What losing over 130 pounds has taught me about food.

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.

Sure, I'll have some whipped cream with my cookies...if it's what the locals do.

“Vacation mode” coffee.

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?

Breakfast of champions, when in Chile.

Breakfast of champions when in southern Chile.

One wouldn’t dream of going to Australia without eating copious amounts of pavlovas, lamingtons and Tim Tam cookies, right?

Attempting a "Tim Tam Slam" while camping in Australia.

Attempting a “Tim Tam Slam” while camping in Australia.

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.

biking

Physical activities are so much are easier and more enjoyable when I’m not carrying around a lot of extra weight.

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!

All…or nothing.

I’ve since learned that this mentality is really just an excuse for me to either:

  1. 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
  2. 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 have to remind myself that training runs don't give me permission to eat anything I want. :)

I have to remind myself that training runs don’t give me permission to eat anything I want.

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.

My favorite frozen yogurt.

My favorite frozen yogurt…totally worth putting my bra on in order to leave the house and go get 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.

We now try make more healthy menu choices when we go out to eat.

We now try make healthier menu choices when we go out to eat.

#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.

Our Friday night cheeseburger.

Our Friday night cheeseburger.

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.

The best cupcakes in town.

The best little cupcakes in town.

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!

standing

6 comments on “What losing over 130 pounds has taught me about food.

  1. Is it worth it to put a bra on and all the way to the store? I thought I was the only one struggling with that issue!

    • Hi Janie! Putting a bra back on often isn’t worth it…which is why it’s a good trick to help keep me on track. 😉

  2. Annnnd, once again we are in a parallel! And, you have been on my mind a LOT in the last couple weeks. I remember one time in Italy a new friend of mine said “come on, we should go try that gelato over there. Come on, you’re on vacation!” And that’s when it hit me! I was on vacation. Had been every single day for what amounted to about 16 years. Uh-huh. That doesn’t really work, for longevity sake! When my dad was ill, the one thing he could still do was eat. And that man had a lot of favorite foods, the original foodie! We had foods around the country shipped in for special days, he and my mom’s 45th wedding anniversay, his bday, etc., . If he could still eat, by God I was gonna sit right with him and eat too. I did the same thing with my mom. What she wanted we got. Seriously, I mean it, why NOT?! However, my own mortality has come into check. Doing the right thing is not always easy, sometimes it’s downright impossible, but I have a goal to live well into my elderly years and do so being active and feeling good. I’m absolutely grateful to have tools now to get by in this temptation filled world of ours. I couldn’t get to where I am on my own. Thanks for another fantastic blog. As I said, thinking of you lots these days. With much love.

    • Thanks Paula, I think of you often too. We are both so lucky to have supportive partners that are willing to join us on our journey toward health. We should make plans to become a pair of adorable elderly couples that travel the world together! You and I can wear big gaudy hats, and Glenn and Keith can wear black socks with sandals.

  3. Your blog couldn’t have come at a better time. Randy and I just returned from a four day trip through Washington’s Channeled Scablands (Moses Lake, Grand Coulée and surrounding area). I seemed to have gained 4 lbs. We ate dinners out. The first night I truly over ate. RI had hoped to share a meal with Randy but he had already decided on his dinner. Lunches were picnics with food we brought. Breakfasts were comp. at the motels. After the first dinner I really did try to eat less. But with long car rides and some hiking, but obviously not enough, I guess I still ate more than I needed. So, I’m going to go out on a jog before lunch.If you haven’t been to the scablands you really should go. Long hikes are laid out for your viewing pleasure.

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