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Admittedly, it had been a shit day. One of those days that dragged on and on, and little went right, and most of what didn’t go right went very wrong. The stress reaching past the thresh-hold and hammering at the door behind it, requiring that the defenses raise up, that I hold onto the cold fury of protective anger, the need to march on until the situation was resolved. Depleted, calling on whatever resources I could muster from my reserves, hoping that this wouldn’t set me too far back or incapacitate me for too long.
I drink some gin and juice hoping to calm down more effectively. I try to sleep it off. I wake up feeling just as burnt, just as depleted. I go back to bad for another hour, another three, and then opt out of all contributions for the hours that followed. “Enjoy your cocoon,” my wife tells me, understanding as well as I could ever hope someone would. But the cocoon doesn’t help either.
So I decide to go to the store twenty minutes before work and find something that I think might make me feel better. Normally, in this state of mind, I would opt for something absurd from the bakery. An entire container of brookies. Or, on another day, fudge brownies. Or an entire package of cookies. Or a lava cake. Or — and it brings me no pride to say it — half a dozen donuts that will all be eaten in a sitting.
I do not do this because I am crazy. I do this because it helps. Legitimately helps. It soothes the anxiety, re-invigorates me, gives me a sense that everything — no matter how sharp-edged it is in the moment — will be smoothed out in time. It replenishes emotional resources, gives me a safe space to huddle in. And yes, it triggers shame. And yes, it makes me feel sick. And yes, it has led to much — okay, most — of my weight gain.
My wife told me about something she used to do. When she ordered food at a restaurant, she asked for a box at the same time, had half of the food set aside. It wasn’t off limits. It was just in a box. But it created this stopping point halfway through the meal that allowed her to check in with herself.
Tonight, I tried the “ancient grains wheat-free crust” from Papa John’s. It is of necessity a small pizza (the only size this crust comes in), and the entire thing — with my favorite ingredients of pineapple and jalapeno — was about 900 calories. So it honestly wasn’t that excessive to eat the whole thing in a sitting, even if I’d also had a couple tangellos right before.
But I wasn’t hungry for all of it. I ate it because it was staring me in the face, and it looked tasty, and I had yet to give my body enough time to recognize the calories it had already taken in. Probably I would have had 4 of the 6 slices instead if I’d really been checking in.
There are two large scars near the crook of my elbow on my left arm. My fourteen-year-old step-son asked me straight up where I got them, and I told him straight up: They’re self-inflicted. From a very difficult time in my life. (He reeled back; he does not yet understand my views on the value of honesty or how desperately I want to live in a more honest world.)
I wrote extensively about this once upon a time, trying to process the difficulties of that year (2012, for the curious). I’ve thought about them consistently since, given that they serve as their own reminder. I’ve applied ointments and patches trying to diminish them, but I haven’t been consistent enough to see a real impact. But lately, I’ve thought more and more about making them a landmark on my body. Embracing that this was a place I was, something I grew from.
Tattooing your own self-inflicted injuries is not entirely uncommon, and it would serve this purpose. The question then becomes what tattoo would appropriately mark those painful memories. I’ve thought of a few things. A dragonfly, maybe. Or the roots of a tree. But in the end, I think I would opt for a Star Trek quote.
Whether it’s because of my gluten-free experiment or some other element of the current equation, I am doing more self-care — exercise, meditation, conscious eating — than I have in several months. Since before my wedding and the madness that planning that wedding entailed. Meditation has long been a staple of my mental health, and it’s been a relief to get back to it.
I also did yoga for the first time in … oh … months, again. My legs have been aching, the ankles and calves tight with the knees suffering as a result. So I spent 20 minutes doing yoga positions to help, then another 10 doing some of my other favorite positions (that don’t put weight on the shoulder). I was surprised — and it’s not the first time I’ve been surprised by this — by how stretching seems to release pent-up emotions into the body.
Along with the stretching, the pain of it, the pushing through the tautness of muscles and the pain, there were surges of sadness, of emotions something like grief. Grief for what I’m not sure I’ll ever place. The frustration of these last months, or the pains of these last years, or some other thing entirely. But when I stretch, when I push through and hold, it relieves the tension. It uncages the emotions. It can be overwhelming, and there is a sweetness that remains after. A relief.
So, my weight has been all over the place this last week. The exact weight impact was something that I wanted to check out, because (as I mentioned) when I did a month gluten-free last year I lost 16 pounds. That time also happened to correspond with when I started a powerful amphetamine medication. I’ve blamed the amphetamines for the weight loss in its entirely, but I’m partially testing if the gluten-free thing had any impact. So the answer is: maybe?
My average weight during the week was almost 2.5 pounds less than the average of the week prior. But it also bounced between extremes, with 282.4 as a high and 289.4 as a high. Such a wide spread is unusual, and not all of the highs were congregating at the beginning of the week. In conclusion, then, I have no damn idea. I’ll get a better sense as I see the average progress.
How about energy? Here, I think I’m doing better than average, though this is again difficult to say for certain. Having more fresh, non-processed foods — especially in the fruit and vegg category — seems to have given my energy a notable boost. I’m also massively caffeine dependent right now, so it’s hard to separate out what the exact caffeine dose is doing and what is due to other elements. But in contrast with a similar dependency on caffeine in the week prior, my energy did seem to be up.
As you can probably tell, a lot of this stuff is just me free-writing. Talking helps me think, and it feels more orderly and useful if I can do it with an “audience,” even if I recognize that audience is purely hypothetical. And I like to think that maybe, just maybe, someone else will be able to learn from my struggles and skip forward a few steps. Maybe others are asking the same questions I am, and the way I approach those questions can help others with their own process.
I’ve thought about making this its own website. Reasons I’m not doing that are plentiful. It would mean having no audience. It would mean setup time for a project that I may just abandon. Instead, I’m just changing the site’s architecture a bit, so that the health stuff will now be on robbieblair.com/req/.
So, Rob’s Epic Quest for Health and Sanity continues. I come with very few answers, trying my best to question my own opinions. What I have in plenty are my questions. I hope they’re of some use to you.
I do not have celiac’s disease. Or anyway, I don’t think I do. I have a couple symptoms that crop up from time to time, and others in my family have it, so maybe I’ve got an undiagnosed case. But on the overall, I’ve never found it likely enough to have it checked.
What I do have is a strong tendency to opt for highly processed simple carbs for the majority of my daily caloric intake. Extremes like donuts and cookies, but also other accessible foods like danishes, bagels, and sandwiches. Wheat products are easy to get, they’re cheap, and they don’t seem to satiate me.
Satiety is the first big question mark here. I want to eat according to my appetite, but is my body really able to “understand” the calories from highly processed wheat products? I seem to feel more full with far fewer calories if I opt for non-wheat items instead. Even just going for oatmeal instead of a danish, for example, shows that I get more out of fewer calories. What if — and this is still just a question at this point — but what if my body wants to gravitate toward a lower weight, but my tendency toward highly processed wheat products is making it almost impossible for my body to accurately gauge caloric intake?
I believe in intuition and communication with the body as a key to being healthy, be it regarding weight or in the broader sense of the term. So that is the first question I hope to answer: Does processed wheat products interfere with my body’s ability to feel satisfied with the appropriate amount of nourishment? And, connected to that, do non-wheat products inherently offer my body more satiation?
The reasons why could be manifold. Maybe I really do have undiagnosed celiacs, at one extreme. Or maybe human evolution hasn’t caught up to the amount of processed wheat we now have in our diets. Or maybe it’s just my genetic code. Or maybe it’s just that the idea of intuitive eating must walk hand in hand with less processed foods, because the same things that “process” the foods also cause a disconnect with our bodies. Or maybe it’s just this whole other thing related to the second question:
Does veering away from wheat products lead me to better health, regardless of the relationship to satiety? Maybe there’s nothing about wheat itself that’s particularly bad, but there is something good about a diet that’s mostly made up of plant-based carbs and proteins. Maybe it’s not that avoiding wheat is at all important, but that getting a ton more fruits and veggies is a key to improving my health.
Saying “no wheat” is way, way easier for me than saying “only eat wheat products in moderation and have at least 70% of daily caloric intake from plant-based sources or complex, unprocessed grains,” for example. Changing a complex and potentially imprecise algorithm (“when hungry, if percent of caloric intake thus far is above X, then opt for any product including wheat; else select non-wheat product”) to a binary (“when hungry, select non-wheat product”) makes things simpler. It takes less willpower. It’s not that I’m arguing it would necessarily be better than wheat in moderation. It’s just that it’s way, way easier.
Maybe that’s a personal shortcoming, you know? But I’ve seen it elsewhere, in others. With meat, for example. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 14 years now, and I’ve plenty of other people try vegetarianism. Often, they decide they want a compromise. They will start eating meat again, but they’ll make sure it’s ethically sourced. Except they don’t actually do that. They just eat meat again. Once it’s not off the table, it’s way too easy to make other exceptions, to not apply the complex “is it ethically sourced” series of questions and decisions. A simple binary makes my life easier. And I’m not actually arguing that this is ethically superior to eating the right kind of meat. Arguably, giving ethical meat products your money increases their market share and has the potential to shift our cultural perspective on factory farming, etc., more quickly than just opting out of meat entirely. It’s just way, way harder to do this than to just opt out. Which is why most former vegetarians I know who chose to just go for ethically sourced wound up becoming, basically, your standard meat-eaters. And it’s why I’m going totally without wheat.
I’m doing this for a month, at least to start. I went gluten-free before. It was back when I was doing the whole vegan shtick, too. But it was also when I was starting on medication. And it was when I decided to take three fitness classes as part of my college schedule. When I lost 16 pounds the first month, I blamed it all on the medication — which was, admittedly, a crazy bit of medication. But I never isolated the variables, never checked to see if opting out of wheat might have been a larger portion of the equation than I’d credited it for.
Maybe it’s the fulcrum I need. Maybe it will connect me more to my body, give me more energy, help motivate me to exercise, get me enough results on my weight that I recover from the backslide and am motivated to make the further changes necessary for sustainable health.
I’m done being in the shape I’m in. I’m done struggling with the complex social and philosophical elements. I just want to be thinner. I don’t want to have to worry about buying a second airplane seat or whether I’ll be able to find pants in my size or whether other people are perceiving me largely as my weight. I want freedom of movement in the world, freedom from the stigma of obesity. I’m just done, you know? I’m just done. And if this experiment might help, then that’s where I’ll go first.
Copyright © 2017 Rob Blair Writes