Wednesday, September 07, 2016

I Want to Eat Whatever I Want, Damn it! And not gain weight.

Me at 155 pounds
I have to tell you that I've had this overwhelming sense for the last couple years that diets and the focus on weight loss are bad, bad, bad. While somewhat well-intentioned, our national obsession with body weight has produced the exact opposite of what was hoped. Instead of a nation at a healthy weight, Americans have the reputation for being the fattest on average.

We are a nation obsessed with body image, weight, and healthy living, but are our bodies and minds any healthier because of this? I don't think so. Oh, sure, there are wonderful stories about people turning their health around, losing lots of weight, and getting fit. That's great. I'm glad people are happier with themselves and choosing to live in a more healthy way.

But there are also some interesting statistics about weight loss and keeping it off. I did some research and the bottom line is at best 20% of people who lost at least 10% of their body weight were able to maintain that loss for 1 year (Long term weight maintenance; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). At worst? Only a dismal 2% of 100 obese participants in a 1959 study were able to maintain weight loss of at least 20 lbs.

But I'm not going to write about the generalities. Instead, I'm going to write about my personal experience, so hold on for a bumpy story.

I've "struggled" with my weight since I was twelve years old when a well-meaning person told me that "at my age" my stomach should be flat. Of course, it wasn't. I weighed 125 pounds and wore a size ten. I bought one of those 80s workout videos and got to work. I also started my first diet.

Thus began the restriction mentality with food, as well as the shame and blame food game. My weight would fluctuate over the next 20 years, sometimes as high as 155 and a few times as low as 120. I was at my thinnest after hiking the Appalachian Trail, getting down to a size 6 and weighing 114 pounds, and at my heaviest right after giving birth to my second child in a size 16 and weighing 200 pounds.

It was after my second child's birth that I became fixated on health and fitness. I had been teaching yoga classes before I got pregnant but because of health conditions during that pregnancy, I stopped teaching and my weight ballooned.

I.
Was.
Mortified.

As a yoga teacher, I couldn't believe I'd let this weight thing get out of control. Imagine how I felt when after my son was born I went back to exercising at my gym, and my former boss saw me at the gym and asked me if I wanted to start teaching again. My first thought was "There's NO WAY I'm getting in front of a class looking like this." BUT, ultimately, I decided it would be good motivation. So, I swallowed my humiliation and started teaching again.

Faster than I could have imagined, I lost the first thirty pounds. But in my mind at 160 I was still at an unhealthy weight, especially when I constantly compared myself to the other fitness instructors and personal trainers I worked with. Over the next ten years, I would work hard on my eating habits and exercise, chiseling away at what I thought was an unsightly body.

When I finally left the fitness industry with chronic overuse syndrome in my shoulder and at 155 pounds, I was so over the fitness and wellness scene. Not only had I witnessed people obsessed with their weight and body composition to the point that they literally counted every fat gram, carb gram, and protein gram...I had become one of them.

At one time, I became obsessed with a clean eating regimen, which meant everything I ate had to be systematically portioned out and made with whole foods. That didn't last too long, but long enough for my children to notice. I didn't make them eat "my" way, but they witnessed me making my special meals and had to rummage past my stacks of pre-made lunches in uniform containers to get to their milk. (Big huge shout out to my friend Ev Bishop who wrote Bigger Things, where there's a scene of one of her characters doing exactly that. Gave me a HUGE wake up call)

About a year ago I decided enough was enough. I was done with controlling my eating and spending two hours each day exercising. And I was scared out of my mind. If I don't "control" my eating, I'm going to get fat, is what I thought. I'll eat myself into a coma and wake up with diabetes. I couldn't trust myself to eat without restrictions.

But, I stopped the food journal and the weighing and the grueling workouts.

And over the course of nine months, I gained 20 pounds.

I.
Was.
Mortified.

I reached 162 pounds before I caved to my panic. I went back on a diet plan that had always worked for me and the pounds started to come off.

And then the weight loss halted.

In the past, I would have redoubled my efforts and forced those damn pounds off my body. Everyone hits plateaus, as they say in the biz. But this time, I was listening to a little voice whispering in the back of my head saying, "Get off the rollercoaster. Trust yourself."

I scoffed. Trust you? You did this to me! 20 pounds! If I keep eating like this and not exercising like a beast, I will be obese in very quick order.

"Trust yourself."

I wasn't sure what to do. I WAS sick to death of the weight monitoring, the on again off again food restrictions, and the punishing myself with brutal workouts for my sins of eating "bad" food. Because I never could give up real honest to goodness cheese or wine.

I was pissed.

My experiment had failed.

Or had it?

Something was telling me I was on the right track, that I just needed a little insight and patience.

I stepped off the scale, backed away from the dieting regiment, and did a little research online. I found two books that I downloaded from Audible and listened to every morning while I went for a walk in the local park. I like to walk and decided to treat myself to easy walks in the park instead of a grueling workout AND bonus! Someone reads books to me.

Winning!

The first book was Body Of Truth, recommended by my online friend Lisa Gott. The second I found on my own and it's called Intuitive Eating. Both books have been incredibly eye-opening and exciting to listen to.

Body Of Truth told a story of a nation that has been derailed from health maintenance and put on a track of weight maintenance. How did this happen? Read the book, but I will say this, there are lots of reasons, not the least of which is profit.

The second book, Intuitive Eating, I'm still listening to, but I will tell you this: if there is any shame or guilt involved in your eating lifestyle, you are probably not an intuitive eater. If you feel the need to measure, count, and track, you are not an intuitive eater.

If you have any sense of fear or anxiety about food, you are not an intuitive eater.

But you can be. I can be. And I'm working on it.

I'm currently dismantling the diet mentality as I write this. It's scary as hell because I'm doing things like making a list of all the foods I think of as unhealthy and that I shouldn't eat. And one by one, I am giving myself permission to eat those foods WHENEVER I want, as MUCH as I want.

The first item was frozen pizza. There's a certain brand that I always craved but would say, "Nope. Not healthy, not even close." So whenever I craved it, I'd make my own little pita pizza that never quite satisfied the craving.

So last week? I bought FIVE of those frozen pizzas, put them in my freezer and gave myself permission to eat it whenever I wanted. Ack! The first day? I ate a WHOLE pizza. Yes, I did. When the guilt feelings started to emerge, I told myself one meal was not going to make me fat or ruin my health. And I let it go.

THAT was a big, big deal.

The next day? I did it again. Now, I was feeling quite sure that I was going to have to buy new pants.

But something happened on the third day. Come lunch time, I THOUGHT about the frozen pizza in the freezer and started to tell myself "Nooooo, you've had enough." But changed my mind. I baked it and cut it up and stared at it. Do you know my stomach felt queasy???? I closed my eyes and listened to that feeling. What was my body telling me?

After a  moment, I opened my eyes and put a couple slices on a paper plate. I sat down at the table and made myself really pay attention to the taste, the texture, the smell of that pizza. By the time I was a few bites in, it didn't taste good! It tasted kind of greasy and salty and ... not much else in the flavor department.

I wrapped the rest up and made myself a grilled chicken salad with fresh cilantro and a spicy, homemade southwestern creamy dressing. I didn't eat much of it, but every bite was fabulous. I truly savored it, enjoyed, and felt utterly satisfied.

So there are two more of those pizzas in my freezer and I haven't had the slightest interest in them. I suspect one day I will and so I've kept them as I reminder that I can have it whenever I want.

This week? I'm working on cheese. I've never said no to cheese, but I have rationed it out. I'm hoping my obsession with cheese will work itself out. This is day three and when I prepared a plate of some high quality, tasty cheese, pickles, and crackers, I only ate a few bites before my stomach pretty much said enough. So I made a chicken salad sandwich with lettuce and swiss cheese. Ridiculously yummy.

I'm excited to say that I'm looking forward to playing with more foods like this because check this out...between eating in a relaxed, aware way with no restrictions and listening to my body about what kind and how much to exercise, my weight has stabilized.

Well, I have to be honest. I snuck on the scale this morning (something else I'm working on: Not weighing myself, but baby steps) and I was actually down from 162 to 153.

Whoa.

Without dieting.

Without KILLING myself with exercise.

And can I tell you something else? For the first time in a long time I'm excited about food and have absolutely no reservations about what to eat. Yes. Excited that I can let it go, trust myself, and still enjoy life and love the body I have.

Brilliant.

I will be up dating you weekly (if not more) on my personal experiment with intuitive eating and healthy living, mind and body.

What about you? What is your experience with food? Do you fear food? Love food? Hate food? All of the above?

What about you, your body and self-image?

*NOTE* If you follow any links to books or products and buy one of them, I do get a few cents. If you don't like that, no problem. Look the books and products up on Google or Amazon yourself and then buy them. Totally understand. :-)

7 comments:

  1. Yay!! I am so happy for you and this is so encouraging.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you found it encouraging. It took me awhile to be brace enough to write about it but after talking to some friends I realized maybe I'm not alone and someone else would benefit from reading my story.

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    1. Thanks! I plan on it. 😃👍🏻

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  3. It is easy to identify with your journey. It takes so much courage to put the numbers out there!
    In as much as I dieted in my youth from time to time, my great struggle with food began later in life.
    I had my one and only child at the age of 39, he was born with and still has very severe food allergies, he is allergic to what other kids consume as "healthy food" Dairy, eggs and in his early years tree nuts.
    The experience gave me such a love/hate relationship with food, that my crazy struggle has been for the last 18 years.
    Bravo to your bravery for opening up in such a public forum.

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    1. Thanks! I wasn't thinking of it as brave, just honest. I feel like the health dialogue has been hijacked by the "right" eating folks. So much food has been demonized and yet all the well-known psychology behind restrictive processes has been ignored. And then we are made to feel guilty because we "failed" to discipline ourselves. smh It has to stop.

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