Weight Loss Through Embodied Learning
diet and weight loss | food tracking
After Robin Barooah moved to the USA, he was in denial about his weight. He worked for a startup and didn't really have time to pay attention to his food. He knew something was changing about his appearance, but every time he looked in the mirror he seemed to think he look the same. However, he was only comfortable posting a certain picture as his social media profile. After a couple of years, an old friend noticed his weight gain and Robin could no longer remain in denial. In this talk, Robin discusses how how he lost 45 pounds in the course of about 18 months through embodied learning.
Notes | Photos
My name is Robin Barooah. I’m going to give a talk that I gave at the Quantified Self meetup in Silicon Valley a few months ago, and there were cultural references to the US in that talk. So I want to check how many people here have lived in the United States out of this group. Okay, so getting on for a third, so that will help tailor my talk.
So the first part is a story. I moved to live in the United States about early 2002, and one of the things I found when I arrived was that I was bewildered about what to eat. You know, going to grocery stores or supermarkets none of the brands were the same. Things looked kind of familiar but when I bought them and took them home they had very different flavors. Most of them were a lot sweeter than I was accustomed to from having lived in England which is where I was before living in the states.
Fast food, apart from being, it’s actually not as in my opinion it’s not fast food nation any more than England is. But the types of fast food and the things that people eat are different. There’s a lot of Mexican food in the San Francisco Bay area, so I found myself eating which I call burrito’s which are rice heavy kind of wraps quite a lot because that’s what the people around me were doing.
And I was working for a startup so I didn’t have a lot of time to kind of pay attention to my food. I just had to solve the problem with eating and then get on with the rest of my life. I found myself when I looked in the mirror I think I sort of looked the same as I always have done, and I knew something was changing. But every time I looked in the mirror I couldn’t see a really distinct change, so I would just tell myself everything was okay.
This went on for a couple of years, and in early 2004 the social network started to become something I was joining, so I wanted a profile picture taken that I would like and I would feel comfortable with having as my icon in these social networks. So I had someone take photos of me, and the only photo that I felt comfortable with was one with me like lying on my back because my face had like grown in puffiness in size to the point where I just didn’t – I was shocked when someone to a photo of me.
A few days later or around that kind of time, a person who had known me for over 10 years made this comment in the lunchroom a the office. He said, “Robin, I used to think of you as a thin guy”, and at that point that was actually a shock. At that moment I could no longer remain in denial that I had put on a significant amount of weight.
The problem with denial seemed like an intractable one, so it’s a challenging thing to think about losing weight. Diets basically in my view don’t work. I don’t mean that they don’t work for anybody, but the information that I was receiving was like everyone just talks about how diets don’t work, and not how it’s easy to diet like nobody says it’s easy to diet. And I’m not good at things that I don’t find easy, I mean that is very much my experience itself. Something has to be right in front of me and easy to do to be able to succeed with it.
So I had this realization which was that up until my move to the United States my body had maintained my weight kind of in conjunction with the choices I was making in my life without me having to think about it. You know there was a working system and it was automatic and it was just something that my body could do. And now I was in a situation where that system had broken down and I looked at this from the perspective of either I’m broken i.e. I’ve failed and something needs to be fixed here, which I think is quite a common view when people gain weight that something is broken about them.
Whether it’s a moral breakage or a physiological breakage, you know I think the lines between those two are blurred. But the alternative view was this is just something I need to learn from that my body can learn to once again regulate my weight in the way that it had done before.
So what I did was think about how I could devise a system that could help me retrain my body to regulate my weight as it had done before. And what I didn’t want to do was think very much or do a lot of analysis or in particular stick to a regime, because diets don’t work in my mind so you know how would I do any better at making up my own diet; I clearly wouldn’t.
So this is the regime, the system that I came up with which was that at lunchtime it tended to be pretty routine because I was working in an office where we had meals provided for us. I would just eat whatever I felt like eating. And then I had an alarm set for three o’clock in the afternoon, and at three in the afternoon I would check-in and ask this question which was, am I feeling energized or am I feeling lethargic, and so that was all I asked myself. I made a note of it for that day only and then I threw away my observation. I just made sure in a very consistent way that I asked myself the question.
What happened was that over the course of about 18 months, the extra 45 pounds that I had gained in my two years in the states gradually came off. It was a very slow to begin with and what I found at the beginning was that I started to gain energy but not lose weight and then at a certain point that shifted and I began to lose weight, and then it got to this 175 pound level and then it just stopped. At this point I was weighing myself about once a week because I found that if I did it more frequently there was just fluctuations, and all those did was make me feel bad or confused so I just did it once a week.
You can see that’s 2005, I weighed myself about a month ago just because we happen to move a scale into the house. We don’t have a scale in the house anymore, and I was 175 pounds. So you know in my own mind I feel like my body has now learned to once again control and you know moderate my weight as I had done before.
So to me what this says is that one of the parts of collecting data is paying attention and this is a theme which I’ve heard people actually say it in this conference that wasn’t being spoken at the California Quantified Self conference so much a year ago, and the actual act of paying attention even if you don’t think about the actual implications, and even if you don’t do an analysis on it has an effect somehow on your unconscious, the neural tissue that is in your brain it effects your behavior. That’s what I think has clearly happened for me and really that’s the takeaway for me for this.