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The new eating plan I’m following is not something I would have imagined myself doing six months ago because it’s very regimented. And personally, I have found that diets fail. What has worked for me is to approach changing my eating as a lifestyle change in which I make the choice to eat only healthy, whole foods because that is the life I am choosing for myself, and not because I’m confined to a diet, like a punishment for being overweight.

However, as this blog has evidenced, I lost some focus on choosing healthy, nourishing foods. I actually think this is a pretty normal thing to do. Looking around the society I live in, I don’t see much encouragement to choose real food, to eat in moderation, or to be thoughtful. I do see fat shaming, and I see diets that come in with even more processed food to profit off of that fat shaming. What I I see most clearly is a cycle of consumerism: a huge marketing push to buy food that has been formulated specifically to encourage more consumption, an industry of fast food restaurants, convenience foods, chain dining establishments, and freezer sections all developed to not just appeal to the consumer but to target their bliss point of taste so accurately that the food becomes like an addiction; and then on the other side, an industry of diet and weight-loss programs, also heavily marketed, even to people who don’t really need them (see my 13-year-old, 110-pound self as a prime example), meant to continue making money off the same people by keeping them in a cycle they can’t break because their habits and tastes are not truly changing.

All of which is to say that it’s hard to go through life in contemporary America without succumbing to the constant, carefully target siren song of unhealthy eating. It takes complete focus and a lot of drive because there is more working against the healthy eater than working with her. I’ve been experiencing a lot of that recently, particularly in the social realm. I find myself wanting to go out with family and friends and just “be normal” – which is to say, eat what everyone else is eating, which is not always the healthiest choice.

By the start of this year, I realize I badly needed a reset. So I accepted a very kind offer from the owner of the gym my trainer works at – Tom – to have him create a meal plan for me. I knew it would be intense, but I also realized that it would take away the space I had created for justifying less healthy food choices. I saw following Tom’s strict trainer-formulated food plan as a way to remove all the noise, all the grey space, all the ways I make compromises with myself, and instead create a strong but plain scaffolding of healthy eating. I knew that my issues with food, the ways I use it emotionally would break against this new structure, but I also understood that it was an opportunity to really look at the negative ways I use food and consider them.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, except on the seventh day, which is the free day. I have been learning the most from this day because I pretty quickly focused all my issues with food into that space and that opportunity to do whatever I want. As I have mentioned previously, it has not been pretty. I’m working on it though. This is a long process but it’s one I’m willing to stick with because it’s for me, for my life, and I want to be healthy for my lifetime.

Sometimes It’s a Struggle

Because I feel like I’m in a rut, I also feel like I don’t have much to say. Or write about. But that’s not actually true. What is true is that I am finding it harder to talk about my experience now that it has been challenging for a long time. I’ve been working to lose the 10 pounds I gained around and after my wedding for almost a year now, and what I’ve managed to work my way through so far are the six additional pounds I gained over the holidays. I am struggling with focus. The laser-like intensity that took me through losing 58 pounds is something I have lost. Or at least, I have lost about 20% of it, which, for me, is enough to stop losing weight. And a holiday bout of feeling like “Eff it, I’m going to do whatever I want (including being self-destructive)” was enough for me to gain weight.

I have fallen off the path where I did not eat sugar or refined carbs and could not imagine a scenario where I would eat them. I had a strongly held choice and belief, and now I want a brownie. And a croissant. And also some pie. My addictive relationship with food did not go away during the year and a half that I put it aside. Like the disembodied spirit of Sauron, it waited in the shadows as almost nothing until it saw its chance, some small cracks, and then it used those to grow.

I am still back at it. I am spending a lot of energy focusing on eating well. I am using a new eating plan, which is very strict, except for the seventh day of every week, which is a free day. I do not understand how to approach the free day with moderation. Every week, I seeing myself act out my issues with food for one day. What I’m working with is staying present with myself, paying attention, and doing my best to understand. My goal is to feel my way through this. To make changes from my heart, from what I truly feel, instead of what is prescribed. Because the prescription only worked so long, and ultimately, it’s on me to figure out my path.

Back Again

Oh hai.

I sort of wandered off there for a bit. Wandered off and ate pretty much everything I could get my hands on, to be precise about it.

Later on the day of my last post, I went to my office holiday party. It was my first year as a staff member (instead of a contractor) and, thus, my first invitation to the holiday party (because my company is SO inclusive). I expected it to be annoying, since I resented it from two years of non-invites, but what it was was swanky. Rooftop of a building in Hollywood, great views, fancy everything, free booze, lots of food. And I found ways to have fun: I drank with my coworkers and I ate with my coworkers. I just let go, and it was GREAT. Nothing to care about, no more trying or straining or struggling. Just fancy and free. I ate a lot of desserts and I didn’t even care because I was kind of drunk – and they were all delicious!

Thus began my descent into December decadence. I just ate, whenever, wherever, whatever. It was super fun. Sometimes I felt physically ill and that was less fun. Eventually, I started to get anxious about what I was doing to myself, and that was also less fun. By the time the New Year rolled around, I had packed on seven pounds in a little over two weeks. Because this body? It does not play.

The seven pounds were a good hint, but they weren’t the only reason I knew it was time to stop the party train. I didn’t feel as good; my body felt different, heavier and more awkward. And I didn’t feel great about myself either. All these old anxieties came flooding back. I have a lot of confidence and value wrapped up in the work I do to take care of my health – in my ability to exercise hard and be in good shape, in my conscious choices to eat well and choose real food.

So. I put down the chocolate croissant (and the pizza and the gummy candies) and got back to work.

It’s intense. I hated it at first. I hate it sometimes still. I do best when I focus on just one day at a time. And when I understand this as an opportunity to look at my relationship with food, to understand it better, to keep working towards that healthier median.

Working on It

I’m in the middle of all of my feelings about weight-loss, and I don’t have a clear sense of direction anymore. For a long time, I was very strict with my food consumption and exercise, and it worked very well. It is doable, but also challenging to be so rigid. It was especially hard to live in an environment where everyone else was not attempting the same transformation. It took constant vigilance and massive shifts in how I lived. I did it for a long time, and then I got fatigued. Or maybe I just got engaged. But about 15 months into the process, I started losing steam. And another 15 months later, I haven’t picked it up again.

I have written before about how I am gaining and losing the same two pounds. So I have figured out how to maintain a certain weight, which is great. Except that my weight is still higher than I want it to be, higher than is healthy. I am not done yet. But I am having such a hard time finding the motivation to get done that which is left for me to do.

I like being closer to normal – being able to have a drink every so often (we’re talking once every 2-3 weeks here) or just a bite of someone’s dessert. Not freaking out if I end up in a situation where the food is less than stellar – just making the best choice I can and letting it go. Even having a couple of days (cough…Thanksgiving) where I just ate what I wanted. It feels good to not hold on to myself SO tightly all the time. I had this iron grip on myself for a really long time, and releasing that grip a little, giving myself some space to breathe is such a welcome change, such a relief that I don’t want to give it up.

But I still want to lose weight. So now I am trying to feel my way towards a different – or at least, altered – method. I haven’t figured it out yet. I know it involves all the same habits that have made me successful in the past: eating real food and avoiding processed foods, focusing on vegetables, fruit and lean protein, cutting out sugar and refined carbs (because my body just can’t handle them), exercising. I’m hoping that it can also mean being gentler with myself in this process, and finding more ways to have fun with it.

I’m working on it.

The hangover week after Halloween feels like an excellent time to reflect on how sugar is like crack. There are still bowls of fun-size crack bars floating around the office, coworkers listlessly, compulsively taking from them. Just one more Smartie, one more Mr. Good Bar. No one feels good about it anymore.

The heady rush of celebration – of eating all the candy with wild abandon – is gone. I even fell prey to the siren song of candy this year. After two years of staunchly avoiding it all, this time I caved. I was carrying around a tray full of mini candy bars (as part of a group “Party Down” costume), and at some point I just reached out, grabbed a mini Snickers, opened it, and ate it. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was also so delicious I didn’t care enough to stop. And oh the happy feeling it gave me – warm and exciting, sending energy coursing through my body.

It really is like a drug.

Which is why I so appreciate this recent study from my own alma mater: Student-faculty research shows Oreos are just as addictive as drugs in lab rats. And while the study is focusing on cookies instead of candy, it’s all the same thing: sugar, sugar, sugar. Here’s just a snippet from the article:

“…his students found rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain’s ‘pleasure center’ than exposure to drugs of abuse.”

Not only is sugar like cocaine, it is more like cocaine than cocaine. Which helps explain why it’s so hard to just walk away from the candy bowl.

Soon after eating that “fun”-size Snickers on Halloween, I reached for, opened, and bit into another one. I had broken the seal. No candy for two years and now it was all around me, ripe for the binging. I took a bite and then, in a moment of clarity, threw the rest in the trash can. No good could come from a candy binge. No good did come from it. Later in the day, I ate a mini Three Musketeers bar, but then that was really it. Then I really stopped. For about an hour, I felt amazing: full of energy, happy, running around the office, talking excitedly with all my happy buzzing coworkers. And then the crash hit.

Then I felt tired and gross. By the next day, I was kind of sick, like I was coming down with a cold. But I also felt like if I could just have another piece of chocolate, or maybe a Starburst, it would all be a little bit better. I knew better though. As hard as it was, I resisted. It was miserable at first, but then it was fine. And a week later, I am back on the wagon and off that white horse.

IMG_7456

I am 10 years old, sitting cross-legged on the rug by my bed, finishing my homework in eager anticipation of the evening. I am filled with excitement and a sense of possibility. I think I remember this moment and feeling so well because it was the first time I experienced that rare joyful bubbling that exists on the edge of a long-awaited event, a feeling that often, in retrospect, is the best, happiest moment of whatever is about to unfold.

It was Halloween, and my family was having a lot of people over – my friends from the neighborhood and their parents. There was going to be dinner and a pinata and, of course, trick-or-treating. Halloween was my favorite holiday, even edging out Christmas (because it contained no anxiety about the arrival of Santa Clause). In that moment in my bedroom, I felt safe and excited at the same time, like I was at the beginning of something and in the middle of it too, surrounded by life, an eager participant.

I remember nothing else of that night. I can guess the generalities based on years of similar celebrations: people filling the kitchen and den. The moment when the dads assembled all us children in the front room, flashlights in hand, family dogs on their leashes to begin our expedition into the night. The way the neighborhood divided itself into houses we knew, like lights on a grid, and houses we didn’t (which we didn’t go to). The counting out of candy from my plastic orange pumpkin, separating it into piles and trading it with my brother and friends. How I could eat whatever I wanted and how all that sugary treasure was mine, just mine, for once in a year to do with as I chose and not as I was told.

I always ate a lot of my candy at first and then savored it for weeks, drawing out the preciousness of my own private stash. Years later, I remember being shocked at one of my college friends coming back from the grocery store on November 1st with bag after bag of mini candy bars and Skittles bags – all that precious candy purchased easily at a steep discount. Despite having been past trick-or-treating age for a few years (although I held onto it longer than most), it seemed amazing to me that those hard-won treats could be so easily gotten. It was a strange realization that I was an adult and could do whatever I wanted, including buying giant bags of fun-size candy bars and eating them all.

I never did that in particular, but I found a lot of ways to eat food that had been forbidden to me growing up. It was not to my benefit, that compulsive consumption of sugar cereal, ice cream by the pint, king-sized bags of candy every night with my homework, but I kept doing it for years and years because it felt like freedom to me. I saw it as the place I got to break away from restriction and choose what I wanted and when. And not just for one holiday a year.

The Hard Question

The owner of the gym my trainer uses (where I train with her) is a muscle bound man – the kind who used to do muscle building competitions. He is intimidating, although he has always been kind to me. He doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention to us, but apparently he is because he mentioned me to my trainer the other day, saying how incredibly hard I worked out. He said I was so fit and I worked out so hard that I should have the best body in the whole gym. So he wanted to ask my trainer, what was going on?

Indeed. What is going on? I am sliding into the fourth month of the second year of oscillating in the same five-pound range without losing any actual weight. Why?

Well, for one thing, because I eat what I feel like a lot more than I used to. And while what I feel like eating is very different than it used to be, it is still not as clean as it could be, as it needs to be. For example, while I no longer eat cupcakes or similar sweets, I feel free to eat treats made without sugar, flour or butter (aka with maple syrup, coconut flour and coconut butter). It’s better for me, yes. But it’s still a treat. So when I have say, five muffins, because I’ve made them for a party so I tested one and then I got to the party and just lost all semblance of reasonableness, it’s no longer good for me. In fact, it’s a return to my old habits of compulsive eating. And clearly, that does not help with weight loss.

So why do I do this? I am acting like I don’t think I can lose the weight or like I don’t want to. And there is truth in both of these statements. Because I really can’t lose the weight if I don’t want to – I’ll just keep sabotaging myself – and some part of me must not – does not want to.

Truthfully, I can’t imagine being truly, like, flat-stomach thin. I don’t know what it would be like to move in the world that way, how I would feel. I have a long history of being afraid of change and the unknown. Often, I avoid them both (even though I am also drawn to them both). So it makes sense that I would get to a point of losing weight and then not feel comfortable losing more.

I am not content to stay as I am though. There are still lessons for me to learn about my relationship with food. If it were truly healthy, I would not eat five muffins at a party. I would be better able to recognize when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And then there’s the health element: it’s not healthy for me to carry this weight around my middle, and I don’t want to. Also, I don’t want to stop here. I started this thing, and I want to see it through. To prove to myself I can.

So now I just have to take a hard look at what it will take and what I’m willing to do to get there. Knowing that someone else – especially someone I’m not close to – has noticed this too is motivating. I think because it gives me fresh eyes on something I know but have been pretending not to see.

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