But emotional devastation was hard to measure. I decided instead to calculate how much time, in seconds and minutes, I wasted thinking about my belly. To do so, I bought a stopwatch and started counting.
Turns out my methodology was faulty. When thought becomes conscious, the stream doesn't flow. I was focusing more on having the thought than on the thought itself, interrupting its duration. And which thoughts qualified? Opening the fridge and choosing a snack? Organizing the day so that I could get to the gym? Also, thoughts rarely lasted a full minute. Often I'd have a fat flash (I'd see a woman on the street with an impossibly taut tummy and envy it openly), but it was too fleeting to measure. The hit would end before I could start the stopwatch.
I had to refine my strategy. "Get a baseline," Cash says. "How many times a day do you look in the mirror? How often do you have negative thoughts about your weight? Once you have a baseline, you can mindfully decrease it. Start small. If you check your stomach eight times a day, make it six. It won't be difficult. And in a few weeks, you'll notice an emotional lift."
It was far simpler to count than to measure time. I got a clicker and ticked off each instance of appearance checking. I got five days of raw data. On Monday I looked at myself 166 times. Shocking, isn't it? I mentioned the number to friends, and they gasped. The huge total included home mirror visits and catching my reflection in storefront windows, car windows, any chrome or glass surface. I counted everything, even fleeting glimpses if they were long enough for me to judge. The gym is a riot of mirrors. I logged 20 separate instances in an hour and a half of seeing myself sweat.
As Cash predicted, once I had a baseline, decreasing it would be easy. By Friday I'd strapped on the mental blinders, logging only 30 instances, most of them at home. Since I was looking less frequently, I had the foresight to time the incidents. On average each lasted approximately 20 seconds. Since I'd decreased my checking by more than 100, I was gaining over half an hour a day. I kept it up, waiting for the seismic emotional bounce Cash spoke of. It didn't happen right away. But it did come. I was walking my 4-year-old home from school. We passed a huge storefront window by a pharmacy, a place where I usually stopped to check my profile. I averted my eyes from the windows by turning them downward, to Lucy. She'd been nattering about an art project. When she noticed that I was looking at her, she smiled up at me. Her smile was big, bright, blinding (this is one gorgeous kid). Shame surfaced instantly. I'd been passing up that face to degrade myself mentally on the street? Stupid. Thinking I'm fat is one thing. But I'm loath to think I'm stupid. I would not think so little of myself again. I was inspired, motivated. Lifted.
To amplify my efforts, Cash recommended exercises. No, not crunches. He suggested that:
1. When I do check the mirror, I practice looking at body parts or facial features I like.It's been a month since the experiment began. The temptation to appearance-check has all but lost its luster. I still look a few times a day, but not reflexively. I've been spending a portion of my newly discovered half hour breathing deeply and doing crunches, striving to, as Cash said, "concentrate on accomplishment, master thoughts, and gain perspective." I already know that the happiness of my relationship and family doesn't depend on my having a 26-inch waist. A flat stomach won't make me a better writer. But what of my personal measure of success? Washboard abs are still on the list but dropping, with a bullet. One day soon I'll believe utterly that the size of my belly amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. A large hill perhaps. But just beans.
Overcome your body obsessions:
We Hear You!