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Writing therapy, working core mental muscles

April 24, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 410 lbs.

Last week: 410 lbs.

Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.

Total lost: 60 lbs.

Thanks to the support of my family, friends and readers, I was able to climb out of my hard-hitting depression this past week, stop the weight-gain express and get back on track.

By Sunday morning, I had reached 415 pounds, and on Tuesday morning, I was down to last week’s weight of 410. It wasn’t easy, but writing about my depression was well worth it. People came out of the shadows, mostly in private, and shared their own stories about depression after reading last week’s column.

“I was just sitting here at my desk on my lunch break ... and reading your article in the Lake Placid News ... OMG ... it hit HOME,” one friend wrote in an email. “I have had the same winter blues as you ... what you write about is ME ... I can so relate!”

Another friend who is a politician struggles with depression and shared her story in an email. Reading it made me feel like the column was worth printing.

“It totally was,” she wrote. “You have many readers who are struggling in silence. Knowing that they are not alone is important.”

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Some fellow classmates from the Tupper Lake High School Class of 1987 even chimed in with their struggles, making comments on my Facebook page about depression, overeating and food addictions.

“I have relapsed into my Cheetos addiction! Sssh!” one classmate wrote.

Another classmate added, “Yes, we all get in a funk from time to time! Welcome to being normal! Thank you for writing this article. I enjoyed reading it, not because I took pleasure in your pain and frustration, but because many of us can relate and know that we are not alone! Stay focused on the big picture — good health. You’ve got this Andy!!”

More writing therapy

A number of my Facebook friends mentioned the therapeutic effect of writing last week’s column.

“I like the image of the closing of the window shades and the safety of the warmly lit writing desk. You are your own best therapist,” one friend wrote.

Some of my writing ideas come during the early morning hours in bed, and early Sunday morning, before the robins and cardinals began singing, I was thinking about Thursday’s workout at the Take It Off weight-loss challenge at Fitness Revolution in Lake Placid. We worked on our core, the muscles in the abdomen. The stronger the core, the better your physical balance. One exercise after the other, it was all about the core. So I thought, as I was still climbing out of my depression, “Are there exercises to improve my mental core so I can strengthen my resolve and prevent myself from overeating?” The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued.

For one exercise, maybe I could walk into a grocery store while hungry, tempting myself close to the breaking point, and then quickly walk out. Three reps of those. For another exercise, I could go to a restaurant to eat and test myself. Three reps of those: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I bet there are mental exercises I could create for a variety of real-life situations that would help me cope with the realities of life.

But before I could create those core exercises, I’d have to list the situations when I overeat and explain why I lose control. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot. Exercises are designed to work on specific muscles. If you’re just moving around and not feeling those target muscles being worked, you’re just wasting your time. Therefore, in order to create core exercises for my mind, I’d have to identify those mental muscles.

As part of my ongoing depression therapy, I decided to drive to the John Brown Farm State Historic Site on Easter Sunday and park in the sunshine, writing in silence as residents and visitors were walking around the trails, taking photos and playing Frisbee with their dogs. I brought along my Mead composition notebook and Uniball pen to write down my thoughts on overeating. Specifically, I wanted to nail down those reasons I overeat, which would become the mental muscles I’d need to work out.

I began by listing my major overeating situations, identifying 13 of them. Then I wrote down the reasons I overeat in those situations. There are essentially nine of them, but I added one more because they all end in “lose control.” Then I wanted to see how many of these situations had the same reasons in common. In the end, I identified the overeating situations that are most dangerous, ranking them in the process.

Overeating reasons

Here are the reasons I overeat, starting with the biggest culprits. In parentheses, I’ve noted the number of overeating situations for each reason.

-Lose control (13 situations)

-Convenience (13)

-Emotions (13)

-Means/money (13)

-Opportunity/availability (13)

-Lack of planning (11)

-Environment/surrounded by food (11)

-Lack of healthy food options (7)

-Peer pressure/social situation (7)

-Tradition (7)

Overeating situations

Here are the 13 overeating situations, again starting with the biggest culprits. In parentheses, I’ve noted the number of reasons I overeat for each situation.

-Dining out (10 reasons)

-Parties/family gatherings (10)

-Company in the house (10)

-Celebrations (10)

-Holidays (10)

-Bored at night (10)

-Road trip (9)

-Day off at home (8)

-Working late (7)

-Forgot to plan dinner (7)

-Shopping while hungry (7)

-Stressful situation (5)

-Depression (5)

Note that celebrations and holidays are listed apart from parties/family gatherings because they can be solitary overeating situations.

Exploring the lists

Some patterns emerged from the situation list. For example, working late and forgetting to plan dinner can, and usually do, lead to shopping while hungry and eventually losing control. And if you’re celebrating a birthday with family at your house on Easter with a large brunch, you have a huge challenge on your hands if you want to eat healthy.

Let’s break down one of these overeating situations so you get a better idea of my thought process. And let’s pick on holidays since Easter is fresh in our memories.

HOLIDAYS: If you want to eat healthy but you don’t, it is usually because of 1. lack of planning, which can easily lead to 2. lack of healthy food options, especially if there are others in your family who want sweet treats and other fare associated with the 3. tradition of this holiday. You get caught up in the moment because it is a holiday, a time off, a time you are expected to enjoy yourself in this 4. social situation, so you give yourself permission to eat tasty food and drink whatever makes you feel good. You’ve bought the holiday food because you had the 5. means, the money, and because you are expected to make certain dishes in this holiday situation. Now you have the 6. opportunity to eat it because you’ve laid it out and are 7. surrounded by it. It’s there. It’s 8. convenient to eat what others are eating and not prepare something healthy just for yourself. Why cook an extra meal? So you let your defenses down and get caught up in the 9. emotion of the day. You 10. lose control and don’t feel bad about it, until the next day.

Just think, there are many holidays out there to celebrate, and all of them have a traditional food components: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, religious holidays in the spring, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And that doesn’t include sports holidays such as the Super Bowl or the Kentucky Derby.

And don’t get me started on celebrations; those can be endless, especially if you’re having a good year.

Now that I have this list of “muscles” so I can strengthen my mental core, what next? I suppose I need to come up with exercises to work out those muscles. But will it really do the job, or am I overthinking the situation? Again, I’m intrigued, but I have my doubts. Maybe this is just one of those bad ideas you get when you lie in bed in the early-morning hours. I’ll have to sleep on it and get back to you.

Next week: A friend talks about the ups and downs of losing 120 pounds after bariatric surgery.

Contact Andy Flynn at


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Blog Photos

Andy Flynn poses during his walk around Mirror Lake on Easter Sunday, April 20, training for the Lake Placid Half-Marathon, which will be held on June 8 along with the Lake Placid Marathon. (Photo — Andy Flynn)