Can you stand to hear more about food? Because I guess until I’m worm food myself, I’m gonna have to keep thinking about it, and if I’m thinking about it, I’m talking about it. What a to-do.
I wrote about how I managed to lose forty pounds, and I kept that weight off for about a year and a half. Then I got a little sloppy and gained back seven or eight pounds, but that was okay; then I started taking Lexapro and gained an additional 15 pounds, and that was less okay. Then I felt so rotten about the extra weight that I put on another ten. Then my therapist told me she thought I had achieved my goals and was pretty functional and maybe we didn’t need to meet anymore, unless there was anything else I wanted to work on?
And I was like actually, there is this one big thing. And it is my ass.
But seriously, it’s not really food that’s the problem. It’s how I think about food. Believe it or not, it’s fairly crazy. It’s like I’m living in a house that I’ve been working on renovating for the last several years, and some of the rooms are pretty great, and all of them are basically functional . . . except for this one room, and I have to tiptoe past it and not think about what’s inside, because if I open the door, absolutely anything could be going on in there. And that is the room called “food thoughts.”
So, starting about three weeks ago, I’m starting over again, yay! Yay. But this time, with therapy. And an APP, which I HATE. But it is WORKING. Which I HATE. I’m slowly losing the weight again, in a sensible, mindful, presumably sustainable way, this time with much bigger focus on my emotional processes around food and eating. There was nothing wrong with how I was doing it last time, but I was mainly figuring out how I was gaining weight, but this time I am figuring out why. People said the last post was helpful, so I thought this follow-up might be, as well. I’m not actually giving advice, I’m just . . . I don’t know what. I have a Halloween-themed shopping bag with a cat on it that says “CREEPIN’ IT REAL” so I guess that’s what I’m doing.
Quick, logistical rundown: It is sort-of intermittent fasting plus calorie deficit and regular moderate activity, because that builds on the way I was living anyway; this just sort of codifies it, so I don’t fool myself that I’m doing more and eating less than I think I am. Plus a food journal (more about that in a minute.)
A typical day: I have coffee with cream in the morning, do a yoga workout in late morning, have lunch (usually a lot of vegetables, a little protein, and container of Greek yogurt) between 1:00 and 2:00, have a snack around 4:30 when I get home from picking up the kids, and eat a normal dinner around 6:00. We don’t drink alcohol anymore, so that’s it for the day. I really only drink seltzer, and very occasionally a Coke Zero. On weekends, I have more snacks and maybe dessert. I don’t count calories very strictly, but I squint at it and aim for a calorie count that puts me in a deficit for my age, weight, height, sex, and activity level.
This is what I was already doing last time. The difference this time is that I’m also logging every bit of food I eat, and I’m stopping and noting what I’m feeling and thinking before I eat.
I’m using an app called Recovery Record that’s designed for eating disorder recovery. I don’t have an eating disorder, but I wanted something that focused on the psychological aspects of eating, rather than the calories or carbs or whatever. I chose it more or less at random just to force myself to get started, because I was massively, massively resisting the idea of starting a food log, and I just had to pick something.
The app is fine. It’s not intrusive, and you can set it to give you gentle audible reminders to eat and log various things, if you like. It offers copious affirmations and coping skills you can collect or reject, so they will either pop up again or not, as you like, and the background images change week to week, which I’m sure is motivational in some way. You also have weekly goals you are prompted to review periodically, and you win prizes which I think are music downloads or something (I haven’t really investigated). Overall, it’s basically dignified, a tiny bit goofy but not over the top, and you can customize it in tons of ways that I’m not using. If you’re familiar with the twelve-step idea of “take what you need and leave the rest,” this is that: You acknowledge that some of it is going to be annoying or irrelevant, but you’re in it to help yourself, so you’re on the lookout for useful stuff, and some of it will be very useful indeed, if you’re not a baby or a snob.
Anyway, I’m finding that having this log is giving me an essential foothold to stick with my plan every day. It’s sort of like when you are tempted to commit a sin, and you know you shouldn’t, but you wanna. But then you imagine yourself having to confess it, and you really don’t wanna do that. So you don’t do it, just because you don’t want to confess it. And then as soon as you make up your mind not to do it, the power of the temptation goes poof, and you’re left feeling kind of dumb for how hard it was to resist, but mostly you’re just grateful to be on the other side of it. This is what the kids used to call “very imperfect contrition” (not just fearing the pains of hell, but dreading the pains of having to say you-know-what in front of Fr. Stan). So this is very imperfect healthy eating or something.
So once you get past that “I’m not going to die if I don’t eat that cold grilled cheese crust sitting on the table” moment, then maybe you can take a minute and think about your feeeeelings. If you want.
Some of my feelings around food are:
“I can’t get anything done today! Aughhhh, aieeee, grrr, I can’t get anything done! But I can get THIS done [::CRONCH::]”
“Oh shit, it’s been such a crappy day and everything is terrible, but you know what’s not terrible, is food”
“Here, fatty fat fat, you’re so fat, have some more fatness for your fatty fatness”
“Perfectly good food going to waste” (and some subsets: “I made this and nobody appreciated it!” and “This is the last [whatever] of the season and everything is dying and nobody else cares!”)
“A TREAT THAT MIGHT DISAPPEAR FOREVER. What if my big sisters get there first! What if there is never another treat again! Poor poor poor! Grab it quick!!!”
“I can’t have this? I’m sorry, you’re gonna tell me I can’t have this? Who the hell are you?”
“o i am so tired”
“If I don’t eat now, they will know I already just ate a lot, so now I have to eat twice”
“You’re already off the rails so far, what’s the point, who are you fooling?”
A few logistical things:
I’m eating all normal food, and as much whole food as possible. You just get the most bang for your buck (the most volume, the most nutrition, feeling fullest, and getting the fewest calories), if you skip the processed food, in my experience; and I feel more deprived if I have a small amount of food than if I have to substitute one food for another, so I go for volume. The few special “diet” foods I get for myself are 100-calorie packs of nuts, which I keep on hand for times when I am undeniably stomach-growlingly hungry, not just feeling bored or sad or munchy; and 100-calorie bags of microwave popcorn, which registers as a really nice treat for me, and cheers me up, if I don’t have it too often. Frozen mango chunks are surprisingly low-calorie (100 calories for a cup) and they are very sweet and creamy, and really taste like dessert to me. Tart green apples are also really good, eaten a slice at a time, if I’m done with dinner but I just feel like I still want a little sumpin’.
Lunches that clock in around 300-400 calories, that I eat all the time:
-Two eggs sautéed in spinach with cooking spray; Greek yogurt
-Giant heap of spinach with 3-4 pieces of deli turkey or ham and or leftover chicken breast with balsamic vinegar; apple
-hummus and carrots; Greek yogurt and small pita pocket
-Banana, Greek yogurt, nuts, a heap of sugar snap peas
-Wendy’s parmesan chicken salad
Where I run into trouble is when I don’t let myself think. I do a lot of mental. hand-waving and tell myself I’m upset or rushing or confused, and I’m not able to stop and think, and then oh nooo, I ate more than I meant to! This is a silly but effective trick I play on myself so I don’t have to think. I am never actually so hungry that I can’t stop for a minute and think, “Okay, what do I actually plan to eat right now?” and then I make a decision about it, and imagine writing it down in the log. I never plan to eat stupid things, so as long as I give myself three seconds to actually plan, I’m good.
My trickiest time of day is before dinner, when I get home from driving the kids home, everyone is being their loudest and most obnoxious and demanding, I am in the kitchen finishing up making dinner and helping the kids make their lunches, and I also have a lot of residual historical anxiety from all the years when I was doing all these things with a baby and/or toddler hanging off me and my husband wasn’t going to be home for another six hours. (This isn’t the case anymore, but the “time to panic” cue really took root.) If I don’t pay attention, I will easily eat an entire meal’s worth of snacks before dinner, one little handful of this and that at a time, mostly out of frustration.
I have done what I can to mitigate the frustration — cleaning the kitchen earlier in the day, doing more dinner prep so there’s less actual cooking to do, stepping out of the kitchen unless I actually need to be in there — but mostly I have landed with just leaning into the sensation of wanting to kill someone with my teeth, and letting that someone be sugar snap peas or raw cabbage shreds or baby carrots or broccoli spears. I know that sounds really lame and diet culture-y, but for me, it’s acknowledging that I’m not always going to have this perfect, zen-like attitude toward nourishing myself, so at very least I can avoid fucking my calorie count, and I can emerge with my self-respect more or less intact, and still enjoy dinner.
I also get a lot of mileage from going ahead and admitting how disappointed I am that I’m not eating whatever-it-is. I will stand there in front of the fridge and have a tiny mental temper tantrum because there is a cup of rice pudding right there and I want it but I’m not going to have it and I’m mad. Then I go ahead and choose the bag of carrots instead. And I almost hate to admit this, but sometimes the little explosive emotional discharge that just went off is . . . . actually what I wanted, and I don’t care about the rice pudding anymore. Maybe I nibble a few carrots just for the hell of it, but just a few. It turns out I am five years old and that is why I am fat. I don’t know. Anyway, at least it’s just food and not hookers or heroin. Anyway, I didn’t eat the rice pudding. Maybe I’ll have some this weekend (rice pudding).
My therapist also said that, statistically speaking, people are more successful if they buddy up with someone to lose weight, which makes sense. I’m not doing that, but I did tell Damien what I’m up to, so at least he knows. And I’m telling you! Several thousand of my closest friends. Thanks for listening, hope this helps.