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Why Doing a PhD is a Lot Like Losing Weight

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Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a couple of times where I’ve really had to drag myself all but kicking and screaming to the gym. I know it’s what I ought to do, and I know I won’t regret it once I’m there – but sitting on the sofa doing all of diddly squat just seems so much more appealing. I have to really talk myself into it – putting my very best stern face on and glaring at myself until I’m guilted into getting off my ass.

This is for various reasons – some of them legitimate (the lumbar puncture, for instance, seemed a pretty reasonable excuse), some of them…uhhh…

Okay, I admit it. Some of the reasons I have offered myself for not hitting the gym have been pretty flimsy. “I’m still tired from Global Gathering,” ten days after the event really is pushing it, and “I ought to be writing, not exercising” when I know full well I’ve got designs on watching another episode of House… Nah.

Fortunately, I know myself well enough to determine when I’m telling porkies – partly because I’m all too familiar with this feeling.

There’s a residual guilt that seems to come with doing a PhD (especially if you’re part-time, like me) which tends to lead to a sort of paralysis. I’m all too familiar with that – I know I have to get x-amount done, by x-date, and I know if I put my mind to it I’m totally capable of doing it, but for some reason, I have THE FEAR. As a result, I can lose days at a time to sitting in front of my laptop, tying myself in knots trying to achieve something…on Facebook. Suddenly every piece of celebrity gossip seems more exciting, every tweet demands an immediate response, and I get the I’d-definitely-be-a-better-PhD-student-if-I-just-have-one-biscuit/cigarette/giant-cup-of-coffee feeling. It’s procrastination brought on by pressure – and it’s dangerous, especially if it becomes a habit.

If you’re on a weight-loss journey – doesn’t that sound familiar? Because if you’ve not experienced that feeling at some time or another, you’re my hero. That, or you have no soul. Either or.

Because let’s face it, sometimes it really is difficult to get moving, even when you’re already on the right track. I’ve got 25,000 words of a PhD written, but sometimes, opening Microsoft Word and starting to type seems completely impossible. Same with the weight loss – 114lbs down, and I still have to talk myself into going to the gym.

So why is that? Why, even when experience has taught us that there’ll be a positive outcome, is it so hard to stay motivated? Because the thing is, the buzz I get from writing, and the thrill I get from working out – these things rock. I’m rarely happier than when I’m doing one of those things – so you’d assume that actually doing them really wouldn’t be an issue. Especially when the other option is either boredom, or guilt.

I think this is a great myth surrounding weight loss that needs nipping in the bud. You can just wake up, one day, and suddenly be motivated to lose weight – that’s true. And that’s an important moment. But the idea that it’s easy after that? Nope. I disagree. And the same applies to the PhD. You can have the epiphany that gives you your research topic – but that’s only a very small part of the battle. The rest is pure blood, sweat, and tears.

Making anything like this work in the long-term is a matter of keeping going, even when every bone in your body would rather curl up on the sofa and shout abuse at whoever came up with the idea of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (even though they can’t hear you). It’s about reminding yourself that there’ll be a payoff, even though you won’t see your results straight away. And it’s about realising that you’re doing something good, something that will go a long way towards improving your career, self-image, happiness – whatever it is that you’re seeking, either through study or through weight loss.

Above all this, doing a PhD and losing weight – both of these are things that will change you, and the way you live your life. And the only person that can make it happen is you.

So… Get off my blog and get on with it!

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amy 11 August, 2012

    Ok I’m going I’m going haha! I checked in to see if you had a new post just so I could avoid working on my thesis. You’ve basically just described my life for the last 2 months and I feel like THE FEAR is a constant companion. I’m completely paralysed by it, but I’ll make a proper effort to try tonight. Thanks for posting!

  • comment avatar char 13 August, 2012

    thanks….I am also working while doing a PhD and have managed to gain 40 pounds. Time to get it off – guess I’ll have to find something other than procrastinating with food. How did you get started?

    • comment avatar fatgirlphd 13 August, 2012

      That’s actually something I’m writing a full post on at the moment – so I will definitely be able to elaborate in more detail later this week! But basically, I’ve been doing the same thing all along – 60-90 minutes cardio at 115-130bpm heart rate, three times a week; resistance training, again three times a week; and a healthy, balanced diet. It’s been a learning curve though – when I first started out, I was still eating processed, ‘low-fat’ foods that were packed full of sugar… It took me a long time to realise that eating clean, unprocessed foods most of the time was a much more effective way of going about it!

  • comment avatar Dan 13 August, 2012

    “…you’re my hero. That, or you have no soul.”

    Well, that escalated quickly :)

    • comment avatar fatgirlphd 13 August, 2012

      What can I say? I’m passionate about these things…

  • comment avatar Gretchen Thompson 27 August, 2012

    This comparison that you make is precisely what got me started on my weight loss journey two weeks after defending my dissertation. I finally had experience accomplishing what seemed like a huge, nearly insurmountable goal. So when I thought about dropping 100lbs it occurred to me that the only way to go was one subsection of one chapter at a time so to speak. I’m doing it in 10lb increments, and I’m nearly halfway there. 44lbs and counting! :) Loving the blog, and now getting back to the research paper.

  • comment avatar WN 9 September, 2012

    Definitely. I’m mid-way through a DPhil/PhD (whatever you want to call it) and I’ve also lost a lot of weight but still have some way to go and countless body image and eating disorder demons to slay. PhD v. weight loss? Both blisteringly difficult and require a lot of commitment to something that will kick you when your down every step of the way for a goal you’re not quite sure you even want to meet. But you stick with it, because sticking with it is what feels good, not the end game.

    Good luck hun!

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