Nfld. & Labrador

Downsizing: Your body can't lose weight without your mind on board

Before deciding to get serious about losing weight, columnist Dave Sullivan needed to learn important lessons about his mental health.

Dave Sullivan finds that the journey to good physical health starts with good mental health

Dave Sullivan says he was overwhelmed by powerful emotions when he met with a therapist for the first time. (CBC )

For many of you, the changes I am making to my life must sound like no-brainers. If I’m simply deciding to eat healthy and get some exercise, why didn’t I do this years ago?

The answer is simple.

For many addicts, mental illness plays a significant role, and I am no different.

Since I was a young man, maybe as young as 12, I have suffered from an anxiety disorder. In later years, that anxiety has blossomed into depression.

I`ve always felt like an outsider, like I don`t belong. And like many people, I have turned to food for comfort.

Over time, I began to withdraw. No parties, no friends, no casual get-togethers. I stayed put in my house. Safe, dark and alone.

It was in the dark where I had one of my brightest ideas to date.

I needed help. Badly. So I called in reinforcements.

Cry, wolf

I still remember my first meeting with my therapist. He was a gentle, slender man, kind and inviting.

Upon entering his small, downtown office, I was struck by the images that adorned his wall. Wolves. There were wolves everywhere.

I have to admit, the wolves freaked me out a bit. But eventually, I opened up.

I told him everything. Every broken thought I’ve ever had. I cried through most of it. Cry may not cover it. It was as if a dam was being demolished. A breakwater I had built brick by brick over the years was getting destroyed, and all the while I’m surrounded by wolves.

An hour and a half later, I stopped talking, drenched in tears and sweat. There was a brief moment of silence, and what came out my therapist’s mouth was nothing short of astounding.

He understood. He described exactly how my brain operated. He knew my patterns of thinking, and how they had cemented themselves into my brain.

With every sentence he spoke, it was if as a light was being turned on.

I was waking up.

Retraining my brain

What followed were several sessions with my therapist in which, under the disturbingly watchful eyes of the wolf pack, I would learn how to change my patterns.

I told him everything. Every broken thought I’ve ever had. I cried through most of it. Cry may not cover it. It was as if a dam was being demolished.

These sessions taught me I can train my thinking, guide my thoughts to a more positive place. I can take patterns of guilt and shame, and reroute them to thoughts of pride and happiness.

Now, I don`t think therapy is a cure-all, because mental illness is unique to everyone it touches. But I can say learning how my brain works is one of the most significant changes I've ever made.

It’s also opened my mind to alternative ways of finding peace. Reiki, yoga, meditation — a year ago I would have laughed at the thought of any of it.

But now, I’m open. I will use whatever tools that are available to me to become the man I was born to be.

In trying to lose weight, I’ve been re-learning how to live the most fundamental aspects of life: how to eat, how to move, how to react to my own emotions. 

Without mental re-training with my therapist, there’s no way I’d be a position to make these huge changes. My own thoughts would have prevented any of this from happening. I was simply too weak.

Which brings me back to the wolves. During my last session, I asked my therapist, why the wall of wolves?

“They bring me strength,” he howled softly.

About the Author

Dave Sullivan is a writer and ad creative proudly living and working in St. John's.


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