Weigh-in: Paper Plates

flickr.com/photos/gaylon/

flickr.com/photos/gaylon/

At today’s Weight Watchers meeting I weighed in and was met with a loss of 2.0 lbs. Right on! I just have to keep on keepin’ on, know what I mean? I’ve long known that persistence is the true challenge in this endeavor.

During the meeting we all wrote what we plan to eat for Thanksgiving dinner on paper plates (with stickers on them, no less) and then added up the Points in the food and talked about the importance of being prepared for holiday foodfests. (On a related note, I’ve made up my mind to forgo indulging much at work-related functions and plan to enjoy a bit more seasonal cuisine at the two big family holiday dinners: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those represent the spirit—and tastiness—of the season much more to me than an ordered-in buffet served out of vat-like containers, or a big mess of store-bought cookies.)

As far as my weekend goals are concerned, I’ve hit three out of four: moved some more of my stuff out of the storage unit, weighed in, and . . . joined a gym! The last one is the most exciting :). I worked out by walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes today, which may not be much but is definitely a start.

What I didn’t accomplish this weekend: Buying a simple cookbook full of healthy meals. This was not for lack of trying, because I spent a good hour in Borders sitting in a chair and flipping through a big pile of cookbooks. I kept being torn between the “light” cookbooks and the introductory/beginner’s cookbooks like How to Boil Water, which doesn’t include calorie counts with its recipes but does provide a good foundation of general cooking knowledge. After a while, my head started to spin so I decided to sleep on it all for a night or two!

General summary of how I felt this past week:

I’m not going to lie: it was a rough one, emotionally, when it came to my eating plan. On the outside, things were reasonably low-stress in my life, but I had a lot of inner turmoil regarding the food choices I’m making and the plan (Weight Watchers Flex Plan) that I’m following. I have found myself gravitating more to the “easy,” more processed food choices that my sweet tooth wants (Fiber One Oats & Chocolate bars) as opposed to the more wholesome options (celery with nut butter, or hummus on a whole-wheat pita).

In a way, the more processed foods, like the grab-and-go bars, are the “paper plates” of food, and the foods that take a little more thought for me or a bit of preparation are the “good china.” This is a war I’m waging in my head and in my body, and unless you have spent time truly addicted to sugary, processed foods, you cannot understand how painful it is sometimes. You just can’t. The mental battle takes a major emotional toll, as well as a physical one. It even affects your relationships at times. A feeling of dis-ease takes over. You don’t feel “right.” You are used to your paper plates. You are feeling vulnerable and tired, on top of all that. It ain’t easy, chickens.

Last week I discussed my pity pizza-fest, and Dr. J from CalorieLab offered this take on things:

I’m going to give you some real advice, OK? Learn to make your own healthier version of a pizza. No it’s not store bought, but it will get you past those times when you are weak. Occasionally get the store bought. Over time, you will enjoy and be satisfied by what you make. Trust me, you need to diminish your dependence on fat, sugar and salt or you will not pull this weight loss thing off, nor sustain it. Very few people are successful at weight loss and there are reasons for it, that if you do not deal with, you will not make it either. That’s the way it is. I’m sorry. I will not tell you this again.

How are you at taking constructive criticism? Mature, thoughtful, objective? Me neither—at least not at first. I am what could be facetiously called a fragile flower. I felt almost crushed by this advice; like I had disappointed a favorite uncle. I’m only two weeks into this weight-loss program, and I constantly question myself and the nutritional wisdom I’m bombarded with every five seconds. I’m hungry more than I’m comfortable with. I’ve wanted to throw in the towel multiple times. And now I felt like I was being told by someone I respect that I wasn’t doing enough. In other words, I focused right in on the “or you will not pull this weight loss thing off” part without soaking in the sound advice surrounding it. I fear this is a habit of mine. Tunnel vision for the negative.

Luckily, I decided to stop being such a baby about it. When I got beyond my bruised ego, I realized that I pretty much agree with everything Dr. J is saying in his comment. I just felt irritated and disappointed in myself that I can’t seem to get to that place of nutritional wholeness instantly. I’m slow and can still be side-tracked by frozen treats. But here I have an actual doctor giving me personal advice, and I am not going to ignore it! Not to mention the fact that I—the turtle!—totally read into the comment that I had to make these changes in the blink of an eye, rather than gradually. I have a habit of transforming everything into black/white, all/nothing propositions.

It just goes to show that our lives are shaped much more by our take on things than by actual events themselves. Our perceptions have so much power. If I can train my thoughts to perceive that I should use the good china regularly, pretty soon those paper plates will look much less attractive. If I can be kind but firm with myself, I stand a much greater chance of success.

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When the Moon Hits Your Eye

Riding the bus home from work in the already-dark yesterday evening, I felt extremely dejected. I feel much better now, but at the moment I was in the emotion, I felt like crap. I was staring out the bus window thinking morbid thoughts when a glimpse of the moon appeared between buildings and treetops.

It was huge, and round, and bright.

It reminded me of pizza.

I was very hungry, and not in a good frame of mind. I decided that when I got home, I would order a medium cheese pizza, eat it all myself, and then hate myself a lot. I had a plan. I take comfort in plans, even when they are counterproductive and willfully self-destructive.

I got home and went to the pizza place’s website—no human interaction required!—and paused slightly. What would John eat when he got home, if I only ordered pizza for myself? I didn’t want to share my medium cheese pizza with him. I want to do this thing proper and I was NOT GOING TO SHARE. But then I considered our finances and realized it was stupid to get us each a separate pizza, so I compromised and ordered a large pizza, half plain and half with his favorite toppings on it. It was still not the healthiest choice I could have made last night, but it was an improvement. I even calculated that I could eat all four of my slices and still be within my weekly bonus Points allowance.

Quoi? But if that happened, would I still have license to wallow in self-loathing afterward? Oh, probably not. Dammit. But it was too late. I had already made the less-dysfunctional choice.

Which worked out well, because soon after the pizza arrived, I had a great phone call and felt lots better about myself and life in general. I didn’t want to spend the evening hating on myself. I ate three slices of pizza, marked it in my food journal, and was at peace with the choice I had made. How strange for me.

We Cairn a Lot

Ask and ye shall receive, my peeps! In a comment to my query about personal anchors yesterday, Goodwithcheese linked to the jewelry of Tarma, and now I’m infatuated with the symbolism of cairns and must have either a wristband or a pendant to help keep me balanced during the holiday season.

Cairns are piles of stones. But wait, there’s more! Although they sometimes mark burial spots, they also can act as trail guides to wanderers in the mountains. As each person passes along the trail, they add another stone—keeping up with cairn maintenance, so to speak. In addition to reminding us of the path we’re on, the imagery of the cairn conjures up the ideal of balance, stones stacked carefully one atop the other. Balance, following your path, building upon the lessons of others: a cairn represents all of these goals.

I identify strongly with fellow dieters, but I am also very much drawn to those who seem to have achieved or are consistently making a point of maintaining some kind of balance in their personal wellness. Sometimes I experience the petty emotion of jealousy, especially when the person is younger than me and already seems to have things “figured out.” At other times I am filled with an indescribable contentment and hope reading their words. I am sustained by vicariously cooking wholesome, varied meals in their kitchens and by reading about what it’s like to grow and change in healthy ways. I dream of traveling back in time and doing certain things differently, giving the younger me certain priorities that just weren’t there at the time. I feel like I have always been scrapping for emotional (and sometimes physical) survival and never dared hope for what I can only describe as something better. Something more for myself.

Balance is a beautiful, precarious thing that is well worth experimenting with, one stacked stone at a time.

Cairn pendant by Tarma

Cairn pendant by Tarma

Now, because you’ve read all of these very deep thoughts, you can have some Faith No More:

I Have a POWER ANIMAL

You know in Fight Club, when Ed Norton is a raging insomniac and keeps attending all these support groups for diseases he doesn’t have because the crying and hugging helps him sleep? And how at one of them he has a vision of his Power Animal, which turns out to be a penguin that is all cute and probably in the imagery of the film totally symbolizes being a slave to the Man? Well, I have identified my own power animal.

I discovered this while visualizing a deep well in my body. But wait. Let me explain.

I experienced three-pronged distress meltdown last night, which burst to the surface of my consciousness around 9:30 PM CST:

Prong 1: My new therapist? Has not impressed at all me thus far. (Although I guess I should thank her for inadvertently introducing me to my power animal.) I pinned all my hopes on this particular therapy working for me (I have tried so many, many times before) and although I haven’t said much about it, I have been feeling pretty upset about how things are going.

Prong 2: I’m supposed to be taking the GRE in a week and a half. At some point this weekend I realized that it wasn’t going to happen and it was all my fault because I was too paralyzed to even begin studying the Math. I am all over the Words. But the Math is but a fleeting high-school memory to my now 31-year-old brain. I got psyched out, blew off studying, and now I need to cancel my test appointment because I refuse to bomb the thing. What this means, in terms of my cognitively distorted mind: I will never ever go to graduate school. Big fail.

Prong 3: The diet. Ahhhhh, the diet. Saw this one coming, didn’t you? Yes, I’ve been sticking like glue to my new Weight Watchers food plan, which I initiated on Monday. But I am not sold on everything WW teaches. I never have been. A lot of the guidelines are very sound common sense. But I . . . I think we should be eating more food. Or at least I should. Last night I fell into the merciless deprivation mindset. It’s like having a screaming, Banshee-wailing two-year-old lying on the floor kicking and red-faced . . . in your BRAIN. Get out get out get out!! I hate that kid.

As I snifflingly discussed these various dilemmas last night, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I need to slow down and take on fewer demons at a time. Slowly.

Slowly? To me a thing isn’t worth doing unless it can be done in a blur of procrastination-induced hyperactivity!

Slowly. That word. It reminded me of the one not-totally-disappointing part of my last meeting with my therapist: the mindfulness exercise. It’s not worth paying $110 a week for, but it did involve the counselor hitting a metal bowl, gong-style, and me picturing a deep well inside of me. Evidently this well is where my Wise Mind resides. Because I had to picture hanging out in this well for a good 5 minutes, and I got kind of tired of looking at the wall of the well and the water and all, I decided I wanted company in the well, and that the company would be a turtle. MY POWER ANIMAL, REVEALED!

I was very pleased to have the turtle in my wise-mind well with me, although I started to get worried that he would drown if he couldn’t go up for air soon, a concern that put a slight dent in me communing with my awareness of the moment.

The turtle is a common metaphor for sensible weight loss. But the truth is I have always had an affinity for turtles. Maybe because they resemble my zodiac sign, the delightful and pinchy crab, in that they have a safe shell to retreat to in times of trouble. I even had a pet turtle for several years in my early 20s. She was liberated on Cinco de Mayo, 2001, on the same day a man flashed me and my roommate in Central Park, but that’s a whole other story.

That being said, at some point during a conversation last night, I realized that it is perfectly okay for me to lose weight slowly. Like, even at a glacially slow pace. If I eat more (relatively healthful) food, it may actually be a great thing for my metabolism and the weight-loss will zip right along. Or it may very well be that I lose less than a pound a week. It could take me two years to lose the weight. Is this okay?

Deep breath. Yes. Yes, it is. Turtles are stubborn, and slow, and tough, and so am I.

This year I will not worry about graduate school or career (non)goals. This year I will not worry about finally saving some money; as long as I stay out of debt that’s acceptable. A car can wait. So can the advanced degree.

What can’t wait is working on my mental and physical health, making those the priority while at the same time being patient and compassionate with myself during the process. I’m going to visit a new therapist next week. I’m going to stick with a (modified, Liz-personalized) version of Weight Watchers (take what works and leave the rest) and keep attending the group meetings. The rest can wait. Tiny turtle knows this is all good, and so do I.

tiny-turtle

Healing the Mind, Handling the Weight

"A Contented Skull"

Chiho Aoshima: "A Contented Skull"

The reason I’m re-entering therapy this evening actually has only a little to do with my intent to lose weight. At the very least I can honestly say that my weight is only one part of the larger motivation to try once again to heal my thought patterns and emotions.

I won’t be rehashing my past woes on this blog, but I think it’s important to be up-front about the fact that I have dealt with recurring major depression since my late teens. I don’t blame my obesity on the mood disorder, but I do see the destructively tight-knit relationship they developed over the years as being very problematic to my well-being. To be blunt, I don’t think I can achieve and maintain a healthy, stable weight unless I get a handle upon these darkest parts of my mind and emotions. I don’t think I can maintain a healthy relationship unless I find some peace in this aspect of my existence. I don’t think I can achieve much of anything unless I put some work into finding a different way to approach sadness and setbacks.

I have seen a psychiatrist regularly for years. Let’s just say I became resigned to popping the pills, and I don’t have immediate plans to go off of them. That being said, I knew in my heart that it’s true what they say: The best hope for recovery lies in combining the medications with some form of counseling that addresses what’s going on upstairs. Still, I have procrastinated. I felt deeply cynical about my chances for a life not ruled by these unexpected deep chasms that open up at my feet without warning. I tried halfheartedly with a psychologist last winter, but it just wasn’t on. Before you could blink, I was a therapy drop-out. Again.

I don’t zealously subscribe to any particular religion, but I do believe in synchronicity. This is, after all, what has led me to where I am today: Mentally preparing to try again. It started when I came across a letter on Slate.com from a woman pleading desperately for help in escaping her painful self-loathing. I read the advice columns on Slate and Salon regularly, and the most outlandish scenarios hardly make me blink anymore. But her letter (the first one on the page) brought tears to my ears because some of her words could have been written by me. I got prickles of instinct (or maybe it was just cold in the office that day) and decided to pursue the options Prudence suggested to the advice-seeker.

Which is how I ended up making an appointment for this evening with a Dialectical Behavior Therapy counselor. It’s a mouthful, right? It’s also a style of counseling I hadn’t heard of before in all of my attempts to excorcise the demons, and it didn’t sound too bizarre (i.e., no magic crystals or talking about my aura). And the people it seems to help sound quite a bit like me in some aspects.

Tried and true cognitive behavioral techniques play a part in DBT, but it differs from this well-known (and often very helpful) therapeutic model by including an additional focus on mindfulness, which is the idea of entering a Being state of mind rather than a Doing state of mind. “Being” involves being aware of the present moment while simultaneously suspending any judgments of it. However, most of us live almost entirely in a “Doing” state of mind. And that works very well for solving external problems, because your mind is constantly busily comparing where you are to where you want to be, and finding similar situations in your past that have come up and analyzing how they might offer strategies that would be useful in achieving your current goal (whether it’s driving to the grocery store or building a house).

The Doing state of mind often fails miserably—and actually increases your misery—when applied to internal problems, however. Let’s say you’re simply feeling a bit melancholy one evening. The Doing mind will start doing what it does best: calling up past situations that are similar and incessantly comparing where you are to where you want to be . . . but in this case it’s just hammering home painful memories and your perceived shortcomings, all the while reinforcing a powerful negative circuitry that connects your mind, emotions, body, and behavior. Before you know, you are in the grips of an all-encompassing despair and you don’t even know what happened. I have been there. MANY times. I’ve started reading The Mindful Way Through Depression recently, and it discusses this phenomenon and how to seek out mindfulness as part of the healing process.

At any rate, giving a new style of therapy a try is something I owe to myself. Maybe I haven’t had great success in the past with either counseling or weight-loss, but that’s no reason to give up on myself. I mean, I could live for decades. And decades. Why live them chronically miserable and fat? Hopefully you aren’t giving up on yourself, either. Let’s do this thing, shall we?

Drop the Attitude, Drop the Weight

Hi! I’m Liz. The bare facts are that I’m 31 years old and 5’3 tall, and I weigh about 200 pounds (exact weight to be determined at weigh-in this weekend). I haven’t always been fat, but I have already spent several years at my current size. Informal survey says: there’s a lot to be said for being at a lower weight!

I’m in a serious relationship, and my boyfriend has never put pressure on me to lose weight in order to appeal more to him. Other random tidbits . . . I’m a college graduate who lives and works in a university town and hopes to be pursuing a master’s degree at some point in the next couple of years.

After doing some quick calculations, it’s clear that I need to drop about 70 pounds, give or take. What’s less clear is that I also have to drop the attitude toward my weight and weight loss attempts I have adopted in the past.

It’s a complex negative attitude comprised of:

Self-pity. “Why can’t I eat like ‘normal’ people and, you know, just be thin naturally? Life is so effing unfair to me!! I have it so, so tough. So tough.”

Suspicion. “Everyone thinks I look ridiculous. Why should I put myself out there, meet new people, trying new things? Why should it work this time?”

Superiority. “Those weight-loss groups are so hokey. Blond cheerleader types with Colgate smiles standing at the front of some depressing room and attempting to perk up a bunch of sad sacks who mumble about snack cakes and lifestyles. I am far, faaaaar above such inanity. I am Phi Beta Kappa.”

Savage self-criticism. “You can’t do anything, and you definitely won’t lose 70 pounds and keep them off. Because you never have. There is no legal precedent. You are a big F A I L.” (This is the cruelest inner voice of all, and it has driven me to tears numerous times.)

As you can see, it’s an insecure, ugly, self-fulfilling attitude that is not only vicious toward myself but unfairly judgmental of others! Dropping this attitude will go a long way in helping me to drop the weight, I have.

Are you holding onto any attitudes that have been holding you back? I’m interested to hear about this.