I gained over eleven pounds while we were on our recent around-the-world trip.
It honestly would have been a lot more if it hadn’t been for all of our extensive adventuring and activity. You see, Glenn and I were in vacation mode when it came to our food choices during our 6-months of travels. Meaning, we generally ate out every meal and rarely refused dessert.
After all, how many times would we get to eat Ecuadorian chocolate while actually in Ecuador? Eating the equivalent of apple pie for breakfast and cake with mid-morning tea (known as “onces”) is customary in southern Chile. Who are we to refuse?
One wouldn’t dream of going to Australia without eating copious amounts of pavlovas, lamingtons and Tim Tam cookies, right?
Upon our return home Glenn and I found it difficult to shift gears back into being thoughtful about our food choices. Our sugar cravings were out of control and with the news of my mother’s cancer diagnosis I felt an overwhelming desire to eat my emotions. As if a gooey cinnamon roll piled high with creamy icing would cure my mom’s disease and make everything okay.
Glenn recently said “my cravings for cookies have expanded exponentially…right along with my waistline.” Me too!
There was a fascinating article in the New York Times a few weeks ago about the science behind why nearly all of the Biggest Loser winners have gained back most (and sometimes more) of the weight they lost on the TV show. Their bodies are actively fighting – with hormones and metabolism – to gain the weight back. I’ve always heard that maintaining weight loss is considerably harder than actually losing the weight to begin with. I find that I must agree. I definitely feel a very strong pull toward what must be my natural state of being with each pound that has shown up on the scale recently.
During the past few weeks we have made a concerted effort to rein things in. We knew that if we didn’t get back on track soon we would begin packing back on all of the weight we had worked so hard to lose. With the pounds would come a diminished ability to do the physical activities and adventuring we love so much. We fought too hard to get where we are and didn’t want to slide back into old habits. It was time to get back in the saddle.
I recently happened upon a draft blog post that I started writing about a year ago. It was a list of a few things I had learned about myself – and my relationship with food – by losing over 130 pounds.
It was a timely reminder of the things I used to know, but had somehow forgotten along the way. It was as if I typed this up knowing that some future version of myself would need to hear these bits of knowledge again someday. I thought to share it here for those that are interested in this sort of thing.
#1: An all or nothing attitude will bite you in the butt every time.
When I was beginning my weight loss journey I had an all or nothing attitude about food. My inability to do it all – cut out all sugar, eat vegetables at all meals, avoid all junk food – meant that I had an excuse to do nothing.
If I ate a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream on a Wednesday night I’d think: Man, I blew it today. I guess I’ll try eating healthy again starting next Monday (or next month, or after the new year). I guess I can eat whatever I want until then. Woohoo!
I’ve since learned that this mentality is really just an excuse for me to either:
- Not hold myself accountable for my subsequent food decisions (e.g. I accidentally at a cookie…three times…today at lunch = I might as well just get pizza and beer for dinner.); and/or
- Beat myself up over choices that are done and over with (e.g. I accidentally at a cookie…three times…today at lunch = I’m such an idiot. I can’t do this. It’s hopeless. I give up.).
I now realize that this all or nothing attitude truly gets me nowhere. An unhealthy food choice isn’t the end of the world and I certainly don’t need to beat myself up over it. And, I don’t need to wait until next week/month/year to try again. I can endeavor to make healthier choices for my next meal. Or, better yet, I can make a better choice with the very next bite and step away from the third cookie!
#2: Eating and exercise are not friends with benefits.
It has taken me a long time to decouple eating and exercise. In the past I used exercise as a punishment for my food choices. I ate that candy bar last night so today I have to workout on the elliptical machine for an hour to burn 400 calories. Instead of feeling accomplished after a workout, I’d feel deflated because I saw the exercise as a penance for what I had eaten the day before. Who could possibly enjoy exercise under those circumstances?
On the flip side, I try really hard not to use my activity and exercise as an excuse to eat unhealthy things. Don’t get me wrong, I eat unhealthy things all the time – sometimes on accident (see #1) and sometimes on purpose (see #5) – but exercise doesn’t absolve me of those decisions.
I once heard someone say that they eat healthy to lose weight and exercise to feel great. That struck me as a good frame of mind. At least for me, things can get pretty distorted and dysfunctional when eating and exercise are too closely intertwined.
#3: None shall pass!
My home is a safe place. A no fly zone for treats, snacks and unhealthy food temptations. If I get a craving for a cookie, chips or a bowl of ice cream…then I have to get up, put on shoes (and in most cases a bra) and head out of the house to go get it.
This delayed gratification, coupled with my inherent laziness, is usually enough to make me to slow down and have an honest conversation with myself about why I really want the treat. In most cases the craving will pass and I’ll carry on with my evening. In other cases I just really want a treat and it is worth the effort to go get it. So be it.
#4: Eating in a restaurant isn’t an excuse to go crazy.
Glenn used to travel extensively for work and was eating on the road approximately four days a week. One day he came to the realization that eating at a restaurant was just another meal…not a celebration or a special occasion where he should get whatever tickled his fancy from the menu.
We go out to eat regularly and Glenn’s epiphany really helped shape how we order. Instead of scanning the menu for what sounds good (e.g. lots of cheese or deep-fried goodness) and then trying to talk ourselves out of ordering it…we now scan the menu for the healthiest looking (yet appealing) items and then try to NOT talk ourselves out of ordering them.
It’s sort of like reading a list of options from the bottom up, rather than the top down. It’s just enough to change the perspective and lead us to the healthier options on the menu…which are inevitably more satisfying.
#5: Don’t forget the good stuff!
But, make sure it really is the good stuff and not the better than nothing stuff.
Back in the early days of our weight loss efforts Glenn and I would get a cheeseburger every Friday evening. But it wasn’t just any cheeseburger. It was the amazing burger from the bar down the street – topped with crispy bacon, perfectly melted cheese and a fried egg, sandwiched between the softest brioche bun known to man. It was a planned splurge. Making healthy food choices all week was a fair tradeoff that enabled us to savor every bite of the burger without guilt or shame.
We don’t do this weekly cheeseburger ritual anymore, but at the time it was an important acknowledgement that losing weight wasn’t about suffering or always going without. We learned that not only is it okay to treat yourself, but it is important to do so. Such treats didn’t sabotage our weight loss efforts because they were planned, accounted for and savored.
We still treat ourselves regularly. But when we do so, we endeavor to make sure the treat is worth it and not just “better than nothing.” A high quality chocolate truffle made locally, instead of waxy Hershey kisses. Ice cream made in the shop from scratch, not from a box bought at the grocery store. A cupcake with the best buttercream frosting in town, not a brightly colored concoction that can be bought by the dozen in a plastic clamshell.
Finding the text above buried on my computer’s hard drive was a gift.
It has reminded me that I know how to make healthy, conscious food choices. I have done it before and I can do it again now. I’ve got this!