Weighty Matters

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Eating Away Self-Esteem

Aside from the obvious health and life expectancy risks the negative effect that I hate the most is the damage that compulsive overeating and obesity do to my self-esteem and confidence.  I may seem and act strong and secure, but the mental and emotional struggle to get there are very real.

It’s like the act of overeating, or of eating compulsively, just erodes away my core emotional strength.  I start to doubt myself and my abilities.  I begin to worry about how I’m perceived.  I project that my weight enters the room/meeting/situation before me and sets me up to be judged and evaluated on how I look.  If I’m not on the alert for this internal process, I start to shrink within myself and begin “playing smaller”.

Playing small is a reference from Marianne Williamson’s great reminder piece.  In it she proclaims that “Your playing small does not serve the world.”  I’m here to tell you that playing small doesn’t serve me either.

I seriously don’t like that my eating disorder leads to me undermining myself.  It’s difficult enough to fight the external impulse of food without dealing with the internal challenges.  Every piece of my confidence that erodes needs to be replaced.  I have to devote mental and emotional energy to shoring up my core and my foundation.   It’s damned exhausting.

It’s such an odd thing that food and eating have so much power beyond being or providing fuel for the body.  Food needs to stay in its place in life as that fuel.  No more, no less and no different.

The coming week is filled with industry-related meetings.  These will require the best of my energy on all three levels – physical, mental and emotional.  I’m already prepping, not only the paperwork, notes, and other materials, but also myself.

My confidence has taken a hit in the last few weeks.  I need to build it back up again.  My confidence took a hit but it isn’t out for the count.   I’m picking it up and setting it straight so that I will function without fear in the way that I need to and how I know that I can.

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Self-Directed Anger

I’m pretty pissed off at myself.  I’m angry about the way that I’m eating, the food choices I’ve been making, and the unhealthy behaviors that I continue to reinforce.

It might be difficult to understand the difference between beating up on myself and being angry with myself, but right now, this type of anger actually feels healthier and more productive.  It’s better than turning it inward into depression and then eating over it because I’m sad and depressed about my disease.  It absolutely is a lot better for me than denial.   It’s also cleaner and more constructive than just telling myself I’m badbadbad, useless, weak-willed and all of that crap that I am also capable of saying.

I’m looking to use this temper and straight-talk myself into positive action.

One positive action is as simple as acknowledging the anger and all of my feelings and then letting myself experience them instead of smothering them with food.

So, anger can be positive when appropriately channeled.  It helps to reinforce the wake-up call that I desperately need and then shore up the motivation and constructive actions to reclaim recovery.

Speaking of reclaiming recovery, I went through half a dozen boxes from my storage unit today, sorting through things that I’d put away for quite some time.  In one of the boxes, I found two of my OA books.  No coincidence that they would reappear in my life right now when I so badly need them for study and healing!

No coincidence at all.

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When Eating Runs Amok

I feel a great need to apologize for not posting in quite some time.  It’s been a whirlwind around here, including a five day visit by friends who stayed with me, followed immediately by a business trip.  It’s a busy holiday season in the Keys right now, so I no sooner got home from the trip before I launched into the fray.  Sorry about that, everyone.  I hope you’re all doing well.

Time for some brutal, denial-busting honesty.  I’ve been eating off of my food plan like crazy.  While I’m not in binge mode, I’m definitely eating wayyyy too many carbs and too much sugar, not adhering to my planned meal/snack times, and grabbing food compulsively just because it’s around.  This is full out disease eating.  Not only is it affecting me physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  I am trying not to freak out, but I’m growing increasingly fearful that I can’t rein myself in, that I’ll gain all of my weight back, that I’m a bariatric surgery failure.  In short, that I suck and am badbadbadbad.

Yes, I know that’s the disease talking, but when my eating runs amok, so do my feelings.

Have I mentioned at any time that I really, really hate having an eating disorder?

Can you fathom how much I resent watching friends and colleagues eat full meals and not gain weight when it sometimes feels like all I have to do is look at a portion of something and the pounds adhere to my body like someone stuck them there with glue.

While maintaining my bright, smiling, positive personality on the outside, inside I am a whining, scared, pissed-off-at-myself, beyotch.  To top it all off, on my trip I wore heels more than I do at home.  They aren’t stilettos or skyscraper height by any means, but even a two-inch wedge puts my knees and hips at a different angle.  I have unaccustomed, random, phantom heel pain – in my left foot, i.e. the opposite of my bad right knee.  Of course pain couldn’t cooperate by at least being on the same side, right?  So, my body also aches and my joints hurt, which makes it that much harder to exercise.

Have I mentioned at any time, that I really, really hate it when I whine?

So, I’m doing what I can do.  I still walk the dogs twice a day.  I am committed to doing my Tai Chi daily, which truly helps by loosening up tightness, keeping my circulation and joint fluid moving, and providing some Zen-like stress relief.

The food?  Well, the food is a different challenge.  At a time like this, a broken jaw could be useful because with it wired I’d be limited to liquids and the occasional mushy meal.

I need to act like a true addict fighting for recovery and Just. Say. No.  No to the candy and other sweets.  No to grabbing extra food that wasn’t planned for.  No to giving up and giving into the disease.

I am not a failure and I refuse to be.  I will not give up the physical recovery I have worked to hard to attain.  I. Will. Not.

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Identifying Trouble Times

I’m so sorry to have gone AWOL.  I dislike whining, but the last week has just been insanely busy with plenty of stress.  On the nights that I didn’t bring work home, I came home so tired that I couldn’t form coherent enough thoughts to write.

Hopefully, I can keep my thoughts gathered well enough, and long enough tonight.

I’m doing sort of so-so with my eating right now.  I am definitely a stress eater.  Stress is not an excuse, or at least not a justifiable excuse.  It just always challenges me to find ways other than eating to cope with the emotion.

What’s really interesting is that I do much better when I’m under the gun.  During the day when I am super busy — head down, powering through the projects that need to be done — I don’t obsess about the food.  I don’t have time!  Therefore, I have little issues with sticking to the planned-for food items for my mid-morning snack, lunch and mid-afternoon snack.  I can even mostly do well through dinner.

It’s after dinner that presents the biggest challenge.  I’ve had perfect days until around 7 p.m. and then morph into constantly fighting the compulsion to eat this, that or the other thing that isn’t on the plan… and then maybe eat the other thing, that, or this afterwards.  I end up feeling miserable emotionally and mentally — and sometime even physically, depending on what I ate.

I wonder why this pattern repeats.  Why is evening such a trouble time?  It’s almost as if when I’m busy and stressed, I don’t have time to act out on the stress by eating.  Then night rolls around, some of the busy-ness eases off but I’m left with the residual tension.  So I have all of that emotion, not enough to distract me from it, and I end up eating over it.

Having identified the time and the issue, I now need to devise a strategy.  Even if I’m brain weary and physically tired at night, I can find a positive action to engage me instead of reaching for food.

PACE = Positive Action Changes Everything

It will take some extra effort, particularly if I’m worn out.  Maybe I need to think of it in terms of balance and equality.  After all, if I have enough energy to boost myself off of the couch and walk to the kitchen for food, I should be able to muster enough to do something more healthy and constructive.

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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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Good Food Days

Everyone recovered from the holiday food coma?  If you put on a few pounds over the weekend, don’t panic!  It’s the body’s normal reaction to probably eating differently than you normally do.   If your body’s like mine, I can suck on four pounds of bloat without blinking.  Thankfully, I can get rid of it quickly too.

On the phone tonight with a friend  I shared that I had a good food day.  Then I realized I probably needed to explain what I meant.  Good food day could be interpreted different ways.  It could be a day when one eats lots of good food.  That was certainly true, but more importantly, it’s the way that I went through the day.  I was not besieged by compulsion.  I didn’t constantly think about food, nor did I suffer constant cravings.  I didn’t wish I could dive face first into an open bag of junk snack food.

All I did was mix up a nutritional, tasty smoothie for breakfast.  I planned, prepared, and packed two snacks and my lunch.  When I got home after work and a stop at the supermarket, I cooked the meal that I’d also planned and ate it in a relaxed, easy way.  (Grilled skirt steak with a salad of grilled romaine, roasted beets, a sprinkle of toasted walnuts, and some goat cheese crumbles.)  A short time ago, I had my evening snack and a cup of tea.

I’m satisfied.  I’m not craving more or wondering if it would hurt if I had a spoonful or two of (fill in the blank).

Translated, I am not white-knuckling and battling my eating disorder.  Any day when I am not regularly beset with food thoughts to the point where my compulsive desire to eat is fueled is one that goes in the Good Food Day category.  So, booyah for me!

Since I had a pretty good weekend food-wise, I feel strong and serene.  I decided not to do the full three day detox.  Instead, I went two days and then ate a small, healthy lunch and dinner yesterday.  I also got out for a few good walks and a long bike ride over the weekend.  Overall, I felt like I took really good care of myself.

Good food days, good program days, are important.  I can only do this recovery one day at a time and every day matters.

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How Do Some People Do It?

You know those people who say they can eat one cookie, break off one piece of a chocolate bar and leave the rest for the next day and the next?

How do they do it?

I’m feeling a little whiny tonight.  I’m not and never have been one of those people for whom a simple, small taste was enough.  I always want more.  Even though I can’t physically eat the way that I once did, my brain often wants to.  That’s the strength of compulsion.

I want it to be easier, hence tonight’s mood.  My inner-Mary is complaining like a young teen, screaming, “It’s not fair-er-er-er!”

You know what?  It isn’t fair, but it is what is.  All of the whining in the world doesn’t change the situation, nor does it lead to reality.

This is yet another example of the credo that acceptance is the answer to all problems.  Time for me to stop complaining, work on my acceptance, and move on.  One day at a time.  I don’t have to like the situation, but I do need to accept it and act accordingly.

That is all.

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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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An Off Switch

A long time ago, I talked about sometime feeling as if my motivation had an on/off switch when I used to diet.  Unfortunately, it was always like someone or something else flicked that switch to the Off position and, just like that, my motivation disappeared.  It was never easy to turn it back on again.

In terms of my eating disorder, I used to long for a different switch, one that could instantly turn off the compulsion, the eating urges, but before I reached for food.  Honestly, when the disease is raging, there is virtually no impulse control.  A package will be open and food already in my mouth or in my stomach before any thoughts of, “No.  Stop.  Don’t eat that” swim anywhere near my conscious mind.  It sucks when the awareness kicks in after the food is swallowed and I think, “I shouldn’t have eaten that.”  Still, that’s the nature of the disease.

I also used to wish that someone would invent a sensor or a chip that emitted a jolt, a sound, a buzz, anything really, to snap me out of the compulsion if I was even tempted to eat on impulse.  It would have to work something like one of those invisible fences people install around their properties to keep their dogs at home.  Now there’s an image — me walking around, wearing a collar with a gizmo that jolted me whenever I got in range of inappropriate food.  I’m not sure how I would designate food as inappropriate.  I can’t exactly install invisible fencing around the rest of the world, or at least the rest of my world.

Such are the useless musings of a compulsive overeater.  In reality, awareness and the ability to put on the brakes on my own compulsive disease aren’t things that can be triggered by switches or microchips.  Awareness is a learned skill.  It goes back to mindfulness with a healthy shot of strong program.  It involves developing a healthy obsession, not with food, but with that eating behavior.  Working a program, putting time and energy – mental energy – into it are all necessary actions.  I can’t phone in the effort.  There’s no remote control.  I have to always do the work.  In program terms, it means being willing to go to any lengths to achieve recovery.

I can be my own off switch.

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Obsessive Food Chatter

You know that old statement that guys think about sex every ten seconds?  I have no idea if that’s actually true, but I’d like the people who think they figured that out to chart a similar study of how often people with eating disorders think about food.  It sure seems like I have food chatter in my head a lot.  I won’t go as far as saying that I think about food every ten seconds or every other thought, but sometimes I have entire internal conversations with myself.

This morning, for example, I decided that, even though I had a tasty, satisfying protein smoothie for breakfast, I wanted/needed/had to have a toasted bagel with butter.  Not having bagels in the house, while I continued my morning routine, I mulled over where I could stop to get that bagel on my way to work.  This went back and forth for a while, even while I was already in the car.  Then I presented the counter argument that I didn’t need the bagel, that eating it was not on my day’s food plan, that I shouldn’t give into the compulsion, etc. etc. etc.

The debate went on until I passed the last convenience store market without pulling in to buy anything.  It’s mentally exhausting sometimes to go through these mind conversations.  And that was just one for the day.

I might have a dozen more, or more than a dozen more, before I go to sleep tonight.  They aren’t really chats, more like arguments, because what’s really happening is a struggle between me and the eating disorder.  Recovery vs relapse.  Abstinence from compulsive behavior against giving in.  They aren’t all long debates like this morning’s bagel discussion, thank God, or I’d never get anything done.  Most of the time they’re fleeting thoughts of “I want” and “No, don’t do it” type duration, then I dive back into whatever I was doing.

Repeating healthy, recovery-oriented reminders helps.  I have good nutritious food that I enjoy with me ready to eat at the appropriate times.  I don’t need the other foods.  I’m stronger than my compulsive disease.  Any positive statement helps.  Those also take time and mental energy.  What I really wish is that I could simply obliterate the food compulsion chatter all together.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how so the best I can do is continue to counteract it.

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