprogrammed my need to prove my toughness, and just take it as a given that I can do what’s required– but it had better be an actual need and not simply ego.

    I’m not sure if I explained it too well, but I read a story about Marine boot camp a while back where the cadets (?) had to dive 10 meters and untie three knots in one try. If they came up without untying all three knots, they washed out. One cadet passed out untying his third knot, and had to be fished out. They order all the cadets to turn their backs while they tried to resuscitate him. When he woke up, his first words were “Did I get the last knot? Do I have to go home?” and the drill sergeant said, “It wasn’t the knot that was important. We wanted to know you’d die before you gave up, and you did.”

    I’m not THAT hardcore, but I’m satisfied that I’m tough enough when the chips are down and I don’t *actually* have to kill myself to prove it.

    1. @Shanna- good story. I’m guessing a lot of people have trouble with the script that “I am not the sort of person who quits jobs.” Some jobs are worth quitting!

      1. I’ve flipped this script more than once in my own life, Laura. I wasn’t a quitter, then I decided I would only do what made me happy and quit a lot, and now I’m back to learning it’s okay to quit if something isn’t really right.

        A healthy perspective on your story can take a long time to develop; that’s the hardest part.

  2. 1) Change from slacking off my sophomore year to working hard and getting As my junior year.

    2) Change in my mid-20s from “just” working at a job that I disliked to working towards a specific career change/new life goal.

    Changing eating scripts is harder than either of those things.

  3. For a portion of my adult life I bent over backwards to help people save face or feel like they weren’t the one at fault or to make them feel better about themselves by showing my weaknesses. In the end it just came back to bite me, because people actually believed those narratives to my detriment. Sometimes it’s better to be confident and to find other ways to deal with people’s hurt feefees than by pretending to be the one at fault.
    tl:dr: It’s ok to exude confidence, even if it makes other people temporarily uncomfortable. (Ironically, this is how I lived my pre-graduate school existence. I guess the patriarchy hit me pretty hard in grad school.)

  4. In my early 20s I changed my eating script by becoming vegetarian and by becoming aware that “I could feel upset, sad, or lonely… and not eat.” Detached those feelings from that response. It was hard! Now in my early 40s, I have 7 pounds I’d love to lose. I think the food script I’d have to change is, “I can be tired and feel like I need/deserve a ‘treat’ in the evening… and not eat.” Sigh.

  5. I like your reference to “identity changing-” that resonates with me more than “script changing.” Whenever I went through a major life event- marriage/creating a new family, becoming a mother, changing a job- I had a mini “identity crisis.” I had to re-configure what I thought about myself based on my new role. All of those periods were difficult for me personally, and took a lot of soul-searching. Now that I’ve done this a few times, I hope I’ll be more prepared the next time a big change occurs.

    1. “Identity-changing” resonates more with me as well, and my experience has been pretty similar to yours. It does seem to me that there’s a pattern-recognition aspect– with time I am definitely more self-aware about the ways I need to modify my own attitudes and behavior to successfully change scripts to fit the new identity.

  6. Sometimes, I see that I really, really believe in a script that I also see isn’t really helping me. To go “off script,” I don’t even bother trying to persuade myself not to believe in it. Instead, I just tell myself to act as if the script isn’t true.

    1. @Rachael – also a good thought experiment. We can often act as if we believe something, even if we don’t.

  7. This strategy really resonates with me, too. I think I have been incorrectly applying strategies that made me productive and happy in life pre-motherhood to my life with children. Failed strategy number 1 = not asking for enough help. Failed strategy number 2 = underestimating how long things take and overestimating my energy levels and how much I can accomplish.

    The post-baby body theme has been popular for weeks among the blogs I read regularly. I am struck by the fact that not one has addressed acceptance. There are certain things that can be done to force the body back into a 20-something figure. All these things take some combination of time (working out), money (gym, trainer, better food), and self-discipline (that is tested mightily in other ways throughout the day), not to mention age and genetics.

    On the one hand, I think it’s great that women are writing about this openly. On the other hand, it highlights ridiculous cultural norms that remind me of how disappointed I was to read Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s assessment of the importance of looking “fit.” There is much more margin of error for a tall man to look fit than a woman, and I’d argue that it takes much less time and money for a man to look fit. I don’t doubt that her research is correct; it just saddens me.

    1. We have! And we have another in the drafts waiting for things to die down a bit. Cloud also linked to a I don’t know how to describe it post by a crazy lady who seems to know she’s unhealthily obsessed with being thin.
      And yes, the healthy weight women saying the need to restrict their calorie intake to diet levels to get to some arbitrary number of pounds has negative spillovers on everybody else. It is much better for people to focus on health when it comes to fitness. But the patriarchy has a very powerful narrative when it comes to women’s bodies that it seems like even powerful career women can’t escape from. I should dig up our post commenting on the last time LV went on a diet.

      1. @NicoleandMaggie – The story I link to here is all about focusing on health. Yes, he’s trying to lose weight, but that’s part of changing from a diet that is profoundly unhealthy, particularly if he’s no longer exercising 20 hours a week.

        1. I wasn’t addressing that article, but the current slew of dieting post-baby body blogs that Griffin references. The football player is obviously not a normal weight woman with already healthy habits trying to get skinnier. Men don’t face that patriarchy narrative as much or so insidiously. They’re allowed to focus on health.
          And we do have a recent post on body acceptance. (Griffin must not read us!)
          In fact, I think I may have to lay off the mommy blogs for a while because anxiety is contagious and I’d rather be in quarantine about things I wasn’t worrying about even though I’m not as “perfect” along whatever dimension as the people complaining about how imperfect they are. If the skinny girl is always complaining she’s fat, what does that say about those of us who are just normal? It isn’t healthy to listen to.
          I either need to ignore it (which I will probably do because work is busy) or reframe it and reassert my confidence. But just ignoring it keeps me equally confident with less effort.

        2. I read the WSJ article you linked to and then the most recent Time cover article about the connection (or lack of real scientific connection) between fat and obesity and what makes someone fat. That we don’t really have the science down makes this issue all the more confusing. A doctor in the WSJ article says you have to burn more than you consume; the Time article says it’s much more complicated than that.

      2. I am a new reader to Nicole and Maggie and will read your links and try to find Cloud’s. Thanks for sharing! I like your point about how reading can increase anxiety. I don’t like to think I only read things I agree with, but this might be a topic I need to steer clear of for a while…but I think it’s an important one to address along the lines of gender equality so I’ll probably keep driving myself crazy.

    2. I think the most depressing thing is that “fit” for a woman seems to require a thin standard that does not equally apply to men. Striving to be fit by exercising regularly, eating well and staying strong and flexible is a reasonably attainable goal for most women. Getting back into jeans from high school probably isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

      I notice I rarely hear men talk about “fitting back into” anything as a goal, which is pretty revelatory about how the relationship between body size and identity is perceived very differently in men and women.

      1. I’ve actually heard several men talk about it—its an intuitive way of maintaining weight—my pants (the size I’ve been wearing for 15 years) are getting too tight. I better step up the gym time and cut down the beer.
        I’ve written about acceptance of my post-baby body changes several times. It was a tough process.

        1. Did that shift to acceptance require recognizing/addressing some scripts?

          We may disagree whether certain goals are meaningful, or how to identify when a goal is externally determined vs. about self-determination. But the process of getting from A to B, from current state to desired goal, of recognizing one’s script, reflecting on what parts could/must change, and seeing if behavior shifts as a result… that is what I thought was interesting about this topic! The process is generalizable, whatever one’s end goal.

          1. Yes, absolutely. I had to realize that I was buying into the societal view of women’s bodies only being acceptable in a certain size and shape, and rearrange my script from being privileged enough to fit that acceptable size/shape to suddenly being someone who didn’t and wouldn’t. I never thought about it that way, though, thanks Elle.

    3. guessing my recent posts may have popped into some of your minds. i have to admit that the idea of acceptance didn’t even cross my mind.

      interesting point about the work to appear ‘fit’ in men vs women. i’ve never thought about it, but i definitely agree it is true.

    4. i tried to reply to this from work, but it went to moderation! was going to say that i wondered if you were in part referring to my recent posts. i’m a little ashamed to admit i didn’t even CONSIDER acceptance.

      re: men vs women and the effort it takes to appear ‘fit’ – very interesting. it definitely varies by individual, that’s for sure.

  8. For me, training for a (running) race is a powerful narrative. It motivates me to go to bed early to make sure I get enough sleep, to not overeat or eat the wrong things in the evening because I don’t want to have a bathroom emergency on my run the next day, and to prioritize my workouts. For me it’s a lot easier to make healthy choices in pursuit of a specific goal rather than just to “be healthy”.

  9. Recently I’m shifting away from “I can eat whatever I want and still maintain my weight”
    Also the typical “I don’t need anyone’s help, I should be able to do everything on my own” and the shameful “I’m right and the OTHER person has to change”
    I went through a similar thing when I started college getting away from the “I can ace tests without studying” mentality. I didn’t go so well when I met up with Biochemistry

    1. I think of it also as a changing of expectations as well. The expectation/script that “life should be easy and go according to plan” is a very powerful one that I’m trying to get away from, because when its inevitably NOT easy and does NOT follow the plan, I have a tendency to feel very put upon.

  10. I changed the script that I *had* to be the one doing all of the ‘housekeeping’ duties. I now outsource laundry, almost all cooking, and cleaning and it the best choice ever.

    I like the point Griffin made about pre-motherhood and post-motherhood scripts. I probably have more than just that one above that needs to be modified.

  11. a big script i changed was that i *had* to do the cleaning, cooking, household work. (and the truth i sort of did before, as i was not financially in a position to outsource). now i do none of it, pretty much, and i think it is SO much better this way. but it took me a little time to accept that it made total sense to do that.

    1. Sarah, I’ve recently linked to your blog from this one and I’ve enjoyed reading about your return to work after the birth of your second baby (who is absolutely adorable, btw!). Our work and family circumstances are completely different, but I think the arrangement you’ve worked out and your attitude in writing about it is very refreshing. It’s a great example of changing scripts and I am glad it’s working out so well for you 🙂

    2. I read the WSJ article you linked to and then the most recent Time cover article about the connection (or lack of real scientific connection) between fat and obesity and what makes someone fat. That we don’t really have the science down makes this issue all the more confusing. A doctor in the WSJ article says you have to burn more than you consume; the Time article says it’s much more complicated than that.

    3. Sarah, yes, I’ve read your recent posts, but it is only one series of many describing postpartum frustrations. Laura’s post opened the door for me to share my thoughts on something I’ve been thinking about for weeks.

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