Monday, October 5, 2009

Micro-changes, Macro-results (eventually)

Today, I made a big serving of chicken and pasta salad for lunch knowing that I could justify eating the whole thing if I wanted to. I did the math, and the calories weren't in the stratosphere. About 3 months ago, I probably would have eaten it all figuring that it was "allowed", but due to changes in my thinking, I cut it in half and ate half and saved the rest for lunch tomorrow.

This seemingly simple move would not have been within my capacity to make before I started the process I have been working on. I'm not only talking about the way in which I've gradually been paring down my serving sizes, but also about how I approach food from a mental viewpoint. Even now, I had the desire to eat it all, and had to fight back that urge (though the battle is getting easier).

I've been making adjustments to my thinking in ways I consider to be "micro-changes". That is, I'm dealing with hundreds of adjustments and considerations with how I handle my eating each week. These are mental changes for the most part, and it's a bit like flipping a switch into the "on" or "off" position. In the beginning, when asked the question, "eat this?", I'd often turn the switch on and eat it. I have been endeavoring to turn it off more and more until this becomes second nature.

This is a process which I have some experience with already. When I first got married, I had some serious temper issues as a result of my mothers verbal abuse role modeling and my fat anger. My husband is a very calm person who rarely gets angry and either did nothing serious to warrant my outburst or didn't deserve anger of the intensity and duration that I was heaping on him. My anger was very destructive not only to our relationship, but also to his psyche. It was imperative to me that I not hurt him or our marriage with my inability to control my temper.

The important thing to keep in mind when I talk about dealing with my temper was that I was not trying to suppress my feelings, but to handle them in a more controlled and productive manner. It was OK to get angry, but it wasn't OK to heap vitriol on my husband when I was angry. At first, the blazing fury of my anger kept escaping me and I would act as I always did. Since I had already decided to change the behavior, I always felt the weight of my failure and apologized to my husband for what I'd done. I didn't apologize for having the feelings, but for how I acted on them.

As time went by, this process started to have noticeable effects on how I acted when I got angry. I apologized sooner for my outbursts and the intensity and duration of my anger decreased through time. Inch by inch, I fought for and gained control of my emotional expression. At some point, my anger started coming out closer and closer to calm expressions of frustration. Now, I have extremely good control and have an angry outburst very rarely, and never with abusive intensity or prolonged duration. Those micro-changes through years (probably about a decade or so) have brought me to the state I am at today, which is one where I am in very much better control than I could have ever dreamed of.

When it comes to food, I'm hoping to accomplish the same thing. I want to make micro changes to food choices, frequency of eating, and portion sizes. I want to slowly make the adjustments mentally such that one day I find myself naturally and almost effortlessly eating properly. It's a much more complex process than dealing with my temper, but it's not so dissimilar in that both of these things are biological in origin and hard to control.

So far, I've found that the process I've been undergoing has helped reduce the intensity and frequency of cravings and the desire to eat compulsively (or emotionally), but those feelings are still there. It helps to remember how I failed so often in the early stages of changing my temperamental responses because I know that even when I fail, the process has a good chance of succeeding. I just have to keep working at it and not beat myself up about the times when things don't go perfectly or as well as I'd like them to go.

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