Weighty Matters

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Goal-Setting Revamp

When I dieted, I lived and died by the numbers.  Okay, that’s overly dramatic because, hey, I never actually died, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that I fixated on the scale number as the sole measure for my success.  (I originally typed that as soul measure which, in its own way, is also accurate.)

It wasn’t enough for me to say that I wanted to lose X number of pounds.  Oh no, I had to say things like, “I want to lose three-four pounds a week” or “Must lose 20 pounds before such and such date”.  I was ruled by this practice.  It has taken me a lonnnngg time to realize that not only am I setting myself up for unreasonable expectations because I always determine high numbers for the measure, but also in so doing, I was creating huge stress for myself.

Anytime I obsess over any aspect of my program and progress, I stress myself out.  It all becomes an exercise of wondering and worrying what my weight will be any time I get on the scale.  Then, if I didn’t hit what I projected, or didn’t think I would hit the week’s goal, I’d add negative feelings of disappointment, disillusionment, despair, self-loathing and other things to my stress.

Then, in true compulsive overeater/food addict form, I’d want to eat huge amounts of not-good-for-me foods to try to squelch those horrible feelings.

When I first started learning more about my compulsive eating disorder and joined OA, I learned to focus less on the numbers.  Instead the goal was to just follow my program one day at a time.  I worked on developing self-honesty as to whether I’d been abstinent of compulsive eating.  I didn’t set weekly or monthly goals for the number of pounds I wanted to lose.

I began to learn how to foster self-esteem in ways that were not connected to my weight and body size.  I wasn’t obsessed with numbers but with taking good care of myself through healthy, non-diseased eating.

I’m thinking about this a lot today.  I still haven’t gotten on the scale since returning from the cruise.  At first, this started because of pure avoidance.  If I gained weight while on vacation I did not want to know because I didn’t want to feel lousy about myself.  Now, a week later, this has shown me how, once more, I’ve become such a slave to the numbers as the measure of whether I’m in recovery.

That’s not the way to do this for me.  The measure of recovery and healthy eating is the process.  Am I following my program, maintaining my defined abstinence from compulsive overeating, making healthy choices?  Those are the things that matter.  If I’m not paying attention to those things but monkeying around, I could still end up with a good number on the scale – but it would be a false indication of the consistency of my abstinence and recovery.

In the course of writing out this blog and working through my thoughts, I’ve decided that I’m going to shove my scale under the dresser for the foreseeable future and go back to solely focusing on my daily behavior.   Look, if I do this one day at a time and build up long abstinence, I will lose weight.  That’s a given.  However,  can let it happen in a relaxed, stress-free, natural time frame, sans the obsession on the scale number.The commitment to abstinence is the single most important tool.   I need it to continue long term recovery.

I feel it’s important to point out that what is necessary for me is not automatically what is necessary for anyone else.  Not every person who is overweight has an eating disorder.  One size does not fit all when it comes to weight loss and healthier living.  I support every individual discovering what works and is appropriate for them and salute them as they follow their own path.

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Food Attitude

My life, my recovery and my health would all be a whole lot easier to maintain if I always wanted to eat fresh, healthy, good-for-me food.  That might be my biggest obvious understatement of the new year.

I’m not sure what sent my mind on that thought path tonight.  I’m not having bad days.  I’m eating to plan and I’m eating healthy, nicely prepared foods.  This might be a good place to point out that the two don’t always, necessarily, go together.  I can be abstinent in my behavior – eating only what’s planned, when I planned to eat it — and yet incorporate crappier food items in my plan.  However, things are just so much better when I also pick quality foods.

Like today, for example.  At breakfast, I enjoyed 0% Greek yogurt mixed with some sliced strawberries and a little honey.  I made a salad of chopped kale with shredded broccoli, a sprinkle of feta and a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Last night, I made a lentil soup and threw in more kale.  All very tasty for lunch today.  Tonight I grilled some skirt steak and ate it with a small garnet sweet potato and some steamed green beans.  It was a delicious dinner.

Physically, I am completely satisfied, emotionally I’m happy for the healthy choices.  However, there’s a part of me that craves something fried and sweet.  If someone walked in with a hot-from the fryer doughnut that had been rolled in cinnamon sugar, they’d be lucky to retain their hands after I swiftly grabbed away the treat.

This is not to say that I have to go for the rest of my life without every having greasy, sugary or otherwise fatty food.  Everything in moderation is part of a balanced lifestyle, at least in my opinion.  I just wish I wasn’t so often tempted by those things.

Whenever I see someone say that they don’t care for chocolate, they don’t eat sweets, they don’t have a taste for carbs/fried foods/pick something else that is more calorie laden and fill in the blank, I think, “Are they for real?”

Then there are the people who truly can just take a dab, a small spoonful, a single forkful, a slight taste of something.  They get the flavor, savor, swallow, and are satisfied.  I would love that food attitude. Instead, I got the, “One bite is never enough” characteristic.  I’m the, “Try that bite and you could trigger an all night binge” girl.

I’m not whining about the situation.  (Or at least not terribly much.)  It is what it is.  I’m just indulging in a little wishful thinking before going to bed after another good food/eating day.

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Obsessing Less About Food

Compulsive overeaters spend a lot of time thinking about food.  We can obsess over what we eat, what we might eat, what we have eaten, when we’ll eat again and what.  What we should eat, what we shouldn’t have eaten.

Honestly, the food thoughts go on and on and on.

When I am doing well on program and leading my life abstaining from compulsive overeating, I notice that I am spend a whole lot less time obsessing over food and eating.  For me, this is one of the hallmarks of serenity in recovery.

I like planning out my meals, preparing and then not thinking about them until it’s time to eat.  When I’m doing well on program, I can live days at a time like this.  I do it one day at a time, but those days add up.  When I’m not doing well, I wear myself out emotionally and mentally.

Ever since Christmas, I’ve had a strong of really good days which is why I am feeling the serenity of not thinking about food, or a least why I’m aware of being serene.  There’s a marked contrast so it’s truly obvious.

A series of recovery days also free me from other negative feelings like guilt, frustration, sadness, self-directed anger and other messy stuff.

Positiveness, serenity, and hope are better.  Much better.

I feel more connected to my recovery than I have for a while.  I do not believe this is a coincidence since, for the first time in years, I am doing daily readings first thing in the morning and giving more time to quiet contemplation and other tools.  This practice helps me align myself for the day.  I’d forgotten how much it helps and plan to keep building on it as the days go on.

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Triggers

I don’t think only people with eating disorders have triggers that push us to eat or do some other behavior, even when we might not consciously want to do so.  Product manufacturers or sellers have banked on that, and endeavored to capitalize on it since advertising was first created.   However, I think people without addictions or other types of disorders are better able to withstand the triggers when they occur.  They might even spot them happening when with compulsive eaters, the foods already in our mouths, down the gullet and on its way to being digested before we stop to think.

There are lots of different types of triggers that start the chain effect of eating. Some are sensory.  You’re walking along in the mall and the aroma of chocolate chip cookies, warm from the oven, wafts to you from that storefront you’re approaching.  Ohhh, they smell scrumptious and your sensory recall brings back the crunch and flavor of them melting in your mouth with chocolate-y deliciousness.  Don’t you instantly crave one or, if you’re a binge eater, a dozen?

You walk by a co-worker eating lunch, see what they’re eating and it looks soooo much better than the meal you packed hours before when you left the house for work.

Hunger is another sensory trigger.  Naturally, there’s real hunger that occurs when you haven’t eaten for awhile.  Unfortunately, there’s also mental hunger when your head tells you that you’re starving even though your body really doesn’t need food at that moment.

I learned something about situation or association triggers when I went through a smoking cessation program many years ago.  (Actually, 28 years ago last Monday was when I quit smoking.  Booyah!)  The instructor warned us that we  had many situations where we were accustomed to lighting up even if we didn’t crave a cigarette right at that time.  Once he made us aware of such things, I could immediately identify them in my own life.  Whenever I got in my car, I lit a cig.  When I sat down at my desk – yes, back then we could smoke at work – was another trigger.  If I went to a club I was used to holding a drink in one hand and a cigarette in another.  Lighting up after meals – another trigger.   Those situational events were almost harder to break than the very real, physical craving.  You see, they also taught us that there’s a definitive timeline to a nicotine urge.  It builds for up to ten minutes but when it peaks, it goes away, whether or not you have a cigarette.

I’ve never been able to find out if the same holds true for a hunger craving.

Certain food triggers are a given for me.  If I’m somewhere and food is displayed out on tables – like at a party, or if someone brings in a pile of candy to work or leaves snack foods up for grabs in the kitchen — I want it.  If I have certain foods in the house – they’re often on my mind.  Just the fact that they are in close, available, proximity can serve as a trigger.

Plus, if they’re easily accessible and I fall prey to an emotional trigger, then the foods also become the bullets.  Stress, anger, loneliness, external events that upset or sadden me can allll trigger the urge to eat.  Granted, I could binge on celery if that was the only thing in the house to eat.  While the behavior itself isn’t healthy, at least the food would be better for me than candy.

That thing about keeping trigger foods in the house and believing that I am strong enough in program to withstand going on a binge-fest on them?  It’s a myth of my own making.   I’m fooling myself if I think that’s possible.  To be honest, I’m a little sad and a little pissed off to admit this.   I’d really hoped that I’d become one of those people who can make a single candy bar last a week.  Program teaches us that acceptance is the answer to all of our problems.  This is a reality I need to accept.  I need to not have those trigger foods in the house.

I don’t know why this simple truth annoys me so much.  When my mother was alive, we completely understood that she needed to keep a dry house.  Come to think of it, she resisted the notion, too.  She always wanted there to be beer or wine in case we wanted it to drink — despite the fact that we told her time and again that we didn’t want to drink in her house.  We didn’t even care enough about it to order a drink if we were all out to dinner.  It was her thing to insist.  I guess nobody likes to admit that we have so little control over our own diseases and addictions that booze or drugs or food have power over us.

Intellectually, I get it.  Emotionally, I hate it.  Spiritually, I work toward accepting that if I want to avoid wounding myself and setting back my recovery, I need to be more aware of my trigger foods and keep them as far out of range as possible.

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Defining Abstinence

I was talking to a friend the other day about working on my abstinence.  She asked me to explain.  Have you ever noticed how sometimes your nose is so close against the window of your own issue that you forget the rest of the world isn’t pressed against the glass too?

I thought it might make a good topic to discuss.  The more I work on my own abstinence, the better off I’ll be.

When I first went to a therapist who explained that I had an eating disorder, I was also lucky to have picked one who was in OA herself.  Not only did I begin to be exposed to different ideas about the way I used food, but I started to learn a new vocabulary and new understanding to go with words I knew in different contexts.

Like abstinence for starters.  I knew that for an alcoholic or drug addict, abstinence meant they abstained from drinking alcohol or using drugs.  It’s different for overeaters.  We can’t abstain from consuming food of some sort.  So, abstinence for me means refraining from the behavior of compulsive eating, not avoiding the substance.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve wondered whether it would be easier for me if I actually could go through life no eating at all.  Would the black and white choice of Don’t eat/eat be less of a challenge than having to control when/how/what I eat all of the time.  In a few decades I’ve never determined an answer.  It’s the never ending pondering.

When the therapist first worked with me on attaining abstinence, I was in the grips of a horrible, long-term bout of binge eating.  I’d consume huge quantities of food every day – mostly in the evenings.  I didn’t have a clue how to stop or how to define what abstinence meant for me.

We started with broad strokes that purposely did not require me to limit my quantity per se.  Here’s how it worked.  The goal was for me to experience not giving into the compulsion to eat something just because it was there, or I wanted it, or because I wanted it and it was there.  My first abstinence plan was to wake up and determine what and how much I would eat that day — organized into six meals.  In order for me to claim abstinence that day, I could not eat anything other than I’d planned or eat at any other time than a pre-set meal.

So, if I woke up in the morning and planned that dinner would be an entire pizza, then I was within my abstinence guidelines.  If, however, I planned to eat three pieces of pizza at dinner and then had a fourth – then I was not abstinent.  If I ate two pieces at dinner but then grabbed another piece later that evening, I wasn’t being abstinent.

Sounds a little nutty, doesn’t it?  It was drastic, but it worked.  I learned a lot by employing that method.  After a while, I was able to structure my abstinence to something closer to reasonable nutritional guidelines, but harnessing the disease eating behavior was the most important thing for me in the beginning.

I know what my abstinence needs to be – for today.  A small “meal” every couple of hours, for six times a day.  Do not deviate and pick up extra food at an unplanned time.  Eat in the balanced proportions of my 21 Day Fix.

I’ve talked about my issues with available Halloween candy.  It’s a trigger food for sure.  So today when I set up my abstinence plan, I committed to not grabbing a piece of candy out of the plastic pumpkin currently hanging out in the office kitchen prior to lunchtime.  I have myself permission to have a piece with my lunch but none before 12 noon.  For me, abstinence does not mean never eating chocolate or another sweet treat.  If I want that piece of chocolate, I can have it – as long, and this is the key part, I’ve planned when and how much of it I’m going to eat.  The fact that I held to that plan was a victory for me.  I feel really good about it.

Every time I choose my abstinence and resist the urge to eat compulsively, it’s a win.  Wins are positive things.  Positive actions are foundations on which to build.

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Post 500 – Anything Can Be a Binge Food

I can’t believe that this is the 500th Weighty Matters post! Thank you again for coming here and reading. Whether you comment a lot, a little, or simply lurk, I appreciate you adding your energy to the atmosphere and that you witness my journey. It helps me keep it real.

As you know, I have an eating disorder. My disease is compulsive overeating and binge eating. When I am in the grip of the disorder, I eat without thought, powered by compulsion. I will eat, eat, and eat some more. Binge eating meant I would do this and consume massive quantities of food. I wasn’t bulimic and wouldn’t purge. I’d just eat to the point of being incredibly uncomfortable and stuffed. If the binge mode was really strong, I’d wait until my stomach opened up a little space and then I’d binge some more.

Some folks with eating disorders feel that they need to abstain from certain substances — mostly sugar and/or white flour. I have never made the decision to cut those products out of my life. I’ve had some people argue with me that doing so is absolutely necessary in order to achieve long term recovery and abstinence. I say, while I understand that I’m not terminally unique, I believe that the disease manifests differently in different people. Instead of being addicted to particular products, I was more addicted to volume.

I also 100%, unequivocally, believe that anything can be a binge food. It doesn’t have to be sweets or white flour-based products. Pick a food, any food, and a binge eater could overload on it. You see, it isn’t about the actual food item. The root of the disease is the behavior itself. It’s eating when not hungry and eating more than an appropriate portion. It’s eating food compulsively instead of consuming what was intended. If I needed to binge and all that I had in my house were condiments, I’d probably pile up on ketchup and mayonnaise.

This is important for me to remember. Although my bariatric surgery provided me the fabulous tool of a drastically smaller stomach which limits the volume of food I can eat, it does not safeguard against me eating compulsively. So, recovery for me means abstaining from the compulsive behavior and the binging. Yes, even though the quantity of a post-surgery binge is far smaller, I can still eat more than I should, which makes my smaller stomach uncomfortable. It can even make me purge – which I hate.

There are some trigger foods that I am better off avoiding. I still wouldn’t want to trust myself and my recovery around pizza, unless I’m sharing with a group of friends. While I don’t deny myself the occasional baked goody, it’s better for me to not stock up on a supply in the house, but to purchase a smaller, single item when I really, really want the treat. I’m okay with keeping popping corn around for sometimes, but not so potato chips. This is about setting myself up for success. If I don’t keep binge quantities around, I don’t binge. It’s an almost simple equation.

Managing my food takes practice. It’s still a learning experience for me. Sometimes I do great and sometimes I screw up. Sometimes my disease whispers coaxing little lies to me that I can handle the disease no matter what and it tempts me to bring in larger quantities of potential trouble foods. Other times, my recovery is so strong and my mindset crystal clear enough to say “No” to that little voice.

I win more than I lose these days. My recovery isn’t perfect, but it continues. I’ve never maintained a significant weight loss effort for two years before and I’m only a few weeks away from my surgiversary. I want my awareness to stay strong so that I keep focusing on abandoning the diseased behavior and adopting the new, improved, healthier way of living. If I remember that anything can be a binge food so I need to keep my intent on correcting the behavior, I’ll continue to do well.

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Going to Any Lengths

A few minutes ago, I wasn’t sure what to blog about tonight. A couple of thoughts and ideas flitted around in my brain. Earlier today I changed the setting on my alarm clock to 6:00 a.m. I am determined to wake up on purpose early every day so that I can get in solid exercise before I get ready for work.

Thinking about that made me think about a phrase that I heard first in Al-Anon and then later in OA. It comes from AA’s “Big Book”. “If you’ve decided you want we have and are willing to go to any lengths to have it, then you are ready to take certain steps.”

That was exactly what I needed to hear again tonight and remember. Being willing to go to any lengths to recover is a huge choice and a defining moment. It isn’t easy to always maintain — that commitment of willingness — but it’s necessary, or recovery will be a fleeting thing.

With this in my head, I Googled so that I could find the exact reference. Instead, I found an absolutely kick-ass essay online. From 2011, it’s attributed to John MacDougall, the Director of Spiritual Guidance at Hazelden — a famous addiction treatment center. Click here to read the entire essay.

Regardless of the drug of choice for the addict — narcotics, alcohol, food — the addiction itself is powerful, often it feels more powerful than any frail human willingness. This essay, however, reinforces another power — the power to choose recovery. I also love when Dr. MacDougall says that we don’t negotiate our recovery.

I must choose my abstinence from compulsive eating, choose my recovery, every day. Then, as Dr. MacDougall says, I find out what the price each day will be. Some days, like today, will be relatively easy. Some will take more effort and require me to give up more in order to sustain my recovery another 24 hours. The price might mean not eating that unplanned dessert or not giving into the anger/upset/stress caused by a situation I run into. Whatever the case, I cannot, will not, wake up with anything less than total commitment. It doesn’t work to say that I will remain abstinent as long as it’s a good day or as long as nothing happens that stresses me out, or even as long as I don’t get a super craving for a favorite food that isn’t on my plan.

A high level of commitment in action engenders successful recovery. That’s what I want. I’m willing to go to any length to achieve it.

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The Impulse to Eat

It’s 9 p.m. on the first day of my seven day reboot and I’ve had a good day. I stuck to the plan and did not deviate with compulsive eating. Protein smoothies, yummy organic soups, a sugar free cherry ice. Everything was delicious but to quote a saying from OA, nothing tastes as good as abstinence feels. I also enjoyed some green tea and kept hydrated with water throughout the day.

I picked up the pups from the boarding facility after work and spent time playing with them at home. After feeding them, it was still such a lovely evening that I set out for a bike ride. I logged between eight and nine miles. All told, right now I feel pretty good for the day.

Do any of you use the MyFitnessPal app? I hadn’t logged my food for awhile and recently downloaded an update. Love the improvements! I am particularly fond of the scanner that reads the bar code on products and gives me the nutritional data. So much more convenient than having to input the numbers myself or scroll through the database.

Even though I had a successful day, I won’t say that sticking to my abstinence and plan was a slam dunk. I was very aware of how easily the impulse to eat catches my attention. For example, someone left the rest of a bag of granola in the kitchen in the “If it’s here, it’s up for grabs” location. I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, saw the bag of granola and reached for it. My response was that automatic. Thankfully, I stopped myself, got the hot water I wanted, and left the room.

I don’t know how many times throughout the day that I get food impulses, but I know it happens a lot. It sort of sucks, to be honest. Part of the struggle is armoring myself against the thoughts. These aren’t the same things as physical urges I used to experience when I was in the process of quitting smoking. I wish they were. One of the most effective pieces of information I gained during the smoking cessation programs was that there is a timeline to the physical urge for nicotine. More importantly, that urge will pass whether or not you smoke. The whole arc lasts about 10 minutes, but if you make it through the peak when the urge is strongest, the desire will ease. (Side note: I’m approaching my 27th anniversary of quitting smoking. Booyah!)

Unfortunately, the food obsession doesn’t behave in the same way, so I work on other methods like redirecting my attention, distracting myself with another activity, substituting something else like a drink of water or tea, or just trying to ignore the urges. The practice of just saying no also comes into play.

Today, I was successful. I hope that success breeds more success. It might happen one impulse at a time to build one day at a time, but I’m ready to give it all my best shot again tomorrow.

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