Weighty Matters

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Food Associations

I treated myself to some new technology at home in the form of an AppleTV gizmo. I also signed up for a subscription to MLB.TV. Together, these things allow me to watch Phillies games on my television. I’m a big fan of baseball and the Phillies are my team. All of the years that I lived up home in SoJersey, we watched baseball games on television all season long. Before the time that they broadcast the games on the tube, we used to listen to them on the radio. I’ve missed that practice in the years that I’ve lived in Florida when the only times I could see the Phillies were when they played the FL Marlins or the occasional game on ESPN or Fox.

Tonight’s game is on while I type this. I was thinking about the years when we also had season tickets to Veterans Stadium for 16 games each season. I always wanted a ball park hot dog at those games. That was a strong association of a particular food with a particular activity. Each of us probably has countless associations that we make like popcorn at the movie theater, cake on a birthday, or turkey at Thanksgiving. Many of us can also add family traditions, like my family’s practice of making Pizza frita (fried dough) on Christmas morning. I have friends who never go out fishing without picking up fried chicken from a particular convenience store.

There used to be a great little family-owned Cuban restaurant in town. For years I ordered the same meal whenever I went to this restaurant — pork chunks with yellow rice, black beans and fried plantains. It got to be funny because I’d go with my mom and say that I really should try something else sometime, but the favorite tradition always won out.

I’ve noticed that I also have food and eating behaviors associated with certain places, activities and other things. Cookies in the kitchen at work are a guaranteed trigger for me. It’s like I have to eat one (or two).

I don’t think that the food associations are necessarily bad, except when they are. 🙂 By that I mean that if I’m aware of the association and make the food or eating choice mindfully with full awareness — and incorporate it into my overall eating plan, it can be a positive activity. If I don’t use the associations as a trigger to overeat, or eat compulsively, then it’s not automatically unhealthy. The key is being mindful and aware.

Eating by rote just because of the ingrained, often long term, association can be a dangerous, slippery slope. One needs to be aware of the association or habit in order to effect positive change, or counteract the trigger. For example, I used to automatically throw a candy bar onto the belt at the supermarket checkout. There’s a reason they put those rows of candy bars in that location! It didn’t matter if I wanted the chocolate before I got to the store or not. Most of the time, I hadn’t even thought about it on my way to the supermarket. When I hit the checkout line, I had associated the experience with also buying and later consuming, the chocolate bar.

I’m mindful about it now. I still want it most times, but I can resist the trigger of the association and choose a different behavior — ignoring the chocolate, completing checkout, and leaving the store.

This reminds me of something the coaches warned us about when I went through a smoking cessation program more than 27 years ago. We learned that smokers frequently lit up cigarettes because of the place or situation and not because they had an urge to smoke right at that particular moment. I rapidly noticed that I automatically lit a cigarette whenever I got into my car or sat down at my desk. (Back in the early 80s, most offices still permitted smoking.) When I went out to a rock club with friends, invariably I’d have a drink in one hand and a cigarette in another. Once I was made aware of the practice, I became adept at identifying the “association moments”. Eventually I learned to counter them, much like I’ve learned with the checkout candy bar rack.

Not sure if I’ll have the same success in other situations. Movie popcorn is a powerful lure. I can only try and do my best, or at the very least, take a look at my plan for the day and adjust so that I can enjoy the treat. Either action — resisting or working it into the plan – requires awareness and conscious thought. Those things can trump the automatic reaction because of long term association. I can work with that.

Do you have any food associations? Care to share?

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Providing Support

There was an article in the paper over the weekend that talked about how some people do not receive positive support from their circle of family and friends. Sometimes, when you make positive changes in your life, some of the people around you don’t know how to react or what to say. Some may feel threatened as if your changes affect them or, often more to the point, as if it pressures them to also change.

Picture if a friend was a smoking buddy, drinking buddy or eating buddy. If you’re overweight and eat a lot and you’re around friends who also eat a lot and are overweight, it creates a more comfortable atmosphere. It’s okay to eat a lot around them because they’re doing it too. So if one of the buddies decides not to overeat, it can make the other buddies uncomfortable, like they’ll be judged for not making the same decision.

Some people will even go so far as to sabotage the other person’s positive efforts. It’s that important for them to maintain the status quo.

I have been phenomenally fortunate in that I have not encountered any negative reactions to my journey. Perhaps there are one or two friends/acquaintances who have been mostly silent and absent, but the vast majority of people in my life have showered me with overwhelmingly positive support. Even people I know more casually through business or around town applaud my efforts and cheer me on. Those of you here are also a constant support system. I am very lucky and always appreciative.

The article I read also talked about the journey being a two way street. It pointed out that it’s important for the person who is making/has made the changes to be supportive to the circle in the ways that the individuals surrounding them need. This was an excellent point. Supporting others in the way that they need means being sensitive to their journeys and where they are in their respective processes. It does not mean that I should suddenly start urging any overweight friend to get with the program and start working on their own diet and fitness. I’m not going to cast long, disapproving looks at their plates or scoff if they order dessert. Being supportive means being there to listen and encourage whether they’re able to begin weight loss efforts or not. That’s non-judgmental and truly supportive.

I spent too many years resisting help or running on the “lose-lose-lose-gain-it-all-back” wheel to not understand how difficult it is to maintain long term success. I am not going to fault someone else for not trying or not trying harder. If they want a diet and fitness buddy, I’m available. If they don’t, that has to be okay too.

It’s hard sometimes to find the balance. When my mom had her last, worst relapse, she not only fell off of the wagon with her alcoholism but the wheels nearly came off her life all together. There was no way that we, her family, could not stage an intervention. However, we also knew that if she did not choose to try to recover, we could only change our own lives and choices in order to protect ourselves. What she did with her life was up to her. If she chose recovery which, thank God, she did, then we could give her every bit of support and help that we could muster.

It’s most difficult for me around the few friends that still smoke cigarettes. Yes, I’m one of those former smokers who absolutely hate cigarettes and all forms of smoking. (Coming up this October 28th will be the 27th anniversary of me quitting.) The smell of cigarette smoke grosses me out. I have a couple of friends who are heavy smokers and the smell infusing their clothing is so strong that it almost makes me sick to hug them. I hug them anyway because I love them, but I don’t comment or wave my hands to blow away the smoke if they light up. I do try to stand upwind, however. Smoke blowing in my face makes me sick. I don’t permit smoking in my house or car but keep a single ashtray around if someone wants to smoke on my outside porch.

If they want to quit and ask me how I did it so many years ago, I’m happy to share and empathize, cheer for them and support them however they need. It’s up to them to make the choice.

This makes me think of a quote by Plato that I have taped to my desk. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”