Try Anything

Raise your hand if you can identify:

It’s Wednesday morning. You’re looking for something to wear, your Zoom sweatpants and work-appropriate shirts are just snug enough to make a day in front of a camera uncomfortable in more ways than one.

No problem, you think. I’ll just swear off meat/carbs/diet soda/sugar/rat poison and turn my life around. I’ll work out for an hour a day and run a marathon like everyone else.

Everyone knows you always start a diet on Monday, however, you should enjoy those last hurrahs of meat/carbs/diet soda/sugar/rat poison until then. You think about how fit you’ll be by the end of the year as you indulge in a last bit of gluttony on Sunday.

Monday rolls around, and your first morning of abstinence starts beautifully. You even get some exercise in – a slow start, of course. You can’t go from couch surfing to marathons overnight.

And then dinner time rolls around. You’re not really hungry, but suddenly you remember just how much you loved meat/carbs/diet soda/sugar/rat poison.  Maybe you should try a different diet/lifestyle change. Maybe have just one bite of that favorite food.

Wednesday rolls around again, and you’re thinking maybe you need to buy a few new shirts.

That’s been my winter, and I’ve tons of excuses for my bad behavior.

  • I’ve been dealing with a bleeding disorder that causes anemia making it hard to build iron, and I need to eat more (I actually have been, but the eating more part was just an excuse).
  • I’ve been tired.
  • I’ve been depressed.
  • I’ve been working too much to workout (but not too much to study or watch TV).
  • I’ve been tired… Oh wait.

Now it’s spring. I’m looking at the scale and the mirror, thinking a loop of the two images could make a great horror movie I’ll call ‘Terror in the Bathroom.’ It might finally get my blood pressure up, but won’t be progress.

Last Wednesday, I had started my ‘time-to-change’ mantra just before a lunchtime Zoom book club at school. We’re reading Lost at School by Ross W. Greene, a psychologist and child development researcher whose nonprofit, Lives in the Balance, promotes the idea that most maladaptive behaviors result from unlearned skills rather than a lack of motivation or consequences.  I’d read his work during a prior behavior analysis and intervention class and found it immediately applicable in working with students with challenging behaviors.

The book club should have been my a-ha moment, but it took a day.

Instead, as soon as class ended, I resumed my own maladaptive behavior – planning for a healthier lifestyle to start four days hence, preceded by overindulgence to mentally ‘prepare’ for deprivation and discipline.

To be sure, sometimes I’ve disrupted the cycle long enough to lose 40 or even 50 pounds, but no ‘lifestyle change’ is never permanent. I’ll blame circumstance or my mental health for the addictive/obsessive behavior. Never once have I questioned if a lack of skills has kept me on the hamster wheel.

Thursday I was debating the merits of low-carb vs. whole foods plant based diets. Each plan has brought some success but eliminating entire food groups – even with the promise of gorging on ‘allowed’ foods – always leads to ‘cheat days’ that turn into cheat weeks and months.  I’ll beat myself up, knowing I ‘have the skills’ to lose weight but not the motivation (even though I really do want to be able to run up our mountain when the zombie apocalypse happens).

Recalling our book club discussion from the day before, I wondered, if I had the skills (and, possibly, the motivation) what function does the hamster wheel serve?  What skills do I lack?

I looked at my diet behavior which is usually at one extreme or the other. For a while, each extreme feels good physically and emotionally, especially when I’m hitting a depressive phase. Next, just like I would with a student with a challenging behavior, I looked for a healthier replacement.

Trying to remember the opposite of extreme, I stumbled over a strategy that had worked in the past – moderation.

I’d tried moderating ten years ago with slow but steady progress. It wasn’t a deliberate strategy, however, and the siren call of extreme dieting and workouts ultimately pulled me back to battling the extremes.

Thursday, instead of eliminating entire food groups or adopting an unrealistic workout routine, I came up with a set of deliberate behaviors that will, hopefully, eschew the extremes. I identified a reasonable daily calorie limit. Everything is on the menu – in moderation. There are no diet days and no cheat days. There will be physical activity every day – in moderation.

Then, just as I would with a student with ADHD or bipolar, I identified skills to learn or relearn and practice moderating.  That means accountability with a food journal. It means serving emotional needs with activities other than over-eating or extreme dieting/exercise.

I don’t know if this plan will work, but I do know the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result.  And, needing to keep what precious little sanity I have, I’m willing to try anything. Even moderation.

I’ll keep you posted.

A Cart, A Horse, and an Ass

If the best laid plans can be torn asunder, a half-assed one can really get turned upside down by the minorest of things. 

In this case, the minor thing was a 24 flu that turned into 72 hours. I’m fever-free for 24 hours now but still wobbly.  I’m up for early morning writing group and work at my favorite cafe, one concession I’ve made to my grand plan, and it’s not just rationalizing, it’s fitting.

A couple years ago I asked if they would be interested in selling any of my cartoon magnets.  The magnets had been selling like hotcakes with sweet, sweet maple syrup and.. but I digest.  The proprietress took a look at the selection and chose a few, omitting some of the diet-related cartoons that had been very popular elsewhere.

“They’re very funny, but we’re trying to foster a healthy relationship with food,” she explained pleasantly. I got it. Right toons, wrong place.  But the term healthy relationship also got into my craw. It’s come back to haunt each time I fall off or even break the wagon.

My brother-in-law has been on what most of us would call an extreme diet for the better part of twenty years. Realizing, just after he finished med school, that he’d put on more weight than was healthy, he disciplined himself to exclude sugar (except for fruits) and artificial ingredients from every aspect of his diet. When he visits, he brings his own food. He lost fifty pounds, kept it off as he saw our niece and nephew through adolescence, and our family has gone from bemused tolerance to grudging and now admiration at his discipline.

Ironically, his discipline has been bolstered by his own recognition of needing a healthy relationship with food. Knowing certain foods trigger bad behavior and vice-versa, early on in his redefined relationship, he negotiated a truce that involves an annual day of indulgence (a whole birthday cake once per year). 

I’m thinking about that as I look forward to a day of creativity and work and indulging in solid food that’s flavored by atmosphere and healthy behavior. There won’t be any drive-by burger looting, but there will be a flavorful salad prepared by people who really care about food and about the people they’re serving it to. And when my experiment ends, I’ll remember that its ultimate goal is to hit reset button, to renegotiate my relationship with food and, ultimately, life.

 

The Lighter Side

I had three days in a row off, so naturally on the second day, I woke up with a nasty cough that morphed into fever and nausea for 48 hours. By the time I could open my eyes and not see through time, the 24 hour bug had burned off 4 pounds without doing any dieting (or exercising). My head still pounds a bit, but I’m trying to look on the bright side, or at least on the lighter side of the scale.

Cold Turkey with a side of Fries

Tomorrow is Another Diet

Most of my diets start out with the best intentions. The night before the diet, I intend to eat the best foods — and by best foods, I mean best tasting, not necessarily best for you — as I think about the foods that will or won’t be on the menu next to the chart of exercises I swear I’ll start on the same day. They usually end about 12 hours later, right about the time I congratulate myself for not hitting the snooze button at 5AM.

Day one of my breakup with solid food was only slightly different. It was Memorial Day. The Big Guy was working, but I wasn’t. I stayed up till three in the morning the night before finishing a novel and managed to sleep in until 8AM when Thing2 — fully apprised of Mommy’s diet plan for the day — came in to see if, like many holiday mornings — I would be exposing them to a balanced American diner breakfast starring sugar, fat, and more sugar. And salt.

“Is this a test?” I asked as I sat up.

Thing2 looked confused for a second and then grinned. “Oh yeah. It’s a test.” Then he disappeared, skipping down the hall to see if he could rope Thing1 into helping me get this diet nonsense out of the way bright and early. He reappeared its the unsurprising news that Thing1, whose autoimmune disorder has redefined dietary discipline over the last year, was uninterested in indulging. He thought I should stick with my plan, Thing2 reported.

“Yeah,” we both said at once.

I ended up getting Thing2 a new box of cereal and mixing my first shake for breakfast. A second shake at noon before Thing1 and I headed to the Kmart closing sale and I was feeling more than a little cocky.

The day was still young.

Shopping trips are usually like a pillow smothering my discipline. Whether I’m manic or depressed, shopping is the rush. Food is the opiate. Even scoring a purely functional $3 swimsuit for Thing1, whetted the appetite for the nearby drive-thru.

But, determined not to disappoint Thing1 who is a model of nutritional maturity, I drove past it.

We got home and promptly retreated to the sectional to enjoy the rest of the day off.

Then I saw a notification on Facebook about a petition that needed signing before Tuesday. I knew grabbing the keys, heading out for a drive to blow off steam that hadn’t had a chance to build up on a day off, would break the straw that broke my diet wagon’s wheels.

I grabbed them anyway.

I was driving to sign the petition. Really. And then I passed by the petitioner’s house. And fifteen minutes later the car pulling into a fast-food parking lot.

I knew I was disappointing Thing1 and Thing2. I knew the Big Guy would forgive. I knew I was disappointing myself and starting the best intentions all over again, the best being there would be a clean slate in the morning.

And still I ordered and indulged.

As I drove home, I debated if I should write about it. Should I tell the truth like a recalcitrant child when I got home? On one hand, why not? It wasn’t as if this was the first time I washed out of a diet. It probably won’t be the last.

Usually, however, this stage of the diet happens in secret. I say nothing and then next day I’m off it. No one says anything or even looks at me disapprovingly. But I know Thing1 worries his mom won’t be around for his college graduation. He worries I won’t be able to hike with him on his eighteenth birthday. I know I have some early signs of pre-diabetes, and the only ‘cure’ is control.

So I decided to be honest. On my blog and when I got home.

“I had fast food,” I said as soon as I got in the door.

“That’s okay,” said the Big Guy.

“I’ll start again,” I said as Thing1 said, “You can just start again. It’s a day off.”

Tonight I’m going through the intentions. I’m back on the wagon before I go to bed, and, with any luck, I’ll stay on tomorrow.

It won’t be the first battle that wasn’t won with a single skirmish.

Food, Glorious Drug

Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?

I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.

I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.

A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..

Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.

Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.

After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.

Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.

But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).

So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.

Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.