Thursday, February 9, 2012

Herding Cats

So it seems I can look after a couple of things simultaneously, like exercise plus eating vegetables, or mindful eating plus drinking enough water, or meditation plus exercise. But when I try to bring all these good things together, it's like herding cats. And I'm both the herder and the insane group of cats.

I'm not terribly disheartened, because it still feels like a miracle to me to not be binging several times each week. I feel it will all come together at some point if I keep working at it.

Lately, my focus on eating vegetables and gently reducing carbs has been displaced by a focus on mindful eating. I'm eating lots of unhealthy food in sane portions, and doing it mindfully. I was mindful at McDonald's yesterday, as strange as that sounds. Part of me feels guilty about not eating enough nutritious foods, and another part of me is downright gleeful that I'm able to eat desserts and pizza and all the rest now without gorging myself and feeling obsessed with getting my next fix. I have chocolate chips in the house; I have Valentine's candy purchased for my husband and hidden away for now. Neither item is torturing me with its mere presence, the way it would have in the recent past. I'm amazed.

Hopefully, the novelty of this will pass and I will be able to strike a better balance between practical, nutritious foods and pleasurable, indulgent foods soon. I do know that after finishing a small Shamrock shake last night, I was slightly disappointed in myself because my intention was to drink half and throw the rest away. Instead, I finished the whole thing, and then questioned the wisdom of putting that much sugar into my body at once. I also questioned whether my animal brain had defeated me in this instance, because I failed to carry out my sensible plan to only drink half.

The same thing happened with a smoothie at Panera's a couple of days before. I meant to drink half. I paid close attention to my drink and noticed the flavor changing as well as the sensation in my mouth and throat becoming less pleasant after a certain point: diminishing returns had kicked in. But it was still pleasurable enough for me to keep going, even as my higher self said "stop! NOW! right now! Get up and throw this thing into the trash!"

I've concluded that the ability to not finish something delicious you've started is a more advanced skill than the skill of not starting in the first place, or the skill of throwing away half of something before you ever take the first taste. And yes, I think these are all skills that can be developed. After the incidents with the smoothie and the shake, I've concluded that I should discard half of such hyperpalatable drinks before I take a single taste, because that's my current level of skill. If I want to enjoy something but not take in too much sugar, this is a good way for me to accomplish that.

Down the road, I expect myself to be able to stop halfway through something and walk away from it more consistently. Right now, I can do that with pastries and candy more easily than I can with dairy-based things like mousse, yogurt smoothies, and ice cream. Who knows why, but that's been my experience. Just tonight I shared a small, high quality piece of cake with my husband at a bakery-cafe. He brought home this ridiculously tiny square from his half to eat later. I would have found that maddening in the past, but I can handle it now. If we had been sharing ice cream instead of cake, however, I would have eaten the last bit then and there, no doubt.

I tell myself: all in good time. The reality is I have almost 30 years of bad habits and non-awareness programmed into me, and the rest of my life to learn a new way.

p.s. That's not my cat. My only pet is a blue betta fish named Alpha, who gobbles food admirably in his own right.


  1. For me, not focusing on too much change at once was very helpful. Making a change routine before pushing on to another made it easier, but it does get overwhelming because it's not a simple matter of making a change and sticking to it. There's psychological backlash which tends to accumulate with more change, even when you wait to make changes until the old changes are routine. Eventually, you find that you've traveled very far down a road and you're scared at how far you've come and sort of freeze in terror. You don't even know why it's a problem as this was where you wanted to be, but you've come too far too fast.

    So, "all in good time" is definitely the attitude to take. :-)

    1. Thank you, I really needed to hear this tonight. I had cake again and despite writing this post so recently, I was starting to beat myself up for my food choices tonight.

      Less than a month ago, I was binging. It's unrealistic to expect nutritious meals, no overeating, an exercise regimen, etc etc etc to all fall into place within weeks. Logically, I know this, but I have moments of panic: "see? Cake two days in a row. And eating when you're definitely not hungry. You are still out of control and always will be." It's such an ugly, unhelpful voice that pipes up every few days.

      Thank you for the reality check regarding psychological backlash--it's better to expect it and be prepared for it--and for the confirmation that slow and steady is the way to go! :)

    2. Think of eating cake as running back down the road a very short way.

      For what it's worth, I still do this, too. I am trying to frame it with some perspective. I used to eat a whole bag or box of cookies for comfort. Now, I eat one small one. Or, I used to eat a whole piece of cake and now, I eat half or less. And I eat chocolate everyday, but only about 1/8 of a bar when it used to be the whole thing. This is really okay. It is something which may never vanish, but it also may diminish to the point where it does not represent a problem.

      For me, the emotional context is what I'm working with, not the food itself. I'm only unhappy about the behavior if it is motivated by fear, a need for comfort, etc. It's all good if it's for food pleasure for the sake of food pleasure (in which case, a small amount is satisfying), but I am working with this continuously. I still "comfort" myself with food and have been weaning myself away from this, but I've been working with this for going on three years now and it's still not "gone". I still have to pause before I eat a square of chocolate when I've worked for awhile and am tired and want to mentally perk myself with sweets and say, "I don't really desire this, but just want to feel better." Sometimes I eat it anyway. Sometimes I don't. It's all conditioning along a path and the important thing is progress is being made, albeit slowly.

      Slow is best. Truly. You'll get there. Control is never perfect nor can it be seized and held onto when you're trying to deal with the emotional equivalent of a team of bucking broncos. Give yourself credit for what you've accomplished. It'll ultimately make it easier to progress, but a setback or a two (or a thousand, as has been my case) is to be expected and you will gain strength from your recovery from such setbacks. I "blew it" many times (and still do, just not so spectacularly) and recovering from it the next day (only to "blow it" again the following day) made me lose that fatalistic "you'll never manage this" feeling. Succeed, fail, succeed, fail, succeed fail... It was a much better learning experience for me than constant success. It grew my confidence. It can grow yours, too.

    3. Regarding emotional eating and having sweets: I see your story as proof that a philosophy of "progress, not perfection" is not only mentally healthy, but can yield incredible physical results. It's heartening to witness this (read about this), since so many people adopt extreme positions and use dramatic language ("this is what it TAKES to be a WINNER!") that make me recoil and in the past, have made me think this weight loss thing is impossible. There's a reason I don't watch The Biggest Loser anymore...

      Your last paragraph reminds me of your previous excellent post, "Why it's important to fail sometimes" ( for anyone that is reading this and is curious).

      I'm planning to print out a bunch of your blog articles and put them in a binder to make my very own SFG book, for permanent personal reference. I've never done this with anyone else's material. I've known about your blog a very short time and that's how helpful and eye-opening it's been already. I just want you to know that!

    4. correction: article is called "It's Important to Fail Sometimes"