Banned Words: I’ll Start Tomorrow

It starts out innocently enough. In my case, a movie. The husband and I had been wanting to see Gravity for a few weeks, but overlapping schedules prevented us from the two-hour luxury. We finally made it yesterday night. As we planned our day, I thought about what we’d make for dinner. I had previously said on Saturday that I’d “start low-carb tomorrow.” I’ve been kind of “off” the past few days in terms of exercise, overwhelmed by life and feeling lazy. (House-hunting and being a business owner will do that to ya.) I knew I needed a fresh start. I decided that I’d have movie theater popcorn as my dinner. Yes, yes, that sounded lovely. There’s nothing like hot, buttered popcorn and a suspenseful flick to end the week. Wait! A little voice popped up in my head. “Popcorn isn’t low carb.”

“Oh, who cares,” the other voice in my head reasoned. “If you don’t eat dinner, and have popcorn instead, it cancels itself out. Sure, it’s high in calories, but you ate light today.”

The other voice responds, “Movie popcorn is the worst thing you could eat. The salt alone will make you bloat ten pounds. Add the butter oil and you’re asking for it. I thought you wanted to lose weight. Don’t do it. Losing weight means saying NO. It means discomfort. It means sacrifice. How bad do you want this? You have to make the change.”

The other voice, growing panicked, grasps for straws. “You deserve it! You’ve had a hard week, with lots of important, adult decisions. Movie popcorn is your FAVORITE. AND, you’ve eaten low-carb all day. You’ve already done so well! You can have a little splurge.”

The other voice, sounding sad, tells you to stop and think. “Remember trying on jeans at TJ Maxx? How the cold, metal button on almost every pair gouged into your tummy, made you cringe? How you’re avoiding the scale, knowing that your body isn’t “normal”, and that your small mistakes with food and exercise WILL ALWAYS show? Your hormones are wacky. It’s not just bad habits that make you gain weight, but it doesn’t help. Your body is actively going rogue. You have to work hard to prevent it from defeating you. It is what it is. Popcorn won’t help, on any level. You know that, Alyssa.”

The other voice, feeling defensive now, says “Just start tomorrow, Alyssa. You deserve this. It will make you feel good.”

The other voice says, firmly now, “No. I’m not starting tomorrow. I’m starting today.”

I’ve learned something about myself the past few years. I can’t just decide one day to lose weight and just do it. I have to decide almost every minute of every day. At least once an hour. I need to decide to drink water, to get moving, to not eat bread, or cookies, or candy. To refuse the movie popcorn. I need to recommit. I’m fiercely loyal to the things I love. Clearly, weight loss is not a thing I love.

So I saw Gravity. And for a riveting two hours, I sat, consumed with emotion and angst, completely lost in the story. The movie was phenomenal, and my husband and I left shaky and tense, rocked by the amazing visual effects and captivating storyline. We’re still talking about the movie today. I didn’t even miss the popcorn. Sure, the smell always seduces me when I walk in, but I didn’t need the crunch, the salt, the butter, the motions, the kernels in my teeth. I didn’t need popcorn. I didn’t need snacks. I didn’t need to start tomorrow. I needed to start today.

Appreciating my appetite

Many moons ago, I explored acupuncture, hoping to have an answer to my weight problem, allergies and stress. Before my first session, I remember the acupuncturist was very interested in my appetite. I answered like I usually do when someone asks me how my appetite is, “It’s big.” What the acupuncturist said next surprised me. She said I should be grateful for a good appetite, because many people struggle to eat on a daily basis. That blew my mind. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve ever experienced a bad appetite, and now, one of my telltale signs of being too stressed is when I’m not thinking about what I’m going to eat next. There’s the type of stress that makes me want to cram everything crunchy into my mouth, and then, when I get really spastic, I don’t want anything to do with food. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often anymore now that I’m learning stress management techniques in therapy, but isn’t it interesting that an appetite is actually something to be grateful for? You could have a lack of appetite from illness, or just never really be hungry. I can’t imagine it!

One of my coworkers once told me if there was a pill he could take instead of having to eat three square meals, he’d do it in a heartbeat. He found the whole act of eating annoying — the cost, the preparation, the time factor, the having to chew it. When he said that I was shocked, because I find unreasonable joy in food — the preparation, the smells, the tastes, the textures, the social aspect. In fact, one of the positive parts of the detox was that I cooked a lot, roasting vegetables, pureeing fruits, experimenting with new squashes. I love food, beyond just the taste and the fact that it fuels me, but how it’s a hobby, a learning experience and a form of medicine.

My husband has a healthy appetite, I’d say, but it’s nowhere near as robust as mine. I’m usually the one finishing my meal at restaurants when he diligently takes home half. My mother is the same way; she can out eat most grown men any day of the week. I’ve moved past the shame factor of having a big appetite because there’s really nothing to be ashamed about, as long as you stop when you’re full and eat things of reasonable nutritional value. However, my big challenge is always “Am I finishing this because I’m still hungry, or am I finishing it because I feel like I should?” It’s these things that are important to realize about appetite, learning how to fine-tune it to keep it in control, to acknowledge the differences between hunger and emotional eating. It’s an art I’m still working on.

How would you rate your appetite — big, small, non-existent? Do you see what I mean about learning to appreciate your appetite?

Thailand Tuesday, Week 9

I’m so excited I can’t even say Hi first. This week…

I lost 5.2 pounds

Um, YEAH! That’s MAJOR. That’s probably the most weight I’ve ever lost in my life. (Slight hyperbole). But in a week? Definitely up there with the most weight I’ve ever lost in a week. There were some major things that contributed to this major loss, like –

I miss you everyday, Leo!

1) Grief. I was a sad sap from Tuesday through Friday and had to force myself to eat. So, a lot of this is probably water weight, but my calories were greatly reduced.

2) I’m low-carbing it up. Before everyone gets their pitch forks and battering rams ready, I’m not going low-carb for life or even an extended amount of time. I just wanted to see what would happen if I cut out all “junk carbs” in my life like crackers, sugar, certain breads, etc. Evidently this made a major difference. I’ve been eating way more protein which is hard for me because I’m not a big meat eater, but I can feel it because I’m not nearly as snacky or hungry during the day. I’m also focusing more on “good fats” like avocado and olive oil.

So – Wow! I’m a lot closer to my Thailand Tuesday goal today than I thought I would be. Next week’s weigh in will be interesting, because there is a possibility of regain since probably a fair amount of this was just drastic calorie reduction from my lack of eating. (Interesting factoid: A couple of years ago, any extreme emotion I felt – joy, sadness, grief, anger – would lead me to eat. I knew I was changing emotionally when I found those extreme emotions would take away my hunger. Such a big change for me, but one I’d rather have. A bag of chips does not soothe a complicated life, at least not for the long term.)

But – We’ve been feeling better and looking forward to eventually giving a great home to another cat in need, just like we did for Leo. We’re not rushing it and there will certainly never be a replacement, but pets can only bring joy in our family.

How are you doing today? What’s affecting your day? I hope you’re having a great one.

What does a thesis have to do with pizza?

Happier times with pizza!

On Friday, I overate. I knew what I was doing. I didn’t like what I was doing, but I was conscious of it. Most of you know from my frequent bitching and moaning that I’m in the process of writing a thesis. Grad school is only for masochists, people who like to whip themselves with the heavy lashings of 475 page articles and the horrors of APA style. In December, I’m supposed to be done with 2.5 years of my own personal torture – a torture I inflicted on myself in the pursuit of self-betterment and personal fulfillment. Despite my complaints, I really do love learning and school. I’m just getting kind of burnt out on it.

With all of the changes going on in my life, my thesis has taken the back seat. In addition, I had completed 36 pages of my first thesis topic when it was decided that my project wasn’t sustainable and I had to start over from scratch. This week, there’s been discussion about delaying my completion date to Spring 2013. In my heart, I know this is a better option, because it will mean less sacrifice – less sacrifice of quality, and less sacrifice of time and good health. Yet, it means I’ll be prolonging the stress of this gigantic 150-page baby I’ll eventually be birthing, paying for another semester, and having to wear the hat of full-time employee + grad student for another 5 months.

So, I ordered a pizza for Matt and I for dinner, and while I flitted around the house trying to pack (have I mentioned this is my fourth trip out of town in three weeks? Yikes) I ate one piece. Then I ate a second. Then I ate a third. And then I ate a fourth. And then I stopped – and realized what I was doing, something I hadn’t done in a long time. I was emotionally eating. I was upset about my thesis and my possible delayed graduation, and I decided to push away that feeling by eating pizza. (Why does emotional eating NEVER happen with celery?). My brain was craving dopamine – an instant reward – and so I gobbled down the pizza, hoping to fill that feeling of sadness with something else.

It’s a shitty realization that sometimes your way of dealing with problems is just adding another problem to your life.  However, there’s a bright side to every little cloud of doom and gloom, and this bright side is that today, I realized what I was doing. Before I started seeing my dietician, I never knew I emotionally ate. I think I knew it but I didn’t acknowledge it, didn’t know how to stop it. I’ll never forget the day one of my former bosses told me I was a disappointment – and how right after work, I drove to the grocery store, bought a bag of potato chips, and stuffed them into my mouth as I drove home. It was the only way I knew how to deal with that absolutely raw feeling of devastation. I’ve come a long way from this type of relationship with food, but tonight proved to me that I can’t ever fully cure myself of using food to pacify emotions. We live in a culture that encourages using food for feeling – the woman who just got dumped eats ice cream, the woman with PMS craves  chocolate. After a funeral, casseroles show up at your door, and with a new job comes celebratory dinners. Birthdays mean cake and weddings mean champagne (and more cake), Christmas means cookies and Thanksgiving means turkey. Food is feeling.

Tonight, it took me awhile to get there, but I finally made that mind-body connection and thought to myself, “Stop it. You’re not hungry, you’re upset – and those are two different feelings.” That alone is progress – one that may not fix me feeling sad about a delayed graduation, but one that in the long term, will help save my life.