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If Only There Was a Switch

My sister-in-law and I were recently chatting on the phone and I shared that I was trying this new to me food plan approach.  We talked about it for a while and I discussed what I like and don’t like about it.  The conversation then moved into exercise.  She was a dedicated spinner for a long time and combined it with a popular commercial food plan.  This resulted in significant weight loss.  More recently, she hasn’t exercised with that intensity for a while and said that she’s regained weight.

There are evenings when she knows she “should” go to the gym, she said, but she doesn’t.  “If only there was a switch that we could turn on and off,” she wished.  I know exactly how she feels.  I’ve had that same wish all of my life.  I’ll go great guns on a new plan or program and then one day it’s like someone flicked the motivation switch to the “Off” position and cut the power.  It’s not so easy to click the switch back on!

That’s why I live in fear of those moments arriving.  Sometimes I know that they’re triggered by a crisis; other times I don’t have a clue.  I think this experience led to me finally understanding that losing weight is not a matter of willpower.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve willed myself to make the good choices and told myself what I wanted to do – at least in my mind – but the juice wasn’t there to motivate me to put the desires into action.

As a result of a lifetime of previous experience, I no longer get cocky about my chances of maintaining a program, a food plan and a weight loss long term.  As determined as I can be in my heart that this time it will be different, an eating disorder is an insidious, controlling, and powerful opponent.

I honestly believe this is why 12 Step Programs advocate one day at a time.  It keeps me present in my efforts today and hopefully leads to me fostering continued self-awareness.  I work to not project into the future about the number of pounds I’ll lose, but focus on my preparations, plan and execution of same just for today.

If the only day that matters is the one that I’m in, then perhaps I no longer need to even think about the motivation switch and what happens if it shuts off.  I just need to keep doing what I’m doing and abstain from compulsive eating for today.  I only need to commit to the planned-for exercise session for today.  Then I need to honor those commitments.  One. Day. At. A. Time.

Speaking of my food plan, I have one more day to go to hit the two week mark.  I’m amazed and thrilled that I’ve abstained from processed grain and refined sugar products each day of the last two weeks.  While I have not been able to cook every recipe and eat the exact meals outlined in the book, I’ve made some of them.  On the meals where I’m not eating one of the book’s recipes, I’m following the proper percentages of protein, full fat, and carbohydrates.  I feel great about my daily efforts and adherence to the plan.  I’ve lost at least nine pounds, which is a happy bonus.

Week Three transitions me to Phase 2 which allows some whole grains and starchy veggies to make small appearances in the plan, along with honey and maple syrup.  It still recommends not eating white potatoes, white rice, or breads and other products made with white or whole wheat flour.  I’m honestly good with this still.  In keeping with what I said earlier in this post, I’m not projecting for how long I’ll be able to keep this up.  I’d like to think the answer is “for as long as I need to”.  Instead, I’m just focused and prepped for tomorrow.  That’s my “switch”.

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I have to admit that I had a little “wow” moment a couple of days ago.  I received the notification that Dr. Ludwig, the doctor who devised the Always Hungry? plan and wrote the book, left a comment on my March 1st post.  Maybe my blog popped up on his Google Alerts. Anyway, it’s nice that he stopped in and took the time to wish me well.

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Believing in Efforts/Avoiding Diet Mentality

Day three of week two without processed grains and refined sugar and I’m still on track.  I’m not preparing every meal suggested in the book’s daily plan but still sticking to the percentages of protein/fat/carbs in every meal.  Physically I feel good.  Emotionally, the mood variations have settled down.  Mentally and emotionally, I’m happy.  It is a great boost to commit to a plan and honor that commitment every day.  Success breeds success.  I do this a day at a time, but each day that I stick to it becomes a building block in the foundation that supports more long term recovery.

I was never ever willing to abstain for a long time from breads, pastas, white potatoes, white flour products and sugar.   Even though there were many times that I followed extremely restrictive diets that removed all of those foods – or in one case ALL food period – I always hated doing so.  (Yes, I once went six months surviving on a godawful tasting liquid protein with weekly trips to NYC for medical monitoring.)  I felt freakish about my inability to sustain long term weight loss, and resentful that I could not eat like a “normal” person.  When I first discovered that I have an eating disorder and found the OA program, I thoroughly resented my past history of fad, harsh diets.  So, I rebelled from doing anything that reminded me of any old plans.

I don’t know why it feels different to me this time around and why I’m willing.  It could be as simple as the fact that while I gave up the “white” products, I’m still allowed colorful, tasty fruits and veggies of all kinds plus the higher fat content products.  Oh, and that wonderful treat of dark chocolate means a lot.  However, I think there is a more involved evolution at play.  Although I have not yet lost all of the weight that I would like to, the last four years have taught and shown me something about myself.  I am maintaining a significant weight loss and have for four years.  This is something that I have never been able to do for myself in the past.  I always yo-yoed up and down the scale.  I could diet like a fiend on specific plans and lose a great deal of weight, but I always always always put it back on, usually with extra pounds on top.  That’s how I gradually grew to close to 400 pounds.

Knowing, acknowledging how much I have changed, learned, and accomplished with regards to my weight and health creates a belief in myself that I’ve always lacked.  Sure, in the past I always hoped that each time would be the magic effort that worked.  However, at heart I don’t think I really believed that my efforts would result in long term success.  My relationship with myself and with food has changed so much and for the better.  I no longer have any interest in atrocious fast foods and willingly cook with more fresh produce in healthier ways.

I love the positive changes in my body and my physical fitness.  It feels great to move, to see the muscle definition, experience my strength.

Most importantly, I believe that I will continue to be successful.  That I will continue to improve my physical health.  I’m committed to maintaining the new, healthier me.

These changes make it not such a big deal to give up more specific foods.  I’m not saying that I’ll never eat pasta or bread again, but I know for sure that I don’t need them in my every day diet.  Giving them up doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing.  I’m not experiencing the resentful, “I can’t have it” feelings.  It feels like a positive, okay choice for today.

 

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Reality Perspective

The last week have readjusted my perspective on how I was working my program and my recovery for the last 18 months or two years.  It has provided me with a strong and much needed reality check.

While I knew that I was eating healthier and working out more, I didn’t truly see that I was not following my own recovery program as closely and vigilantly as I did in the first two years after weight loss surgery.  In my delight over all of the positive changes I’d achieved and the new, great things I was enjoying, I didn’t see my own denial.

Ricocheting around on a food plan when on already has a screwed up metabolism does not foster an environment for success.  Somewhere along the line, I started making too many excuses and not owning enough responsibility for my own actions.  “Everything in moderation” can still be a reasonable approach, as long as the “moderation” part remains reasonable.  In my case, it did not when it came to processed carbs, refined sugars and other foods that do not contribute to my recovery and health but absolutely add to my weight.

I’m not going to beat myself over the head with the club of blame.  I’m a flawed human being with an eating disorder, an insidious disease that clouds my reasonable thinking among other things.  It is what it is.  Rather, it was what it was.  What matters is what I know today, now, and how I use it for positive action as I move forward.

Don’t think for a minute that a week of success has me thinking that I’ve got this thing all under control.  That would be a myth and very dangerous thinking.  I believe that if I continue to work my tools and look at the plan and my eating choices with painstakingly precise care, I can remain abstinent one day at a time.  I know that I am not ready to never again eat pasta or a piece of cake, but I am absolutely willing to stick to a structure and a plan where these things and their relatives are not every day choices.

I want recovery of all types – mental, emotional, and physical.  I know that I need to hold on to this recent reality check and use it effectively moving forward.

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Day 7 – Abstaining

Today is Day 7 of the first week of this plan that I’m following.  I’ve made it so far without any refined sugar (except that little bit in the occasional bite of dark chocolate that the plan allows) and without any processed grains.  Honestly, I’m pretty amazed.  I’ve resisted even the lightest coating of bread crumbs or a single crouton on a Caesar Salad.  I’ve passed up cookies and even chocolate that was less than 70% cacao.  In short, I’ve been abstinent of the substances that I declared I wouldn’t eat.

I’ve keyed in on my satiety, hunger and any cravings.  If I’ve craved something with a truly physical motivation, as opposed to an emotional craving, I’ve chosen to eat something from the plan, as suggested.  Nuts, veggies, hummus, even a small piece of fruit, are all part of the program.  I can eat them, remain abstinent, and also know that they are healthier choices overall.

I’ve been willing to try foods that I don’t normally eat, like tofu which I used in a black bean-tofu hash.  (Recipe in the book.)  It was delicious.  I bought some more tofu to use in other meals.  I’ve finally realized, after many years, that tofu will provide a great extra protein source for me.  This morning for breakfast, I followed the book’s recipe for gluten-free/grain-free pancakes.  They’re made with garbanza bean flour, egg, Greek yogurt, and milk (soy, almond, cow, whichever I want), along with salt, baking soda, vanilla and oil.  The whole garbanza bean flour thing to me initially seemed odd and I admit I was skeptical.

Happy to report that these pancakes were flat out delicious!  Seriously, yummy.  Oh, and I ate them without maple syrup but with peaches and some fresh whipped cream.  I think this week there are recipes that call for more of the flour for thickening a sauce, for example.  It’s a new staple in my pantry, for sure.

Abstinence for me isn’t just refraining from specific food items.  I also need to not go into the behavior of compulsive eating or binging.  That’s where paying attention to why I crave something matters, and then how much I eat if I’m physically hungry.  I’m getting in touch again with my stomach and feelings of fullness.  Learning how much is enough and when another bite or two is going to push me over into belly pressure and uncomfortableness.

The emotional waves have swelled and ebbed.  I’m doing my best to cleanly surf them and not wipe out.  Looking back, having that meltdown Tuesday night was helpful because it led me to identify what I was experiencing.  I had a few other intensely emotional incidences over the week, but knowledge and awareness helped me remember what was going on.  Sometimes I just let myself feel them until they passed; other times I shook myself out of them as appropriate.

The plan recommends reducing regular physical regimens for the first week.  I’m not 100% clear why, but I followed the instruction.  I did both Tai Chi classes but only rowed once.  The book does advocate a few minutes of “joyful movement” morning and night, so I stretch and do some additional Tai Chi at home as usual.  It also suggests short walks after each meal, so Nat and I have been out and about.

That’s the week’s summary.  All in all, it’s important for me to look back and reflect on the program and my commitment to following it.  I’m reviewing the chapters in the book and making my shopping list so that I have the foods in house to prepare.  That’s so key to me being able to succeed – prepping ahead of time for meals.  I also look at the suggested meals and know when I need to substitute something because of my schedule.  For example, on a day that I row, I don’t have time when I get home to make a frittata.  I have to shower, get dressed and get to work on time.  So on those days, I make a power smoothie or yogurt and fruit that I can bring with me and eat at work.  There are a couple of nights when I won’t be home to cook, so I’m substituting in leftovers from a previous meal.

I have another week of Phase One with no grains and no refined sugar.  I’m ready and committed to doing it one day at a time.

Oh, by the way, I jumped on the scale this morning.  (Yes, I almost made it until tomorrow.)  I’ve lost eight pounds.  Even figuring some of that is water weight, it’s the first significant weight loss that I’ve seen in a while.  I am cautiously optimistic that the program and my efforts are achieving what the book said it would… retraining my fat cells to give up the calories instead of hoarding them.  Fingers crossed!

 

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Emotional Impact of Carb/Sugar Abstaining

Two days into the two weeks of no grains, no refined sugar phase.  I am relieved that I am not feeling hunger and am not “white-knuckling” to hang on between meals.  So far I haven’t experienced big physical cravings either.  Thank goodness I’ve avoided that horrible, “I need a piece of bread right now or it could get ugly!” feeling.

I believe the reason that I’m not having these negative reactions is because I’m still getting some healthier carbs and sweetness from beans, legumes, veggies and fruit.  Plus, there is something wonderful to the “mouth feel” of quality fats added to a meal.

Physically, things are going well.  However, my disease has three components – physical, mental/emotional, spiritual.  Last night, I started to go through some emotional reactions that were stronger than I would expect on a “normal” day.  In retrospect, the influencing activity was sort of silly, or maybe I just describe it as such now because I’m viewing it through a clearer lens.  Here’s what happened.

I had a very hectic day at work, then ran home to eat dinner and get to Tai Chi class.  Unfortunately, in my rush, I forgot to change footwear to the shoes that I usually wear when doing Tai Chi.  Believe it or not, shoes matter.  We do a lot of pivots and other steps and, depending on the floor surface, the amount of tread on the bottom of your footwear can really affect how well you can do the moves, keep balance, etc.

When I’m home or at the beach, I actually prefer to do Tai Chi in bare feet, but that was not an option on the floor where we hold class.  I also wasn’t wearing socks, or I would have just taken the shoes off.

Anyway… the tread of the shoes I was wearing did not glide smoothly so my pivots and turns were hampered.  The shoes weren’t as stable in design as the ones I normally wear which also affected my balance, particularly on my bad knee.  A class that I usually love with its calming, flowing movements turned into one challenging chore after another.

Maybe it was the lack of cooperation between shoes and floor or the fact that I started to stress about my less-fluid-than-normal execution of the moves, but my body began to stiffen up — particularly that bad, weaker knee.  This increased my frustration.

About two thirds into the class, I was an internal mess.  Cranky, bitchy, upset, pissed off at my physical limitations — all negative.  At the very end, on the last sequence of moves that we were practicing, my knee locked, the plates of bone that kiss each other rubbed just the wrong way and hurt a lot.  I couldn’t finish the moves and had to walk off the floor.

At that point I was so internally upset that all I wanted to do was get the hell out of class and go home to an ice pack and ibuprofen.  I had a hard time not blowing past people who were trying to talk to me — people whom I like and am friends with.  I know that the few sentences I uttered were abrupt.

I got out of the building, into my car, drove out of the parking lot and started to cry.  It was awful.  I didn’t keep crying the short drive home but was just in a miserable and sad mood at that point.  When I got to the house, I knew that I had to put in work prepping meals to eat today, and I was entitled to my evening dessert.  Honestly, I was a little afraid to be around food at that point for fear that I’d fall off the wagon and eat compulsively to try to make myself feel better.  Yes, I know that’s completely inappropriate thinking because compulsive eating really doesn’t ever make me feel better.  It’s one of the lies that my disease tells me.

Thankfully, I was still wearing the bracelet that I’ve designated as my helpful talisman for this endeavor.  (As suggested in the Always Hungry book.)  Before I opened the fridge door, I looked at the bracelet and tapped it.  I purposely tried to connect with my reasons for wanting to stay on program and remain abstinent.  That simply action – the tap and reconnect – helped me step back from the edge of overwhelming emotion.  I was able to take a few deep breaths, calm my thoughts and try to look at what was going on.  About then is when I realized that the swingy emotions could be a result of the cold turkey abstaining from processed carbs and refined sugar. Having the realization calmed me down a little more  I sat quietly for a few moments with an ice pack on my knee and worked on settling myself even further.  Before long I was no longer emotionally ricocheting and the desire to bury my feelings with food had eased.

I went into the kitchen and prepared my planned dessert and then sat down at the table and ate it slowly while savoring the taste, texture and mouth feel.  After that, I felt like I could tackle the food prep tasks and have everything ready for a good day today.  Before settling into watch some television later on, I wrote emails to the Tai Chi friends and apologized for rushing off, citing the knee pain and need to treat it.

By the time I went to bed, I was back on an even keel and got a good night’s sleep.

This was a valuable experience for me.   From the beginning of letting the emotional reactions rule to acknowledging the impulse to eat to working through the process without eating, all the way to bringing myself back down, I re-learned a valuable lesson.  No matter what, I can be stronger than the compulsion.  I don’t have to eat, no matter how strongly compelling the urge.

I also learned again that processed carbs and sugar can be addictive so getting away from them can wreak a little havoc.  However, that havoc is temporary.  It doesn’t, and won’t, control my life.

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No Grains, No Sugar

I’m on a two week endeavor to abstain from eating processed grain and refined sugar products.  As I shared in my previous post, I’m involved in a plan created by an endocrinologist/weight loss/nutrition researcher named Dr. David Ludwig.  The book is Always Hungry?  I’ve suspected for a long time that my metabolism is screwed up thanks to years of binge eating disorder, yo-yo dieting, my now post-menopausal self, etc.  The first two years after my weight loss surgery, it feels like all I had to do was think about losing weight and the pounds evaporated from my body.  The last two years have been much more of a struggle.

When I struggle, I do so on various levels.  There’s the whole frustration of working really hard to follow my food plan but then not seeing results.  Plus there’s the whole daily struggle that I have simple dealing with an eating disorder.  There is no cure for an eating disorder.  It will always be part of my life.  However, I have a program and tools that help me cope with it.  Sadly, however, when my physical body does not cooperate, it messes with my head a lot and that makes it much more challenging for me to work my tools and stay on track.  Vicious cycle.

Anyway, when I heard about this book and read it, pretty much all of what he said made sense to me about our body chemistry, insulin production, how our fat cells function and react to different types of food and diets, etc.  After a lifetime of trying every possible diet and nutrition plan – including some that, in retrospect, were incredibly unhealthy or just plain whacko, I don’t choose to try something new or unfamiliar without a lot of careful thought.  So, I really considered this plan long and hard before making a commitment.

This might come out sounding stupid, but I’ll share it any way.  One of the selling points for me on this plan was the fact that I can still eat fruit, nuts, beans and legumes.  For me there is a fine line between when a plan is restrictive to the point of impossibility and when it offers me enough variety to maintain my sanity and still enjoy what I’m eating.

A couple of years ago when my post-surgery progress began to slow, I’d go to my monthly doctor’s appointments and talk about what I was doing or trying to do.  The surgeon was very cut and dried.  On one memorable appointment, he said, “Cut your calories by 25%, increase your exercise.  Don’t eat any carbs or fruit.”

That effectively would have meant that I restricted myself to between 600 and 750 calories a day with very little variety in my daily food.  I was pretty freaked out by the suggestion, and when I freak out like that, I tend to want to console and calm myself with a hot fudge sundae.

There are other very low carb/high protein/high fat plans around that also restrict you on starchy vegetables and most fruits.  I’ve never tried one before.  This plan takes a different approach.

For the first two weeks, Phase 1, it asks one to stay away from grains, starchy vegetables, and tropical fruits.  It also restricts refined sugars (even honey or maple syrup, and sweeteners) with the wonderful exception of the small amount of sugar contained in good quality dark chocolate of at least 70% cacao.  Yep, I can eat small amounts of dark chocolate on this plan.  That enough could save my sanity along with still being able to eat berries, apples, peaches and the like.

After the first two weeks, I can add back in some whole grain products and additional vegetables and tropical fruits.  Basically, the doctor recommends keeping away from white flour products (bread, pasta, cookies, etc.), white rice, white potatoes.

The doctor maintains that the full fat foods help balance out the body’s reactions and also lead to increased satiety, reduced cravings, more stable insulin production, etc.

Starting yesterday, I began the program.  So far, so good.  Let me tell you, I savored last night’s dessert of berries and a half ounce of dark chocolate.  I’m trying to be aware of any cravings.  A volunteer delivered pastries to every department this morning.  Every time I walk into the kitchen, I see them.  If I get the urge, I tap my bracelet and remember why I’m making this effort.

The biggest challenge for me so far is that he advocates preparing a lot of different foods and supplies recipes that fit the plan.  Honestly, I don’t have time to cook so many things, or to cook every night after work.  So, I’m learning to adjust and focus on the key elements – making sure I have quality protein at every meal or snack, and that each meal includes fats and carbs.  Those last two areas are unfamiliar but I’m not freaking out over them.  I want to see how and if this approach works.  In order to do that, I need to commit and follow the suggestions.  I’m doing my best.

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