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Archive for the ‘Nobody Said It Would Be Easy (But That Didn’t Stop Me from Thinking It Might Be Anyway)’ Category

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.

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I am in a place of great frustration. I am not losing weight, even though I am working hard to do so.

After months of being unfocused, I have gotten back down to business: I am working out hard; I am eating well. I have cut out the little delicious cheats that sustained my food addictive ways for so long. No more dark chocolate, no more macaroons made only of coconut and cacao, no more Lara and Kind bars as just for fun snacks, no more cheating and pretending I’m not. And it’s really hard for me.

So I am also doing the work of considering why it’s so difficult for me to stop snacking for fun. I am looking at the compulsions behind my eating habits. For the first time in my life, I’m really understanding how little my eating has to do with when I am or am not hungry. I like to eat so much that I do it whenever I can. In the past two years, I’ve switched to healthier, real food, and it has made a massive difference in my life. But it has not changed the fact that I most often eat because I feel like being comforted, distracted, and entertained. Now it’s just that apples or (until recently) dark chocolate distract me. I am finally starting to pay attention to my hunger level, and if I’m not hungry, stopping long enough to question why I want to eat something.

In the meantime, I am working out so hard. My trainer has redoubled her and my efforts, and once again, my workouts leave me covered in lakes of sweat, often feeling nauseous from the levels of exertion. I am strong, and now I am breaking through to get stronger.

I am doing everything the way I should, and every day it is work. Every day, I am choosing not to eat the desserts that are presented, to join my friends for Mexican food and not drink the margaritas or eat the chips or anything else not healthy, to buy as much produce from the farmer’s market as I have cash for and to cook and eat it (or eat it when my husband has cooked it), to work out daily, hard.

And nothing’s changing. It has been three weeks. Three weeks since I stepped on the scale and saw that my little slips and lax ways had caused my weight to jump up a couple more pounds, making me 10 pounds heavier than my lowest weight. Enough to rattle me into action. In three weeks, I should have lost between 4-6 pounds. Instead I have lost 1. It was 1.5, but I stepped on the scale this morning, and for reasons I can’t explain, my weight went back up.

I know I just have to keep doing it. I know it will work eventually. But it frustrates me that it’s not working better despite how much work I’m putting in. Also it frustrates me to be this focused on numbers when I want to focus on a healthy life. But I don’t know how to do that without the numbers because when I stopped paying attention to them before, I stopped paying attention in a lot of other ways too. And right now, I really don’t feel like I have all the answers I once thought I did.

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The truth is that I wanted there to be an end point.

Oh sure, I’d say I was making a permanent lifestyle change, but on some level, my brain had an asterisk after permanent that added “for now.”

Because I thought once I did all the hard work of getting in shape, changing my eating patterns and losing about a third of my body weight I could, you know, take a break. Have a glass of wine, kick back, eat some of that layer cake. After all, I’d earned it.

The logical part of me always knew the flaw in that thinking, but it’s hard to separate logic and emotion sometimes, and it’s even harder to recognize the ways in which I can lie to myself without realizing it. I was willing to do the hard work; I just wanted to finish it eventually.

When I first started on the path of changing my eating and exercise habits, I told myself, “One month, maybe two or three – that’s all you have to keep this up for.” Because I didn’t know how else to process the idea that everything about the way I lived had just changed. Yes, it had changed for the better, for my well-being, but it was still a massive change.

I was waking up 1-2 hours earlier every day to exercise. I had been exercising maybe once a month before, and within a week, I was working out for 30 minutes to an hour every day. I had to plan more, laying out clothes the night before and going to be earlier to get enough sleep. And gone, suddenly, were the nightly walks with my then-boyfriend (now husband) to the frozen yogurt shop down the street from our house. Gone, in fact, were all sweets. One day, my diet contained 3-5 dessert items and then next it contained none. I got sick from the sugar withdrawal. Gone too was alcohol and, with it, a huge chunk of how I’d socialized for years. I had to re-imagine and recreate my life.

I could only stay with the magnitude of these changes by taking them one day at a time. Which included telling myself that it wasn’t forever, or even that long. Obviously, I was fooling myself with the idea that it would only be 1-3 months. A year later though, I started to feel ready for a break. I mean, it had been a whole year. And yes, there had been imperfect moments, but I could count on one hand the number of times I’d consumed sugar in a year. It felt like I deserved a bit of an easing off. Even though I was not at my goal, or even that close.

And thus began my long waltz with the weight-loss plateau of my own making. Which continues to this day. Because no matter how much the evidence denies it, I keep thinking I can take it easy, take a break, not work so hard.

What I am grappling with now, though, is the realization that this doesn’t stop. If I’m truly committed to being a healthy individual, then I have to truly commit to all the details involved in caring for myself. I have to decide that it’s what I want, for me. And not just for now. There is no reward (in the shape of a cookie or otherwise) at the end of this journey because there is no end to it. There is just this life – my life – and how well I choose to live it.

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Here’s what I think when I have a treat:

I should probably eat more of this. Yes. I will eat it all. I will eat it all, and it will be good!

The thoughts underlying that feeling:
Make the pain go away, make the pain go away. I’m anxious. I’m sad. I don’t understand why the world is full of pain. What do I do? I don’t know what to do with myself. Maybe I should just tear my skin off. Oh – a treat? Ah! That’s nice.

Oh yes, that’s very nice. That’s stimulating some happy receptors in my brain somewhere. I don’t feel as sad or scared anymore. I don’t mind my skin being attached so much. I feel pretty fucking great while I’m chewing this actually. Clearly what needs to happen is that I just need to keep chewing this deliciousness so the hard feelings and the anxiety don’t come back. Yes. That’s the ticket. Keep eating.

Of course, the eating can’t go on endlessly. It’s just not physically possible, and also, I run out of food. Once the food is gone, I’m often so stuffed that I feel only numbness, which while no longer an amazing feeling, it is also still not sadness and fear. And thus, it seems like food has done the job of making me “better.”

For years, I truly did not get that food was not the answer. I was pretty sure it was the answer, in fact. I only had to bite into a black and white cookie or take a sip of a milkshake to know what happiness felt like. And yes, that rush of endorphins, the feelings of bliss they created, were fleeting, but also I could recreate them again and again and again. With that euphoria – and then the numbness – food sent the anxiety and the sadness away when it seemed like nothing else could. So… it had to be the answer, right?

It is not the answer. Weight gain is the most outward and obvious indicator of this, but because that was also wrapped up in issues of desirability and social commodity, I could convince myself that food meant more than looking good. Over the long haul, though, the overeating made my anxiety, my sadness, my pain, and my fear all worse. It did this by eroding my self-confidence, by weakening my physical and emotional strength, and, most significantly, by burying my actual feelings so that I never addressed them.

Kind of the same way alcohol and drugs do that for other people. The food was just a band-aid, a salve. And not a very effective one.

So what is the answer? Something a lot harder than eating a pint of ice cream, of course. The answer is to acknowledge my feelings and actually feel them. To make space for them – and me – in my life by taking care of myself. To seek support and guidance. To talk it through. To get help. And then to do the daily, un-sexy hard work of caring for myself. Physically by exercising and eating well, mentally by meditating, writing and breathing, and emotionally by doing these activities to help process my feelings, to honor them and let them be real so that I can then move through them. Instead of stuffing them down with All Of The Cake.

There’s not enough cake in the world to keep the feelings down forever. And the quest to see if there might be turned out to be way too miserable to continue.

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The truth is that I’m in a bad mood and I don’t feel like doing much of anything unless it’s being emotional and frustrated.

Except when I feel fine and can just truck along like normal.

I’d say that’s about 60% of the time. Slightly over half of any given day, I’m like, “Yes, I’ll listen to a song I like while driving up three levels in this parking garage. Sure, I will go into my office and check my email between copy-editing documents. Hey, I’m cool setting up those plans. And yeah, let’s talk for a bit on g-chat. I’m happy to pick up that phone call and interact with you, my friend or family member. Why yes, I would love to go grab something from the food trucks here at the lunch hour. No, I do not mind running that errand on the way home.” I bop along in this neutral zone… until I don’t.

Until the speed of the word processing program I’m using can’t keep up with my typing and times out and that – just that – is enough to make me go all Hulkster in my head. Sometimes it will fade away again right after the spinning rainbow wheel of program loading death subsides. But sometimes it will dig in and I will just be filled with rage and despair.

Because why do anything? Our society is a shambles. Have you seen the way our politicians behave? Have you seen the prejudice people show towards gay people, minorities, and/or women on any given day? How about the poverty? The shitty schools? The way the middle class is shrinking and oh the super wealthy, they just keep getting more and more wealthy? And do people care? Some do, but all their thoughtful editorials and group protests still don’t keep draconian laws that hurt disenfranchised, lower-income individuals and eventually society as a whole from getting signed into law (I’m looking at you, Texas). Because most people would rather watch TV. Sometimes good TV, but also… just a parade of people being assholes and being rewarded for it with attention and money. Also, the planet is warming up. And our food supply is getting poisoned. And most people refuse to believe it or just don’t want to hear it because it’s not affecting them this minute. And it’s hard being engaged. And it’s annoying to listen to that earnest shit. And anyway the Real Housewives of some disturbingly rich subdivision are on.

And worse, I don’t have the brain to hold in the facts and details to support my viewpoints in a way that will make people, even people I love, listen to me and believe me. So I think, why even talk about it? If I can’t even explain, without 10 minutes of research to remind me, why exactly it is that artificial sweeteners are poison, and if whomever I’m talking to won’t believe me without a string of supporting facts befitting a chemist or at least someone with better attention to detail, because they like Diet Coke dammit, then why bother?

And why bother trying myself? bother eating well? Okay, I know why. I know very, very well. But it’s harder some days to remember when so many others don’t care, and when the efforts I make – currently anyway – lead to maintaining the status quo. I wanted to know if I could eat sort of like other people as long as I was reasonable about it, and the answer, which I have insisted on getting over and over again is: Not if you want to lose weight.

It’s a pity party thing to say because… too fucking bad, right? So my body can’t digest processed food or sugar? So I have to eat very carefully forever to maintain a healthy weight (which… I’m not even maintaining yet – I’m still overweight on all the doctor charts; I’m just less overweight). Other people have it much worse than I do. At least I have access to healthy food. At least I can choose what I do with myself. I’m not persecuted for my gender or my beliefs. I’m not in obvious, constant danger. So, I can maybe suck it up and just put the loaf of bread down and get on with it? Maybe?

Well, sure, except for all this futility-fueled rage I feel. At our world, but more at myself for not living as my best self in it. I compromise too much of who I am; I have spent so much time trying to fulfill the expectation of what I believe is the right way to be that I don’t even know what it would look like to just be as I want. I am really not clear on what that would involve.

It wouldn’t have involved doubling down on a job I’m not excited about though. And it does not appear to involve eagerness to rush and start a family. As it turns out, that makes me very nervous and reticent. Which is news to me. News that makes me wonder, Who am I? Who am I really?

And why can I not answer that question by stuffing down chocolate? WHY NOT? It’s always worked before. Can’t I just get rid of the uncomfortable questions with food still? No? Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do then?

Yes, this is a rant. And no, I don’t know that it’s very productive.

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Sugar. It seems like a good idea at the time. But once it’s in there – and by there, I mean my body – man, is it regrettable.

And to be truthful, sugar no longer seems like a good idea to me when I eat it. More accurately, I know it’s a bad idea, but the desire to indulge in something fun and irresponsible coupled with an almost irresistible need for it compels me. Kind of like a drug. Because that’s basically what it is.

Usually, my gateway is, “I’ll have just one bite.” Often, I am successful at this strategy, but not always. For example, on Sunday I was a dear friend’s birthday party, where two delicious cakes were presented. The goal was to photograph but not eat them. However, I decided to have just one bite. That bite involved marzipan, and oh, how I love marzipan. Anything almond flavored really. It took no time for the situation to devolve into me having enough bites of marzipan icing to constitute an entire piece of cake. A small one, yes, but still a piece of cake.

It tasted soooo good going in! And I just wanted to keep eating and eating and eating it. But then it didn’t feel so good. My body, now better attuned to the food it’s eating, caught up with me pretty quickly and, within 10 minutes, was speaking to its discomfort. The sugar made me feel twitchy over-stimulated, like I’d had to much coffee, while also making me vaguely nauseated. My mouth got cotton-y. I wanted to keep eating that marzipan icing, but I knew my body was telling me to stop. So I did.

There was a time, many years, in fact, when my body would have been so numb from constant sugar exposure, that it would not have sent me these signals, and I would not have stopped. Not until I had made myself ill or social convention made me too self-conscious. Now, my body immediately lets me know what I have done. And I live with the consequences of it. I feel sluggish, tired, and irritable, and I have to spend the next couple of days combating the craving to fend off these feelings with another hit of sugar. My weight goes up without fail.

Beyond my tongue and the pleasure receptors in my brain, my body does not like sugar. It really is a drug and one I am drawn to. But the more I am present with what happens when I eat it and how that makes me feel, the better I am able to stay away.

 

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I’ve started taking pictures of all the desserts I’m exposed to that I don’t eat, mostly just to give myself something to do around those desserts besides feel fussy. Photographing the food allows me to appreciate its appeal – visual, and emotional as well – while still helping me maintain distance. I have a lot of pictures of desserts already. In just one week, I was offered a lot of cookies, cupcakes, pies and ice cream.

In the moment, I wanted to eat all of it. Pretty much what stopped me was knowing how unhappy I’d be about it afterwards. Because it always tastes good in the moment and then I always feel gross once the moment is gone. Sometimes, if I really eat a lot of sweets, I feel sick to my stomach. Always though, I feel where I have let the desire for a short-term pleasure get in the way of my long-term happiness and well being.

I’m not actually against having dessert as a special treat. I ate my wedding cake, and on our first anniversary, I’ll eat it again. I’m also not against having a couple of bites to appreciate a truly delicious treat. The first two bites are always the best ones anyway. After that we all get diminishing returns on our taste buds. My lifelong response to those diminishing returns is to just eat as much as I possibly can until my taste buds actually go numb. But obviously, this habit has served me very poorly. If I can keep my consumption to “just a taste” – a literal two bites – I am much better off, and I actually enjoy the thing more.

But if I were to have a taste of every dessert that crosses my path, I would still be eating a LOT of dessert. And the truth is for me that it is hard to just have two bites; it takes a lot of will power and only sometimes is that will power in place for me. I do better when I avoid the sweet entirely – or when I sub it for a healthier sweet, like one square of 85% dark chocolate.

So now I’m photographing it instead of eating it. I like taking pictures anyway, but it also gives me a very useful perspective. When I can see almost a dozen pictures of sweets accumulate in the course of a week, I get a clear visual reminder of why it’s important to avoid them: because they are everywhere. They are constant and they are legion. And if I let the treats be in control, they will destroy me. This may sound dramatic, but it’s actually true. The infinite cookies of this world are out to do me – and everyone else – much more harm than good.

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