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.

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