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.

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