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For those few of you who have been paying attention to these posts, a hearty hello. Yes, I clearly abandoned my last experiment, though the reasons are as much about my circumstances as they are about the experiment itself. I went in for surgery on July 18th, and it’s been a real challenge keeping up on my health goals since. The stress of recovery and the inability to make use of the better of my established habits (e.g., biking to work), in addition to the depression that set in due to this struggle, led to some notable back-sliding.
I’m at a stage in my health where I’m more or less tossing my hands into the air and saying, “I don’t know a damn thing.” I’ve tried taking various philosophical and even oddly sociological approaches, diving at self-acceptance and intuitive eating. I’ve tried the opposite end, with meticulous tracking and self-shaming. These things haven’t worked in a sustainable way, but life is always so damn complex that it’s hard to really hone in on why.
I want to make changes, and I’ve had moderate success with that over these last couple of years. My main fulcrum point was getting into cycling, which helped connect me to my body and built exercise into my days. Now that I can’t bike (estimated opportunity to re-commence biking is currently April 2018), I feel like the machine is broken. No other exercise routine that I’ve found serves the same functions. Biking was joyful, purposeful, malleable, connected me to the world outside, and so on and so forth. I’m eager to get back to it.
In the meantime, I’ve thought through other fulcrum possibilities, and I’ve more or less settled on the next experiment: a radical nourishment change as a hopeful fulcrum. If I can’t get into exercise readily, nourishment is still accessible. I’ve not used it successfully as a fulcrum point for my health before, but I’m hoping that I can find a way to do so. It is far less conditional, after all, and if I’m able to figure out something that works, it could serve as an important long-term asset.
It wasn’t so much fear of the scale that prevented me from using it. It was that I hadn’t dug it out of the mess in the garage. Not digging it out of the mess in the garage? That was out of so much fear of knowing that, once I dug it out, I would be weighing myself again. And I was freaked out.
I knew I’d gained weight. I knew that I wasn’t using my two tightest belt loops. I knew that pants that fit comfortably before all this were now snug, and I couldn’t just blame it on laundry done with hot water.
Logic said I probably gained about 10 pounds from the last time I’d weighed in. Fear said it was a whole lot more. It was worried to find out.
The good news? I gained about 6 pounds. A little more. Of course, I’d also gained some weight prior to my previous weigh-in. Major stress related to the wedding started in early April, and I started to fall behind on several goals. In all, from my lowest recent weigh-in (back in April), I’ve gained 10 pounds.
On the one hand, I get it. Let’s say a friend of mine walked up to me and said, “Hey, I just went through three months of stress for planning a wedding, taking care of a fiance who had pneumonia right before said wedding, and going to a grad school residency. And beyond that, I went really lax in eating and activity goals during the wedding itself and the subsequent honeymoon. Now I’ve gained 10 pounds.” My reply would be something like, “Well, yeah.” Maybe some empathy and stuff too, but mostly just that shrugging acceptance. Because that just seems like a reasonable situation in which to gain some weight. Three and a half pounds a month in that context doesn’t seem absurd.
But also, I’ve been working hard at this for a long while now. And feeling like I’m now set back to the weight I was at the beginning of March is disheartening. There are things I feel like I won’t get “access” to until I’m in better shape. The ability to do some more active things without holding others back. The ability to go on certain types of trips or do certain types of activities. That sort of deal.
Whatever. It’s good to know where I’m at. It’s good that it’s not what I expected (280). It’s good that it’s not worse than I feared. It’s good that I’m looking at the situation and re-focusing.
Plus, there’s this thing some Tarot cards told me tonight. (Long-ish explanation there, so I’m just skipping to the conclusion.) That, while it’s important and practical to focus on goals, this can lead to an unproductive sense of loss. What really matters in keeping in mind how I want to feel and behave and be kind to myself each day. That, while swift change is good, a focus on the goals without the core sense of actually wanting and being invested in the process (getting joy out of treating my body better, that is), I can easily work myself into a sense of helplessness.
So, yeah. I’m trying to pay attention to that, among other things. And I am, in fact, feeling pretty re-focused. (Did that liquid cleanse, followed by a mini liquid cleanse to soft reset after the sillyness of July 4th).
This was a bizarre day. To put it relatively simply, I had far too much caffeine and had some work stuff happen that made me anxious. As a result, I couldn’t get to sleep on the 4th. So after three hours of trying without success, I decided to get up and start doing holiday stuff.
That holiday stuff included eating, but I didn’t track it particularly well. I probably had coffee before leaving. I know I had half a 10″ pizza and all of a “cheesecake iced coffee” at the park with the freedom festivities. Then there was a barbecue where I had two veggie burgers, some macaroni salad, some patriotic trifle stuff, two cups of margarita, and two beers over the course of a few hours. I also took naps in small doses.
After returning home, I was finally able to sleep for a few hours (about four, but I’d also gotten maybe two hours of cumulative nap time over the four or five hours of the barbecue). I woke up around 1am because I didn’t want my sleep schedule to get too warped. Then I ate about a quarter of a blueberry pie, had a cup of cold brew coffee, and had more of the patriotic trifle.
It was not a day of brilliant eating, nor did it do the healthy transition off of the liquid cleanse that I’d been hoping for. It was a tired holiday, though, and while I probably ate in excess I certainly had a variety of foods, so that at least is a plus.
I will try to resume this picture pattern, but we’ll see what I can manage. (I know I accidentally skipped half of my stuff for the 5th, so … not a great sign.)
Plus side? My goal with the sleep schedule bit worked out well, and I didn’t get off track at all.
Omitted: Two slices of homemade bread, cut thick. One with butter and honey, the other with peach butter. Also, about 30 ounces of coffee with vanilla syrup.
Food thoughts: I certainly ate by appetite for the most part, but would have liked to have seen more plant-based food. I guess there was the bolthouse fruit one, but I got a salad and didn’t wind up eating it because of my other options. Also, it’s been hard to know if my appetite is running the show for the last few hours because I’ve been so over-caffeinated that I have no actual sense of whether I’m hungry or not. I may have over-eaten, or maybe I’ll come crashing down from the caffeine and realize I’m starving. Guess we’ll see.
I need better coping mechanisms. Someone once told me that the single most powerful predictor for the ability to maintain a healthy weight is having healthy coping mechanisms.
I don’t. No argument on that front. Things go smooth, and I stay pretty healthy on physical activity, intake, and how I treat my body. Things go south? Well, then I binge on caffeine, eat piles of junk food, and retreat into TV and video games. So it seems to me that what I need to do next is really hunt for coping mechanisms that can work for me.
The qualities I’d like in coping mechanisms? First, that they not be self-destructive. Though, really, just less self-destructive would be a category I’m willing to explore. Second, they need to have a fairly immediate impact. I just don’t think it would replace my current habits effectively if it was something that took days or even hours to impact my depression, stress, or anxiety. Third, they need to be accessible at basically any time, or I need to have a wide enough array that I always have something at hand. I could always overeat something, and likewise I would want something that I could do at home, at work, in any weather, and so on. So certain types of activities, like biking, don’t seem to make sense, at least as far as blanket solutions are concerned.
Exercise seems an obvious category. Maybe if I used it enough I would lean toward it rather than away when stressed and depressed. This would be especially true if I had something immediately accessible. Certain options here won’t be great until my shoulder is a shoulder again, but weight lifting might be good. Certainly, I know it helped with anxiety. Maybe it’s worth retrieving the free weights from my parents place and finding a good spot for them … but then, I didn’t use them when I was living there. The questions, then, are Why didn’t I? and Is there anything I can do to change that? Maybe it’s just a matter of thinking of them as the response to that emotional chain, and working consciously to make that link. It seems a reasonable place to start, anyway.
Cold showers have been suggested to me. I like them, honestly. I mean, I hate them, but I like them. Obviously not so much an option at work or on the go, but as a go-to at home, it may be worth exploring more often.
And, of course, keeping stress and depression managed through ongoing routine will also help mitigate the issue pretty substantially. If I can get regular exercise, that’s the biggest thing. Working on my writing seems to help a lot, too. Journaling does a lot of good. Meditation and yoga have been staples in the past, and while they’ve had mixed results of late, it seems worth returning to. And then there’s the fact that healthy eating can decrease my stress, and (ironically) some of my stress and depression is about how badly I’m eating.
Hmmm. Maybe having a list can be my next step. Add or remove things as they seem to work. Trying to use the most productive – exercise – but moving down the list if that doesn’t prove as effective as I need.
So … here’s a list based on my thoughts and some initial searches around the interwebz.
And it strikes me that not all of these will be good for each trigger. That’s one of the appeals of food: It’s a broad balm, something that can help (temporarily and self-destructively) on a number of different emotional fronts. But if I’m depressed, silly putty won’t do much, while meditation may not really be possible if I’m super anxious. Nevertheless, there’s so much overlap that it seems most sensible to put them in a single list.
Unless, of course, this list is too unwieldy. If I’m going to habituate something, it seems like narrowing it down may be better. Make it easier to process.
So, the broad categories would be:
(with weights, on my own, through yoga, by taking a walk, dancing)
Writing / Expression
(my own writing, journaling, free-writing, gratitude lists)
(talking it out with a friend, hanging out with people I like, playing a board game)
(keep myself grounded in the world with sensory exercises, cooking, some aspects of meditation, playing with silly putty, listening to or participating in music)
Sometimes it’s all there is left to do.
Okay … is that workable? Can I commit to memory or post in plain view a quick run-down of these categories: Exercise, express, socialize, sense, and sleep? And is there a proper order of operations there? Maybe exercise at the top, but the rest kind of wherever they fit?
Not sure. Mostly just writing at this to see if anything comes of it. And yeah, I guess I’d say something has.
Exercise, express, socialize, sense, and sleep. I can practice that. I can work that. Let’s see how it goes.
So, there’s this interesting study where they made this elaborate soup contraption. My recollection is that they more or less had the soup bowl connected to machinery under the table that would consistently put more soup into the bowl as people ate. They did this to study how people ate, and how much appetite weighed against the sense of having completed the meal. The whole “clean your plate” nonsense seemed to win over, even when the bowl just kept going and going.
People ate a ton of soup. They didn’t seem to notice that it kept filling up. Only a few mentioned that they found the soup particularly filling. Or, to quote the official results, “Despite consuming 73% more, they did not believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated than those eating from normal bowls.”
Point being, I overeat for plenty of reasons, but part of it is a semi-compulsive plate cleaning behavior. I’m sure part of that comes from a primal urge, stemming from the eons where food accessibility was far less guaranteed. And I’m sure part of it comes from American culture and the echoes of “There are starving children in China” coming from my childhood. But, obviously, it’s not great as a way to decide what to eat.
Some day, some how, I would like to eat according to my appetite and nothing more (or less). Not for emotional reasons, not to cope with stress, and not because I’m habituated to eating the portion size placed in front of me. And to address that last part, I’m going to resume an old experiment.
Basically, I made it a goal to never finish a meal completely. Something was always meant to be on the plate at the end. It was going well, and I could see the beginnings of a shift in mentality, but it fell by the wayside for one reason or another. Now, I’m going to try to pick it up, dust it off, and continue that practice.
That’s why there are second pictures with my little meal snapshots, showing what I left unfinished.
Anyway. I still feel like I’m clearing a mental backlog of all this stuff, so I’m sure I’ll post again very soon.
Sometimes, to break a pattern of unhealthy eating, I stop eating for two to three days. I’m not starving myself when I do this. I want to be very clear about that. I’m having as many calories as I normally would, actually, but it’s all in liquid form.
Protein shakes, smoothies, fruit juice, soup, and so on and so forth. I’ve wondered why this works for me, and my current theory is that it’s something to do with stomach size and digestion. That when I’ve been overeating for a while, my belly is swollen or … something. That I crave the junky, harder to digest food that I’ve been having. But by switching to liquids, I’m giving my body food that’s very easy to digest and that’s easy to move through the stomach, letting it reset to its normal size.
I have no idea if any of that’s true. What I know is, this has proven to work for me in the past. It doesn’t feel unhealthy (with, again, the caveat that this is never to be an excuse to starve myself). I switch to liquids, my mood gets boosted, and my appetite re-adjusts.
For a while, back when I was younger, I did this once a month. Over the last few months, I’ve done it every time my eating veers off course, so … a number of times. Before that, I’d been resisting it, trying to use something less drastic, something I could rationally understand and process more easily.
As it stands, I’ve done what research I feel is necessary: Verifying that occasional liquid fasts, as long as they don’t calorie deprive, won’t do harm. And if my subjective experience is that they do some good for me, I’ll let that be enough.
Today is where I do my shopping. On my way back from work, if I remember and am not dead tired, I’ll pick up some favorites. Bolthouse Vanilla Chai and Chocolate Protein. POM pomegranate juice. Maybe a couple cans of soup, if anything looks good. And tomorrow, I’ll dig in, see if my wife (ermergersh, I have a wife!) is willing to whip up some of her delicious fruit smoothies for me.
My wife has mentioned that I seem friendlier, happier, on the first and second days of the liquid fast. So that’s interesting. Again, kind of clueless on the “why.”
I’m going to be trying this thing, I think, where I share pictures of everything I eat, along with brief notes of why I’m eating it. Like, if I’m eating just out of hunger, I’ll say. Or if I’m eating because I’m stressed or sad, I’ll say that too. And when it’s muddled, I’ll use that upload moment as a chance to make sense of it, if I can manage. So expect to see lots of pictures of mah dranks over the next two or three days.
And hopefully, I can transition smoothly from that liquid fast into more fruit-and-vegg-centric eating. But I’ll leave that, and all the other back-on-track tasks, for later.
Copyright © 2017 Rob Blair Writes