Stop a binge in its tracks.

Grey Binge Poster

How many of us have lost and gained weight multiple times? Statistics indicate more than 95% of people that lose a significant amount of weight end up gaining it back. Great. Way to motivate me.

How can we be different?

Binging tendencies are managed, not cured. Relapses will happen and for most of us that have struggled with lifelong obesity, overcoming a relapse is difficult. We fall into a death spiral of black and white, all or nothing thinking that makes what could have been a small overindulgence of unhealthy foods turn into a binge that can last hours, days, weeks, months. I have been down that rabbit hole more times than I care to remember. Once you are down there deep, you can find yourself thinking, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

So, what have I done to stop a binge episode already in progress? I have four strategies that have helped me. As with all of my advice, take what works for you and ignore what doesn’t. We are all unique and one size certainly DOES NOT fit all. So, here it goes…

  1. Plan your meals for two or three days of healthier eating. Choose your favorite healthy foods (no going uber restrictive, you need to look forward to eating your food). Don’t worry about macros, calories, carbs, portions, etc. (that just triggers the binge/restrict diet cycle). Instead,  just plan generous meals and snacks and then eat them guilt free. This isn’t about losing weight, getting into ketosis, trying to ‘undo’ the damage on the scale or anything like that. This enjoyable meal plan is ONLY about stopping the binge (ha! only!) During one of my recovery food plans, I included a slice of healthy pumpkin pie and Enlightened brand ice cream each day. I needed my head to see there was an enjoyable gray area between black (binging) and white (dieting).
  2. Choose a mantra. Really think about what it is that motivates you to be healthy. It can either be words or a visual (or both). The binge urge will challenge you during the first few days of a recovery and you will need to have an automatic response. Literally, when you feel that twinge to binge, immediately repeat or visualize your motivation. During my last recovery, my strong motivation was a goal to reach an all new low for an upcoming birthday. I would picture myself getting on the scale and reading the numbers 159. I visualized it clearly and asked myself out loud, “What do you want for your birthday Trish?” to which I replied out loud, “159. 159. I want to see 159 on the scale.” It was (still is) helpful when temptations arise (that birthday is a month away!)
  3. This may be controversial, but… Plan your next binge. Sometimes it helps me to stop a current binge cycle if I can delay it to another day. It’s like I am able to know that the ‘fun’ can continue; yeah… I know a binge isn’t really fun, but addiction isn’t rational, so talking to it logically doesn’t always work. Food addiction manipulates you, so you can manipulate it right back!  I tell my binging-food addicted self that I can eat whatever I want on a chosen date that is a month or so away. Anytime I feel the binge twinge (and say my mantra), if the craving really lingers I tell myself I can put that item ‘on the list’ of things I will eat on the day I have chosen as my next day to indulge. People who diet might call it a cheat day, but since I don’t diet, it isn’t cheating. It is simply a day in the future I am planning to enjoy some of my favorite foods that don’t have a place in my day to day nutritional plan as I work to meet my current goals. Semantics, but on a deeper psychological level, it works for me. I’m neurotic; I need to play mind games with myself.
  4. Finally, when I’m trying to end a binge that has spilled over into multiple days, I wake up each morning and visualize being on a stage and the curtains closing… “aaaaaand scene!” Each day is an opportunity for the next act in the play. Yesterday’s drama, obsession, compulsion, behaviors, food related plotting and planning are OVER. The curtains have closed. You can flip the script today. Start each day with this visualization and attitude and it will help stifle the life out a binge episode that has you in its grip. This little technique is my take on the 12 steps motto of ‘one day at a time.’

So back to that cringe-worthy statistic of a 95% recidivism rate for us losers (weight losers, of course). The key to being a five percent-er is not to have the willpower to never fall down or relapse; in my opinion that is not realistic. Abstinence for life? Good for you if you can pull that off, but that ain’t this girl’s path.

For me, the key to being a fiver percent-er is learning how to get back up and recover. It’s about sticking the landing after a shaky dismount. If we can do that each time we stumble, will can and will maintain a healthier weight for life.

I get by with a little help from my friends…

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I have been reflecting on the importance of a strong support system. This topic came up twice this week (which is how I know the universe is trying to tell me something). The first time was during a workplace training for stress reduction. We were asked if we felt we had a supportive group of people in our lives. I am lucky and grateful to have been able to answer yes.

The second time the topic came up was when a weight loss support forum I have been frequenting for the past 16 years announced it was closing up shop on June 1st. I literally gasped and started bawling. This place had been such a source of information and support for me over the years and I flippantly took it for granted. The thought of it being gone left a massive black hole in my support system.

This got me reflecting on how often we don’t notice (and express gratitude) for the various support systems we have in our lives. Of course, I love and am grateful for my friends and family, but sometimes those closest to us can’t provide the type of support we need when we are fighting the demons needed to overcome life-long obesity.

This online community had provided me with something different. It accepted me for who I was, no strings attached, no expectations, no baggage, a sense of freedom to be my true self, share my true struggles (and successes) and know others could relate. I owe so much of who I am today to the plethora of information, care, humor, compassion, empathy and life experience that was shared among the hundreds of regular contributors to the boards. I am eternally grateful.

Hopefully, if you are reading this blog because you have a significant amount of weight to  lose, you have a support system in your life. However, if you find yourself in a situation that is not supportive, don’t forget about this wonderful world of the interwebz! There are so many blogs and groups and forums and other people (like me) that can offer support. You don’t have to (and sorry to say, probably can’t) do this alone.

Sometimes, we all need a little help from our friends.

 

 

 

Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Meal PlanningOne of the keys to my weight loss success has been my weekly planning. Each Sunday, I spend time thinking about the week ahead and create a meal plan. I take plenty of factors into consideration: work schedule, appointments, current weight loss goals (and the carb range I want to try and stay in this week to meet those goals), foods I’ve been craving, pantry items in need of being used up, items on sale, etc. Then I shop for my groceries and come home to prep what I can.

By taking this time to plan, shop, and prepare on Sunday, I am able to go on ‘autopilot’ through the week. I have discovered that the less time and opportunity I have to contemplate my eating during the week, the more likely I am to stick to my plan without deviations. The last thing I need is to be tired and stressed at 6PM on a Wednesday evening and asking myself, “Hmm, what do you feel like eating?” The answer would NOT be a healthy one.

Since I eat breakfast and lunch at work, I start by deciding what I’d like to eat for those meals. Am I feeling like I want something sweet or savory for brekkie? Do I want a snacky lunch to graze on or a hot and hearty meal? The answers change week by week and this helps me have variety and still honor my inner foodie by indulging in the items I’ve been craving. I usually eat the same thing all five workdays, mostly because I’m a bit lazy. I’d rather cook one thing and portion it out into five containers and call it a day, KWIM?

Once I’ve decided on the breakfast and lunch menu, I choose 7 dinners. For the most part, I’m choosing the proteins and then stocking the fridge with the variety of vegetables and condiments I like to have on hand to hit my favorite flavor profiles. Again, allows me to entertain my foodie lovin’ ways within healthy perimeters to keep me from binging on unhealthy/less wholesome foods.

Finally, I choose my evening snack options. Yes, I eat a snack after dinner and it’s usually after 7PM (sometimes as late as 9PM). Still, I’ve managed to lose over 100 pounds. I just had to accept that I am an evening snacker. Even though ‘they’ say it is not a healthy habit, I know myself and if I deprived myself of an evening snack, I would feel super restricted and that would lead to a binge. My advice… make your own rules. Better yet, ditch ‘rules’ altogether.

This morning was a Sunday morning like any other; I planned, made a list, hit up my local Aldi and Walmart (working on a budget people), then prep cooked and portioned my food to take to work.

This week’s meal plan:

B: Lemon & Ricotta Muffin and coffee (4 carbs)

L: Creamy Cajun Chicken with Dirty Cauli-rice (3 carbs)

D: Protein, vegetable, cheese and condiment combo (<18 carbs)

S: Pistachios and 90% dark chocolate OR a chocolate mug cake with raspberries and whipped cream (10 carbs)

I have 5 muffins wrapped in Press n’ Seal and 5 plastic containers filled with the chicken and cauli-rice. Easy. Done. Yum.

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This week’s dinner options include:

Sunday: Roast whole chicken with roasted sprouts dipped in creamy dressing

Monday: Cheese omelette with 1/2 avocado and a big artisan salad topped with cheese and creamy dressing

Tuesday: Steak with bacon wrapped jalapeño poppers

Wednesday: Seared sea scallops with 1/2 avocado and a big artisan salad topped with cheese and creamy dressing

Thursday: Cheeseburger sans bun with goat cheese stuffed baby bella mushrooms

Friday: Take out (wings or grilled chicken nuggets)

Saturday: Spinach & feta flavored chicken sausage in a cauli-rice ‘risotto’

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Does that look like a diet to you?! I’ve lost over 100 pounds eating this way. Honestly, I love food. I want to love and enjoy my food every day for the rest of my life. This truth must be taken into consideration as I manage my weight and my health through nutrition; no food plan could work if it didn’t satisfy me (as my lifetime of failed ‘diets’ has proven).

So there it is, this week’s plan for mind, body, and spiritual nourishment… (because eating chocolate every night is my idea of heaven).

 

Embracing the Damage

Tazzina-KintsugiYesterday I asked my husband to take a few photos of me in a tank top and pair of yoga pants to monitor my progress. When I looked at the photos, I was so disappointed in the sagging appearance of my arms, breasts, and tummy. I spent some time reflecting on my disappointed and came to some realizations.

Everyone carries baggage and wears invisible emotional scars from the pain we’ve experienced in life. When I was obese, I was carrying my ‘invisible’ emotional scars on the outside of my body in the way of excessive fat on my frame. Everyone could see it. I couldn’t hide it. I may have tried to pass myself off as a person who had her life together, but I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t dealing with some serious spiritual and emotional dysfunctions… It was on display for all to see and it embarrassed me immensely.

All addictions, if used long-term, cause damage to your physical body: alcohol, narcotics, tobacco, prescriptions, etc. Food is no different. Inside and out, my obesity has wreaked havoc on my body. Even as I reduce my weight to a healthy weight range, my body shape, loose skin, and stretch marks will forever remind me of the damage I inflicted on myself.

Today, I am mourning for the loss of what my body might have been had it been allowed to grow, mature, and thrive in an active and nutritionally balanced body. What if it had gone differently? What if it had never been broken? I can only imagine what my body would have looked like in its natural state. That body is extinct; never to be seen or felt again.

Although these thoughts can bring an element of melancholy, I am coming to terms with the disappointment triggered when I saw the photos of myself. No, I won’t experience life in my unique body the way nature intended; I squandered that gift. But you know what? I can make amends with my body. I can accept it for what it is.

There is a Japanese tradition called Kintsugi in which broken pottery is repaired with gold. This method actually highlights the damage. According to this philosophy, “it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”

I like that. I’m adopting this philosophy and applying it to my body. I’m not going to feel ashamed or disappointed about the struggles in my past or the permanent effects on my physical appearance. This who I am and I am the sum off all previous experiences, sagging skin, stretch marks, and all.

I am embracing the damage and repairing it with gold.

… Now, it’s going to take a whole lotta’ gold, let me tell you. I’m gonna be priceless…

A little self-care goes a long way.

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So, I had a few days of less than stellar food choices. Driving into work this morning, I had a little ‘chat’ with my body. I apologized to it for failing to take care of it properly over the past few days. I thanked it for taking such good care of me even when I failed to reciprocate. I reassured it I was going to make better choices so that it could resume functioning at optimal levels.

Sometimes it is helpful for me to remember my body is simply a vessel that is on loan to me for a short time. How long it lasts and how well it runs is dependent on how well I care and maintain it. Honestly, when I go through periods of binging/overeating/addictive food behavior, it is my poor body that suffers the consequences. I’m trying to look at my body a bit like a beloved child or pet that needs me to care for it… somehow detaching like that helps me separate my binge mentality from my responsibility as a caretaker of my physical self.

Today I am in self-caretaker mode, making responsible choices for the health of my body instead of catering to the immature demands of the compulsion that lives in my head. One day at a time!

Goal Digger

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I am a goal digger, but goals are a funny thing. Make them too easy and they don’t motivate you to stay focused… make them too difficult and you set yourself up for frustration, self-doubt, and disappointment. Weight loss goals then have the additional element of your physiology having the final say on your results, regardless of your efforts.

As I have now lost 113 pounds, I am coming to terms with the fact that my results may vary a great deal month to month, regardless of my efforts. For example, I lost only 2 pounds one month, then a whopping 16 pounds the following month, and then 3.8 pounds the month after that; all while essentially following the same nutrition and wellness plan.

Although I have set a monthly ‘weight’ goal every month during my weight loss journey, I also set behavior goals, because although I may not be able to control the results, but I can always control my efforts. Understanding this has helped me a great deal as I learn not to obsess over the scale. Yes, I track my weight for data (I weight every morning, actually), but it isn’t the only way I measure success. I am as proud of myself for maintaining healthy habits as I am when the scale nudges down.

After all, my physical body is the one that decides the results (with all its chemistry, biology, genetics, hormones, etc.)… I am only in charge of the effort I put forth.

So dig deep to reach your goals, but be careful about the goals you set. It’s a fine line between motivating yourself and setting yourself up for failure.

 

My Escape from Alcatraz

pexels-photo-102159.jpegSomething occurred to me this morning and I wanted to share it with those that can relate; Food is no longer the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning.

What a change! For as long as I can remember, when I would open my eyes in the morning I would not want to leave the warm, cozy comfort of my bed (normal, right?). I would snuggle into the blankets with my husband and my cats and take a deep cleansing breath. Suddenly, I would remember there were bakery cookies or candy or leftover pasta or cold pizza in the kitchen, so I would shoot up like a rocket, swing my heavy legs over the edge of the bed, and waddle straight to the kitchen to start putting food in my mouth. Only the thought of food could lure me from the coziness of my bed to face the day (not normal, right?).

This mindless routine of getting out of bed and making a bee-line for the kitchen was so automatic that many, many, many Monday morning diet starts were blown because I would not even remember I was supposed to start a diet that morning as the junk food was being swallowed. Moments into the commencement of the feeding frenzy I would realize my error, but c’mon! I had already eaten cake or candy (or whatever) that particular morning, so I couldn’t possibly start my diet that day. It was blown. Better luck tomorrow… or next Monday… or after the next holiday… or, or, or…

As I was standing in the kitchen this morning groggily fixing my first beloved coffee of the day, I had a flashback of me standing in front of the pantry groggily putting a Twix in my mouth.  That’s when it all came flooding back; the years of food obsession, being a slave to binging, cravings, compulsive eating, emotional eating, incessant thoughts, shame, guilt, secret eating, yo-yo dieting, and non-stop thoughts about food from the very moment I opened my eyes in the morning to the moments I lay in bed drifting to sleep (while planning my next binge). I was trapped by these incessant thoughts. My mind and body felt like a prison to me… Alcatraz… no way out.

Now, I can’t even remember the last time that a thought about food got me out of the warm, cozy bed in the morning (… unless you count coffee). Although I often recognize the physical changes as a result of my improved relationship with food, I am MOST satisfied with these kinds of changes in my life. Freedom. Freedom from the unhealthy food obsession and compulsive behaviors that imprisoned me as I was serving (what I thought) was a life sentence.

But I escaped from Alcatraz. I dug a tunnel (a roomy tunnel) and crawled my way out. Today, I am experiencing such a sense of freedom and I am so, so grateful for it.

The Ghosts of Diets Past

scale-diet-fat-health-53404.jpegThe first time I remember dieting, I was in the first grade. It wasn’t really by choice; I remember coming to the breakfast table and noticing my younger siblings were served their breakfast cereal in regular cereal bowls and I was eating mine out of a small, repurposed margarine tub (remember those?). I asked my stepmother why I had a different bowl and she told me she didn’t want me to have a weight problem. And from that day on, I did…

I don’t mean to imply this incident caused my weight issues, but it was the moment I became aware that there was such a thing as ‘a weight problem’ and it was something bad and I had to worry about it.

The first time I remember putting myself on a diet, I was still in elementary school; as a sixth grader, I weighed in at 140 pounds, was probably about 4’10”, and wearing a size 12. I decided I would stick to three small meals a day and no snacks. How many elementary school kids do you know that skip snacks? Let me rephrase that… How many overweight, self-soothing, food addicted elementary school kids do you know with the fortitude to skip snacks? So, yeah… that was short lived.

Not long after that, my grandmother brought me to my first (but certainly not my last) Weight Watcher meeting. The word that comes to mind is mortified. I was the only child there and felt stigmatized to be initiated into this group of overweight adults. Sure, I knew I was pleasantly plump, but did I really belong in a local meeting hall with a bunch of overweight adults?  I assumed so, since I was standing there getting weighed in front of them all as they looked at me empathetically. I had to accept that these were the people I belonged with. So I began ‘learning’ how to eat ‘healthy’ foods i.e. lite bread, pasta with lite margarine, fat-free cheese, fat-free spray salad dressing, fat-free spray butter (aka chemical experiments). At the tender age of 12, I became a Weight Watcher drop out. A loser, and not the good kind.

My next dance with the diet devil came the summer after seventh grade when I spent 6 weeks drinking Slim Fast powder mixed with skim milk (gag)… and don’t forget the sensible dinner! I ate lettuce with fat-free salad dressing spray (yum). For the first time ever, I actually lost weight! I took my weight from 185 pounds to 170 pounds (and was probably as tall as I was going to get at 5’3”). For the first day of eighth grade, I was strutting my stuff in my new size 16 Lee jeans, because I had to work hard to fit into them. Wouldn’t it be great if the story ended there and this entire blog was all about how starving yourself on Slim Fast for 6 weeks would cure a life time of obesity? But, no.

Next up, was the summer between eighth and ninth grade; my weight was 208 pounds (anyone noticing an upwards trend here?). Fat was the enemy. Don’t eat fat, don’t be fat. Simple. This time, my mother and I decided to diet together. We limited ourselves to 10 grams of fat per day and we walked 3 miles a day at least 5 days a week. I followed this plan to the letter and never cheated or deviated once over the course of three months. My mom lost 30 pounds and I lost 3. Not a typo… 3 pounds. She brought me to a doctor, assuming I had a thyroid issue or something and he told her I must be sneaking food behind her back. I absolutely, positively, never, ever ate more than 10 grams of fat on that diet. Like any loyal fat-free disciple, I stuck 100% to fat-free food. I ate fat-free ice cream, fat-free Entenmann’s cakes, fat-free bread, and plenty of pasta and baked potatoes with fat-free butter spray. Hmmm, why wasn’t I losing? What on Earth could have been the problem? Cut the fat and don’t be fat… Simple. It was time for desperate measures.

Cue the cabbage soup diet. I’m sure you all know the drill, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, I can’t eat cabbage soup anymore and the thought of eating bananas and skim milk together makes me shiver.

High school. Ugh. I discovered the joys of laxatives and diuretics and Dexatrim. Pills, man. All I needed was pills. Except that didn’t work either. Then I tried to become bulimic. I mastered the binging part, but couldn’t quite get the knack of making myself vomit (not through lack of trying).

I was 20 years old and working as a waitress (… in a cocktail bar… that much is true). At this point, I was maintaining around 212 pounds and wearing a size 18. One of my regular customers started losing a lot of weight and I asked him what he was doing. He gave me a copy of a 14 day Mayo Clinic diet. It called for 2 eggs and bacon for breakfast, meat and salad with full-fat dressing for lunch, and meat and veggies (with butter!) for dinner. I didn’t think there was a chance that it could work for me, because it was so.much.fat. I followed it and in 14 days, lost 18 pounds. Whoa! What the…? Finally, I began to discover the key to unlocking my body’s nutritional needs.

But, alas, it would be another 15 years (and 282 pounds) before I gathered all of the other tools needed to overcome obesity. Ironically, it was the day I decided I would never (ever) diet again that I finally found myself firmly on the road to recovery.

Dieting got me into this mess and it certainly wasn’t going to be the way out. Diets are dead to me and its ghosts belong in the past.

There is a first time for everything…

… and this is my first blog entry. I’ll admit, I’m a little apprehensive about putting myself out there for all the world-wide web to see, but I have decided that a blog is a good platform for me to share the things I have learned (and am still learning) as I overcome lifelong obesity. As my weight has reduced (I’ve lost over 100 pounds so far), I’ve had many people ask me to tell them the keys to my success. In this blog, I plan to share just that; from what I eat, what I lose, how I plan and organize, how I track, and how I neurotically manage my thoughts and emotions to learn to love my body.

Fair warning regarding the latter, the journey to overcome obesity and repair an unhealthy relationship with food is not always sunshine and roses. It requires dismantling a lifetime of dysfunctional patterns in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I plan to share my personal insights and experiences as openly and honestly as I can and that will undoubtedly cause me a bit of embarrassment from time to time. BUT, I truly want to help others on this same lifelong journey to overcome obesity. If I can do it (as a food addicted, binge eating, dysfunctional foodie), I promise you can, too.

So to my fellow travelers, I invite you to walk with me a while as we eat, lose, and love our way towards a healthy lifestyle and share the things we learn along the way.