Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Candyland

It’s Halloween and there is candy in the house! By candy I mean: York Peppermint Patties.

Six years ago, before the start of my most recent weight loss effort, I was powerless against York Peppermint Patties. When I got home tonight and discovered that my husband had bought a bag of them to pass out to trick-or-treaters, I experienced a moment of panic. Would my living room be the scene of a candy apocalypse later tonight? Especially as we have yet to welcome a costumed visitor at our door.

Truth alert. I’ve already sampled the bag. Two patties to be exact. Did they taste good? Um, yes. And no. The peppermint rush was intoxicating, but they were awfully sweet. As in awful. I’m not so sure I want to eat another.

No one ever talked to me about maintenance in all the years I struggled with my weight. When I reached my goal weight five years ago, after a year-plus of dieting, I had no idea what lay ahead. Was I doomed to a life in which I would need to exercise endless willpower and engage in an on-going battle against feelings of deprivation? Or, would I undergo a miraculous transformation at some point, where eating a healthy diet would become effortless, joyful even? So far, it’s been something in between. There have been days of agony and days of peace and days of edgy calm before the storm.

At this moment I am at ease. The York Peppermint Patties have not whispered in my ear tonight. I think that maybe the accumulation of habit over the last five years is starting to work in my favor. Perhaps my expectations have changed too, in that I no longer look to food to make everything all right. Getting from there to here has been a bit dicey at times, but here I am and I’m glad of it.

No one can tell a newly slender person with any degree of certainty how to embark upon weight maintenance. You have to make the journey on your own. Oh sure, I can give you my story, but your story will probably be different. All I can say is find support wherever you can and hang in there. If you do, you will eventually find what works for you. It’s worth it, even if it takes a long time.

For most of the last five years I’ve felt like a fat person in a thin person costume, but I’m beginning to get a glimpse of a land off in the distance where that’s not so anymore.

Take that York Peppermint Patties!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Last week was very busy (traveling for work and evening activities every night I was home) and I had little time for any kind of online life. This week I have all my fingers and toes crossed, hoping that Hurricane Sandy doesn’t live up to her hype, as I seem to be living right in her path. Of course, all my friends and family have been having a field day with the fact that this storm has the same name as I do.

Listening to my name being used over and over again in reference to a hurricane reminded me of something someone once said about me. It was probably fifteen years ago and I was speaking with a woman I met in a course I was taking at the time. She said that in the short time she had known me, she had come to think of me as “Silent Storm.” As in calm, cool and collected on the outside, hurricane-force emotion on the inside. I did a double-take when she said that, not because I was taken aback at such an uncommonly honest statement, but because I realized in the moment that it was true.

Could it be that much of the agony of the last five years, as I’ve struggled to master what’s necessary to maintain my weight loss, has been about that “Silent Storm”? Would all of this be easier if I found a way to shut off that voice of swirling panic and doom in my head? Knowing that you’re doing it to yourself is both good and bad. Good because you have some measure of control and can actually do something about it. Bad because it involves delving into your psyche. In my experience, psyches do not take kindly to being delved into.

Hurricane Sandy will unleash her wrath on us in the next few days and then go away. If only my inner Hurricane Sandy would do the same.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Stuff of Life

At the root of all of our beliefs about food is a simple idea: Food is Good. Food is literally good in the sense that it keeps us alive. It should be no surprise that the thing that makes our lives literally possible should develop so many positive associations, becoming synonymous with things like celebration. Love. Giving to others. You could say that food is the original joie de vivre.

Back in the day, before such triumphal creations as Hot Pockets, food was a simple pleasure. This was a time when the term “food manufacturer” meant a farmer. When the vegetables you ate came from your garden, or the farm stand down the road. When a milkman (and they were all men!) delivered milk to your doorstep in glass bottles, each with a thick layer of cream rising to the top. When you couldn’t wait for summer because that was when you could buy fresh peaches again after a long, dreary winter without. Food was local and seasonal, and because you couldn’t have anything you wanted at any given moment, you really appreciated the rare occasions when you had that special treat.

Big Food changed all of that. First off, modern refrigeration and transportation techniques have allowed us to have peaches (or strawberries!) in January, even in places such as where I live in upstate New York. And second, we got “improved” flavors. I put that word in quotation marks because what I mean by “improvement” is that lots of fats and sugars and salts were added to products to create ├╝ber-flavors, SO appetizing, SO delectable, SO scrumptious, that mere food in its natural state could not compete. We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being able to indulge in any food we crave at any given moment (and we do crave them because they have been designed to be irresistible), yet these same foods (full of fat, sugar, salt and preservatives) do not promote good health and may even be making us sick.

In reading my recent posts, I’ve noticed something else about all this. As much as I talk about all the foods that tempt and taunt me, it doesn’t seem that I see food as a good thing. More than merely lamenting that I can no longer indulge in my favorite guilty pleasures, I seem to be caught up in the messy business of untangling myself from a painful and addictive pattern of eating, where food is the devil on my left shoulder, enticing me to allow my Inner Fat Girl to reemerge. In other words, food does not bring me joy and pleasure, the stuff of a good life; it brings only one of two equally disagreeable states: 1) deprivation, when I deny myself the foods that made me fat; or 2) brief moments of respite, when I allow myself to eat with abandon, followed by the inevitable weight gain and its constant companions, shame and self-condemnation. Rather than embracing food as good and life-preserving, I guard against it to protect myself from harm.

How did my ideas about food become so perverted? I’ve realized that staying at this lower weight is probably not sustainable if I continue in a state of mind that treats food as something dangerous. But I’m not sure how to flip the switch to a more positive outlook, where food is both a good thing and a healthy thing. I had some successes recently by staying away from “improved” foods – my “anti-sweetener” experiment for example – but it’s still a work in progress.

And I guess I just have to keep working on it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mystery Lunch

Do you believe that eating should be spontaneous? By this I mean, you notice it is 11:55 AM and this observation prompts you to ask, “Gee, what should I have for lunch today?”

I am rarely spontaneous about eating. You could say that I plan my meals, but that would be an understatement. A more accurate description would be that I have an ironclad lock on my meals. Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner –even snacks – the form and content of my daily intake is rigidly prescribed. I follow detailed nutritional guidelines that my nutritionist has laid out for me and I also limit all foods that I have found to be problematic.  Essentially, I eat the same stuff, in the same way, day after day. I follow these rules when I go out to restaurants too– and it is often quite a feat to fit restaurant meals into anything resembling a diet friendly to keeping lost weight at bay.

Yet though I keep this strict daily discipline, I’m beginning to think that, deep-down, I believe eating should be spontaneous. This could explain why I get so agitated at things like surprise Boss’s Day celebrations. Yes, it was over the top, but there was fresh fruit and I could have eaten that without any damage to my weight maintenance efforts. It’s true that I would have had to endure the indignity of passing by vast quantities of sugary baked goods, sorely testing my willpower, in order to reach the fruit, but here’s the real thing: I had already eaten my allotment of fruit for the morning and I was determined not to disrupt my eating plan for the day. If that sounds anal and absurdly inflexible, well, I can see how you might see it that way.

Let’s look at this in a larger context, i.e. my entire life before 2007. Before I embarked on my final weight loss undertaking, the only way I ate was spontaneously. At any given moment, I had no idea what my next meal would look like; I consumed whatever was easy and whatever was there. The result of this practice was that I ate very few vegetables or fruits and copious amounts of bread, pasta, cheese and junk food. It’s no wonder that I eventually topped out at 253 pounds. Part of the task of the last six years has been learning to put some sanity and structure into my eating regimen.

But is it too much? Have I gone too far? I can’t answer that question other than to say that where my pre-weight-loss habits made me feel scared and out of control, my new habits give me a measure of comfort, even when they make for awkward social situations like what happened at the Boss’s Day celebration. I’m not yet confident enough to loosen the grip on my diet. If I did, I fear that my Inner Fat Girl would seize the opportunity to mount an offensive and regain lost territory as I regained lost weight.

You can never be too careful wherever Inner Fat Girl is concerned.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Breakfast!


Here was the scene that greeted me when I came into work this morning:

 What you are seeing is a spread, approximately ten feet long, of every type of baked good under the sun. There were cookies, donuts, brownies, muffins and strudel. There was an especially crumbly, flaky, sticky little pastry whose name I could not quite recall. The shiny items towards the end of the lineup were bagels of every variety, with abundant cream cheese and butter. The inspiration for all of this was the celebration of National Boss Day.

I have to admit that I was a bit scared when I saw this baked goods blowout. The very foods that have been my life-long nemeses were laid out in front of me, beckoning.  One of my co-workers said, “Sandy, have something to eat!” When I demurred, saying that I couldn’t eat those kinds of things, she said, “Oh, come on, one little piece won’t hurt!” Hmm, where have I heard that before? But then came the kicker. When I replied, thanks, but I think I’ll pass, she said, “We got fruit salad, you can have that.”

Sigh.

Yes, I can have fruit salad. I like fruit salad. And I’m sure that the intent behind this breakfast bonanza was genuinely well-intentioned, an expression of caring and camaraderie. But, forgive me for saying this, it seemed particularly cruel to ask a former fat girl to pass through a gauntlet of ganache on the way to the lonely bowl of mixed fruit. It’s kinda like inviting a recovering alcoholic to a wine tasting, telling them not to worry, we got you a carton of grape juice.

In my last post, I talked about how our culture seduces us with non-stop food porn. As my experience this morning shows, it’s not just the mass media, it’s us too. We do it to ourselves. A person who has lost a lot of weight, and who wants to keep it off, has to deal with this daily assault on the culinary senses. It’s one of the main reasons that so many people regain in my opinion. To add insult to injury, the companion paradigm is that obesity is a personal problem. So we surround the newly slender person with temptation at every turn, and when they finally cave, it’s their own fault! Then we wring our hands, wondering if we’ll ever find a way to help obese people conquer this problem. It’s positively diabolical. And by keeping obesity an object of personal shame, we never have to look at the milieu that fuels it.

By the way, if you’re wondering how my office adventure ended, I didn’t eat anything. My willpower prevailed. And I felt like a complete and total schmuck.

But a thin schmuck.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pampering Ourselves

Did you ever notice how when we talk about pampering ourselves, if is often code for a high calorie food indulgence? Our food culture has been infused by the idea that doing something nice for yourself means eating chocolate or ice cream or a big bowl of pasta in a (pick one) cream/cheese/butter sauce. I know that this was certainly how I related to food for most of my life. As in: tough day? Well why don’t you curl up on the couch with a big scoop (or three) of Cherry Garcia? Go ahead, you deserve it!

I was thinking about this very subject today. I had the day off from work and it occurred to me that it was time I had a real day off. Not just a day away from the office, but a DAY OFF. After all, I work hard. I deserve some downtime. As I contemplated what a DAY OFF looked like, I imagined myself sleeping late, skipping my usual exercise routine and eating whatever gooey thing I damn well pleased. But then it hit me – that’s not being nice to myself. That’s slipping back into old familiar habits, habits that resulted in my weight topping out at a whopping 250 pounds. And 250 pounds is not a good place for me to be. If I really wanted to take care of me, I should embrace the luxury of having the time for a long, leisurely run, and later to be able to linger over a salad at lunch. Which is what I finally decided to do.

Yet, I continue to struggle with the concept. And the culture around me doesn’t help much. I ran across an article recently that pretty much sums it up. We are constantly surrounded by media images that distort our perceptions of eating. Why wouldn’t you feel deprived eating a small piece of grilled chicken and a salad for dinner when you have been hypnotized by up close and intimate shots of creamy Olive Garden Chicken Alfredo (a mere 1440 calories and 82 grams of fat)? We have been sold on the belief that this is not excess, or something to eat only for a special (and rare) occasion, but that it’s normal. What we should expect. What we deserve. Every day.

It’s been hard to clear all this crap out of my head. I’ve been working on it, really working on it, for five years now and still this nonsense won’t give up the ghost. I have to keep reminding myself of the good stuff. How my back doesn’t hurt as much anymore now that I’m lighter. How nice it is to walk up several flights of stairs without getting winded. How much I enjoy the adrenaline rush at the end of a long run. On a bad day, I see the effort required to achieve these pleasures as a chore, an affliction visited upon me by the Evil Gods of Fat. But when I am thinking clearly, I realize that every bite of broccoli is actually a small gift of health that I give to myself.

And I deserve it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chowmageddon

I continue to enjoy this all too brief respite from The Pigs that early fall provides. It actually occurred to me that I should try to use this food-breather to get my weight down a few pounds in preparation for the Chowmageddon that starts with Thanksgiving and doesn’t let up until after New Year’s. If I can roll into our annual National Olympics of Power Eating a bit on the light side, perhaps the inevitable five pound gain won’t be so onerous.

I keep wondering why we are so prone to pig out during the holidays anyways. I don’t think it’s just that we are tempted by the standard-bearers of the season, the pumpkin and pecan pies, the dizzying arrays of Christmas cookies, those little cocktail wieners that wiggle their way into every holiday party.  Or that the shorter days and falling temperatures make us crave warm, carby comfort food. Or even that it’s family tradition, you know, how Thanksgiving isn’t really Thanksgiving unless you have your mother’s green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and crispy onions. It’s something more elemental. In my opinion, it’s a case of pure entitlement.

Okay, entitlement is a big political buzzword these days, but I’m talking about something slightly different. We don’t demand sweet potatoes with tiny marshmallows as if they were our American birthright along with Social Security, Medicare and endless episodes of Reality TV. It’s more that if we can’t have our guilty pleasure, if we have to eat something <gasp> healthy, like roast turkey breast without gravy, we feel slighted. Duped. Cheated.  It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not the holidays.

I am not immune from this phenomenon. As much as I worry about all the fat and sugar-laden fare I will encounter between late November and early January, I have to admit that I have prepared some of those dishes – and will do so again. In other words, I have been the agent of my own demise. Why am I so attached to a Norman Rockwell picture of holiday celebration, an image that’s not only idealized but, if we are honest, completely unrealistic? And while I’m asking questions, tell me, why does apple pie, oozing sugar in a buttery crust, say Thanksgiving in a way that a simple baked apple does not?

But, you say, apple pie tastes better than a plain apple. Well, taste is a subjective thing. Since last June, I’ve been running an experiment – I’ve stopped eating foods that are sweetened. The sweetest thing I eat now is an orange with breakfast. The first thing I noticed was that my appetite calmed down. Way down. It was quite astonishing how much the simple lack of sweetness in my diet decreased my desire to eat. After four months of this, not only have I stopped craving sweets, but when I occasionally do eat something very sweet, it seems odd and over the top.

I suppose that back in the bad old days, when food was scarce and a person might have to subsist on nothing but turnips for extended periods, the occasional bit of something sweet (or creamy, or salty) was cause for celebration. Perhaps even something deserved, if you consider the harshness of the rest of their lives. Our prehistoric ancestors may have passed that sense of entitlement onto us and we still live it, especially when the first cold weather descends, even though we can order Pizza Hut Stuffed-Crust Pizza and Cinnamon Sticks any night of the week.

Well, that’s a nice story, but it doesn’t solve my problem, does it? My first idea, to lose some weight before the holiday madness begins, may be the best strategy for now. Chowmageddon is a mighty force, stronger than kryptonite even, and I’m not taking any chances.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Big Fat Stereotype

Whenever I write about my internal struggles due to being a weight-challenged person, I always wonder whether I am playing into cultural stereotypes about overweight people. For example, if I talk about my past emotional eating habits, do I somehow give credence to the idea that fat people are out of control around food? If I share the unhelpful voices that bounce around in my head, do I reinforce a belief that obese people are somehow psychologically deficient?

Yet, if I hold those things back, do I risk doing just as big a disservice? I firmly believe that a major reason so many people fail at maintaining a large weight loss is because we are not honest enough about what is required, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually even. Consider that you have to change your entire way of life, as well as learn to co-exist in a cheeseburger and cookie-obsessed world.  And as if all that were not hard enough, you also have to deal with whatever inner demons you have about food. That’s real no matter what someone else might think about it.

What about those inner demons? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think there is a person alive who isn’t a little squirrelly about something. Some of us are prone to road rage. Some of us have been known to shop compulsively. Some of us are addicted to Honey Boo Boo. And some of us have a nutty relationship with food. In other words, we are all blessed with our own distinctive dark side. It’s like that 1980s movie “Ghostbusters,” you know, the part where Gozer the Gozerian says, “Choose the form of the Destructor!” How we cling to our Destructors!

So, yes, I am a little crazy about eating. Just as other people are crazy about something else. But here’s the thing: I was not one-hundred pounds overweight because I’m a little unhinged when it comes to food. My experience convinces me that being one-hundred pounds overweight is the result of multiple causes, physical, mental, and cultural. If I were to magically erase all of my inner food-madness, I would still have to deal with my genetics, my biology and my family’s propensity for Christmas cookie overload.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that I may as well let all of my mental baggage hang out. If that causes someone to judge me (or overweight people in general) in a negative light, well, okay. You could look at it another way though. You see, surviving as a fat person in a world that denigrates you for being heavy takes a lot of strength and courage and grit. It makes you resilient. Tough. Tenacious.

Stereotype that.