The title of the post, out of context (as are they all), speaks well to what I’m writing about now: weight and shame.
Thus far, I’ve lost 60.2 pounds since I began my recent weight-loss journey on September 29, 2012. That’s a little over the 2-lbs.-per-week maximum that’s supposed to be healthy, especially since some weeks I’ve lost 4+ lbs. and some I’ve gained a little.
I’m counting calories, which I say because I don’t like the term ‘dieting’ ’cause diets don’t work (as I read/hear over and over) and ’cause eating healthily is meant to be a lifestyle change, blahblahblah. Here’s the thing: even as I recognize the truth and wisdom in those ideas, I reject and rebel against them because I want to see results. My delusion is that I can lose the weight I need to lose so that I can stand to be in my own skin and stop cringing every time the camera comes out and feel like a worthwhile human being… and then once I’m a more reasonable size, I can adopt the longterm lifestyle changes.
Well, of course that’s silly. For several reasons:
- My weight should not dictate my self esteem.
- It’s a little crazy to think I can spend a year using a fitness app to lose weight and then assume I’ll just be able to suddenly make the right choices without a crutch.
- When I’m a healthy weight, the motivation to choose the kale instead of the fries is considerably less.
It may be pertinent to tell you (you ephemeral you, you) that I once lost 110 lbs. over the course of two years and then gained all of it back over the course of two more. So I know I’m susceptible to the results-oriented dieting problem.
What’s different this time?
The main difference is that I’m doing a ‘cheat day’ once per week on which I can eat whatever I want. I think I’ve said this before, but I’m’a say it again — the cheat day comes in two forms for me:
- “It’s cheat day! I can eat whatever I want!! Hmm… what I really want is a salad. I’ll have one salad, please.” *stops eating when full* “What a delicious salad! I feel energetic and happy.”
- “It’s cheat day! I can eat whatever I want!! Hmm… what I really want is a salad. But it’s cheat day, and I’ll be WASTING it if I don’t eat cookies and cake and pie and chocolate and Pop Tarts! One everything-in-the-world-filled-with-butter-and-sugar-and-artificial-chemicals, please.” *eats until she wants to die* “What disgusting, overly-sweet foods. I feel headachey and lethargic.”
Now of course, there are some times when the “salad” is “an apple turnover” or “a Guinness” or whatever — it’s not always an obscenely healthy food that I crave. The point is, that I can choose to eat reasonable amounts of foods I actually want to eat, or I can choose to stuff my face with foods I just think I deserve. The former leaves me feeling fine; the latter, miserable. So why do I have a ratio of about 1:4 happiness to misery? Shame.
I put a value on food, thereby designating food as either “rewarding” or … let’s call it “stoic”. Stoic foods are the foods that make me feel morally good about myself for suffering through them without complaint. I perceive them as healthy, but not pleasurable… or their healthiness is so astronomical that their pleasure couldn’t possibly eclipse it. (I really love to eat sesame honey kale and tofu, but it makes me feel more ‘virtuous’ than ‘rewarded’.) Rewarding foods are those which I perceive will taste delicious and serve no significant nutritive function, making their only worth their pleasurableness [totally a word].
What I’m working on now (and by now I mean RIGHT NOW, in this VERY blog post! *shock! awe!*) is reducing the shame around weight and food by fully disclosing some of my foods/weight behaviors. I think I feel more shame about my choices when they are secret; a family member coined the term ‘sneaky eating’, which feels at once more like a reward and more shameful than just enjoying the cookies in front of my husband, for example. When I engage in sneaky eating, it activates the thrill-ride part of my brain… the part that gets excited about ‘getting away with something’. So, I’m going to try to diminish that feeling by disclosing some sneaky things I’ve done, recently or not-so-recently, in regards to food and weight. This could take a while, and I don’t know that it’ll be interesting to anyone else, but the fact that someone could read it is the whole point, whether or not anyone does. Some of them might disgust or horrify you… or resonate with you.
- I have stopped at one ice cream shop for one ice cream. I knew while I was there I wanted more ice cream, but in order to not appear piggish to the employees (who totally care, I’m sure), I went to a different ice cream shop for another.
- I love salty/sweet combos, and sometimes I can’t get exactly the right ratio, so I keep piling things on until it’s a confusion of flavors. One night I ate the following: a digestive biscuit (like a cookie or a sweet cracker to Americans) with cheddar cheese and marshmallows melted on it, dill pickle rounds, and a saltine for the top of the sandwich. You’ll never believe this, but the first bite was delicious. The tenth bite was gross, because I was way too full and sweeted-out by that time. I did not stop until I’d finished all of them, though.
- When people bring snacks or treats to work, I stoically ignore them when people are around, and then I grab little bits when I’m alone in the kitchen. Sometimes I try to grab bits so small that no one would be able to tell any has been taken. Sometimes, if someone walks in on me, I try to pretend I’m not chewing.
- When ordering some desserts at Starbucks, I have said things like, “Let me see, I think he’d like a… walnut tart!” knowing full well that the invisible ‘he’ for whom I’m allegedly ordering would never see that walnut tart. I just don’t want the baristas to know that I’m going to eat three desserts for breakfast in addition to my 24-ounce dessert-in-a-cup.
- Before I weigh myself on Saturday mornings, my self-designated check-in day, I do the following things with the delusion (which I acknowledge as pathological even as I do it) that they will help reduce the numbers on the scale: brush my hair, wash my face and wait until it is totally dry but do NOT put moisturizer on it, use the bathroom at least twice, wait as long as I can without eating or drinking before stepping on the scale, brush my teeth, blow my nose. And on Friday night, I try to eat lots of fiber and vegetable-y foods and steer clear of fats and sugary sweets, even if they’re in my calorie budget; I also don’t eat past about 6:00 PM, to really stretch out the time between my last meal and my weigh-in.
- I will eat one Dorito at a time, closing the bag between each one, fifteen times in a row.
- I try to hoard food. If I make a big batch of cookies for a party, I am sure to keep half of them, even though I may know that by the time I’ve gotten through them, most will have been disappointing and not at all the fresh, warm cookies I really want.
- I designate food as MINE without anyone knowing it. If I’m carefully doling out a few almond M&M’s each day, and my husband comes in and finishes off the bag, I am disproportionately angry with him for the offense. But I don’t tell him, because that would be admitting how much food rules my life.
I’ll stop there for today. If I think my tell-all method helped, I may do some more later.
There are many of these behaviors that, I realize as I typed them out, I no longer do… or I do infrequently. I’ve begun to recognize them as they’re happening, and I’ll do something about it right then. For example, if I sneak a couple of my husband’s french fries as I’m bringing him lunch, I tell him when I arrive: “I ate three of your french fries.” Then, to remind myself by saying it aloud, “They were disappointing. Not salty enough or hot enough. I always want them to be better than they actually are.” Since I’ve started losing weight, I haven’t made up imaginary people who will be receiving the excess food I’m buying, either. Most of the time, I buy it without comment; if I’m having an insecure day, I sometimes say, “It’s cheat day!” to the server.
So, while I still think it would be better for me to actually make a lifestyle change rather than doing a restricted-calorie diet, I’m taking some steps in the right direction by minimizing the value I place on food as a system of rewards rather than a system of nourishment. Also (and I don’t think this is just an excuse I’ve invented), when I’m at a healthier weight, it’s much easier for me to get some exercise because my body doesn’t feel so weak and unwieldy… so there is a kernel of reason in the idea that if I can lose some weight up front, I’ll be better equipped to start on the lifestyle changes.
Now I just gotta prove my excuse by getting some exercise. 😉