Friday, July 30, 2010

Conditioning Myself - Part 3 (Mental)

This is part 3 of a 3-part sequence. Here is part 1 and here is part 2. A detailed breakdown of the stages of changing your thinking is here at "rewiring yourself."

This is perhaps the hardest to summarize because mental conditioning which is deep and personal is like tossing a million tiny levers in your brain many times a day. Also, the things I had to tell myself may not be the things other people have to tell themselves. Nonetheless, this is about offering a thumbnail version of what I have done, not a recommendation for others to do so as well.

If you read what I have written here, you'll note that there are no punitive actions involved. There is no talking about "bad", "shouldn't", "can't" or "won't". There is no guilt. There is no beating myself up or berating myself as "weak" or "out of control". Mainly, there are conversations, considerations and choices. Sometimes, the main problem with people who overeat is that they never stop to think at all but rather just act and then reflect after the fact. When you decide to lose weight, the decision itself changes the dynamic because you start to question what you have been doing. You want to start asking the questions and considering before you act. Even if you choose to do the destructive thing the first time, the second, or the third, you may find you can stop yourself in the future (or reduce the potential "damage") once you grow accustomed to having the dialog before taking action.

Asking these questions each time you are pondering a destructive choice is very important, perhaps much more important than your response to them because repeatedly asking them will eventually change your thought processes. The types of questions you ask are very important and I encourage anyone who wants to make long-term and lasting changes to adopt a respectful, mature, nurturing and compassionate tone with themselves rather than a patronizing and punitive one. This is all about teaching yourself to gradually interact differently with food, not disciplining yourself like a misbehaving child. You deserve patience and kindness, and giving it to yourself will make the learning faster and more effective.

While I may seem to be asserting what I have done as a cut and dry process of asking a question or considering a situation and following up with the "best" response or the one which was most conducive toward repairing my damaged relationship with food, that is certainly not what happened in every case. It was much more uneven than that. There were times when I considered the situation, and still made a destructive choice. Through time though, repeated and consistent consideration resulted in the more constructive choice more and more often. After even more time, the more productive choice started to come without the accompanying mental dialog. So, if this seems like a maddening assortment of considerations to play through your head, consider that the dialogs fall away through time as you naturally reach better choices with less (and eventually no) resistance. Also, every item on the list was not going through my head every time I approached food. Only the relevant dialog was in play for each given situation.

Mental conditioning changed as each stage of physical conditioning changed. It is very important to keep in mind that these two things were synchronized based on the demands of the physical changes. What needed to be done at the beginning was quite different than what I'm doing now which is likely different than what I'll be doing a year from now.

Here is the short version of what I did as best I can summarize and recollect at this time:
  1. When I reduced portion sizes, I often felt that I was missing something or was going to feel deprived. I asked myself why I felt I needed a huge cup of coffee. How did a third of a cup more liquid make the experience of a morning cup better? Did I need that large amount, or simply want it because I had become accustomed to it? I had these sorts of conversations with myself every time I had a reduced portion and felt I wanted more. This dialog eventually resulted in my satisfaction with very tiny portions of treats (like one or two bites). I conditioned myself to feel that a small amount was quite sufficient rather than to desire large amounts.
  2. Since I wanted more "experience" with food and that was one of the reasons that I wanted large portions, I asked myself in what way "more" was making the experience "better". Would I really enjoy 8 bites of a candy bar more than 2 or 3? Was I even processing the experience of each and every bite on a sensory level or simply eating by rote? Every time I wanted more of a treat, I had this type of conversation with myself. These types of conversations were what caused me to eventually practice mindful eating in the future. These conversations promoted an attitude of valuing economy of experience in which I got the most sensory gratification from the fewest calories.
  3. When I lapsed into mindless eating, I tried to recognize this behavior. At first, I did it after the fact. I thought about why I ate a huge pile of pretzels until I reached the bottom of the bag and reflected on why. If I was just stuffing food into my mouth without thinking about it, I tried to "catch" myself in this process and consider why I was doing it. Later, I could stop myself before eating it all. Later still, I recognized the impulse before I started. Now, I don't do it at all. I asked myself questions like: Was I really hungry? If so, was this the food to be eating to satiety? (Usually, it wasn't.) Was I tired or depressed? Was I just eating it out of habit because I put the bag in front of me? Was I deriving comfort or satisfaction from the mere act of putting food in my mouth and swallowing it and, if so, what would comfort me more constructively? (Often, that was the case.) This sort of reflection both stopped compulsive eating and got me into the habit of always serving myself portions on a plate which I add into the food log before I eat them so that I am aware of the impact of such things on my daily intake.
  4. When I had a craving that was preoccupying me, I focused on the fact that food cravings are related to the memory of pleasurable experiences. Essentially, you want the pleasure because you remember having had it before. I asked myself how much was necessary to refresh that memory of a food I desired and focused on eating a little to relive the experience rather than eating a lot to fill my stomach. If I was genuinely hungry, then a craving wasn't the answer. The craving could be gratified, but I told myself that filling the belly was another issue entirely. I told myself that I could have both of these needs fulfilled, just not by the same food.
  5. When I was hungry, I asked myself if it was because my stomach was empty, my blood sugar was low or if I simply wanted to eat because eating compulsively or impulsively was such a part of my routine life that I just felt an absence of something when I didn't just go and eat. This isn't the same as "boredom". It is more like having the T.V. on in the background for company and not watching it, and feeling something is amiss when it is turned off and quiet. Eating was a companion, and I was trying to become aware of that relationship.
  6. Once I became aware of habitual eating, I sought to replace this habit with productive distraction. Note that this is not mere distraction, but an effort to implement useful, long-term, and more helpful habits into my daily routine. The easiest choice was to either do something creative like doing actual work or doing housework. As time went by, rather than being a forced activity, these new habits seamlessly replaced eating as part of my daily routine. This is a big part of why I think less about food in general. It has stopped being a companion activity that I engaged in out of habit and other actions have become the default that my mind wanders to.
  7. When I had food in front of me and was eating it, I forced myself to be more aware of every bite of the food and to think about how my stomach felt. As someone who grew up poor, I am reluctant to throw away any food (my mother got angry if we "wasted food") and often cleaned my plate (and my husband's) by rote . When I felt like I should eat everything I had in front of me whether I was hungry or enjoyed it, I thought about how my eating more calories would not extract more value from the money I spent on the food and that I am worth more than a few cents worth of food. Sometimes I had to force myself to scrape the food into the bin, but it got easier the more I told myself that I was worth more than the cost of food.
  8. I started to analyze the food I ate for pleasure for it's sensory value and asked myself if I was eating it all because it was "special", expensive, or because I felt I really enjoyed every bite. For example, when I wanted pizza, I considered which parts of the pizza I really enjoyed and which parts had limited pleasure associated with them. I didn't eat portions of food that didn't bring me sufficient pleasure and told myself that I am worthy of eating only the very best part of a dish. Later, I started to prepare food differently in accord with this thinking.
  9. When I was genuinely hungry, I reminded myself that hunger is a part of losing weight and that the body is justifiably fighting back, but I am the master of my body. I started dealing with hunger and cravings by using delayed gratification techniques. That is, if I really wanted something, I'd try to put it off for 5 minutes, then 5 more, then 5 more if I could. If I really felt I couldn't delay any longer, I'd have a small amount of what I wanted and make myself wait 15 minutes before I had more.
  10. I started practicing hunger conditioning where I tried to learn to tolerate hunger more effectively.
  11. I started to practice restraint in the face of possibility. When I started out, I always ate as much of everything I could up to my calorie limits. If I wanted more and could "afford it", I had it. I think early on this was actually necessary, but as time went by, it became less important both physically and mentally and I started to not eat just because I "could". I saw saying "no" when I could "afford (the calories)" to say "yes" as a mental muscle worth exercising. This was the beginning of a practice which has lead to my not eating up to my calorie allotments every day when I'm not actually hungry. Essentially, practicing restraint became an end unto itself rather than a means to an end.
  12. When I pined for some experience which I felt I enjoyed more because food was involved, like watching a movie and eating popcorn, I deconstructed the scenario and thought about how one experience actually detracted from the full enjoyment of the other. I thought about how coupling behaviors renders each of them more mindless rather than more enjoyable. I started to purposefully untangle experiences (even those unrelated to food) and to single task rather than multi-task as my default habit. I try to "live in the moment" more fully with everything, including food.
  13. "You can have it later" has become a huge unforced mantra for me. In the beginning, this is how I managed to get through low-calorie days when I started calorie counting. I told myself that "tomorrow", I could eat anything I wanted (and I could) and I just had to endure today. This has gone from a forced mantra to a situation in which it comes rather more naturally and by desire. If I eat lunch and think I'd like to follow it up with a treat, I think that I'll enjoy it more after some time has passed. I don't even have to tell myself that anymore. It's just a natural response. Delaying gratification makes the satisfaction better because it is spacing out pleasurable experiences and making them more distinct. This practice has helped me not eat late at night when I'm hungry as well as not overeat because I want something and have eaten enough calories. After a year of saying, "it's okay if you want it because you can have it later," this has become a fairly effortless response.
  14. When I was sad, upset, or depressed and wanted to eat to comfort myself, I thought about how eating would not fix the problem and forced myself to think about what would. I also pondered whether or not eating was related to what was bringing me down. More often than not in the early days, my depression was related to my weight or physical pain, so I'd think about how I had to break the cycle of suffering induced by eating. These days, I don't get as unhappy about my relationship with food (but still get sad about other things), but the way in which other changes have reshaped my thinking has stopped me from feeling driven to food for comfort. These days, I just try to tell myself that sadness happens and I have to just experience it. It doesn't have to be something that I have to slap a food-filled band-aid over to mask the feelings.
  15. I remind myself that taking pleasure in food is a wonderful thing which humans are meant to experience, but it doesn't have to be achieved with volume and that more food actually undermines the taste experience as taste buds lose their sensitivity. I remind myself that "more is better" is a reflexive thought which is not based in the reality of the eating experience.
  16. I question my desire to eat in terms of really being hungry or simply wanting the enjoyable experience of eating. This is one thing I still have to do on a semi-regular basis. Often I will be able to afford the calories or enough time has passed since the previous meal that I could eat if I wanted to, but I don't if the only reason I want to do it is to enjoy food. It's not overeating that I'm trying to avoid in this case, it is trying not to "entertain myself" randomly with food. I separate this type of desire to eat something pleasurable from the desire for a snack or a small dessert. It's also important to note that this is not boredom. It is simple pleasure-seeking via the sensory delight of food, and I brush this aside when it seems to be happening by telling myself that when I'm genuinely hungry, I can have the pleasure of eating what I want. This happens most often when I'm cooking or baking something for future consumption, but the food is appetizing now.
  17. When I grew frustrated with the cumbersome nature of weighing, measuring, and logging in food, I remind myself that I have a physical disability that requires monitoring just like many other disabilities if I want to be healthy. My disability is that I have no idea how much I should be eating and must track my food or I will end up eating too much or too little. Resenting this disability or growing frustrated at the necessity of the process is unproductive. I see my lot in life in this regard as no different from that life-long diabetics must deal with. It is simply a task that I must do, like washing dishes, and I should just accept that it is necessary without attaching any value (either positive or negative) to the experience one way or another.
I'm not sure if this is "everything", but it's a big chunk of it. While compiling this list, I am struck by how doing so has clarified some of the links for me between my present mindset and the actions I took. In particular, it seemed at one point as if some magical transformation took place for me in terms of not being obsessed with food and weight loss, but it wasn't transcendent. It was progressive replacement of old thinking and acting with new thoughts and actions.

All of that thinking, questioning, acting, and conversing slowly and almost imperceptibly built a new path in my mental jungle that is now more comfortable to travel down than the one I had for many years. It was a slow arduous trail to create, but it has become the more natural one through time. I just had to keep (and still have to keep) pruning away at it when the weeds attempt to grow back over the path I've built.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conditioning Myself - Part 2 (Physical)

This is part 2 of a 3-part sequence. Part one explains what conditioning is and is here. Part 3 pertains to mental conditioning and is here.

The point of conditioning rather than turning myself around 180 degrees and just making a lot of changes at once was to make the changes stick. It's a little like learning one new word a day instead of trying to memorize a list of 365 immediately. It's not impossible to learn that many new words in a short time, but the chances that you'll recall them well is improved if you learn them slowly and apply them in everyday use. The down side, of course, is that slow changing means slower results. If you're someone who has to be who you want to be tomorrow, then this is a horrible method for you. Fortunately, I'm not one of those people now (though I used to be much more like that).

The start of my conditioning focused on the physical. I believe that our bodies are used to the balance of food we give them and an abrupt change causes a physical "shock" to the system which makes it much harder to succeed. The body pushes the mind and the mind weakens its resolve. Essentially, you push your body and it pushes back. The more gently you push, the less it offers a counterforce.

In order to mitigate the difficulty and hopefully "ease" my body into these changes, I took the following steps over a period of many months. Note that I remained at each step until I reached a period in which my discomfort with that stage was not very high. I did not stay at a stage until I was entirely comfortable before moving ahead, just much less uncomfortable and mentally capable to making things more difficult for myself.

It's important to keep in mind that I did not start out as a consumer of appreciable amounts of junk food. I didn't eat fast food at all (pretty much dislike it, always have). I did eat potatoes, rice, and a mix of about half white bread and half whole wheat, though mainly I ate whole grains. I did eat food made with sugar (like muffins) and I ate salted snacks (generally not potato chips though), chocolate, and ice cream. That being said, I didn't eat the huge portions people imagine fat people eat. I didn't have a lot of terrible habits to begin with. I just ate too much of everything (especially cheese, bread, and dairy). Period.

After I felt minimal discomfort with the current step, I pushed ahead to the next step in this list:
  1. I reduced portion sizes slightly. I ate about 3/4 of what I normally ate and even reduced the portions of liquids that contained calories by a similar amount. I did not guzzle large amounts of water as my aim was to reduce my stomach capacity on the whole, not to fill it with non-caloric liquids or low-calorie foods that would keep it stretched.
  2. I reduced portions sizes to about half of what I used to eat for both caloric liquids and all food. I also started practicing the early stages of "mindful eating". That is, I started to pay attention to the taste and texture of every bite of food so that I could extract the most from each eating experience. This naturally slowed down my eating.
  3. I reduced portions of carbohydrates and started to measure them out carefully to single portion servings. Seeing how small one serving of things like mashed potatoes really is would shock many people.
  4. I started counting calories one day per week. I staved off craving and hunger pangs on that one day by promising that I could eat as much as I wanted of any food I wanted the next day. I meant it. I never "lied" to myself about what was possible.
  5. I started counting calories two non-consecutive days per week. Again, I dealt with hunger by allowing myself to have what I wanted "tomorrow", and I meant it.
  6. I started counting calories three non-consecutive days per week.
  7. I started counting calories 4 days per week.
  8. I started counting calories everyday.
The calorie counting days forced a reshaping of my eating habits in various ways. I started to see how I had to balance my choices to fit in enough food not to starve on those days. Knowing I only had to do this one day a week made the starting point easier, and gave my body a chance to recover from the shock of what felt like great deprivation. I had to plan carefully for the calorie counting days and learned slowly to prepare food in a certain manner in accord with those days. There was a learning process that I slowly was broken into in terms of food preparation and the cumbersome and odious nature of calorie counting.

This method didn't make it "easy" for my body to adjust to fewer calories, but I think it did make it easier to stick with it because I had time to adjust to the demands on my time for food planning and preparation and to figure out how to work with food. I wanted my body to go from ample energy to diminished amounts to reduced energy to under-powered in stages. Note that I never stepped back once I took a step forward because I never stepped ahead until the discomfort was relatively small. If you have to step back, you're probably moving ahead too quickly.

I did not fulfill my desired goals every single day, but I never changed the goals. If I "failed", I simply followed the plan at the present stage. I didn't "punish" myself for eating too much on a calorie counting day by curtailing the eating on the next day, for instance. I did the best I could every day regardless of the previous day's efforts.

The other half of the physical conditioning was movement oriented. My body was in a terrible state when I started and my body was weak and prone to much pain. I couldn't walk 5 minutes without excruciating back pain. Improvements came quite slowly, so I was very careful not to do too much too quickly. Sometimes I felt frustrated by the fact that I couldn't use exercise more to help me lose faster, but the truth is that I think it helped me focus more on food and that is really where the bigger challenge lies and where the most effective part of weight loss comes from.

Roughly, my path has been:
  • I started walking as long as possible without pain and sitting down at regular intervals. In the beginning, I was in agony after about 3 minutes. I added about 5 minutes to that time every several weeks depending on pain levels. In the beginning, I sat down frequently and stopped a lot. Sometimes I'd have to stop every 20 steps or so and rest.
  • I started trying to stand more when I did housework.
  • I tried to make myself get up and do things more often rather than consolidating trips to other rooms.
  • I bought plastic weights that are to be filled with water. When full, they weigh 2.2 lbs. (1 kg.). I started lifting them 5 times in one range of motion. I added reps little by little and then added other ranges of motion.
  • I added in exercises that can be done from my computer chair like leg lifts and stomach muscle holding. I added reps to the original count of 5 when the muscles didn't become sore anymore.
Concurrent with the physical stages above, I went through mental conditioning techniques which I will summarize in the next part.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Conditioning, What it is - Part 1

In my posts these days, I mention having conditioned myself to not eat emotionally, to eat in moderation, and to not obsess about food now without going into details of what that means. While the steps I've taken are detailed in many previous posts, I'm becoming concerned that using it as a catch-all descriptor for what I've done may be confusing or appear to be cryptic jargon for new readers. Because of this, I'm going to write several summation posts to explain the processes or link to explanations of them in a thumbnail manner. Obviously, reading the archives is best for full details. This is something I'm doing merely as an overview.

There is a process in the treatment of phobias called "systematic desensitization" which I'm sure some of my readers are familiar with. This process helps people with crippling fear to slowly approach the thing which they are afraid of. Consider the example of someone with a severe snake phobia that is becoming generalized to other snake-like things (caterpillars, centipedes, etc.). To start to deal with the fear, the therapist may first discuss snakes with the person who fears them. When she becomes comfortable talking about them, the therapist may move on to looking at the pictures of snakes until anxiety is reduced. The next step may be looking at live snakes in a reptile zoo from a great distance which is slowly reduced. Finally, the phobic person may learn to touch snakes.

My process of conditioning is not too dissimilar from systematic desensitization. That is, I start small and slowly add or subtract behaviors and thinking patterns. This isn't the same as telling yourself "don't eat that" or "eating that cookie won't make you feel better", though it may eventually have a similar result. Most mental conditioning that people do with themselves tends to be punitive and shallow. My conditioning has been deep, thoughtful, and gradual. Though one might be able to say that I have accomplished what pat mantras and slogans encourage, I did not use them to get where I am today.

Frankly, I find the use of oft-repeated mantras to be of limited value relative to employing more reflective methods of graduated personalized conditioning. The mantras tend to encourage change in one fell-swoop and treat the person hearing them or saying them like a private being berated by a drill sergeant. I'm an adult woman. This is not what I need or want to motivate or promote lasting change in me. People have been barking at me punitively directly or indirectly all of my life and it only made things worse.

There are two "rough" parts to the conditioning I have done. One is physical and includes changes in how much and how often I eat as well as adding in exercise. The other is mental, and includes changes in how I think about food and my life outside of food. I will do the best I can to make my overviews comprehensive enough to be of value, but not exhaustive enough to be difficult to follow. I encourage anyone who needs more explanation to ask a question, or investigate my archives.

Part 2 regards physical conditioning and is here.

Part 3 regards mental conditioning and is here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


My goal since starting to change my weight has always been about "normalizing" rather than "radicalizing" my life. This is actually a risky thing to assert, because there will always be people who take issue with the use of the word "normal". They will ask "what is normal?" They will question your right to define "normal" for others, or even yourself.

I will grant that it is one of those words that is loaded with difficulty and some may even consider its usage pejorative. They may feel that we define "normal" only to allow ourselves to have the luxury of identifying what is "abnormal". There are also problems because "normal" is not only culturally specific, but geographically relevant. What are considered "normal" manners in New York City aren't going to be "normal" for Peoria, Illinois.

All of that being said, I think that most of us would understand and recognize what is "normal" in terms of a relationship with our bodies and food. Essentially, normal relationships are devoid of disordered thinking and acting. Eating should be linked to hunger or a need for energy in the body. One can even say that it "should" be related to stress, though only to the extent that some extra food helps supply the energy necessary to escape that stress, not to the point where the eating itself creates a new and more debilitating source of stress.

"Normal" can also be associated with "average". Of course, averages are statistically derived and current averages are quite skewed. The average American eats somewhere in the vicinity of 3600 calories per day. That doesn't make that number one which we should consider "normal". For my purposes, I define "normal" as the amount of food required to maintain a body weight at which I am physically healthy and comfortable, and at which I suffer no punishment or mobility issues in the greater world based on body size.

It's important to recognize that my "normal" isn't everyone else's normal. There is often an effort made on the part of bodily acceptance advocates to chuck out any notion of "normality" in order to help people feel better about themselves. Personally, I think that you can't fool people by pretending that weighing 400 lbs. is "normal" by saying that the term cannot and should not be defined. I think it's more valuable to accept your abnormality as something you personally are completely comfortable with than to try and say, "my body is normal."

Acceptance isn't about normality, though it does come more easily for those who are considered normal. In fact, for many people, they have no desire to be "normal", and that's their prerogative. It just isn't mine. I've suffered all my life because I'm not "normal" and I'd like to at least spend a little time at normal so that I could see if there's less suffering going on from that vantage point. It may change nothing, but at least I'd like to have that experience as a point of comparison.

Since I started very near 400 lbs., and knew I was very far from normal, I've been endeavoring to adjust all aspects of my life slowly to reach what I think may be "normal". Part of my problem was that I didn't know what "normal" was for much of my life, but I could see around me that it wasn't how I was living. A big part of that was how I was raised. If you're not taught something in your own home about daily living, where are you going to learn it? It's not like you can up and move into another person's house and observe everything they do.

One of the tiny little things that I noticed about "normal" people came to me when my husband and I were house-sitting for my in-laws. My sister-in-law and her husband resided in an attached house with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and we needed something or other and I checked their refrigerator for it. I noticed that there was one tiny little Reese's peanut butter cup miniature in the freezer. It sat there all alone and uneaten. I thought about how it could just be left there. How could anyone resist eating up that last peanut butter cup?

Normal people didn't eat when they weren't hungry just because tasty treats were on hand. Normal people didn't eat until they couldn't support their body weight and develop terrible back pain. Normal people didn't gain so much weight that they couldn't go to movie theaters, ride amusement park rides, or eat in restaurants for fear that the seating wouldn't accommodate their girth. Normal people didn't have to worry about buying two tickets for a plane ride or that chairs might have arms on them. Normal people weren't slaves to their relationship with food.

The aforementioned types of things were a big part of the sort of "normal" I wanted to achieve. I wanted to be the sort of person who could blithely walk away from or leave behind morsels of candy, just as I can walk away from something I want to buy but don't really need. I wanted to be the sort of person who didn't have to eat a whole candy bar, or bag of cookies once I'd torn open the pack. I wanted to be so blasé and blithe about food when hunger was not in play that I could simply leave it sit there until I really wanted it, or throw it out if it wasn't that good. I wanted food to have that little meaning to me. Of course, I had no idea how to get from who I was to "normal". I only knew I wanted to get there, desperately.

It has taken most of my life to reach a point where I could deal with myself so that I could be close to this point of self-defined normality. It's not about denying urges or the siren call of tasty food. It's about not having the urges or hearing the calls. I didn't want to be the sort of person who fought impulses to eat and triumphantly won and patted myself on the back for every pizza slice I passed on or every bit of cake I turned down. I wanted to be the sort who simply didn't have such strong, frequent or out of control impulses at all. I don't think I could live the rest of my life at a lower weight if I had to keep fighting such urges several times a day, everyday, forever. It'd drive me around the bend.

I think that not fighting this fight and winning (or losing) is what I consider "normal". It's probably as much or more about me seeing food in a normal manner than about me being "normal". I feel closer to "normal" now than I have ever felt in my life, and it's important to note that it has absolutely nothing to do with numbers on a scale or my body size.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Today's Lunch

With the summer heat on, I'm finding it difficult to prepare some of the foods that I came to rely on in less oppressive weather. In particular, I miss my homemade soup. Like many people, I'm going with what is cold and salads work pretty well in that regard.

When it comes to salad, I won't sacrifice flavor or textural improvements for calories. I won't do without full fat dressing nor will I exclude croutons. I love crunchy food, and I'll add in what I want and deal with the extra calories by cutting out a salty snack later if necessary. I'm sure many dieters who are more serious than me would be all over how this could be healthier or lower calorie, but I need to be satisfied with how my food tastes. I enjoy this salad immensely as is. That makes it easy to choose to have it rather than something I choke down because I think it's "good" for me to have vegetables.

Today's lunch came in two parts, both inspired by high humidity and temperatures over 90 degrees. First, I had this salad.

I always have croutons on the side so I can eat them proportionally with each bite. 

  • 2 cups red leaf lettuce (9 calories)
  • 1 whole small-medium tomato (22 calories)
  • 2 thin slices onion (7 calories)
  • 1 small hard-boiled egg (53 calories)
  • 1 tsp. Parmesan cheese (7 calories)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. Caesar salad dressing (102 calories)
  • 2 servings garlic butter croutons (70 calories)
  • salt and pepper

total: 270 calories

I followed this up with a banana frappe drink. This is the sort of thing that you find recipes for all over the web. I don't think my preparation is in any way unique, but I'll include it anyway for those who haven't come across these recipes before or just don't want to look them up. The consistency of this is halfway between soft serve ice cream and a thick milk shake. In hot weather though, it melts fast so you have to eat in an air conditioned room or eat it a little fast.

Note that I tend to eyeball these measurements, but these are pretty close to what they are. This makes an immensely large drink, but a portion of it is essentially water.

Banana frappe

  • 1/2 cup crushed ice
  • 1 medium banana, cut into medium slices and frozen (flat, not stacked) (105 calories)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • sweetener (to taste - I use two packets of Splenda - I like it sweet)
  • 1/2 cup skim milk (40 calories)

total: 145 calories

Add all ingredients to your blender and frappe or mix on the highest setting for one and a half to two minutes. It should start to expand in size as air gets whipped into it. It's ready when it's light and evenly mixed and quite creamy. Garnish by sprinkling a little more cinnamon on top.

Cinnamon is supposed to aid in the metabolizing of sugars, so I like to include it where I can. It has the benefit of being very tasty with the banana and vanilla as well!

Today's lunch:
salad: 270 calories
banana frappe: 145 calories
total: 415 calories

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Instant Benefits

Back when I was in university, one of my college professors talked about a conversation that he had with a friend about never having energy to do the things he wanted to do. The professor said he advised his friend to ignore his fatigue and exercise, do his housework, or go out. He told him that doing these things would bring about more energy. Rather than focus on "rest" when he was tired, he encouraged his acquaintance to focus on activity.

A lot of women talk about how losing weight gives them energy, but a handful say that they don't experience such a change. I sometimes wonder if the energy that people gain from weight loss is as much, possibly more, about increased activity across the board rather than having a lighter body. Yes, it is less energy-consuming to move around a smaller body, but there are thin people who are tired and lethargic, too, and fat people who are bursting with energy. The primary change that people make when they want to lose weight is that they move around more.

I'm not only talking about moving around more by exercising; there is also the fact that they stop hiding in their homes and go out and do things they used to avoid doing because of bodily shame. Part of losing weight often involves swallowing your embarrassment and putting yourself out there. Interestingly, having to do this in turn builds confidence in yourself. You either go out and weather the abuse and learn to face it with your head up, or you give up and go back into hiding. Learning to deal with any sort of adversity in life will breed confidence.

I've been wondering as of late if weight loss is incidental to things like increased energy and improved confidence rather than a product of it. Perhaps it's as much about what the processes give you as the loss of pounds. "Looking better" is highly subjective, and any sense of confidence that people get from weight loss is like a balloon that is ready to be popped by the first person who looks them over and callously says, "you don't look like you've lost much weight."

I can't tell you how many women in weight loss forums talk about feeling great about themselves only to have someone say something that completely leaves them crestfallen. The confidence from "looking better" is a fragile illusion which places power outside of yourself. That which you derive from your actions is real and comes from the power inside of you.

This is good food for thought because it means some of the biggest non-aesthetic benefits of weight loss can be had by people regardless of how much (if any) they lose. Of course, if they don't lose, they get frustrated and give up and go back to old ways and believe they lose energy and confidence because they remain fat. However, if you focus on the actions (moving more, getting out and learning to cope with insults) rather than the results (losing weight), and just do what is best, perhaps there is satisfaction and improvement in quality of life to be had on those points alone. Rather than be tortured by the number on the scale, seek the "instant" benefits which are yours for the taking and be patient with the delivery of the long-term results.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Losing it for someone else

What is the number one thing that most people will say is absolutely required for happiness in life? Health. If you don't have good health, you can't be truly happy. All of the money in the world means nothing if you are in physical pain or at risk of becoming debilitated (or dying). After health, a wide variety of other factors contribute to happiness, but clearly the needs and demands of the body come first.

A psychologist named Abraham Maslow created a pyramid which defined the needs of people. His theory was that the needs at the bottom of the pyramid formed the base, and we had to have the base needs met before we could seriously concern ourselves with needs at the next higher level. Unsurprisingly, at the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs - food, water, sleep, etc. The things which contribute to our basic survival as organisms are first and foremost. On the next step up, is health, and on the third step, family and love. This pyramid, which is an imperfect representation of the needs of humans, is nonetheless fairly accurate for most people. We act in accordance with it most of the time, though we don't always realize it.

During one of my many failed attempts to pull my act together and lose weight, I tried to motivate myself to succeed by seeing things as a choice between my husband (who I love so dearly that it's impossible to express in mere words) and food. I visualized the choice to help motivate me by conjuring up the image of a pile of delicious food and him. This worked for a very short time, but ultimately, I was unable to sustain it. In fact, the truth was that this only made things worse as failure felt all the more crushing when I viewed it in light of this type of choice. I was not only failing myself, but him and my "weakness" was seemingly greater than the person I valued more than anything in the universe.

Women who are trying to lose weight often say they want to do it so they're around when their kids grow up. They believe they can blackmail themselves emotionally into losing weight like I once did. If they taste some success, they soon want everyone around them who also may develop or who have already developed health issues due to weight problems to lose weight also. They display varying degrees of franticness about their spouses', parent's, etc. health risks and express frustration that these people, in their estimation, value the comfort of food more than their future as a family or couple together.

They see it as a matter of the value loved ones apply to them. They think that, if this fat person who claims to love me valued me more, they'd do what it takes to lose weight. I will note that generally these sorts of assertions are made by newly minted losers in the weight loss arena. They've been on a diet bandwagon and lost about 10-20 lbs. and now they play the loudest of anyone in the group. This tiny amount of success sets off a lot of judgment of everyone around them, and they generalize the concerns that motivated them to everyone else.

If choosing to lose weight or control your eating could be effectively motivated in this fashion, there would be very few overweight people in the world. In fact, if my love and value of my husband could drive me to eat well and be healthy, I'd be the healthiest person on the planet. I value nothing more than him. My husband once said that if he had to choose between having someone shoot me or him, he's not sure he'd choose himself because he knows I'd rather die than live without him. He knows he wouldn't be doing me any favors by sacrificing himself, though he clearly would want to do so.

So, if I love and value my life with my husband so much, why couldn't I lose weight "for him"? Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated than that. The relationship we have with food is intimate, deeper, and different than the one we have with other people. It is driven internally, by both biological and psychological factors. Both of these factors are not directly affected by our love of others. When my stomach is rumbling or my blood sugar is low, my body isn't going to squelch the desire to eat in response to my love for my husband and my desire to be with him.

You can't put off a "lower need" (food) by pitting it against a "higher need" (love and belonging). The lower need will win every time as Maslow's pyramid theory illustrates. The lower needs need to be attended to first. It's not just human nature that is at play. It is survival. People have to lose weight for themselves, and it's not about a choice of food or a longer life with loved ones, though they may often feel that is so. My relationship with food came long before the one I have had with my husband, and it is integrated with me on a cellular level. Placing one relationship in a competition against the other is not only counterproductive, but potentially destructive.

Mixing up love with food in this manner carries a lot of emotional risks. The primary one is immense guilt when you fail, but there is also the potential for resentment of the person you're hoping to benefit with your weight loss. Since food issues are intensely personal, linking your food and lifestyle choices to other people is placing control and motivation outside of yourself. It's a tenuous motivation. If your spouse makes you angry, are you going to decide it's not worth it and binge only to be filled with regret and remorse later when a level head returns and emotions are quiet? One needs consistent motivation, and looking to others for that is not going to be very effective.

I would encourage anyone who thinks others should lose weight for their sake, or who thinks they should lose weight for the sake of the ones they love to look inside themselves for motivation and not to associate food choices with personal valuation. People can't and shouldn't be blackmailed into losing weight in this manner and attempting to do so will make it all that much more painful when there is failure. Your body and food are an entirely different order than your love for those who are dear to you. The needs and desires of your body and mind cannot be placed aside for the greater interests of others. They need to be dealt with for yourself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Having a bad day

I'm having a bad day. Food and weight aren't any part of the equation either as the roots of my problems or as solutions. I'm not even tempted to turn to food to comfort me or simplify my focus on why I'm unhappy.

I guess that is a triumph in and of itself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Today's Dinner

As I mentioned in a previous post, I love burritos, and I have them despite needing to make some adjustments to the day's eating to accommodate them. After the latest round of burritos for dinner, I discovered that there was only one tortilla left hanging around and about 6-8 oz. of filling. I wanted to use everything up so I decided to try something which gave me all of the goodies of a burrito, but only required a lone tortilla.

"Deep Dish Burrito"

  • 1 large flour tortilla (180 calories)
  • 1 can refried beans (420 calories)
  • *8 oz. prepared taco meat (ground turkey or chicken w/powdered seasoning mix) (~550 calories)
  • 4 tbsp. Picante sauce or salsa (18 calories)
  • green onions, chopped (to taste, at least 1/2 cup) (~20 calories)
  • 4 oz. cheddar, Colby Jack or cheese of your choice (440 calories)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced or 12 cherry tomatoes, halved (~40 calories) - regular tomatoes are better, but I was out of them and used cherry ones
  • salt and pepper to taste

total calories: 1668
4 servings: 417 calories per serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a pie tin with cooking spray or oil. Center the flour tortilla in the pan and press into the corners. Spread the beans evenly over the tortilla. Sprinkle the seasoned taco meat over the beans and press down into the bean mixture. Spoon the salsa over the meat and spread evenly. Sprinkle green onions (I like to use a lot) over the salsa and top with cheese. Arrange tomato slices or cherry tomato halves over the cheese. Press into the cheese mixture slightly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes until the tomatoes are wilted and the cheese is bubbling.

This dish was born of a particular circumstance, but it's going to stick around for other reasons. The protein to carbohydrate ratio of this is better than my standard burrito, and I can cram in more vegetables because I don't have to worry about wrapping the tortilla. Frankly, it's also nice not to have to split a burrito and eat it twice because of it's massive calorie value. This is a much more conservative meal to fit into a 1500 calorie day. This can be served "as is", or you can have it with a handful of baked tortilla chips. I've had it both ways depending on my mood. 

1 serving "deep dish burrito" = 417 calories
.7 oz. baked tortilla chips = 86 calories
total: 503 calories

*Note that this recipe includes only the meat and seasoning, but I actually mix vegetables with the meat so the calorie count is likely a little lower since I measure by weight and the vegetables (tomato, green pepper, onion) are lower in calories than the ground meat. It's almost certainly an incidental difference. The recipe for the filling with vegetables included is in my post on making burritos. Mainly, I just like to get a few more vegetables into the mix by incorporating them with the filling.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Awfully Familiar

Quite some time ago, I read a book written by health guru Dr. Andrew Weil. In the beginning of the book, he talks about stomping through some jungle somewhere and stopping for the evening. He heated a pot of water, and dumped in a packet of hot chocolate mix, the sort that you can buy in markets anywhere which is made of chemicals, cocoa, and dehydrated milk. He said that there was something very comforting about the familiar experience of drinking this sort of concoction, even though he knew that it wasn't good for him.

For those who don't know, Dr. Weil has written books about integrative medicine and also talks about things like "energy medicine" and eating whole foods. He was talking about avoiding processed foods long before it became the "in" thing to do. He advocates preventative medicine and natural healing where possible, but encourages radical medical intervention and treatment where necessary. He nicely straddles the divide between science and looking to nature for cures.

As one might imagine, Dr. Weil doesn't recommend that we eat things like processed foods or chemical additives like artificial sweeteners. That being said, even he understands the emotional and cultural connections that we have to the non-nutritive or potentially damaging foods we grow up with. That's why he included the passage about drinking the powdered chocolate in the jungle.

Today, I sampled a fragment of a Ruffles potato chip that my husband had leftover from his lunch and I was reminded of Dr. Weil's experience. It thought it tasted strange and not particularly good. Frankly, it was awful to me. That being said, I did find it familiar and emotionally sustaining at the same time. There was something about the weird oily texture and the flavor which must only come from Ruffles fry vats. I could easily see eating more and deriving comfort from them, not because I was savoring every bite as I do when eating mindfully, but because I could enjoy the crunchiness and the known chemical flavors. The pleasure could not come from the tasting, but from the act of shoveling one after another into my mouth. They felt like something which is not meant to be savored, but to provide a sensory companionship of sorts. The longer the companionship, the more comfort one could have.

Part of the reason I no longer find the taste of this sort of food attractive is that I haven't eaten it for awhile. That's not to say that I don't eat any non-nutritious food, far from it. I have pretzels, chocolate, cookies, and rice crackers all of the time. They're just not made in the same way, particularly in terms of the deep fried aspects. I've never been a fan of deep-fried food, so I wouldn't turn to such things naturally anyway.

The experience of tasting that chip gave me a stronger sense of the difference between compulsive eating (which is done for psychological comfort) and eating for pleasure. I could definitely see why people eat certain foods by the handful without even spending long tasting them. Though I had no desire to eat them compulsively (one fragment was enough), I could imagine doing so and extracting some pleasure from doing so. In fact, I could imagine enjoying it more if I did it more because renewed  familiarity would bring about more comfort.

Fortunately, I don't feel drawn to such things anymore and was not tempted on a sensory level. I wasn't tempted on an emotional one either, but I could definitely imagine being so. It's rather like understanding how someone might want to go bungie jumping for the thrill and sense of floating free or bouncing, but never wanting to do so myself.

Perhaps mindful eating practices broke me of the joy of compulsive eating, or perhaps practicing calorie counting and portion control did it. Maybe it is just a habit I got out of and don't feel compelled to get back into. I was going to say at this point that I'm not emotionally different than I was a little over a year ago, but that's not actually true. The stress and environment I live in is the same, but the way in which I use (or abuse) food has changed. It's not something I turn to for comfort, though I can still use it for pleasure. I can remember wanting to and being able to gain comfort from compulsive eating, and I hope not to forget that so I can maintain empathy for others.

I think that understanding that we approach the food we use for compulsive eating as opposed to the food we actually enjoy differently is of some value. Perhaps knowing the difference will allow us to try to focus on those specific foods or the manner in which we eat those foods which provide comfort and how we deal with them. It can create awareness which can lead to altering our relationship with such foods, and hopefully end compulsive eating.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You Aren't What You Eat

One day a week, most weeks, I do a complete cleaning of my apartment. I try to get laundry done, clean the bathroom, vacuum, dust, wash any of the crustier-looking bits of the kitchen, and weed out objects or areas that are looking a bit overgrown with stuff that should move on to another area or the trash bin. This takes a considerable amount of time and energy, but I am happy when I am done.

Every week, I do this because living in a clean apartment (at least until the end of the week when it is a bit less so) is a nicer experience than living in a dirty one. I'm not a clean freak, nor obsessive about organization, though I am more organized than many people. My improved feeling is a reflection of the sense of living in a nicer environment which in turn makes me more comfortable being in that space, not as a result of any sense of being a "good housekeeper" who keeps a nice home. My actions in this regard do not reflect on my character or status as a person. My home does not carry such power in my life. I don't feel "proud" of what I do.

I was reading a post over at A Merry Life about feeling guilty about eating things which are considered verboten either by people trying to lose weight or fat people. As many already know, I eat a little of what people might call "junk" every day; it's not much, just a few bites of chocolate, a cup of sugar-free cocoa, a small ice cream bar, or a serving of pretzels. It's usually 100-200 calories per day at most. Sometimes it's under 50 calories. It's all part of the day's calorie total and it's a small moment of sensory pleasure in a sea of instrumental eating. I do not feel guilty about eating such things now.

When I was out of control with my eating, I felt guilt all of the time about eating "bad" foods. I realize now that the guilt was a manifestation of shame, and that shame was rooted in my internalizing the idea that eating such foods was a reflection of a deeper character weakness. If I were strong, if I were emotionally well, if, if, if... I wouldn't eat those kinds of things to give me pleasure. The real problem wasn't the pleasure. It was the out of control nature of what I was doing.

Getting back to the point about guilt, as I pondered Mary's post, I realized that in addition to not feeling guilt about how I eat, I also do not feel pride. I am happy that I'm in control and losing weight. Make no doubt about that, but that happiness does not bloom into any sense of being "proud" of myself. Just like I'm happier living in my nice clean apartment than a dirty one, I'm happier living in a lighter, stronger body. However, I don't see what I am doing in any way as a deeper reflection of my character. It's not that I don't think my character is a good, strong one, but rather that food quantities and choices to me have nothing to do with who I am now. They used to, but only because society drummed that message into me and I had fully integrated it into my estimation of myself. Ironically, that message in turn made it all the harder to gain the control I desperately needed.

What I realized is that pride and guilt are two sides of the sword when it comes to being a person with disordered eating. Feeling either of these things is empowering food to define you in a way which almost certainly is not healthy for you in the long run. What is more, it increases the chances that you will also start to externalize the sense that food choices and quantities define others and will start to judge others by what they eat which is saddling others with the very thing which contributes to your problem.

I will be frank and say that I am proud of the contents of this blog and the way in which I have used behavioral and psychological conditioning to help me achieve my goals. Those things are a reflection of my knowledge, intellect, wisdom, insight and maturity. All of these things are aspects of my character which I actively cultivate and work hard to grow in my daily life. My food choices may now reflect that growth, but they are not the source of it, nor is the sum of those choices evidence of my superiority or value.

I would encourage anyone who is attempting to adjust their relationship with food or any other aspect in their life to consider the role of both pride and guilt carefully in their lives. Should we be proud of things like eating vegetables, fruit, and lean meat all day rather than indulging in a square of chocolate? Is that really where we want to be deriving our sense of worth or status from? Is that the well from which we want to draw self-esteem? If so, then every bite we put in our mouths is going to be followed by an act of self-judgment. What a horrible state to have to live in!

I'm not suggesting that people not be proud of achieving their goals. In fact, what I'm saying is far from that. I'm saying that we should find our pride in the personal growth that has to come along first and then allows us to start making those choices. This may seem a fine separation, but I believe it is an important one. It gives you power over yourself and places your actions in review, not food.

Don't be proud of your salad eating. Be proud of your ability to change yourself into a person who is capable of making a choice which is more nutritious rather than a more gratifying one. Don't feel guilty for having a scoop of ice cream. Try to understand why you chose that ice cream and to place it in context for your day's eating. If it fits your calorie guidelines, be glad that you had the control to stop at one scoop. Be proud that you have grown that sort of control in yourself. If it put you over the top calorically, consider your planning skills in light of your needs to consume something for pleasure. Then be proud that you have grown enough to not be emotional and can be rational for something as trivial as a less than perfect food choice.

What is the point of this sort of fine discrimination and disconnecting of food from your estimation of yourself? The point is to not see food choices as a reflection of you or a source of good or bad feelings but to see your actions and character as a reflection of you. You are not what you eat on a spiritual or psychological level, only on a physical one, so don't link your psyche to food choices.

A Boring Bookkeeping Post

The biggest part of this blog is about my thoughts about losing weight and weight loss. However, it is at least supposed to be a record for me of how and what I'm doing. This record is not to "teach" others what to do or how to lose weight by following my supreme example (because, honestly, there are better blogs and more effective methods than mine out there for such things); it is to function as a sort of "diary" of my processes and how they are progressing.

I don't make these posts often because, frankly, they're a chore and not very interesting. However, I do believe it is important to occasionally make a note for my own reference of what I'm doing, and records of my exercise are sadly underrepresented in any sort of record of my processes.

Unlike most people who are trying to lose weight, exercise does not feature heavily into what I do. I don't get excited about it, nor do I hate it. I enjoy the movement, when I'm not in pain as a result of it. However, I'm not "Super Gym Girl" working out and building those muscles so that she can go around with hard, lumpy abs that one could use for beating a carpet on, or whatever they're supposed to be useful for. Frankly, I think well-defined stomach muscles are rather gross, even on men, but I realize I'm in a tiny minority. If you want a stomach like that, please don't be offended by my subjective observations. I'm just a crazy lady who used to weigh 380 lbs. (now 251) who writes a lot of navel-gazing posts and talks a lot about psychology. What do I know?

Here's the boring exercise record at present:

  • At any rate, when I started, I couldn't walk 5 minutes without pain or 10 minutes without starting to feel out of breath. Now, I can walk without appreciable pain for up to 90 minutes and walk about 40-60 minutes most days. Sometimes I do that as a full circuit walking around my neighborhood and sometimes I take about 30 minutes and then walk in place while watching documentaries on my computer screen for as long as I want. The walking in place was something I started recently as the weather has gotten hotter and made longer walks outside unpleasant. Frankly, I think real walking is better and burns more calories. I have no evidence to support this (so don't believe me if you are skeptical... I'm not sure I believe me), but I think it has to do with balance and how you have to adjust and carry your body when walking around in the real world. 
  • I started off with no weight lifting, but about 6 months ago (maybe, can't recall exactly), I started lifting two 1-kg. weights for 20 reps and upped it over 3 weeks to 50 reps. This caused my arms muscles to burn for days and was clearly too much too soon. I rested until all of the pain was gone and started again with only 5 reps, adding 1 per day each time I had no pain. I'm now up to 30 reps for one type of weight-lifting movement, 25 for another, and 15 for another. I continue to add in or hold at a certain number based on the pain or burning I experience.
  • About two weeks ago, I started doing some "in front of the computer screen" exercises to try and work some other muscles. I used to do sit-ups when I lost weight in college, but my back pain will not allow for that. To do something for my stomach, I've been working on a "breath and hold" exercise. I sit in front of the computer with a timer set for a looping 12 second countdown on screen. I start the timer and take a deep breath and let it out. When the timer hits "6", I pull in my stomach muscle as far as possible, trying to suck it back toward the back of the chair. I hold it for 6 seconds and do an exhalation/inhalation as the next 6 seconds pass. I repeat this through 20 reps (I started at 5). Because I concentrate on the timer (and whatever video I'm watching), I keep count on my hands. I start with both hands in a fist on my knees and open each finger until all 10 are out then close them again for the next round of 10. This makes it easier to focus on the timer since tracking two sets of numbers and a documentary on the history of Rome is a little too much to manage mentally.
  • I started to do leg lifts from in front of my computer. I sit with my hands on either side of the chair and lift my knees up as high as I can 15 times (I started at 5). This seems to work my back as well as my thighs. 
I will continue to add reps to all of these exercises as time goes by based on how much pain they cause, though I expect that I will have a maximum number (probably 50) based on the time the exercises take. I always start very low when I try these things because I've had enough experience to know that I'll suffer badly if I overdo it.

I walk nearly everyday (perhaps I do not do it 1 day out of every 20), because I don't have a car anyway and my bike is broken. I do the lifting and muscle exercises about 6 days a week, depending on pain or stiffness. I'll always take a day off if I feel my muscles need it.

I don't know if the exercises I'm doing really matter for weight loss. I do know that doing them makes me feel good and that it can't hurt to stretch and use muscles that may not see much use. I'm sure there are better and more productive things I could be doing, but I'm not yet ready to do them. It's not a mental thing, it's a physical one. I know my limits, and I am not going to push myself too far too fast. I've made that mistake before and seriously regretted it.

Phew. Boring bookkeeping post over. I will now return to normal programming. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Coming Full Circle

Like many people, my husband and I were drawn into the Harry Potter series of books. We were also increasingly disappointed as the series wore on, as were many readers as well. Nonetheless, we looked forward with anticipation to each new book and were disappointed when it ended with a statement from the author that there would be no more stories in the series. Even when you have an ambivalent relationship with something, your attachment to it can cause you to feel letdown and as if you have lost something when it is gone.

As the end of a series of books, movies, or television that many people enjoy approaches, you'll often notice that the attention of the fans and media is heightened. The prospect of having less of it makes what is left more exciting and perhaps even valuable to its consumers. You think about it more knowing it's going to go away than you do when it's always there. When it's gone, you may be desperate to arrange to have more of it. This is what spurs DVD sales even when the conclusions or stories are already known.

This relationship that we have with the experiences in our lives is not unique to entertainment. It applies to relationships with other people, places, and objects. It's where the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder" has its basis. It's why we care more about that lost childhood stuffed animal that we can't find now that it is lost than when we had it sitting in a box in the closet for years. When it's going or gone, we want it more. We can even become preoccupied with it for a time until the desire for it fades. We learn to fill the empty spot with some new entertainment.

I'm sure that most of my readers can see where this is going in regards to food. Many people who are overweight don't think much about food as long as they can have as much of it as they want. When they try to lose weight and can no longer have it as often as they like or in the quantity they like (and for many people, not even the types of food they once ate... though that doesn't quite apply to people like me), they become obsessed with it. When you can't have something, it takes on immense meaning, especially when it's something which is so important as food.

The feeling of being preoccupied with food when you're dieting is maddening. In fact, about 5 or 6 months into what I have been doing, I sometimes felt I would go crazy having to think about food all of the time. It wasn't that I wanted to be obsessed with it, but rather that my hungry body and my preoccupied mind couldn't stop. On more than one occasion, I started to wonder if this was going to be the rest of my life. If it was, I wasn't sure if I could stand it.

In my post "Early Fruit", I talked about how I had started not to think about food (or weight loss) all of the time, though later I felt derailed in my post "My Inner Masochist". I'm happy to say that since the week of the later post, I'm back to what can be termed "the new normal". That means that I am not sitting around thinking about food or when my next meal will be all of the time. I don't have to push myself to distraction because through time and lots of mental effort, I've learned to fill the spot with something else. I usually can spend my time productively without considering my weight or eating.

My feeling is that I have come full circle in a peculiar way. When I could eat anything I wanted, I didn't obsess about food. Now, I've learned to put food in a different context in my life and I'm finding that I also am not obsessing about food. Let me be clear about "proper context". I'm not saying that I see food as some neutral, lifeless element in my life. I'm not on the "food is fuel" bandwagon by any stretch of the imagination. I still love food and eat a variety of pleasurable foods. I have given up absolutely nothing, except eating large quantities of anything.

It has taken a lot of hard work to reach this point, and frankly, I think a part of this is also about time. I think I have been doing this long enough to have forgotten what it was like to eat a pint of ice cream, an entire bag of chips, or a large portion of mashed potatoes. The memories faded, though getting them to do so by adopting new routines and a different outlook about portions and hunger took no small effort.

I wish I could teach everyone to do the mental work which would allow them to escape thinking about food and weight loss so much because it is incredibly oppressive. I think that it is so stifling that it has to be one of the reasons people eventually give up on their diets and throw in the towel. Unfortunately, I don't know if what I have done would work for anyone other than me, though the process is all spelled out here in this blog should anyone want to try.

If I never lose another pound, I am going to be happy to have found this sense of peace. At present, I feel neither guilt nor obsession when I eat. I find that my time between meals is spent more productively and creatively than ever before and I don't resent my self-imposed restrictions or buck up against them so hard. I mentioned several posts ago when I was talking about my identity that there was this person I used to be in college (the one who lost a tremendous amount of weight and got down to around 180 lbs.) and I feel like I've found a piece of her again, a piece I thought had been lost forever. This is really only the beginning of a new psychological stage though, but it is a good one.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Loosening My Tongue

I'm a big advocate of holding my tongue when I disagree with people, particularly when they are operating on their own turf (i.e., their own blogs). The reason that I feel that way is that I think people prefer to sing their song in a chorus that provides harmony, and become hostile and defensive in the face of discord. I don't think I'm going to convince anyone of anything, and I'm really not sure that I want to. We all have to let others reach their own truths.

All of that being said, sometimes things strike me in a particular way because of how absurd they come across. Here are some of those statements, and what my tongue, now loosened by the fact that it is operating on my turf, has to say:

In a discussion on saying, "no" at all times to foods that you want to eat, someone said:
"Recently, I fell for the "moderation" way of thinking."

Yes, it's a con game that those of us who embrace moderation are playing. We want to dupe people into eating things in small portions so that we can, er, profit from their lack of excess... except, you know, there's no profit to be had. Saying you "fell for" something makes it sound like someone else had a vested interest in your choices. Moderation has worked well for me, and I don't care how other people eat, but framing it as something which is a lie irritates me.

In a fat advocacy blog writer's comments moderation section:
"I respect your choice to destroy your own body with Diets. YOU, in turn, respect my desire to keep my body happy and healthy and diet free."

There's nothing like framing others choices in the most disrespectful and passive-aggressive voice you can while asking that they respect you. This is no different than people saying, "I'll respect your right to destroy your body by eating so much and you, in turn, can respect my desire to eat right, exercise, and be healthy."

In forums:
"I started my weight loss adventure on (date)..."

It's not an adventure. It's much more like a job, a difficult, often thankless, tedious job. Must we try to wallpaper over the reality of the hardship of weight loss processes by pretending it's some wondrous and exciting experience and adopting such euphemisms?

"with all of the self control and focus it takes to do this...I have very little reason why I shouldnt apply myself in the same way to other things Ive been wanting to tackle..."

For me, I've always had self-control and focus in every area of my life except food. I am surprised that many people seem to lack these attributes in other areas, but I'm guessing that each of us has an issue with food for different reasons. Mine has never been about a lack of discipline on the whole, but a psychological problems which are very specific. Sometimes these assertions trouble me because it makes it sound like all fat people lack self-control and focus and that's why they're fat. It's not. Many overweight people are very disciplined.

"I see myself as fat now, but I didn't always."

I guess this is the much talked about "fatorexia". I have never seen myself as anything but "fat", because that is all anyone else has ever seen of me with some rare exceptions. I don't know whether to feel sorry for people who now see themselves as "fat" but didn't before because they've incorporated self-loathing and society's judgment fully into their identity or to be happy that they were able to spend most of their lives being something other than "fat". Sometimes I feel like people are saying, 'I lived my whole life not realizing just how "wrong" I really was. Now I see the light of how awful I really am!' The scary thing is many of them are grateful to have started "properly" hating themselves.

"You have to just DO it. Pick a plan, and stick to it."

Ah, the Nike slogan approach to weight loss. Who knew it was that easy to fix the complex problem of losing weight. We can solve all the problems that vex us now by saying things like:
To depressed people: Just cheer up! Be happy and stay happy!
To alcoholics: Just stop drinking booze! Decide not to drink and stick to it!
To the unemployed: Just find a job! Work!
Now that all of the problems have been solved, I guess there's no need for me to keep talking. Phew. Thank goodness someone figured out an easy way to fix everything.

Friday, July 16, 2010


When it comes to weight, the word "jealousy" seems to pop up sooner or later. Generally, it comes along "sooner," and in a variety of discussions about weight and weight loss.

If the women involved are talking about losing weight, they eventually will find that someone at some time somewhere will say something about their change in weight or eating habits which seems to indicate that they disapprove in some fashion. It can be a criticism of the fact that they are losing too much or that the methods they are using are unsustainable. It can be a comment about how they look worse in some fashion at a lower weight.

The response to this is usually that they make these comments because they are jealous. I think this is actually a type of projection. Projection is when you take your feelings and project them on to others rather than assess or evaluate the situation more objectively. The person saying, "my friend is jealous" is thinking that if she were in her friend's shoes, she'd be jealous if the friend was losing weight. Instead of considering her friend's true motivations, she simply assigns her own thoughts to the friend.

While it is certainly possible that jealously is a motivator, I think it is a narcissistic conclusion that is reached too early and often. People tend not to think about you as much as you think of yourself. They think of themselves. They are definitely uncomfortable with the changes you are making and the changes in you, but this does not mean that discomfort is driven by jealousy. More often than not, it is simply a change in the status quo that may trouble them.

People dislike having their worldview substantially altered or challenged in any way because it creates pressure in them to change, and change is hard and uncomfortable. Even if that change is no more than re-assessing your physicality, it creates discomfort. This is almost certainly part of our nature as humans. Seeing people change in appearance is alarming. To the parts of our brain that developed for survival, it may indicate illness, a change of tribes, or that you are even a doppelganger sent to fool someone and infiltrate their group for destructive purposes.

If part of their view is that you are fat, then having to accept you in a different body with different life choices means they relate to you differently. They'd rather you stayed the same so that they could continue as they always have in the way in which they handle you. It doesn't help, incidentally, that people who lose weight can be so obsessed with food and exercise that it often isn't only a bodily transformation, but also a personality one. Is it any wonder a friend might make negative comments about a person losing weight when they are mentally mired in little else? The person who once discussed music, movies, or books with you now can only think about their food limitations and exercise goals.

More often than not, thin people or people who are reducing their weight think heavier people are jealous of their success or figures. They think this because they are often jealous of "skinny girls", and they believe you must be as well. In essence, they believe everyone values what they value, even when they freely profess otherwise. If I think it's important to be thin (with the unspoken collocation "and attractive"), then you must, too.

If you don't say being thin ("and attractive") is best and what you desire deep down inside, you're simply hiding your true feelings. This thinking is not only part of the self-centered nature of all people which we must constantly battle in life, but also a way of validating the immense energy invested in the weight loss process. If you don't convince yourself that it is "worth it", then you may not continue.

This application of ones values and worldview to others doesn't apply just to weight, but to religion, politics, and every other aspect of our existence. The bottom line is that, by default, we all believe all people should mirror our values, and it's only some sort of distorted worldview based on your neuroses that cause you to be out of sync with "me". A person must try hard in most cases to step away from this tendency to impose their values on others. It's a very difficult thing to do, particularly at a deeper level as it means you have to give credibility to diametrically opposed views of your own. It's hard not to do that and feel insecure about what you value.

If those who are losing weight had true empathy for other people's feelings or perspectives, the first response would not be "you're jealous of me," because that is an indication that you are central to the thinking process. You're not. Others are doing what you are doing and that is thinking mainly of themselves. A more constructive first response would be, "my friend is uncomfortable with my life changes" and most productively a discussion of how what they said makes you feel and exploring their feelings would be best. Rather than jumping to the "jealousy" conclusion, seek the reality. It may be that they are jealous. It may very well not be so.

I didn't form the idea that dieting fatties are jealous of thin women based on my psychological insights into the psyche of fat people. Frankly, I think a lot of fat people, especially those over 35, are not envious of thin people. They simply want to escape the pain and difficulties associated with being in their bodies (both physically and from society's prejudice). I'm not jealous of people thinner than me at all. Their bodies have nothing to do with mine and indeed I do not want their bodies. I want my own body at a weight which is healthier and more conducive to fitness and mobility and that does not draw unwanted and cruel attention.

The basis for my idea that some fat women who are trying to lose weight are jealous of thin ones is because they say they feel so. They say it often. They say it with resentment and meanness sometimes. They talk about "butterfaces" and how they see skinny women with cute guys and that they believe they are more attractive than those women and could steal the men away if they were thinner. They're jealous of skinny girls because they have completely embraced the idea that their value lies in their bodies, and they want that thing of value that others have. The bottom line though is that they want power and they think skinny girls have more of it.

Of course, this is an illusion. I will grant that beauty (which is associated with thinness) brings power, but that power is of dubious value. It's the ability to buy something which you may not actually want to possess. Would you want a boyfriend or husband who valued you based on appearance? Would you want friendships because of perceived beauty? A lot of women who have said, "I'm fat and I'm happy with the way my life is" don't want what beauty and being thin buys them. They have internalized the idea that it's like buying a great looking sports car that will break down the moment something changes. Part of the bodily acceptance movement is rooted in knowing and embracing the idea that power should not be assigned based on body image. They refuse to be a part of it.

Because some women who are losing weight value thinness so much, they think that the aforementioned point is a load of hooey. They think it's just jealousy and bitterness on the part of fat acceptance (FA) advocates or that they feel threatened by their success. I have never thought that FA was driven by jealousy, but there may be something to the idea of feeling "threatened".

Part of the reason fat advocacy bloggers are so anti-diet and weight loss is that they have a worldview which is undermined by successful "dieters". Most fat acceptance bloggers are doing what they do because they feel they absolutely cannot change their lot in life in regards to weight (and maybe they can't) and do not want to be abused for a situation they are convinced is unalterable. If other fat people lose weight, it threatens that mindset, so they have to undermine the credibility of the process of weight loss. Fat acceptance bloggers aren't jealous of those who lose weight, but rather their mindset is threatened by your success. It's not about you. It's about them.

What's the point of this post? My point is not to jump on the "jealousy" label so quickly when people deal poorly with your weight changes. It is an attempt to diminish them and it reveals your self-involvement and sense of superiority over nothing more than how much you weigh and what you eat. And, ironically, that really is the sort of thinking from others that we're all trying to escape by losing weight.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

America's Whipping Boys (and Girls)

America hates fat people. The fact that 32% are obese and another 30% are overweight (meaning 62% are fat) might make that fact surprising. It seems irrational that the majority would go along with the minority heaping anger and loathing on them. The thing is that the majority, meaning fat America, is right there with thin America. Fat people hate themselves, so it's easy for them to identify with and jump on the bandwagon of fat hating.

I reach the aforementioned conclusions for some very good reasons. It's not just the social networks designed to talk about hating fat people. It's not just the self-loathing freely expressed on weight loss blogs and forums over the most marginal bits of flab. It's not even my own self-hating which I'm constantly attempting to deal with and move away from as I sort out who and what I am aside from the meat sack I live in. It isn't even Michelle Obama's misguided (but likely well-meaning) anti-fat crusade.

If there is a single indication that most of America is on the fat-hating bandwagon, it's the popularity of shows like "The Biggest Loser" ("TBL" from here). (Disclaimer: I have seen clips through various web sites, but never watched a full episode.) This show is all of the projected disgust of thin people in the form of the shows haranguing host, Jillian Michaels, and all of the inward directing self-loathing of fat people manifested in the overweight people who have no self-respect and tolerate the abuse.

I can't think of any use for a show such as this except as national catharsis. It gratifies the needs of trim folks to see fat people be mistreated for what they imagine to be their laziness and weakness. Jillian Michaels is their avatar of anger. It also validates any notion that any fat person could lose weight if they just "tried hard enough." The fat folks who appear on the show are the virtual dogs the thin people get to see kicked around to help them feel better about their problems in their thin, but still unhappy and flawed, lives. If you can't oink loudly out of your car window at some fat lady walking down the street, you can tune in to TBL to make you feel better.

The fat folks are also getting what they need, and I don't mean they're losing lots of weight quickly in a dangerous and unsustainable fashion (though, you know, they get that, too). They're getting the abuse they feel they deserve for their appearance. They hate themselves and have their low self-esteem validated by being mistreated for having the audacity not to conform to society's notions of "proper bodily image". What is more, they get to embrace their utter weakness and powerlessness.

The only way they believe they can "get better" is by having someone take control of them and force them to be "fixed". Thin people must know something they don't, right, since they are thin. It couldn't be that most thin people don't happen to have issues with food, but have issues with other things like smoking, drinking alcohol, anger, sex, shopping, or utterly objectifying people based on weight and making a career out of screaming at them like some bitter, formerly-marginally-overweight sociopathic harpy.

No person with an ounce of self-esteem or self-respect would allow anyone to treat themselves the way people are treated on TBL. Even I, at my lowest self-estimation would not have put up with a second of that treatment. You wouldn't treat a dog the way those people are treated. It'd be considered inhumane. It's not only that we wouldn't treat the lowest animal to so much verbal abuse. We also wouldn't force them to lose weight at such a dangerous and rapid clip.

The worst part about the weight loss speed shown on the show is that it has made it so much easier for overweight people who try to lose weight to feel like failures in the face of perfectly reasonable and solid success. People used to lose a pound or two a week and feel absolutely great about their achievement. Now, these numbers make them sob and self-flagellate for their inability to shave off ridiculous and dangerous numbers of pounds in a short period of time. Of course, they all want to be on TBL and have a thin taskmaster help them fix themselves, too, because when they don't lose 4-7 lbs. a week, they feel more powerless than ever about mastering their issues with food.

The question is, why don't we have something which empowers overweight people to take control of their lives rather than shows them being abused, pushed, and then left without any means by which to pursue a moderate and healthy lifestyle? The reason is that this would not gratify the need for exercising the loathing of fat people, nor would it be such great "entertainment". Watching people slowly get better and improving the quality of their health is boring. Watching them be hurt and humiliated is exciting. Really fixing a major issue like disordered eating takes time, patience, compassion, and understanding. America appears to have no use for that sort of nonsense.

The bottom line is that much of America is just fine with treating fat people inhumanely. It horrifies me (literally) that TBL is a successful television show. It further depresses me that fat people are saying that they need to have their asses kicked to help them lose weight. TBL is like a modern day "bread and circuses", but this time the fat people are being thrown to the lions for the amusement of the masses instead of the Christians.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Sky Isn't Really Falling (Part 2)

(this is a continuation of a post started here)

The thing I know is that the fear that kept me at that job despite the way in which it was crushing my soul was the fear my mother gave me. The idea that I couldn't let this opportunity go because there would never be another one like it was the driving force behind my clinging to that job. It not only kept me there, but it kept me powerless to demand anything that I was reasonably due. I couldn't stand up for myself when credit was stolen from me. I couldn't ask for raises. I couldn't refuse to do things which were outside of my job description. I couldn't do anything because it might threaten my job security and the job must be kept at all costs, even at the cost of my mental and physical health.

In the end, I couldn't endure the depression anymore. I took a vacation and was more miserable when it was over than before I had left. The fact that nothing could make me happy anymore was too much to bear. With my husband's encouragement, I finally was able to take my utterly defeated self and say I'd quit. I gave notice about 6 weeks before leaving, and I cried every day for a month at the prospect of leaving. It wasn't that I loved the job so much, but that I feared the change.

Prying myself away from something I'd clung to like a lifeline for so long was like ripping the very flesh from my body. It was painful on so many levels because I'd assigned disproportionate and ill-deserved value to the company and the work in order to validate my remaining there. The truth was though that it was my mother's fears that she had so deeply inculcated into me that played the biggest role. If I left, the sky was going to fall.

Obviously, the sky did not fall. Everything was okay. I got other work. My husband and I make enough money with our combined jobs, and I finally began the process of recovering my mental health. It took nearly a year away from that job before the depression started to lift. I spent much of that year holed up in our apartment talking to my sister, playing MMORPGs, and going out as little as possible. I cocooned myself from as much external pain as possible and one day, about 7-8 months later, I realized that I could enjoy things again, though I still didn't feel anywhere near "whole" for a good deal longer.

Three years away from that job, and I had the courage to make a decision that set off my weight loss efforts. That decision is to move to a very different place where new opportunities will present themselves. The truth is that we have remained where we are, in part, due to inertia, but also perhaps due to my fear. Things are going pretty well here, so I'm afraid to leave, but the truth is that our situation keeps us both in a state of intellectual and career stagnation. I'm afraid the sky will fall if I walk away from a life of relative comfort, so I chose to stay in a place in which I am not really happy and in which I have no bright future.

My fear at letting go of the stability we have had here has been a big part of why we have remained. My husband is okay to remain out of inertia, but he probably would have left a long time ago if I had wanted to. Everyday that I think about leaving, I face my fear that the sky will fall when I move on. It's a deep terror that I realize has one foot in reality and one foot in conjured fear.

Anyone can step off the curb to cross a street and be hit by a car, though the chances of that are rather low. Chances are you'll cross that street just fine. Chances are that I'll cross that street just fine when I move on and life will be different but no worse than it has been here on the whole. My mother would have had me believe that I would certainly be killed for taking the chance and stepping off the curb. She would have had me decide to stand on that same corner forever no matter how miserable it made me for fear of that that one in a million chance of getting hit by a previously unseen car would be the result. I have decided that I just can't keep standing there anymore based on a fear that the sky might fall if I take a step.