Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Doing Better :-)

The thing about eating more than you'd like to when you've had a life-long problem with overeating is that you can be filled with fear that you're perched on a sled at the top of a snowy mountain and that one day of eating more than necessary will be the tap that sends you sliding down. I've found that this sense of losing control is rapidly mitigated by just one day of getting back on your plan. It really doesn't take much success to help you feel that failure isn't going to become the norm.

This experience has taught me that one further emotional aspect to this which I need to work on is the sense that any lapse in control is the start of a "permanent" loss of control. It's not that such a fear is unfounded. If you've tried to get a handle on your eating and failed enough times, you've got a sound basis in personal history for doubting yourself. That being said, I have to realize that I am not the person who failed before. I'm the person who is succeeding now, and this person has chosen a path which was paved more solidly than the one who failed before.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Slowly Slipping…

Yesterday, I probably ate between 2300-2500 calories. I planned badly and was depressed and ended the evening quasi-binging on whatever was around. I didn’t eat junk, mind you. In fact, mainly, I overate Triscuits. That being said, I saw last night as speeding up on a slippery slope that I’ve been on.

My target has been 1500-1700 calories, and I had been landing somewhere in the range about every other day, and inching up toward 1800-1900 about every other day. This still isn’t a huge deal as it’s well within the range I need to continue losing weight. That being said, I realized last night that I was becoming lackadaisical about my eating in multiple ways. I was eating more of food that wasn’t healthy and eating a little more as time went by.

When I thought this over last night, I think that it relates to calorie counting every day with a relatively achievable number. When I was only counting once or twice a week with a much more restricted number (1200-1400), I had to exercise strict control over myself a few days a week. This gave me a strong sense that I could reign myself in. I’ve lost that sense a little as time has gone by and success has made me cut myself some slack.

Last night, I had the first experience akin to real “panic” about losing control that I’ve had in half a year. Part of the reason for this is that my control has been relatively good, but part of it is that I had such low expectations of myself for the first few months that little that I did was likely to cause a bad response. When the bar is set low, it’s easy to hop over it. Now, the bar is quite a bit higher, so it’s difficult to keep jumping over it with ease.

At any rate, I may be encountering what I consider to be “dieter’s fatigue”. That is the tendency to have great motivation and ability to stay with things early on because the experience is novel and successes come with great frequency. It could also simply be that I have felt poorly for the past few weeks (cold-like symptoms or allergies, fatigue, generalized pain) and gave in to my impulses to comfort myself by shoveling food in my mouth.

The important thing is that I have decided to stop the slide right here and pull back to a line where I’m more disciplined for at least a week. I’m going to cut back to a lower baseline (1400-1500 calories) and incorporate more healthy food at each meal. Mainly, this is me trying to pull myself back closer to the base-line I want to live by before I keep edging further and further from my plans. I also need to work harder at increasing activity, though with my physical problems, this is going to be complicated.

I’m not freaking out or feeling like a failure because of one day over 2000 calories. Frankly, that would be an overreaction and utterly counterproductive. I am, however, seeing the experience as a “yellow light” of caution that I need to be a little less sanguine about how things are going and take things in hand a little more actively.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Tiny Square of Cake

My husband was snacking last night on a small piece of chocolate cake given to him as part of a box of little cakes by a work acquaintance. He said that he didn't really care much for the chocolate one and I told him to just throw it away. The box has 6 tiny cakes and I sampled a small bite of a lemon one, but no more than that. I hadn't really felt much interest in any of the cakes beyond that taste, but this morning I was cleaning up and found the remains of the chocolate cake that he didn't like sitting where he'd left it as he hadn't bothered to toss it out. I looked at the cake and thought that I might want to taste it to see if I liked it.

I looked at the tiny bit of cake and I thought about taking a bite, but then I thought "to what end?" What if I like the cake and want to eat the rest of it? Do I want to spend some of my day's calories on this? Do I really want to eat it at all? I wasn't even hungry or craving chocolate.

The truth is that my interest level in the cake went up only because it was unwanted. Had my husband eaten it or actually thrown it out, I wouldn't even have considered sampling it. I think that there is something at work in regards to my value as a person when I deal with food. I get the scraps that are leftover when no one else wants them. If my husband wants something, he gets it first. I get it if it's one step removed from the trash. Those are the things that are appropriate for me to eat because I'm not "good enough" to be first in line.

I often feel that this sort of mental adjustment or change in attitude toward food is part of where the real answers lie in dealing with eating disorders. It's not about willpower or sweeping changes in lifestyle so much as repositioning your thinking again and again so that by mental millimeters, you come to value yourself enough not to ease your pain with edible garbage. The mistake I think many people make while attempting this adjustment is they try to substitute other rewards instead of food (like makeovers, new clothes, travel, etc.). You don't need to change the reward. You need to change the thinking which makes you feel a particular reward is going to accomplish something that it can't do. Whatever that emptiness is can't be filled by anything.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Miles to Go...

This morning, my husband reached over from his office chair to me in my office chair to hug me (as he so often does for which I am infinitely grateful). As he hugged me, I noticed that his arms went around me more easily and fully than before. I told him that even I could tell that it was getting easier for him to hug me because my girth had contracted.

Experiences like these are always very motivating. It's one of the reasons I make posts about incremental progress. Yesterday I also noticed that the upper ring of my flabby belly was wrinkling at the sides where it was starting to collapse and flatten out. No, it's not a pretty sight or a nice look, but it is an indication of progress. My body is such a mass of fat-related battle scarring that I don't expect to look beautiful naked and will just settle for looking normal clothed.

At any rate, one of the things that makes this so dispiriting at times is that these little milestones on the path to a healthy weight are so infrequent. The moment you notice is a joyous one, but then you don't see another progress marker for a month or longer. This is why people weigh themselves as a means of tracking their progress. That number is positive feedback when it goes down. That being said, I'm still not inclined to weigh myself as I read far too many accounts of people torturing themselves about the scales ups and downs.

At any rate, I still feel like I'm traveling down a long lonely, barren road to a destination I can hardly imagine (as I've never really been there). The little markers are pretty much all I have to offer hope that the journey will one day be actually completed and I will be at a healthy weight and be able to eat 100% of my daily required calories instead of 75%. I realize that I have miles to go before I can eat though.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is that the baby... ?

When I started doing this, I eased into reducing portions and changing my eating patterns. I also slowly incorporated calorie counting one day at a time. Given my level of emotional and physical dependence on food, I felt that this was pretty much all I could manage. Now, in retrospect, I see that this was a form of systematic conditioning. It was, in layman’s terms, baby steps to a point where I had much better control.

None of this is news, but one thing I sometimes wonder as I follow other people’s diet struggles is why some people take an approach that is so hard for them to sustain. They throw out everything they have been doing and jump onto a “healthy living” kick. While this is really great (and better for you than what I’m doing, I’m sure), I sometimes feel that it increases the chances of failure geometrically.

One case in point that always baffles me is the surrendering of diet sodas (or all caffeine) at the start of a change in eating habits. Diet sodas didn’t make you fat, so why give up sweets, bad carbs, salted snacks, and heavy fat usage and toss the diet sodas into the mix as well? Isn’t it better to give up what you have to to lose weight first and work on losing the artificial sweeteners later? With so much to change in life, it just feels like tossing the baby out with the bath water.

I wonder if the drive to do this is essentially a perfectionist one. It’s not enough to do better, we have to “do it right.” It’s all healthy or all unhealthy all the way. And if we do it wrong, we do it all wrong. It fits in with the “all or nothing” impulses that drive people to see an entire day’s efforts blown if they make one mistake in their diet. You know the deal, you eat three slices of pizza and have already overeaten, so might as well just go nuts and have some candy, etc. You’ll start the next day with a clean slate.

It took me a long time to realize it, but perfectionism is really just another way of setting yourself up to fail. In fact, in retrospect, I wonder if my tendencies in this regard were a way of staying with in a loop of self-loathing. If I set the bar too high, I was bound to fail. When I failed, I hated myself and derided myself for being inadequate in various ways.

I think that part of what makes it hard to change is that we don’t know who we are if we aren’t someone we hate. If we grew up as people who were tormented or made to feel worthless, we may not feel comfortable feeling worthwhile so we become perfectionists so that we can confirm our self-image. “I have no willpower.” “I’m weak.” “I’m disgusting.” Tossing the baby out with the bathwater on the lifestyle change front just might be another attempt to self-sabotage.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Things That See Me through

I don't tend to write about the details of what I do or eat much because I think what works for each person is highly personalized. That being said, I'm going to share some of the foods that help see me through this journey both because doing so may be helpful to my kind and supportive readers and just so that I remember should I ever stray and forget what helped me get through the first 6 months of controlled eating.

These aren't tricks, but things that really have helped me with healthy eating and things I actually enjoy.

1. My immersion blender (for vegetable soups).

Everyone talks about eating vegetables when you're trying to lose weight because they are low in calories and high in fiber, and the truth is that I like a lot of vegetables. I'm likely to be eating raw carrot or tomato most days and actually being happy with that. That being said, cooked or raw, they sometimes get boring. One thing that has helped me immensely is simple, homemade vegetable-based soups that I puree quickly with the immersion blender and can eat with small portions of main dishes. The soup is filling and makes you feel fine with about half as much of the main dish as you might normally eat.

They're thick and have a sense of richness (without added fat), savory, and a little salty. Tomato and carrot are particular favorites, but you can do any main vegetable element that you like. Preparing these soups usually takes about 15 minutes, then it's just allow it to simmer with the lid on until the hardest vegetables are tender and use the blender on it. Any herbs and spices you like can be added, and you can salt it to taste after a first round of pureeing. I don't recommend adding salt while cooking because the spices you add (or consomme cubes or bullion) may make it salty enough.

This winter, it's been so satisfying having these types of soups that there are few days that I don't eat them. The truth is that I am not a fan of regular soups with watery broth and bits of vegetables floating in them and I only like these types of smooth, thick soups. The tomato I make is sublime, and goes with many other dishes. It's also quite low calorie and cheap to make.

Making a large amount of these soups and having it on hand (either in the freezer or refrigerator) also helps when you're really hungry and can't spare too many calories. Drinking a cup of it tends to see you through.

2. eggs

I have found that eggs are a forgotten treasure for me in trying to eat well and cheaply. As a kid, I was never a great fan of them and even as an adult, I haven't been bonkers for them. That being said, when I'm eating reduced calories, they seem more gratifying than other foods and they can be quite good if prepared well and with variety. In particular, egg salad with a mixture of half full fat mayonnaise and half yogurt (or just low calorie mayonnaise) with finely chopped onions and whatever spices I'm in the mood for is super either on whole wheat toast or served on lettuce.

The average serving of egg salad for me only has about 150 calories and is full of protein and fat so I feel sated for longer. I also find that perfectly poached eggs with crispy whole wheat toast and tomatoes on the side make an excellent lunch. Your body can metabolize all of the protein in an egg, so you get more bang for the calories as compared to other forms of animal-based protein.

3. tuna (in water)

Like eggs, tuna seems to be particularly filling in smaller portions than some other proteins. I mix it with pasta, lemon juice or vinegar, and just a little mayonnaise to make a cold salad, make tuna fish patties, or tuna salad. Unlike chicken breast (which I also love), tuna is very flavorful on its own so you don't need to add a lot to it to get more enjoyment from it.

4. Diet Coke

Yes, I know most people who are trying to lose weight believe soft drinks are the spawn of the devil and that thin people who see fat people ordering a diet soda scoff with derision. That being said, I love Diet Coke and enjoy having it with food. I hate having water with food and depriving myself of an enjoyable, palate cleansing beverage with meals is only going to make me hate my food plan. I drink about 500 ml. a day, or about half of a tall bottle with lunch and half with dinner. In the summer, or on days when I'm really thirsty, I might drink as much as two bottles. I still drink plenty of water, so it's not swapping water for Diet Coke.

5. rice crackers

When I say "rice crackers", I actually mean sembei. This is something that I have to be very careful about portions with, but they are a bit better for you than potato chips, more flavorful, and lower in calories. When I want something salty and crispy, I can eat 2 or 3 somewhat large rice crackers with some highly flavorful seasoning for about 40-100 calories and be quite satisfied. Usually, they're wrapped in portion-controlled (1-2 crackers) packets so it's easy to stop after a set amount. Note that I'm not talking about diet foods like puffed up rice cakes, but real sembei from Asian countries. I think it also helps that, unlike chips, I didn't grow up eating bags full of sembei so I don't have a mental association with putting away a ton of them at once.

6. tea (with milk and sweetener)

Many people don't like tea because they feel they have to drink it straight if they're dieting, but a little low-fat milk and a packet or two of Splenda (depending on the tea type) takes away the bitterness and leaves you with something smooth and sweet. If you want a more decadent feel, heat the milk before you add it and it'll seem even richer. I drink both herbal and regular tea made with teabags. I don't drink things like Chamomile or flowery teas. I drink things like Celestial Seasonings Maple Vanilla (which is fabulous as a nighttime dessert tea if you brew it strong, add a splash of full fat milk, and Splenda), Chai, and seasonal specialty teas (like Gingerbread).

7. (double-strained) yogurt

Yeah, yeah. People are always pushing low-fat, plain yogurt on dieters, but I'm not talking about choking down watery yogurt mixed with fruit for breakfast then being hungry 90 minutes later. I'm talking about taking a coffee filter, suspending it above a container (with a tight lid) with a rubber band, filling it with plain yogurt, and letting it drain for a day then repeating the process after transferring the yogurt to a fresh filter and letting it drain for another day. If you strain enough whey out of it, even fat-free, plain yogurt is very thick and creamy and makes a fat girl's sub for sour cream when salted or seasoned. Salted up and having a few savory herbs added makes a great dip for Triscuits or vegetables.

Thick yogurt is also nicer than watery yogurt when mixed with things like frozen berries. It's more like eating a custard than yogurt, albeit a sour one.

Of course, regular yogurt also helps to stretch mayonnaise so that I can use less of it.

8. chocolate

I think that I'd probably have a lot more trouble controlling my eating if I didn't allow myself to have things I wanted. This isn't something that works for everyone, but I can usually add in small portions (about 100 calories or less) of chocolate most days. Knowing nothing is off limits helps me not want things badly and resent not being able to have them.

9. frozen bananas

Health food blogs have been talking about the joy of ice cream that is little more than frozen bananas for quite some time. I do a variation on that which offers more water and less density because, though bananas are healthy, they're still densely caloric. Also, I don't find intense sweet, mashed banana flavor to be exactly to my tastes. In the summer, when I craved ice cream or a cold treat, I would take about 2/3 cup of crushed ice, frozen slices of one medium or small ripe banana (I put the slices flat on plastic wrap so they are separated and easy to get off of the sheet of plastic), 2 packets of Splenda, a dash of vanilla, a bit of cinnamon, and a 1/2 cup of lowfat milk in a blender and blend it at the highest setting for about 90 seconds. It makes a nice "soft serve" which has about 130 calories and a lot of volume and liquid.

There are other things that help, but these are the things which I think aid the most in helping me eat less because they either satisfy my need for enjoyment or fill me up without adding in too many calories. The only thing which I regret is that the chocolate calories, few as they are, probably mean I consume less fruit than I might since they are about the amount of an average banana or apple.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pleasure Without the Price

Sometimes I walk around the supermarket looking at all of the tasty-looking treats and knowing from my experience checking labels that the price to be paid for the enjoyment is not worth it. That nice-looking slice of Swiss cake roll over there is going to be 300 calories. That's as much as I spend on breakfast or 2/3 of a substantial snack. That innocent looking bit of cheese is 100 calories for two nibbles and I could have a banana for that cost.

For many years, I realized that there was a price for bad eating choices, but I pretended that price didn't apply to me because I was already fat. I was like the credit card user who sees the balance going up, but keeps spending because what's another $5, $10, $15, or $20 a month in payment on the bill when I can have what I want now? I'm already in debt, what's a little more? It's not like denying myself is going to change my status any time soon.

When I think about those tasty foods, I'll wish, on occasion, that I could have the pleasure of those foods without the price. I'll wish that someone would invent wonderful food that had great texture and flavor for zero calories, or for a fraction of the current price. I think that this wish is not one that only I have had and is part of what has us eating so much manufactured and processed diet food. We want the good without the bad, and when someone offers us a chance at this gustatory brass ring, we grab it. It always ends up that the ring is cheap plastic painted the same color as brass and we're sorely disappointed, but we keep grabbing anyway.

Part of coming to terms in a meaningful way with my problem has been recognizing that the price of overeating applies to me even if I'm already fat. Because I've been overweight nearly my entire life, it took health problems that were frightening and painful as well as a looming life change to make me wake up and smell the proverbial coffee. You can hate yourself everyday and still not change if you think that the change is never going to be meaningful enough to sacrifice the pleasures of food. And if you've spent more years fat than thin, it's going to be damn hard to believe you'll ever be thin. Even now, I'm not sure I'll ever actually be thin, but I'll settle for healthy.

Another part of coming to terms with my problems has been realizing that piling more food "debt" on my current debt is not staying in the same state, but rather getting worse and worse. Being fat is bad. Being obese is worse. Being morbidly obese even worse yet. It took my heart pounding on random occasions while I was sitting down or walking short distances to make me see that I was about to go bankrupt on the health front from accumulating too much food "debt". With the weight I've lost and the changes I've made, the heart pounding experience has almost completely vanished.

The next point that I really want to come to terms with is the idea that there will never be pleasure without a price when it comes to food so I need to stop wishing for that and just accept that the hot fudge sundaes are like buying a diamond ring whereas the carrot is like a dollar bauble from a kid's vending machine. There's never going to be a free ride, and I need to stop hoping and looking for it if I'm ever going to have a healthy relationship with food.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Other Direction

No sooner do I make a post about not having the urge to binge then I spend the next week having more trouble not eating than I have had in quite some time. I can't say why this happened, but I think it was hormonal. Things are back to a better state now and I'm more in control of my eating again, but I do wonder if there will always be an issue with this.

On the bright side, I may have eaten a little more than I would have preferred for several days, but I didn't go overboard. The harder part for me was not panicking or getting down on myself for eating more than would have been ideal. I started to fear at one point that eating 2000 calories might result in actual weight gain, but then I realized that this is a pretty warped perspective. Chances are, at my current still hefty weight, I'm still losing at 2000.

These types of feelings gave me a glimpse into what it might be like on the other side of the eating disorder fence. That is, the side with problems like anorexia where you start to fear gaining weight from eating relatively normal or small amounts. It's easy to become irrational about food when you have weight problems and even easier when you are trying hard to control them. Much as I hate being fat, I wouldn't want to go in the other direction either.

I read a blog post recently from a person of relatively normal weight and she was lecturing people on why diets fail and what to eat and not to eat. As a person with a severe eating problem, I love nothing more than being lectured by people who occasionally have ten or fifteen pounds to lose (by her own assertion, this was how much she was overweight) about how I should deal with weight. Among the things she talked about were the fact that diets always failed and calorie counting shouldn't be done. Her logic on calorie counting was that you start to think too much about food rather than eat according to what you need and become more obsessed with food.

Frankly, I agree with her on the whole becoming more obsessed with food if you start to diet. That being said, I think anyone who is obese is already obsessed with food. I think people of average weight think that our bodies are speaking to us the same way theirs speak to them. It's kind of like someone with a well-behaved child trying to tell someone with a sensitive, temperamental child how to manage children. You're dealing with two very different situations.

Lately, I have been thinking though about calorie counting and having to think about food all of the time. However, there is something to be said for thinking about food so you don't have to think about food. What I mean by that intentionally nonsensical statement is that thinking about how much I can eat and planning what I can eat means that I don't have to put thought into it after a certain point. I don't believe food preoccupied me less when I wasn't counting calories. It just preoccupied me less discretely and differently. That bag of chips or candy bar nagged at me to chow down for pleasure. Now, food is all part of these calculations and plans.

I wish I could say that one day I'll have lost all of the weight and I'll stop calorie counting and thinking about food, but I don't think that will ever happen. I think I'll have to do this for the rest of my life if I want to protect my health and make sure that I don't slide down that slippery slope again. I'm only going to get older and weaker and it'll be harder to rely on exercise to maintain my weight. So, I'd best just grow accustomed to the idea that I'll have to keep tabs on my eating forever, even if some skinny people think it's a bad idea.