Addiction and Self-Betrayal

I just couldn’t do the Weight Watchers route again. Or the Jenny Craig. Or any other program I had tried in the past. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Don’t get me wrong: I think Weight Watchers makes so much sense. It has worked for me in the past ( I lost over 100 lbs) and I think it is very sensible. But I just couldn’t bring myself to count up points one more time. The time spent obsessing over food, measuring food, counting food, reading food labels… I just can’t.

I have a real problem with food. I love food, but I also hate it. I frequently eat when I’m not hungry, and frequently eat things I don’t even like. I don’t really enjoy food. It isn’t something that makes me happy. I don’t know how to explain it, but the more I eat, the more I crave. I actually have no problem going without food. Some days (and believe me I know how bad this is) I will not eat all day — no breakfast, no lunch — and I’m fine. I’m fine until I finally do eat. And then I can’t stop. A serving size, for me, is however much food there is.  If there is a 2 oz container of cream cheese, I’ll eat it. If the container is 6 oz, I’ll eat it. If it is 12 oz, I’ll eat it. I don’t have that “off” button. You know that old Lays® Potato Chip commercial that says, “You can’t eat just one!” Yeah, they were pretty much talking about me.

The Cycle of yo-yo dieting.

The Cycle of yo-yo dieting.

It is an addiction. The more I try to exert my will over food, the harder it gets. I can do any diet or food program out there. My will power is strong, but the addiction is stronger. I will focus on the rules of my diet du jour as rigidly as I can. Until I can’t anymore. I slip. It is inevitable. I slip, and like a car hitting the ice, I start to spin out of control. Which makes things worse.

The pattern may be recognizable to others: I slip. I try to refocus. Food starts to become the only thing I think about. I gain and lose and gain and lose. Until I give up, give in, and regain everything I lost. Plus a little extra for good measure.

If my addiction were alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, the clear advice would be to quit altogether; go cold-turkey. I am not making light of substance abuse addictions. They are very serious, and in a different category than food addiction. I’m pointing out that a food addiction can’t be treated the same way. I quit smoking over 20 years ago. I still think about it now and then. I occasionally have the urge to smoke, but it isn’t too difficult to put it out of my mind and focus on something else. I know that as long as I don’t have even one, I can keep smoke free.

But that won’t work with food. I can’t just give up food, although I think I would really like to. If I could take a pill every day that would give me all the nourishment I needed, and do away completely with food, I think I do it. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t because food tastes so good and can be enjoyable and part of how we socialize. But I would rather do without completely.

This has led me to start the most boring diet program I’ve ever been on.

This isn’t a new thought for me. I’ve bounced this theory around for years. Lately I’ve been thinking that there is something to it. At first I thought about using food substitutes, such as protein bars and shakes. Get as much nutrition in your body with as little “eating” as possible. I started to research various products, but then finally gave up on that idea. I couldn’t find any that would really give me the nutrition I needed. Many had all kinds of preservatives and things I didn’t want in my diet, and even the so-called organic and natural ones had very skewed nutritional values.  You could eat them in a pinch, but you couldn’t live on them.

My next idea was to just limit my diet to a few key essentials, and just eat them every day. It was a vague idea at first, but over time I started coming up with guidelines. The idea was to eat just the things I needed to survive, and not eat anything extra. I loosely based it on the old Weight Watchers core plan, which focused on whole foods over processed foods and emphasized eating foods that truly nourished your body: lean meats, whole fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, high fiber grains, etc. I made some modifications, limiting the variety of foods. I focused on simplicity and making sure I was getting food all day.

I’m only six weeks into it, and some days are easier than others, but what I have found is that I’m not so obsessed with food. Occasionally I’m tempted to eat something outside the program, but like cigarettes, I find that as long as I don’t give in to even the small temptations, I find it pretty easy to stay on program.  I’m not going to lose weight quickly. I’m not even sure how much I will lose. I just want to be more in control. I control the food, not the other way around.

It’s an experiment. I’m not advocating anyone else try it. I’m not even sure how long I will try it. But for now it is making me feel better.  I’ll keep you posted as things move forward.

In Which Christmas is my Undoing

Here’s the thing. I spent six weeks perfecting this food program in which I focus on foods that nourish and avoid foods that are addicting. I even made it through Thanksgiving relatively unscathed. But Christmas was a food disaster. Not because I over-ate: I had given myself permission to enjoy the foods. The problem is that after six weeks of careful food balances, all the wonderful holiday foods wrecked havoc with my body.
My digestion is a mess. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice to say that while I enjoyed the eating of the food, I’m not enjoying the food hangover. I’m actually looking forward to getting back on the wagon. My binge actually convinced me that I’m on the right path.
I’m going on vacation for a week, and the strict food plan will be a challenge, especially with the 13 hour drive that starts in an hour. But if yesterday proved anything, it is that the challenge is worth it. If only to avoid gastro-disasters.
Wish me luck.

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Ready To Share Again.

In which the purple line indicates fluctuation in my weight, and the blue and green graphs track my exercise.

In which the purple line indicates fluctuation in my weight, and the blue and green graphs track my exercise.

This post has been a long time coming. Months actually. I’ve rehearsed the content over and over in my mind of what I wanted to write, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit. So much has changed. If you follow my twitter (@fatnforty) you know I’ve tried so many things. I’ve been exercising, eating new things, trying to be more accepting of who I am.

Over the past year or so I’ve started (and not finished) many posts, trying to explain where I was and where I wanted to go. But I wasn’t ready to share.
I think now I am. Too much has happened but here is a brief timeline of my thinking, and the results that it brought on:

  • In which I lost weight slowly but surely. This was 2012. There were several months of really doing well on Weight Watchers (the old standby). I started running several times a week (beginning what would be a complicated relationship with exercise).
  • In which I did everything right but still gained weight. This was the end of 2012. It turns out there was a legit medical reason why I was gaining weight, but I didn’t know it at the time. I saw several doctors who told me I was fine and didn’t believe me when I said I was exercising and dieting but still gaining weight. I was angry and depressed. I also thought I was going a little bit crazy.
  • In which I very sick. Cue one year ago. I thought I might have cancer. I was freaking out. I was pretending it was no big deal, but I was seriously freaking out.
  • In which I almost died. I was supposed to have an operation to see if it was Cancer but I had a major reaction to the antibiotic they gave me and nearly died. And then I had to go back a few weeks later to actually have the surgery. It wasn’t Cancer, but I was in too much pain to really appreciate it. It took me weeks before I could walk more than a few steps. Food was whatever I could keep down. My weight was such a non-issue. All I wanted was to be able to walk a quarter mile without feeling like I was going to pass out.
  • In which I thought I could go back to my old life and routines, but I was wrong. I tried over and over to start up diet again, but my heart wasn’t in it. I think the health scare crossed some wires. I ate as if I was never going to eat again. I did keep working on my exercise. Slowly adding distance and speed.
  • In which I decided I wouldn’t care about diet, but just focus on exercise. I joined a gym. I wore my fitbit. I worked out three, four, five, or more days a week. I went one month where I did over 10,000 steps a day for 30 days. I accepted I would always be fat, but if I was fat and could run two or three miles, I must be healthy, right?
  • In which I overdid it and wore myself out. I actually ran 8 miles one day. It was not good. I overdid it. I didn’t feel it until I stopped, and then I couldn’t move. I didn’t run for a week. Then two weeks. Then I slowly started over, working my way up to a mile again, as if I had never done anything. I got a personal trainer, tried yoga, started stretching, but kept myself in check. Never running more than 4 days per week. Increasing distance slowly.
  • In which I realized that I had gained a huge amount of weight. Exercise alone wasn’t cutting it. Food was becoming a terrible addiction. I didn’t like how I was eating. Clothes weren’t fitting and exercise was getting harder, not easier. I needed to do something.
  • In which I am trying something unexpected, and I think it is working.

More to follow.