Friday, March 30, 2012

The acceptance part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I've mentioned before that I'm applying Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ideas and practices to my binge eating and overeating problems. I think the Wikipedia article on ACT is fairly informative and it will help any readers out there make sense of what follows.

I recently finished Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: the New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. Reading this book has made me realize several things, and I believe the advice in the book can help me carry out the high-level instructions contained in Brain Over Binge.

In Brain Over Binge, Hansen describes how she started viewing her urges to binge as "neurological junk" emanating from her lower brain, and how that new perspective allowed her to stop acting on those urges. She explains that she stopped fighting the disturbing thoughts that encouraged her to binge and purge (she was bulimic): she stopped arguing with them and stopped engaging them altogether, instead treating them as not even worthy of her attention. She was no longer frightened of whatever her lower or "animal" brain threw her way because she understood her real self, her Highest Human Brain, to be way more powerful than the animal brain. She could listen to the lower brain chatter as if it were a tape recording and remain calm, and she understood herself to be safe from her urges because her Highest Self was in charge of motor control: no urge could MAKE her use her arms, hands, mouth, and throat to gather food, put that food into her mouth, chew it, and swallow it.

These were (and still are) really exciting concepts for me. For several weeks after reading Brain Over Binge, I enjoyed a very new, very profound sense of security. I am more powerful than my urges! Those seemingly scary urges can't MAKE me do anything! I had never thought or felt that way before.

But as time went on, things got a little messier. I had trouble distancing myself from my urges. I had eating episodes that made me feel unsafe: even if my Highest Human Brain was more powerful, even if "loss of control" was only perceived loss of control and thus an illusion, my lower animal brain was one hell of a contender. Hansen's point, however--and it's a perspective I encountered again in Buddhist meditation training as well as in ACT--is that the tug of war is supposed to stop. It's not supposed to be lower brain versus higher brain in a gruesome fight to the death. A lighter touch is called for here.

On one level, I understood it then and I understand it now. On another level, don't I want my Highest Human Brain to triumph? Don't I want the old addiction wiring to fade away, to leave me in peace? Sure I do.

And that's a big part of the problem. After reading the ACT book, I had to face up to the fact that I never truly ACCEPTED my binge thoughts/urges/cravings. I wanted to disassociate from them and ignore them as fast as possible, because I thought that would de-fang them: Lower brain junk, not worth my attention, moving on... In other words, I would quickly acknowledge "I'm having the thought I want to binge on x or y" but only as an attempt to control or manipulate my internal experience by creating distance between myself and the thought. I used meditation practices with the same intent. In truth, I remained frightened of my thoughts and urges, irritated by their repeated intrusions into my consciousness, and very anxious to eliminate them once and for all.

Honestly, I'm still scared of my cravings and urges. I haven't learned to accept them "fully and without defense". I'm not yet "willing to welcome them unconditionally", in the parlance of the ACT book. (Again, because I still find them threatening and ugly.) I don't really want to listen to what they have to say. Thus far, I've tried to silence my lower brain and its contents in two ways: give it what it's asking for immediately (i.e. binge) so it won't go on howling, or disassociate from it as quickly as I can.

ACT suggests I stop trying to silence it, period. And to be sure, ACT does talk about creating distance between ourselves and our thoughts--the book I just finished calls this process "defusion", because you stop fusing with your thoughts and start looking AT them rather than FROM them. But before you can defuse from the thoughts in your head, you must accept what's there. You must give up the problematic habit of experiential avoidance--of attempting to avoid unpleasant thoughts, sensations, urges, feelings, etc.

So I'm working on acceptance right now. I'm trying to maintain a stance of curiosity: What are my binge thoughts? What are the urges? How can I experience them as fully as possible? How can I get acquainted on all levels? I admit I don't know exactly how to do this, but the ACT book has exercises I can try as a starting point. I'm hoping I can get to a place where I accept that the thoughts and urges might be with me forever, or at least might pop up regularly for the rest of my life. This kind of acceptance is supposed to happen without a hidden agenda; you aren't supposed to "accept" troublesome thoughts or urges on the basis that doing so will make them fade away, for example.

It's REALLY hard to not have a hidden agenda such as this.

I guess, right now, I have to accept how confusing and complicated this all seems to be. I have to accept that a problem 30 years in the making will not vanish overnight.

postscript: To be clear, Hansen's book is not the reason for my struggle and I don't mean to misrepresent anything the author has said. I may have missed some of the nuances of her arguments or I may be having trouble following through with her advice for any number of reasons (differences in temperament, differences between binge eating disorder and bulimia, etc.). I see ACT and Brain Over Binge to be highly complementary: they talk about many of the same ideas and techniques, but ACT provides specific exercises/practices to try while Brain Over Binge illustrates how the underlying principles can help someone overcome an eating disorder. It is an informative memoir rather than a step-by-step manual.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

FEW in review: Mar 19-25

Monday, March 19:
7:45 am - turkey jerky, coconut-almond KIND bar
12 - deli turkey slices with gouda cheese slice
note: I fell to pieces after this. Horrible day emotionally: feelings of depression, serious fighting with husband, PMS, and total lack of mindfulness or even the capacity to care about my eating and habit change goals.
many graham crackers with chocolate frosting--maybe 4 total crackers?
several pieces of toast with butter, jam, etc. I think 4 pieces.
It's not that I was trying to comfort myself with these foods so much as there wasn't much in the house, I was totally unwilling to cook, and this was the easiest thing to grab. So I did. I just didn't care.
turkey-guac-spinach-cheese sandwich that tasted like nothing, since I had been crying. (Food always tastes bland or terrible to me when I've been crying.)
Water? No idea. No exercise.

Tuesday, March 20:
KIND bar; 2 pieces of toast--one with butter, one with a slice of gouda
2 graham crackers with chocolate frosting
13 Cadbury mini-eggs (mindful) with a glass of milk. OVEREATING.
burrito made with chicken breast, green and red peppers, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and avocado. Good! I'd never made this before but it easy and filling.
went to BodyPump class
gym scale says: 254
Eating attentive today. Not enough water.

Wednesday, March 21:
half a turkey & bacon panini, half a small piece of quiche, coffee
chicken-pepper-onion-carrot burrito; 12 Cadbury mini eggs (mindful)
pasta with peppers, kale, and meatballs
KIND bar and a few more mini eggs. OVEREATING.
Eating mostly attentive, but had dinner in front of TV because I was with someone else who wanted to do so. I need to learn how to say no in these situations without feeling embarrassed. I still feel like a fat person that doesn't want to be difficult or weird about food and eating because doing so will draw more attention to my problems. One way of minimizing attention is to go with the flow and just do whatever everyone else is doing, whether it's actually working for me or not.

Thursday, March 22:
egg McMuffin, hash brown, orange juice
potato chips and Cadbury mini eggs (mindful)
burger, fries, and Sprite
Ate some fries while driving, which was inattentive eating. Experiencing more and stronger cravings than usual tonight, and there's mental chatter about not drinking enough water, not exercising enough, and everything else I'm not "enough" at in the dieting realm. Honestly, I think hormones are contributing to my moods and urges today.

Friday, March 23:
Cadbury mini eggs & chocolate malted candy eggs: BINGE.
KIND bar
roasted cauliflower
Can't remember the rest of my meals!

Saturday, March 24:
Cadbury mini eggs & chocolate malted eggs
horrible piece of cake with strawberry sauce and whipped cream: BINGING.
spaghetti with kale, peppers, cheese, meatballs; eating in front of TV.

Sunday, March 25:
ham, cheese, and baby spinach sandwich
angel food cake, strawberries, and whipped cream: BINGING.
half a mocha
leftover veggie spaghetti and meatballs

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I've been binging the last three days

And it's awful. It's not fun or pleasurable. It's highly distressing.

In terms of amounts, my binges are way smaller. The first two days, it was Easter candy and today it was angel food cake and whipped cream. But smaller amounts are little consolation. And frankly, I'm GLAD my standards are changing. I want them to. I'm glad I now find eating 6 servings of malted milk balls in a day to be alarming and depressing instead of no big deal. (The package contained a total of 7 servings, and it was hard for me to not finish the box just for the sake of finishing it.)

One of the frustrating things about blogging is that I say something one day, and truly mean it--such as when I declared the other day that "I no longer feel compelled to finish things just for the sake of finishing things"--and then days like today, I have to turn around and announce that I was wrong. Something will occur that shows me I haven't moved entirely past this issue or that behavioral tendency, and then I feel embarrassed about my earlier statements. I try to be conservative in my proclamations to avoid this very thing, but it still happens.

How did I fall into binging again? Well first, I felt urges to binge for three straight days. On the evening of the third day, I developed a killer headache. That was my breaking point. I was beyond frustrated that the urges did not abate for three days despite my efforts to ignore them, neutralize them, distract myself, calm myself through meditation...none of my regular techniques worked. I was already raw from that, and add a bad headache and a really monstrous period and I just didn't care anymore. I wanted relief from the urges to binge NOW and there was one surefire way to accomplish that: binge.

So, I now know what my current breaking point is. It used to be I couldn't withstand the urges for mere hours. Now I can tolerate up to three days of irritating urges before giving in, but I can't tolerate four days or five days. And I guess can't tolerate the urges coupled with severe physical pain. When I say "can't", I mean that my firsthand experience indicates I cannot YET do it; that my skills and strength aren't sufficient for that level of challenge.

The next time I face a real challenging stretch of days, I may do much better. Maybe I'll be better at disassociating from the urges, better at calming myself, or better at interrupting my behavioral patterns by then.

One might wonder why I felt urges to binge for three straight days in the first place. I think many of the things that have historically triggered my urges to binge simply happened simultaneously: hormones and a very atypical period, problems in two of my closest relationships, health worries, exhaustion from special errands I was doing for someone this week, rumination over career concerns, and more. It was an uncharacteristically bad week. Yet these triggers didn't make a binge inevitable. All these triggers would have amounted to nothing had I dealt with the urges they sparked in a more skillful way.

All this has reminded me of what Hansen says in Brain Over Binge--

1. Life is messy and it's impossible to control or avoid triggers, especially when you have lots of potential triggers. So the answer lies in dealing effectively with the urges you experience, not in directly managing/tackling triggers.

2. I binged to get rid of my urges to binge. The urge to binge IS the disorder itself.

3. By binging, I reinforced my brain's problematic wiring. Each day of binging was more extreme than the day before, and I felt increasingly out of touch with my Highest Human Brain/Highest Self as the binging went on.

I must become calm and non-reactive in the face of my urges. I'm trying to figure out how to do that consistently. It's led me to try meditation, work on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercises, and more. I marvel at how Hansen was able to just...stop. So quickly. She understood how her brain was tripping her up, decided to look at the urges she experienced through a different lens, and made rapid progress from there. If I play the comparison game too much, I start to get scared that I'm "doing it wrong" or that "this approach won't REALLY work for me." But rationally I know that just because something is difficult doesn't mean my approach is faulty. (Quite the opposite, usually!)

I admit I miss the honeymoon period I enjoyed when I first finished reading the book: things seemed very clear and easy to me for a few weeks. I still consider Brain Over Binge a fantastic resource and a trusty map forward! But more and more, I feel like the real work is just beginning for me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Julia Kozerski

I just saw these amazing photos-- self-portraits taken by a young woman who has lost 160 pounds. Her honesty and bravery amaze me, and she was featured on today.

Check out her work!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not-so-merry go round

I went to the grocery store nearest my house for the first time in awhile. I used to get most of my binge foods from there, but this store was never my choice for actual comprehensive grocery shopping because their stuff is overpriced.

The store was always good for picking up an item or two in a pinch, though. Yesterday I needed to pick up milk and tortillas quickly, so I went there. I also knew I wanted Cadbury mini eggs; I love them and enjoy a bag around this time every year. I entered and walked to the left, through the produce section, then looped around the perimeter of the store to get to the tortillas and the dairy aisle at the rear of the store.

Later, when I reflected on having walked to the left, I was surprised and pleased. I used to enter and head right immediately and unthinkingly. The ice cream aisle is the rightmost aisle in the store, so I would go there and check out if Ben and Jerry were dealing anything new before proceeding to the other sections of the store. I would do this whether I was on an official binge run or had come to pick up garlic and oranges.

After my grand entrance, the trip still had its little challenges. I did look at many of my old favorites and feelings of longing did crop up. I wanted to buy several things and not necessarily polish everything off in an hour of frenzied eating, but at least sample a bunch of different sweets. This is that new gray area I keep talking about--where binge eating tendencies blend into overeating tendencies and I'm unsure what to call certain things. Was that an urge to binge? Was it a craving to overeat?

Does it matter? Probably not. Neither one should be acted upon.

I considered many purchases: various types of Easter candy, Little Debbie Nutty bars, ice cream and popsicles. But nothing was compelling enough, besides those Cadbury mini eggs I had already planned to buy. And the thought kept occurring, as I looked at one thing after another, that I could always come back and get it later if I really wanted it. The limited edition ice cream will be there tomorrow. I could find all the same Easter candy next week. And they'll still be selling Nutty bars when I'm dead. Those aren't going anywhere. As I passed on each thing, I thought "Eh. Maybe later."

That's a new thought for me. I mean, I always "understood" the food wasn't going anywhere, but I'd tell myself that--and tell myself I could get it later--in the harsh tone of an exasperated adult talking to a bratty child. In this internal conversation, the adult was mean and impatient, and the child didn't really believe the adult. 9.9 times out of 10, I would end up buying the food.

Last night and earlier today I was patting myself on the back for my unattached attitude in the store. More mental and behavioral progress! Hooray! But then tonight--oh, you guessed it!--I felt the urge to go buy a box of Nutty bars and eat half the box before my husband gets home from work. A clear urge to binge. I believe I know what triggered this urge and I'm not acting upon it--in fact, I noted my unpleasant urge and then promptly sat down to write this post to pass the time until my husband arrives--but I felt dismayed at having experienced such an urge at all. And I felt scared, like this (fleeting!) craving was proof that a potential binge still lurks around every corner.

Yet reacting emotionally and labeling an urge as "bad" or "threatening", or labeling oneself as a failure for having various urges, is exactly the kind of thing that one must gently train themselves to stop doing.

Round and round and round it goes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

FEW in review: March 12-18

This week I walked outside four times (after months of practically no outdoor activity), went clothes shopping, and received the results of my annual physical as well as an ultrasound I had done because of ongoing weird sensations along the right side of my abdomen and pelvis. As before, they couldn't find anything wrong and so I still have no explanation. It's very much a relief and frustrating at the same time.

I was told, however, that I need to increase my HDL cholesterol and decrease my triglycerides. I know what I have to do to accomplish that. And despite taking 2,000 IUs of Vitamin D a day, my levels are half of what they should be. I can't wait to get some sun this summer; in the meantime, I have to up my supplementation.

I didn't go to the gym all week, but my home scale continues to say 255. It bounces around a bit, but basically I've been neither gaining nor losing the last few weeks. I was impatient to see further losses initially, but have since decided that there are times when maintaining is victory enough--and also, that focusing on the further normalization of my eating is the best way to nudge my weight downwards. Ruminating over the actual numbers accomplishes little to nothing.

Monday, March 12:
noon - open faced sandwich of roast beef, gouda, spinach and mustard;
chocolate banana whey protein smoothie
5 - one chocolate cupcake with lots of raspberries, strawberries, and whipped cream. This was so good. And it's the only way I enjoy whole, uncooked raspberries as of now (pairing it with some light whipped cream).
7 - honey roasted peanuts, salmon, tartar sauce, and a steamed artichoke. Big disappointment! It was my first time making artichokes and these were so small that they had no flesh on the leaves, and no heart! They were also slightly bitter, so I probably steamed them too long. I will try again when I find bigger, meatier artichokes in the store. I really want to like them.
Took a lovely, invigorating walk outside on a path I've been meaning to try for literally years now. It was the highlight of my day!
Eating attentive today.

Tuesday, March 13:
2 slices of roast beef and a slice of smoked gouda; a few strawberries
2 chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and some whipped cream in the middle of one (like a homemade Hostess cupcake)-felt sorta sick afterwards. Too much.
lamb with tzatziki sauce; broccoli and spinach sauteed in olive oil with sundried tomatoes, garlic, and feta. Eating attentive today.
Walked the same outdoor path as yesterday, and loved it.

Wednesday, March 14:
scrambled eggs
chocolate cupcake with frosting and walnuts
leftover broccoli and one small piece of lamb
bread, fish, and french fries. ick.
Eating attentive.

Thursday, March 15:
almond croissant
chips; Hershey cookies n' cream bar; 2 little boxes of nerds
cheez-its and a glass of soda
grilled cheese and tomato soup
Eating attentive.

Friday, March 16:
ham and cheese on wheat; applesauce cup
peach smoothie; blueberry bagel with blueberry cream cheese
popcorn; turkey jerky
Eating attentive, except for some popcorn during a movie.

Saturday, March 17:
applesauce cup; milk
bagel and cream cheese; chicken gorgonzola--contained tomatoes and mushrooms
popcorn; soda
KIND bar; sloppy joe
walked outside, estimated 15-20 minutes
Eating inattentive today. Ate dinner with a movie going, and snacked while writing. DO NOT want to go back to this.

Sunday, March 18:
turkey jerky and some potato chips
chicken, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus
graham crackers with chocolate frosting; milk
Eating attentive today.
took a walk outside, estimated 20-30 minutes

Friday, March 16, 2012

Clothing, priorities, ACT, and identifying the animal brain

I did some shopping yesterday for bras and walking shoes. I also bought a couple of tops. It’s always a painful experience. I’ve got tons of mental baggage in the clothing/appearance department and I’ve also got several undeniable cosmetic challenges—horrible skin and hair (hirsutism) problems being the tip of the iceberg. It makes me feel monstrous.

I have other challenges that are more run of the mill—finding stuff that is simultaneously age appropriate, modest, and aesthetically pleasing to me can be difficult. I require plus size pants that are petite length; I require wide shoes and will not torture myself with really high heels or with body shapers like Spanx; I don’t show cleavage and in fact cover as much skin as possible, yet I don’t want to dress like my grandmother, either. Most clothing, undergarments, and shoes do not work for me on one level or another, but hell, I know I’m not the only woman that feels this way.

Even though I don’t enjoy shopping, I’m trying to move beyond the sports bras, sloppy hoodies, and baggy jeans that I’ve been wearing the last few years. I’m trying to build a small workable wardrobe and wear jewelry again, something I used to love doing. When my fingers got too big for my wedding and engagement rings, I stopped wearing ALL jewelry. On some level, I think I didn’t feel like I deserved to wear jewelry anymore. I was so ashamed of myself. My rings still don’t fit and I’m still unhappy about that, but I think it’s time for me to move forward as best as I can.

I was planning to do a multi-part series on clothing, cosmetics, and beauty: all the challenges I face, my thoughts on the plus-size fashion industry, my thoughts on materialism, vanity, social class, and identity, where I’m actually shopping now, and so forth. Last night I wrote an outline for these posts.

Then I realized what a big distraction it all was. I can only devote so much of my time and energy to this issue and I’d be better off spending my time a.) actually shopping and finding what I need, even though that’s less fun than writing, and b.) working at normalizing my eating so I can lose weight, because the smaller I become, the easier it is to dress myself. As I go down the scale I have more options, things fit better, my feet are less swollen, “real” bras (meaning bras that are not sports bras) are less painful to find and wear, the inner thigh areas of my pants are less likely to disintegrate, I don’t have to pile on as many layers in an attempt to mask fat rolls, and I could go on.

It comes down to priorities, again and again. There’s a million things we could all potentially do, but which of them are the most important? Is taking pictures of my outfits for this blog the best use of my time? I don’t think so. What’s the endgame there, anyway? Do I want people to stroke my ego and tell me what great taste I have? Do I need people to pat me on the head? With much of what people do on their weight loss blogs, I’m not sure what the point is, what the underlying motivation is and whether it’s truly healthy…but I can definitely get sucked into doing what other people are doing in a mindless way if I’m not careful.

There is so much power in clarity, in knowing what's important to YOU. My thirtieth birthday is this summer and I’m getting clearer about what I’d like to accomplish by that milestone. My two objectives—my two true priorities—are earning money as a writer by age 30 and being further along in my eating disorder recovery and general mental health progress by age 30. That’s it.

The writing I hope to earn money from has nothing to do with this blog, so I won’t go into that now.

As far as general mental health goes, I will be continuing with meditation whilst bringing psychodynamic psychotherapy treatment to a close around my birthday. I’ve been with my current therapist for almost four years now and while it has been helpful, I do not think I can accomplish much more with her or through the psychodynamic model.

If I resume therapy in the future, which is entirely possible because depression tends to recur, I want to seek out someone that specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I’m ordering some books on ACT that will allow me to get started on my own now; when practiced without the guidance of a therapist, ACT is called Acceptance and Commitment Training. I’m really excited to learn more. ACT and Buddhism share many concepts and techniques, but because ACT is entirely secular, I think it might be easier for me to work with long-term.

ACT is also very much in line with the Brain Over Binge approach—so much so, I’m going to e-mail the author about it. She doesn’t mention it in her book, but I think she’d find it highly relevant.

General mental health and eating disorder recovery go hand in hand, but what should the next stage in my eating disorder recovery be? Well, I feel like a broken record: I want to feel confident that the binging is behind me. I want to know that I don’t fall for the antics of my animal brain anymore.

My classic binges are gone and what remains are behavioral episodes that could be considered overeating, but perhaps could also be considered a new, milder form of binging. No matter what you call it, the animal brain is getting its way in these episodes and I don’t want to reinforce such patterns. So I’m drawing an (admittedly arbitrary) line to gain some clarity, some certainty that the lower brain isn’t running the show: on an average day with no special social events, any urge to eat more than one sweet in a sane portion size will be viewed as neurological junk emanating from my lower brain. As both Kathryn Hansen has said on her blog and a helpful commenter has said on mine just the other day, it’s good to decide the portion size in advance, before you start eating. That way, if you eat more than you set out to, you know your animal brain has won that round. It’s important to face that reality when it happens.

Yesterday, I had a rich almond croissant for breakfast. In the afternoon, I had a candy bar. And at night, I had two little boxes of Nerds candy. With the new "line" in place, any urge to eat sweets after that croissant would have been viewed as silly mental chatter to be ignored. It was a regular Thursday, after all.

However, when I travel to visit my family for Easter in a couple weeks, I might have more than one dessert on a given day. Normal eaters do this sometimes during travel and during the holidays. I know many different people will be having us over for lunch and dinner and will be offering us baked goods and holiday candy. I just have to decide how much is reasonable before I start eating, and stick to that. It’s the mindless and compulsive shoveling of food that is the problem.

Note that I’m not making hard and fast rules, exactly. This is slightly different. I’m trying to establish definitions more than anything else: what behaviors do I define as normal and healthy and acceptable and coming from my higher brain, and what behaviors do I define as stemming from my lower brain’s tricks and antics? If I cave to the urges emanating from my animal brain, I need to figure out why it happened and how I can prevent it from happening again. This is not on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon stuff. I’m sick of crafting programs and systems with rules that are practically made to be broken. They make ME feel broken when I inevitably screw up, and it's too discouraging. I like to think that I'm not broken, but I am undergoing a re-wiring or re-programming of sorts so that I can function better.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Binging and re-wiring myself: an update

I'm part of the way through a massive brain re-wiring job, and my mixed eating behavior reflects that.

There have been days over the past few weeks where I've wondered if I've changed at all, because it's still normal for me to eat 2 or 3 cupcakes at a time instead of 1 (or none). I often don't want to slow down and eat mindfully; I still want to overeat; I still want to eat when I'm not hungry. I overate ice cream straight from the carton last week and felt out of control, like I "couldn't" stop.

But there HAVE been changes, and I suspect I have been taking them for granted. I opt to panic about what hasn't changed instead of appreciating what has changed.

One of the things that has changed is I no longer feel compelled to finish something just to "be done with it" or "get it out of the house." Binge eaters, past or present, know what I'm talking about. You eat all of the ice cream because knowing it's in your freezer drives you crazy. You bake a cake and polish it off the next day, just so it's over and no longer in the house. Who cares whether eating it is enjoyable--you just have this weird drive to eat it all and put it behind you. And you definitely want to be the one to have the last piece/scoop/portion.

That's definitely changed. I overate that ice cream last week, but I didn't finish it. There was a serving or so left in the bottom of the carton. It sat in the freezer for a couple of days. Then my brother-in-law came over and in the course of our snacking and visiting, I offered him the remainder of the ice cream. He finished it and I felt nothing--none of my old suffering or weirdness. I just didn't care. To recap, this was a two-part victory: not caring that uneaten ice cream was sitting in my freezer, and not caring that someone else finished it.

I recently baked cupcakes and ate spoonfuls of batter in my usual compulsive way during the preparation, which was disheartening. But I also froze many of the finished cupcakes so we could have them slowly over the coming days/weeks, and that's a very new development. True, I tend to eat them two at a time, or to smother them with whipped cream, which doesn't help with weight loss, but I don't feel tortured by the cupcakes sitting in my freezer. I don't care whether my husband eats the last few cupcakes. I can always make more.

Another change: I often want to overeat or eat multiple sweets a day, but I never feel tempted to carry out a classic binge. The fact that I don't want to buy a package of cookies and a pint of ice cream and a candy bar, and then eat it all in 45 minutes in front of the TV, in secret, is a major development! That doesn't even sound fun or pleasurable to me anymore.

But overeating? Eating in the absence of hunger? Eating dessert with lunch and then again after dinner? Still fun. Still pleasurable. I re-read "Brain Over Binge" over the last few days and did some thinking about this. And I realized that my complete recovery from disordered eating is going to look a little different than the author's, and it will take longer, and that's okay. The author was a naturally thin athlete with normal eating behavior before her bulimia took hold. Once she stopped binging and purging, she returned to the normal eating patterns of her childhood and early teenage years and her weight stabilized around 120 pounds. That's about how much she weighed before her disordered eating began. She sort of came full circle.

I cannot remember a time I was a normal eater or a normal weight. I weighed somewhere in the 135-145 range in 4th grade (and got my period when I was ten and a half, for what it's worth). I have been overeating and eating without hunger since early childhood. Full-blown binging came later, during my teenage years, but I had about 15 years of overeating wired into my brain before the binging even started.

So I've come to understand that even if I stop binging, I'm still going to want to overeat. It's a separate problem from the binging, in a way. I have to re-wire myself in that area too, and until I do, the excess eating will keep me fat. I'm facing a two-part recovery at the very least: address the binging, then address the many forms of overeating. It's going to take awhile, and so will arriving at a reasonable weight.

(Also? I'm straying off topic here, but I've got no idea what my "right" weight is. I know it's not 250 and I know it's not 120. I have felt pretty damn good at 175 before, during a period of dieting in college, and I would feel downright slim at 150. But it's all conjecture; I've got no idea what I can maintain in a healthy, relaxed fashion throughout my thirties and beyond. Anyway, I've just set my sights on 200 for now.)

There is some ambiguity in terms of when overeating crosses over into binging, even though I've previously attempted to delineate clearly what constitutes a binge for me. Some of what I used to call binging, I'm starting to view as overeating. I hope that soon, I will feel confident that the binging is truly behind me and that I can tackle the overeating piece of the puzzle without it backfiring.

Monday, March 12, 2012

FEW in review: Mar 5-11

So, no exercise this week. I felt a cold coming on and slept a bunch; the cold never developed but my right ear is still hurting off and on. (I had a bad ear infection over the winter and my right eardrum burst. Doctor told me it'll take a while to heal fully.)

My home scale says 255. I'm checking it too frantically and too often for my taste. Something's going on there.

But things aren't all bad...I have enough courage and energy to try to improve my appearance once again, so I've ordered some new clothes for spring. I'll be writing more about that soon.

Also, a small tweak in my routine is working out well for me. After a long stretch of not drinking enough water, it occurred to me to make sure my water bottle is cleaned, filled, and sitting next to my thyroid medication so that I start drinking from it first thing in the morning. My bottle holds 20 ounces and I try to drink at least 60 ounces each day. I usually chug about 10 ounces with my morning medication, and I finish off another 10 with breakfast. Being 1/3 of the way "done" so early in the morning encourages me to keep going; it's pretty easy to drink another 20 before lunch and another 20 before dinner. Before I started doing this, I'd often drink a bit of water from a cup to take my medicine but then put off cleaning my water bottle until later in the day (a task I hate for some reason). The late start would make it difficult to get in my 60 ounces. Or I wouldn't clean it at all and would instead drink out of glasses sporadically throughout the day. That made it hard to know how much I was drinking; I'm sure I typically drank less than 60 ounces on those days. I like my new approach better. Hooray for little adjustments!

I'm leaving my notes for the week in their original form; I experienced turmoil and see no reason to whitewash.

Monday, March 5:
11:45 am - fresh juice made of carrots, celery, apple, and beet;
chicken noodle soup, KIND bar
4 pm - slice of pizza eaten in a hurry in the car (not attentive)
6 pm - devil's food cupcake and pistachio cupcake (attentive but not truly mindful...then again I was literally in Grand Central Station. It's challenging.)
10:45 pm - 2 fried eggs, 2 slices of Canadian bacon, 1 slice of cheese on 2 pieces of toast. not much water today.

Tuesday, March 6:
12:30 pm - egg white salad on a piece of toast;
strawberries with whipped cream (disappointing)
4:45 pm - KIND bar; salad with spinach, one hardboiled egg, 2 strips of turkey bacon, cherry tomatoes, and olive oil/balsamic/dijon mustard dressing
10 to 11 pm - a small amount of barely sweet hot cocoa; half a little snack size packet of honey roasted peanuts; piece of turkey bacon with a piece of cheddar cheese
Did not go to BodyPump because I felt like I was coming down with a cold.
eating attentive today

Wednesday, March 7:
8 am - half a bowl of split pea soup; 1/3 chicken panini with mushrooms and spinach; half a bagel with cream cheese
4 pm - the other half of the honey roasted peanuts packet
6 pm - southern greens blend with onions, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, Canadian bacon
9:30 pm - grilled salmon on a piece of bread with a little mayo; white bean/pumpkin/onion/mushroom/Canadian bacon stew
eating attentive today

Thursday, March 8:
10:30 am - leftover white bean stew
1:30 pm - KIND bar
5 pm - leftover southern greens blend; hard boiled egg, 2 pieces of toast, and way too much lemon gingersnap ice cream
9 pm - snack size cashews packet
11 pm - more ice cream. I feel out of control again. Why can't I get back to that easy, relaxed state I was in? Why is it hard to eat desserts mindfully all of a sudden? I'm worrying about my weight and I think it's tripping me up and making it harder to focus on slow and steady behavioral/eating changes.

Friday, March 9:
8:30 am - fried egg, slice of Canadian bacon, half slice of cheddar cheese,
two pieces of toast (one with butter)
2:30 pm - 2 pieces of wheat bread, roast beef, slice of cheddar, baby spinach
6:30 to 8:30 pm - grilled chicken breast on half a pita with spinach, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce; 3 homemade chocolate cupcakes (one plain, one with whipped cream and raw walnuts, one with whipped cream and plain raspberries) along with some batter. It wasn't mindful, either. I don't know what to think anymore. The rest of my eating today was attentive and I drank 60 ounces of water.

Saturday, March 10:
snack pack of honey roasted peanuts and half a slice of cheddar
roast beef sandwich with spinach; chocolate-raspberry-whipped cream parfait--I slowed down during the second half of this and eased into mindfulness a bit more.
Later, with company over, I had more of this in a fairly mindless fashion.
Turkey, bell pepper, and black bean tacos with guacamole and sour cream
2 pieces of cinnamon toast
70+ ounces of water

Sunday, March 11:
potatoes with two thin slices of Canadian bacon and sour cream
snack size honey roasted peanuts and 3/4 small piece of cake--pretty mindful
fried fish and curry roasted cauliflower
60 ounces of water; eating attentive today

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First month of meditation

I don't expect my meditation notes to be of interest to anyone, but I like to keep track on my blog because my desire to stop binge eating is the thing that led me to try meditation in earnest.

At one month in, I've had some interesting, positive experiences and personal observations. I've also had really rough patches. Often I don't want to meditate, even though I have already witnessed how beneficial it can be. This underscores a general tendency of mine: I tend to undervalue experiential learning and overvalue reading and abstract thinking, and the way I spend my time reflects that. Also, I have a tendency to get too far ahead of myself and that tripped me up at the very end of February and beginning of March. I read too much, grappled with aspects of Buddhist philosophy that I don't need to worry about at this stage, and temporarily lost sight of the fact that I set out to stop binging, not to become a Buddhist. I absolutely, 100% knew this would happen because religion is such a loaded thing for me. I got so freaked out and frustrated that I came close to chucking the whole practice. Luckily, I had anticipated this possible reaction when signing up for the meditation course I'm currently taking, and had decided in advance that I would think critically, as ever, and discard anything I disagreed with--that it needn't be all or nothing.

Meditation is hard work. Engaging with ancient philosophies and practices in a thoughtful way is hard work, especially when those philosophies and practices are foreign to you. But I think this is really important work for me to do.

February 2012 Practices

Feb 3rd: evening breathing meditation session. Purged 14 unnecessary items from house.

Feb 4th: no meditation.

Feb 5th: did my readings, but no practice. Today's events and my reaction to them drove home the fact that I DO need to strengthen my brain with meditation, and for more reasons than just my impulsive eating.

Feb 6th: I understand the importance of developing my practice, yet feel resistance to sitting down and observing my breathing for 20 or more minutes!

Feb 7th: evening breathing meditation

Feb 8th: readings

Feb 9th: morning breathing meditation; readings

Feb 10th: short morning breathing meditation

Feb 11th: metta (lovingkindness) meditation; readings

Feb 12th: short metta

Feb 13th: morning metta; readings

Feb 14th: morning breathing; readings

Feb 15th: readings; evening metta

Feb 16th: readings; evening metta (and watched a great documentary about the Buddha!)

Feb 17th: readings

Feb 18th: morning breathing; readings

Feb 19th: evening metta

Feb 20th: readings

Feb 21st: readings; morning metta; evening metta, evening breathing

Feb 22nd: readings; evening breathing (I think!)

Feb 23rd: nothing

Feb 24th: readings. Seems I've hit a rough patch with the actual meditation. Frustration and boredom is common and I've got to work through that.

Feb 25th: readings

Feb 26th: actual proper seated metta meditation in the morning! I was so pleased! Plus daily readings.

Feb 27th: readings

Feb 28th: readings and evening breathing

Feb 29th: half a morning metta (was interrupted); afternoon body awareness (just something I sort of made up on the spot; I'm sure there is a formal practice I can get into later); purged 15 unnecessary items from the house.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

FEW in review: Feb 27-Mar 4

This is what it is. I feel lost in regards to food, exercise, meditation, the whole thing. I wish I could hide away from the world, re-read Brain Over Binge, and get back into the groove immediately. But I know I cannot put life on hold every time I experience a rough patch; if a person cannot continue to do the smart thing(s) when life gets hectic, they have no chance of maintaining weight loss for long (if they manage to lose weight in the first place!). And yeah, life feels hectic right now. I'm overwhelmed and my eating behavior is getting sloppy as a direct consequence.

I hate to spout cliches, but for now I'm reduced to saying "this too shall pass."

Monday, February 27th:
2 pieces of broccoli frittata
salad--lamb's lettuce, turkey, feta, carrots, pomegranate seeds, celery
1.5 pieces of veggie pizza
blood orange Chobani yogurt with walnuts; KIND bar
5 Oreos with milk in the afternoon and a red velvet cupcake at night

Tuesday, February 28th:
1'ish KIND bar
3 pm: 5 Oreos with milk (mindfulness practice); 2 thin pork cutlets
6 pm: celery with pb and raisins
7:30 pm: BodyPump class
10:30 pm: more celery sticks with pb and raisins; 2 thin pork cutlets, small potato with butter; Mediterranean style greens--containing onions, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, oregano, basil
estimated 50 ounces of water; eating attentive today
gym scale says: 255

Wednesday, February 29th:
8:30 am: went out for breakfast with my husband and it was so nice. Half a bagel with cream cheese; half a small turkey & cucumber sandwich; half a small cup of white bean soup; most of a small cranberry-orange-almond tart; very lightly sweetened small hazelnut cappuccino
2 pm: 2 thin pork cutlets; Mediterranean style greens; small potato w/ butter; celery stick with pb & raisins
8 pm: Chobani vanilla yogurt with stewed strawberries and walnuts (mindfulness practice)
10 pm: few bites of a bison burger and half an order of curly fries
about 55 ounces of water; all eating attentive

Thursday, March 1st:
1:45 pm: scoop of coconut macaroon ice cream (15 min. mindfulness practice)
Mediterranean greens and potatoes; half a celery stick with pb & raisins
bison burrito with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, yellow bell pepper, cheese, sour cream
blood orange yogurt with stewed strawberries
35 minutes on the treadmill
eating attentive; not much water today
later: more ice cream and Oreos and a glass of milk. A binge.

Friday, March 2nd:
ice cream
chocolate chips
sweet drink from Starbucks-some white chocolate thing
Note: don't remember what else, as it's now Sunday and I'm trying to recall.
After Thursday night's binge, I just gave up and stopped paying attention, stopped trying for a full day.

Saturday, March 3rd:
chicken salad on bread
KIND bar and a few raw almonds
fresh juice: beets, apple, ginger. Shockingly, the food highlight of my day!
buttered toast and 3/4 of a skinny vanilla latte
part of an order of fries and half a pulled pork sandwich
very little water; eating not that attentive. Traveling and social interaction a factor today, plus still out of sorts from Thursday and Friday.

Sunday, March 4th:
chicken salad on one piece of bread; KIND bar
strawberries and hot chocolate with whipped cream--not mindful, though
grilled cheese sandwich
toast and a Chobani blood orange yogurt
2 bison and vegetable tacos
water? and semi-attentive eating.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Information and Fear Hangover

Well, I did it again.

My little celebration of positive changes and 20 pounds gone lasted a few hours, and then the next challenge presented itself.

Some history: I have these nagging unpleasant sensations throughout the right side of my abdomen, and some swelling around my right ribcage. This has been going on since mid-2009 and it scares me. I've had tests done: bloodwork, CT scans, a special gallbladder test, ultrasound, endoscopy. I've consulted with my internist, gynecologist, and gastroenterologist. They can't find anything wrong with me. They did notice my spleen is slightly enlarged, but I feel nothing out of the ordinary on the left side of my abdomen where the spleen is located. My bathroom habits and periods are the same as they were before these sensations started (sorry if TMI).

After all those tests resulted in no answers, I just went on with my life. I felt the sensations--ranging from weird to annoying to very occasionally slightly painful--every single day. My upper right abdomen remains bloated and tender to the touch. It's been just over a year since my last round of tests and inquiries and my side has been bothering me much more lately. I'm grappling with a sense of panic, shame, and regret for not continuing to pursue answers. I worry something is actually terribly wrong with me and I'm gearing up for another round of medical fun, starting with an annual physical and going from there. This time I'm going to push harder for explanations and solutions.

All this is background to what I really sat down to write about. Yesterday, I was thinking for the millionth time about trying an elimination diet to see if that could help my symptoms. Perhaps I could eliminate dairy for a few weeks and observe, and then repeat the experiment with wheat/gluten. At the same time, I think about the reality of binge eating disorder, the way I'm JUST NOW starting to get better and normalize my relationship with all foods, and the fact that forbidding something as common as dairy or wheat might create a real mental and behavioral backlash. I don't want that to happen.

A bit later, I found myself on the Whole9 website. These folks have created a paleo elimination diet called the Whole30. I must have browsed the site for hours, even though I had already familiarized myself with it the first time I researched paleo and primal eating in the middle of last year.

By the time I was done reading, I had concluded I was a weak piece of shit, will probably end up with a cancer diagnosis next month, and will die shortly thereafter. Or if that doesn't happen, I will likely develop multiple sclerosis by age 32 and ruin my husband's life. That I'm killing myself with every bite of grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes I take and if something bad happens to me, I completely deserve it because I completely caused it.

I went to bed miserable and scared, and did not get up until this afternoon. I did not want to deal with my thoughts, feelings, or life in general. When I finally got up and got moving around, I honestly felt hungover from the night before and the first thing I wanted to do is eat both pints of ice cream in my freezer. Two unopened pints of premium, limited edition flavor ice cream that have been sitting there, ignored, for days. That I had been looking forward to savoring at some point, but had no urgency to eat whatsoever. (And these are the kinds of changes I've been so pleased with lately!)

I quickly realized this was a reaction to the fear-inducing material I had read the night before. Either I was starting to think about a strict elimination diet at the back of my mind and therefore creating the urge to rebel or "get it while I still can"--or I was wanting to numb myself from the panic I'm feeling about my health and my apparently suicidal eating of black beans and yogurt. Either way, I did not act upon my fleeting thoughts. I did not binge.

I'm sure there is value in the Whole9 approach. I'm sure they are right about several things. But I am also sure of the following:

I don't respond well to a tough love approach. If you check out the site I'm talking about you will quickly pick up on the tough love/dietary badass tone that many people dig and that I personally find exhausting. I take the "know thyself" bit seriously, and I do know this about myself.

Fear and stress are bad for your health. Surely as bad as canola oil or brown rice. Enough said.

Fear, guilt, and shame are not good foundations for behavioral change in most people. Fear has sparked me into action before, sure, but never sustained action leading to long-term change. And I'm seeking sustainable actions and long-term changes!

Lots of well-meaning, knowledgeable people don't know anything about binge eating disorder and therefore are not equipped to advise someone with it. Even the experts "don't know what they don't know", so to speak. It still amazes me how rare it is to find someone talking about obesity and binge eating and general health in holistic brain-body terms. In most discussions, it seems we are either all brains or all body.

So, I need to go to the doctor. I may experiment with reducing or eliminating dairy and/or wheat and/or gluten in the future, on my own terms. I cannot disrupt the progress I'm making with my eating disorder right now. And I need to stay far, far away from nutrition websites. Especially the badass kind.

Edit: In the spirit of honesty and also because my food record for the week clearly states it, I want to record here that I did binge later in the day, after writing this post. Nothing like my old binges in terms of amounts, but I would classify it as a binge nonetheless because of my mindset and approach at the time of eating.