Thursday, 3 November 2005
Fear of Change
[This entry refers to my experiences on Weight Watchers, first on their Flex plan, where foods are assigned a point value and you are given a daily points target, then on the new Core plan, where you select foods from a list of low-energy-density foods and only count points for foods not on the list.]
When I first started Weight Watchers (this time), the scariest thing to me was hearing people talk about developing a new relationship with food. I didn't want a new relationship with food, I liked my old relationship just fine, thank you. I saw my way of relating to food as part of what defined me as Myself. I was a foodie, I liked being a foodie, and I didn't want to give up being a foodie. Maybe it was a dysfunctional relationship, but I loved food. I loved everything about food: the taste, the texture, the smell. I loved eating food, cooking food, shopping for food, talking about food. Without that, there would be a big gap in my life.
So at first my plan was to make what changes I had to temporarily, to lose weight, and then go back to doing what I'd been doing. But after I while, my goal changed. I decided that I really didn't want to yoyo anymore, that this time I wanted to take the weight off and keep it off permanently. I realized that to do that, I was going to have to make some permanent changes.
So my next plan was to develop moderation. I would still enjoy all the foods I always had, just not as much or as often. I have to say, this didn't work too well for me. For one thing, it requires will-power; not something I possess in abundance. That whole idea of eating a little bite of something wonderful, and truly savoring it? I do that. I do it with the first bite, and the next, and the next. I can eat just one bite of pie, to see what it's like and have a little sweet taste. But one bite of brie? Not if there's another bite left in front of me. Or one almond? Not likely. Yes, Virginia, there are such things as trigger foods.
The other problem with that plan was that when I was saving points for high-calorie treats that I loved, I was hungry too much of the time. It seemed like I would have to choose between feeling deprived or feeling hungry. That was when I began my search for foods that were filling, but didn't use a lot of points. I began to consider the fullness factor of what I ate, that is, how much satiety a food provides for the calories it costs. Eating those foods helped keep down the hunger.
But there was another, secret side to my relationship with food that I hadn't been willing to look at or acknowledge, much less to change. It was something I covered up with my love of food, my appreciation of the esthetics of food. That was, the way I use food as an emotional crutch. The way that when I'm angry or hurt or scared or stressed, I blunt the experience of those feelings and distract my attention away from them by eating. It kind of takes the edge off the emotions so that I find them easier to handle. The idea of facing my feelings head on, without a shield of food, scared the heck out of me. I realized that the real reason I didn't want my relationship with food to change was that I was scared to give up food as a crutch. So much so, that I hadn't even allowed myself to acknowledge that I used it that way (although deep down, I knew it).
I have begun to modify that behavior a little at a time. I've started looking for other ways to calm myself when I'm upset, like going outside or taking deep, slow breaths. I try drinking water instead of eating. I began to face emotional situations without eating, by starting small. That is, when I'm not so seriously upset. And hey, I survived that, so now I'm beginning to face more upsetting situations without my "crutch." Another change I'm making is in what I eat when I'm upset. Instead of eating sweet or fatty foods, I reach for fruit or vegetables, so it won't do as much damage and won't trigger even more cravings. But I still have a long way to go in changing this pattern of behavior. My first instinct when the going gets rough is to turn to food. Baby steps.
While I have been working on making that change, other changes have taken place without real effort on my part. When I switched to eating foods that fill me up better, I discovered that I was eating mostly foods that are on the Core food list, so it seemed an easy transition to switch to the Core plan. Being on Core has worked some surprising changes.
The first change I noticed was that the food cravings are gone. I used to have times when I just wanted to eat everything in sight. I could eat until my stomach was stuffed, and it still didn't stop the cravings. That doesn't happen anymore. I think it must be that feeling hungry is my body's way of trying to get me to eat foods that contain nutrients it's lacking, and now that I'm eating such nutritious foods, I'm not missing nutrients.
Then I began to notice my tastes changing. Fruit tasted sweeter, and SO good. I started to like foods I hadn't in the past, like couscous, garbanzo beans, yogurt, grits, brown rice. Greasy foods lost their appeal. I began to enjoy steamed vegetables without butter or cheese sauce; I could taste the subtle differences in their flavors. I found that I would actually rather have oatmeal with mashed banana than sausage and eggs and hash browns. I even started to like salad without dressing sometimes. Then the foods that I thought I couldn't, wouldn't want to live without, like cheese, pizza, bread, tortillas and wine, began to not really matter. Though I can spend points on them, I am so satisfied with the Core foods, most of the time I don't bother.
It was as though my worst fears were being realized and I started to wonder who this strange person was. Then I realized, I'm still a foodie. I still love food. Something that tastes wonderful still makes me want to wag my tail (and that's a sight to see, I assure you), it's just different foods that make me feel that way. I still love reading cookbooks, talking about food, shopping, cooking, and eating. I'm just enjoying different, more wholesome foods.
And you know what? It wasn't eating gourmet foods that made me fat. It wasn't savoring the tastes of fine food, even the high-fat ones like brie, creme brule, and cheesecake. It was processed junk and fast-food garbage, foods to make a real foodie blush. Hot Pockets, frozen burritos, gummy worms, cheese puffs, Jack-in-the-Box chicken, MacJunk. Not even stuff that tastes good. Is it any wonder a bowl of homemade soup or roast chicken or grilled vegetables tastes better to me? Is it any wonder I like what I'm doing now better?
So now I'm eating foods that are better for my health, I'm not hungry, I don't have heartburn, and I'm losing weight without struggling. These are changes that I can live with.
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Thursday, 3 November 2005 - 5:44 PM PST
Oh have you captured the feeling I have toward food, even the phrase, "the taste texture smell" (and add feel of it)--this phrase is one I have used! And while I loved it, and surrounded myself with friends who loved it too, and a life built around celebrating, or grieving or being mad with the next fast food place or restaurant or grocery store junk food , I missed out on some simple pleasures that can not be recovered and thankfully some that can. I can enjoy the taste of vegetables and spices and unadorned food. I can build social experiences that do not concern food. I can't have young tight skin when I lose, I can't be as physically fit as I could have been when younger because I have some health issues due to my weight that will be there even if I lose. But I do not begrudge it. For some reason, because I feel I am a reasonably intelligent person, I could not handle life without eating my emotions until now. So for that child in me that needed it, I say that's fine. I love you , but I am not that person now and I'll move on and take the best of what's left for me to be able to do. I am grateful that there are people like you that think about the mysteries of this experience with weight and food and emotions and life and write about it--it stirs me to fully examine how I feel and that can only help me avoid some old traps in the future.
Friday, 3 March 2006 - 1:04 PM PST
Thank you for such a wonderful blog. I am also in the process of discovering the magic (if you want to call it that) of the CORE plan. Food is so healthy, so nutritious - and, when you spend a little time in the planning and cooking - quite delicious. I remain a die-hard foodie, and find that I'm learning new skills by mastering the art of cooking a fabulous meal in a more healthful manner.
It's March, and I've just discovered your blog - please keep writing - you are giving me much inspiration.