So what was on the menu for your Super Bowl weekend? Did you feel
bombarded by non-stop images of cheesy, melty, crunchy, sweet
calorie-garbage posted by your Facebook/Blogger friends like I did?
I felt your pain, I really did... Because truth is, most of the bloggers posting and pinning those recipes are people I know and truly like. But rather than feeling deprived or tempted, today I know I can like those people without liking their food. Today I know I can like those people without recreating their recipes for you here on my own blog. Fact is, I no longer feel the need or obligation to be a delivery system for recipes that, in truth, do nothing but a disservice to both of us. Instead, I'd rather have a conversation about how to live in a world where food that is killing us is regarded as more fun, more popular and more socially acceptable than taking care of ourselves.
You see, as I thought about how I ate leading up to the holidays and Super Bowl last year, I realized that just as any occasion can be a reason/excuse to eat poorly... It can also be a reason/excuse to NOT eat poorly. So, I decided that at the top of this year's party menu would be No Regrets! Which, pretty much explains how I've managed to lose the weight I talked about in this post and, how I plan to keep it off when I reach my goal. Because I've decided not to trade what I want most for what I want now.
Now, does this mean I'll never be able to eat whatever I want ever again? No. It just means that to reach my goal and to be successful at maintenance requires me to redefine what it means to eat whatever I want.
Think about this for a moment... Are you like me? Either on a plan, restricting every calorie and losing a ton of weight or off plan, eating everything in sight and gaining a ton of weight... On the promise, of course, that as soon as you finish cheating you'll start over tomorrow. And, if you are like me, then you believe you're only capable of losing weight so long as whatever plan you're on holds up - Because as soon as the plan ends, your old habits creep back in and take over. Old habits that take us right back to where we started or worse, right past the old number and onto a new, all-time high. Finally, if you are like me, then you know being off plan also comes with permission to eat whatever you want until that certain someday when you're able to get back on your current plan or find a new one that is sure to work this time... Because you are either on or off plan, you can't be both.
For years this thinking and resulting behavior with food was my normal... Just my own personal misery of being trapped in yo-yo dieting hell. However, in medical weight loss they call it, All or Nothing Thinking. And, as I've learned, to be truly successful at weight loss and maintenance, it's this thinking that has to stop. Why? Because first of all, no one can live like that and second, life happens in the middle... Life does not happen at the extreme ends of anything. Nothing is either all good or all bad. But that's how we all-or-nothing thinkers eat. When the reality is... If you need to lose fifty pounds for your high school reunion, then you probably need to lose fifty pounds for every other day in your life too. Still, we fixate on the events of our life, (such as weddings, reunions. etc.) because we think and eat in a space that must have a beginning and an end. An all or nothing... No in between.
It's crazy... I know. But that's the flawed thinking of professional dieters like us. We go into a new diet believing it will be the answer to resolving years and years of behavior that in the end has very little to do with food. We eat the food, instead of feeling the feelings. Of course, these diets usually work - Remember, we aren't quitters... In fact we are experts and most of us suffer from a healthy dose of perfectionism too - All a perfect recipe for quick but temporary weight loss that often ends up being regained in half the time it took to lose it.
For these reasons, to lose weight and keep it off, I've learned there must be flexibility in my thinking, a willingness to sit with icky feelings and, I had to implement some serious behavioral changes into my plan as well. Otherwise, the slightest misstep triggers that old message of, I've blown it so I may as well eat whatever I want and start over tomorrow - Which usually triggers a binge - Which activates the guilt that leads to the eventual feeling of hopelessness - Which delivers the negative self-talk that screams, I'll never actually be able to reach my goal weight, so why bother - Now, pass the chips!
It's a vicious, painful cycle of days that turn into weeks, weeks that turn into months and months that ultimately result in years of dieting frustration. All or nothing thinkers are the same people that believe every aspect of their life would be perfect, if only they were at their goal weight. All or nothing thinkers also live their life on hold... Postponing vacations, career decisions, dating, family portraits, reunions and other events on the promise that they'll participate in life when they reach their goal weight. Problem is, time marches on without us. Also, certain life events cannot be scheduled around the number on our scale. So if you've ever wished your sister would postpone the birth of her child to give you more time to lose a few pounds so that you'll look better in photos with your new niece or nephew... Or you've prayed that a family member doesn't suddenly drop dead because you'd die too if you had to show up to a funeral and face all the relatives you've been hiding from... Then you are most likely an all-or-nothing thinker and trapped in the same hell as I was.
The revelation of this hell and insight into how to overcome it came during sessions I had with a medical nutritionist/cognitive therapist. We were talking one day about how difficult it was for me to remain on plan while at work where food is everywhere. And, how one slip during the day always caused me to blow out the remainder of the day and eat throughout the evening - Always promising to start over the next day. Oh, I'm not talking about a few vending machines at work... I'm talking catered buffets brought in for breakfast and lunch meetings several times, if not every day of the week!
Don't believe me? Well, this is what the food outside the two conference rooms nearest to my desk looked like today...
And, since there are always leftovers...
We are always encouraged to...
In terms of this temptation and my inability to avoid this daily barrage of food... My nutritionist/cognitive therapist suggested that for me, the key to making the right choices every time will be to reframe my thoughts and the messages I send myself about this food. Notice she didn't launch into what I should be eating on my plan to reach my goal weight... Instead, she's asking me to focus on the real issue, which is how my emotions and feelings about this food cause me to eat.
At first, what she said left me confused... So she offered this as an example to jump-start my thinking... She said, unless I am invited to attend one of these catered meetings the food provided simply has nothing to do with me.
So, just because there is five pounds of bacon, cheesy hashbrowns and scrambled eggs left over from a breakfast meeting... Or our CEO's lunch meeting offered a baked potato bar with all the toppings you can imagine piling onto potatoes as big as your head, does not mean the food has anything to do with me or that I should eat it.
She said, before or immediately after being confronted by this food is when reframing my thoughts and removing negative self-talk/messages becomes vital in order to not be triggered. Now, this takes some practice; after all, I've been triggered for over three decades by all-or-nothing thinking/eating and we all know that behavioral modification in general doesn't happen overnight. But it does happen. And, I'm going to share with you how it's happening for me.
Rather than allowing old negative self-talk about the buffets at work to trigger off-plan eating, which always resulted in a totally blown day/week/month, I first had to get honest about what I was feeling about the food. Second, I had to be willing to sit with the emotions and really feel and process them, versus numbing them out with food. Finally, I had to turn negative self-talk into a positive message, one that helps me avoid the trigger. Now, don't get me wrong... This is hard work. I mean, the time between being triggered and the decision to blow it and numb the emotions with food is literally seconds. In medical weight loss this process is referred to as the, Activating Event and Resulting Behavior.
What takes practice is finding ways to stretch those seconds out, to give us time to make a better choice. Some people find it helpful to count to ten. Others, like me, find it helpful to check-in with myself and ask, How do I feel and what do I need right now? Anything you do that creates space between your emotion and trigger and the impulse to grab food or binge to avoid feeling the feelings will work.
So what does getting honest about my feelings look like? Well, by checking in with myself about this work food and how it makes me feel, I discovered my negative self-talk sounded like this: I am not qualified to participate in these meetings due to my lack of education and position in the company. Ouch! So what kind of feelings do you suppose this kind of negative self-talk inspires... Feelings of... Inadequacy? Rejection? Regret? Sadness? Anger? Usually all of the above. And, for someone like me; someone so inadequate, I must be punished. Right? Because ultimately that's what binge-eating is... Punishment. Even if I know I've done nothing to deserve punishment at that moment, the part of me that believes there's something I'm either not willing to admit or might do in the future that does requires punishment threatens to take over.
So now, left with all these crappy feelings I don't want to feel and all of this ammunition (food) with which to squash them, I feel completely justified in helping myself to the food. After all, I deserve to be punished and, even if it's not punishment I deserve I can justify it as needing to comfort, console or perhaps even reward myself. Because surely, if I eat food meant for high-level executive meetings, I must be good enough. Right? Of course not! The answer is, No! Because when you really think about it, food cannot validate or invalidate us. All it can do is provide a temporary escape for how we feel. So... When my nutritionist/therapist said to me "You have no issues with food, Janet... you just aren't willing to be emotionally uncomfortable", she was right.
So how do you fix it? Well, let's look at the reframe that's possible with all this new inner-wisdom I've gained. The truth is, no matter what meeting I order food for, it's just food. It's not a commentary about how far I did or didn't go in school; nor can it bolster or diminish my contributions. It's just food to nourish people who, because of their position, lack choice about what they eat and where they eat it.
So the positive self-talk and message becomes this: Those poor people are stuck in meetings during meal times and thankfully, I am not. I have a choice about what I eat while I'm at work and I even have a choice about when and where to eat it.
Therefore, the take away from my reframe and the message is: Just as the therapist said, that this food has nothing to do with me. Taking it a step further, I might also remind myself how silly it is for me to limit my food choices to those made for people who, for the most part, probably wish they had my options! The option to go for a walk during the lunch hour and eat what they choose, not from a buffet choice made for them.
Bottom line, I very rarely ate the food offered at work because I was physically hungry. I ate it because of what I felt, what I told myself and ultimately, my inability to manage emotions in a more positive, healthy way.
Of course, this is just one example in a long list of situations I've worked through. Nevertheless, I hope it helps explain what I meant in my last post by losing weight and keeping it off by reframing my thoughts. And, when I told you that what I weigh has nothing to do with what I eat and everything to do with how I feel.
I'm excited to share with you what I've learned about listening to my body to lose weight and keep it off - But for now, I'm going to end this post because these first steps of reframing our thoughts and turning negative self-talk into positive messages is such an important component of what's working for me. I'm going to ask you to think about this for a few days and consider doing the following homework assignment, which I found very helpful as I worked to wrap my own brain around this concept and apply it to situations where I felt triggered to eat for emotional reasons.
Think of a situation where you were triggered emotionally to eat
- What did someone do or say to you? Or, what happened (activating event) that made you want to turn to food to manage the resulting feelings? Triggers can be an argument with a friend or spouse. Maybe your child got sent home from school for misbehaving. Whatever it is, before you reach for food or swerve into the drive-thru, ask yourself why - and then, be willing to sit with and feel those feelings
Think of a time you were confronted by food and were tempted to eat it, even though you were not physically hungry
- What negative self-talk did you hear that gave you the permission and/or excuse you needed to give into the impulse to eat?
Did you hear something like: I'm tired of being excluded from the group. I deserve this because I've had a rough day. So-and-so really upset me so I deserve to have this to feel better. Going off-plan today won't really matter. I'm so fat, another few hundred calories won't matter. I have that dinner on Saturday so I may as well blow the whole week and start again next Monday.
Now, think of the same situation and come up with three things you could do instead of eating to cope with the emotions you're feeling
- Things that work for me include: taking a shower, brushing my teeth, journaling about the feelings, calling a supportive friend/relative I can vent to, picking a closet or drawer to organize, going for a quick walk, throwing a tennis ball against a wall. Taking a nap, washing my Jeep. Give yourself a time-out of just ten-twenty minutes and find something else to do. If you still want to eat after twenty minutes, drink a bottle of water. If you still want to eat after hydrating, eat - But make sure the food your choose fits into the four P's I mentioned before - It should be: Planned, Peaceful, Purposeful and Portion-controlled
Next, think of at least one reframe and one positive message for the situation
- Remind yourself not to trade what you want most (weight loss/maintenance) for what you want (emotional escape) right now. Remind yourself that nothing you feel will last forever. Nothing truly terrible will happen to you if sit with the feelings and don't choose the food. You are stronger than your desire to eat for comfort
Finally, write down three positive things that happen when you do not allow yourself to eat for emotional reasons
For me, it's knowing that another day of making the correct choices puts me closer to my goal weight. My goal weight means my health improves. It means that I can continue to ride my bike with ease, wear fun clothes, fit into rollercoasters and airline seats without seatbelt extenders. It means I can be more present and participate in life!
Through the process of checking in with myself I've discovered that no craving, no matter how intense ever lasts for very long... I also figured out that every food I'm tempted by is nothing I would dream of eating at 5 o'clock the next morning. It's one of the new ways I combat cravings. I tell myself that if I still want _____ the next morning I can have it.
Think about it... Have you ever been triggered by a TV commercial to eat late at night? Like between 6-10PM, when Red Lobster seems to run their commercials on a continuous loop, so all you can think about is crab legs dipped in melted butter... Now, I've never jumped in my car and driven to Red Lobster but those commercials and others like it have triggered me to eat for no good reason. However, by checking in with myself I realized that I'd never think about eating what I saw or what I ate because of it, the next morning. Practice this... For me, Mexican food is a weakness but as much as I'd love to crunch tortilla chips and eat guacamole while I'm watching television at night, I would never consider eating guacamole for breakfast. So if you check in and find that you wouldn't eat ______ the next morning, then it's a craving, not physical hunger... And, cravings pass. So let them!
Until next time, I hope you'll consider the homework assignment and think about how reframing your thinking to turn negative self-talk into positive messages may help you off-plan and/or binge eating.
Remember, I am here to help. You asked and I've offered to share the information of my journey with you - So if you have questions, please let me know!
Speaking of sharing...
As the winner of my company's holiday Maintain-Don't-Gain challenge, I received a FitBit One activity tracker - However, since I already have a FitBit, I'd love for you to have it! All you need to do to be entered to win is leave a comment letting me know one thing about this post that you might adopt to help you on your journey to better health!
One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Valentine's Day February 14th!
Give-away is closed... Congratulations Lori! Please send your address
to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I promise to mail your FitBit right away!