Or it could be called Setback no 4836.
So it’s all going well and I beginning to think I am getting somewhere. I am putting together a way of being around food (in my head) that works for me. I understand I need to work out what I want to eat, give myself a reasonable amount, leave some on the plate (whenever possible) knowing I can have more later. Nothing is forbidden: I can have it but do I want it? I understand I eat to reward myself, when I am bored and when I know I haven’t had much food that day regardless of whether I am hungry and in hundreds of other ways that I haven’t discovered yet. I know that food is my first go-to drug, the thing that can make me feel happy, damp down my feelings, stop me being bored. I know I want food to get back into its box: be my fuel, enjoyable fuel, but not the answer to all or any of my problems.
So what happened? I had a good day at work, not thinking about food for one second, until I got in the car to drive home when I started thinking about what I would like to eat when I got home. I chose something healthy, ate that when I got back (whilst watching tv – no, no) and then ate a whole bag of chocolate. As soon as I had finished I felt awful: I had stopped halfway through but then got a thought that said “well you might as well finish them so they won’t be there to tempt you”. I don’t even like chocolate that much, especially the chocolate that I was eating, but I felt compelled to eat them all. Why? I think I was considering that I deserved them as I had had a healthy meal (without protein) that didn’t fill me.
Anyway I am not going to dwell on it: I did something I don’t want to do but I am just human even though I don’t like myself very much at the moment. I will get over it.
I’ve realised the purpose of this blog is to eat without rules: if I want chocolate I’ll eat chocolate, if I want a salad I’ll have one, but I need something now to tide me over. I think it’s too much for me, as an ex-dieter, to go from living and eating by someone else’s rules, to be told what, when and how to eat, to go completely off piste and be able to eat anything I like, as much as I like, as often as I like (I’m feeling quite panicky just typing that!). It feels just like a kid in a sweet shop: allowed to have anything but overwhelmed by choice, greed and the fear this is only temporary and it will be taken away again. So it’s too much of a leap for me: I understand that people should be able to listen to their bodies and eat what their bodies need without guilt but going there straight away is like going from A to Z without looking at anything in the middle.
So I am giving myself a framework (better than rules as I can deviate from it without guilt), something that will help me keep going on my road to “normal” (for me) eating. The thing that I am doing more and more is leaving food on my plate. I have become good at eating more slowly, putting the food down between bites, it’s beginning to feel natural, so natural in fact that I don’t have to always remind myself to do it. So that is a positive.
On the list of things I still have to work at are understanding my own hunger: I think I’ve said before that I can feel “starving” but that “I need to eat something soon to stop me getting to starving” is proving more difficult. I suppose my years of dieting have made the feeling of being famished quite familiar when I was using willpower to push through another set of rules but everyday hunger? Not sure. I eat meals at certain times, usually, but then other days I don’t so it’s hard to pin it down. Yesterday for example I went for breakfast with my son, left food on my plate and didn’t even think about lunch but when I was preparing dinner there was a voice in my head telling me I hadn’t eaten since early morning so I deserved a snack. That tempting voice is still the most dangerous for me: the one that knows exactly what I have eaten and tells me to have more. So I had some chocolate (but split a bar with my partner)and later had crisps (because I could). I managed to escape the post-eating guilt but was left wondering why I did it? Something else to add to the mix?
I’ve carried on watching other people with food and I think it’s teaching me about how I am around eating. I spent the weekend at a conference and during group meals I noticed quite a few things:
1 the overweight people nearly always ate everything on their plates;
2 they seemed to ignore the food whilst they were eating (they weren’t focussing on it, enjoying the flavours etc, but they were talking as they ate);
3 A lot of them had some sort of “healthy” food thing going on. What I mean is they would be very vocal about not eating sugar for example or declaring themselves vegetarian or vegan. It was like some sort of “virtue signalling” regarding food which seemed to be totally against how they were really eating;
4 As a continuation of 3 they would order a so-called healthy option. They wouldn’t allow themselves the chips, creamy sauces, gorgeous puddings but would go for the salad, sorbet, fruit salad but eat it with little enjoyment (or so it appeared) and finish it all off.
All of these things have been me in the past but it’s really interesting to watch them from the outside. I feel pleased I was able to leave food on my plate at every meal we had because I think I realise that this is an important part of learning how to be around food. I don’t need to broadcast my eating rules (I don’t eat bread as I have long-term stomach problems but I SO wish I could). It seems that focussing on your food while you’re eating is a key part of this: looking at it, smelling it and really tasting it rather than just shoving it into your mouth because it’s there.
It feels like many people are like me, lost around portion size. Put a plate of food in front of them and they will eat it all; I wonder how much would have to be on that plate before they stopped eating and would they be full or have eaten so much they feel uncomfortable?
It seems I am not alone!
I was at lunch the other day with people from work. We do this once a week and it’s a good chance to catch up outside the office. Once the food arrived I found myself watching one of the other women (not in a crazy stalker way!) and how she was eating. She’s a really sweet woman but quite overweight. She was obviously hungry and when the food arrived she stopped talking, focused completely on the food and ate everything on her plate really quickly. I think I could have been watching myself. The slimmer women carried on eating, and chatting, and all left food on their plates. They knew when they had eaten enough and they stopped. They ate more slowly and seemed to be tasting the food more. It struck me that was the difference: the speed of eating, the focus, ie they could still socialise whilst eating.
I try really hard to eat less quickly: food for me has so long been tied up with all sorts of emotions that I had to eat as quickly as possible, maybe to get it over with or maybe so I could eat more before I felt full and had to stop. Often I would carry on eating food I wasn’t really enjoying simply because I was “allowed” to eat it. I don’t do that anymore I am pleased to say. I throw food away if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t want to eat stuff if it doesn’t taste right for me at that time. I will take the time to work out what I do want to eat. It’s the same thing as telling someone to eat a salad if they fancy some chips: you’re better off eating what you want than eating what someone else has decided you ought to eat. Isn’t that the only way to get back in touch with your own instincts and needs?
So this week I am going to try hard to eat slowly, putting food down between bites and really registering how the food feels. I have been working towards that but I suppose I stopped thinking about it so much and it’s easy for bad habits to slip back.
So I’ve had a hungry day. Well not really a hungry day more a hungry evening so, of course, I have been calling myself all sorts of names, looking at myself in the mirror for signs of my increased girth, and generally not being very nice to myself. But ENOUGH! Ok, I heard you.
What started it? Well this morning I had my usual porridge breakfast, went to work, finished at lunchtime and thought about what I would like to eat when driving home. I did actually feel quite hungry and I’ve worked out this is very related to my sleep. I have read endless articles on how not sleeping makes you fat but I don’t know what I can do about it. Last night I lay in bed for well over an hour without a worry in my mind, apart from the worry that I wasn’t sleeping! I did my usual distraction/mindfulness/meditation routines but nothing seemed to work or work quickly because at some stage I did fall asleep until my alarm went off this morning. I think sometimes I worry about having nothing to worry about – yes, you work that one out.
So I came home and had coffee. I needed some chocolate because I was feeling pretty jaded at this stage but, being sensible, shared the bar with my partner, who never says no to something sweet. Then we went out to lunch, a late lunch by this stage. I didn’t finish the food on my plate and then ate a normal size dinner but not much later food was calling. It was beckoning me into the kitchen: first another small bar of chocolate and then some humous and crisps. Why? Sure I was tired and I did feel hungry but I ate without thinking, getting to the end without stopping to think if I’d had enough. I feel good that I put the crisps in the bowl, rather than having the family size bag next to me, but I feel disappointed, I feel it’s a setback and that makes me feel disheartened.
Still it’s done with now, I haven’t exploded and as Scarlett O’Hara would say: Tomorrow is another day.
I’ve said before that trying to forget about food and writing this blog is a bit difficult as this is about food! Well, about my eating, my giving up dieting, my trying to be normal around food (my normal, of course) so I haven’t written for a few weeks. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about all this stuff but it’s felt less urgent, less intense. I suppose that means that it’s not at the very front of my brain all the time, squashing out other more interesting and more useful things. I am getting on with my life and I think that means I only think about food, dieting, my body etc 80% of the time instead of most of the time. Anyone who has spent years dieting, worrying, dieting again will know this is a real step forward.
I still feel conflicted and have moments of panic but most of the time I feel calm. I feel conflicted because I still want to eat the things that I probably shouldn’t but I don’t want to eat them all the time, I can say no, I can say yes but I still haven’t got rid of the emotional response to the so-called “bad” foods. For instance I shared a child’s pudding with my daughter when we went out the other night (a fantastic, one of the best I’ve ever had, chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream). So I didn’t have a lot and really enjoyed it but the old voices started shouting at me: I shouldn’t have had any, the woman next to me didn’t have a dessert, did I really need it or was I just being greedy? It took away my enjoyment and that’s really sad. I need to keep working at it but I am getting somewhere.
So Christmas has been and gone without me expanding to the size of a house. I don’t know if I ate any more than normal but I suppose I’ve been trying to work out what normal is, what it looks like. And further than that I have been trying to work out what my normal is, to understand my eating more.
Lots of experts will tell us that the answer to weight is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’ve had enough but when you’ve spent more than half your life eating because someone else tells you when to eat, what to eat and how much it’s very difficult to get in touch with what your own hunger feels like. Yes I know when I’m starving if, for example, I’ve been unable to eat something when I became hungry or was distracted until my rumbling stomach reminded me to eat. On those sorts of occasions it’s easy to eat a lot to overcome the feelings and sensible logic says it would be better not to get to this stage, to eat before the feeling became urgent but I find it hard to identify that time. In the same way I find it hard to recognise when I am pleasantly full: I can feel when I am becoming full but what point on the dial is the right point to stop? I suppose it all takes practice.
I have been working on leaving a bit of food every time I eat; maybe just a mouthful or a crust but something that tells me I don’t have to eat everything on my plate. I feel better and more relaxed around food. I have a basket full of chocolate in my cupboard but I realise I don’t have to eat some of it every day. Quite often I feel like a small piece of chocolate after dinner but I don’t feel the need to eat a whole bar or bag which feels like an improvement. Crisps are still a bit of a draw to me but I am working on that too.
Another problem area for me is eating when I’m not really hungry but I know I won’t be able to eat later. It feels like it goes against what I am trying to do with my eating but I am not sure how to get around it. I normally don’t eat as much but I still have a bit of my brain that tells me I can it so I should eat it and that contradicts me trying to identify and respond to my hunger. I think I need to read more around that and develop strategies. Another thing is eating with other people: if you’re out with someone it’s hard to say that you don’t want anything to eat and it could feel like a new dieting thing rather than just responding to your body. Still more to work on.
I am sticking with my mantras:
I can have it but I don’t have to
I don’t have to do it but I want to do it
That’s reinforcing my self control and keeping me in charge of all this. It is all my choice and I am working out the best way for me.