Tuesday, July 14, 2015

To Whet My Almost Blunted Purpose.

Michael: July 14, 2015: 276 Pounds

I'm back! The last time I posted, I was in full backslide mode and was climbing back up the scale. That has turned around, thanks to the twin blessings in disguise of 1) midlife, career-related depression, which made me not want to eat anything for a week; and 2) major dental pain, which made me unable to eat anything even if I did want to. The results have been amazing--12 pounds in two weeks. Oh, and I gave up the "no fat blockers" rule too.

My overriding philosophy here is, "never waste a crisis." Almost everything that has happened to me for the last two weeks has conspired to make eating solid food undesirable and difficult. I didn't intentionally diet. I just didn't eat. But (combined with the fat blockers that I wasn't going to use), it has given me a lot of momentum. The job now is to keep it up without the need to rely on external misery.

Eating less when one is miserable, it turns out, is easy. The trick is to manage happiness when it eventually comes back.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How I Did On My Summer Vacation

Michael, July 1, 2015: 288 pounds

It's a mixed bag. I spent the last twelve days with no scale, no kitchen, and mainly driving places and meeting people. I tried to take some precautions, and I did some things right. But I also did some things wrong. And I gained three pounds during the experience. Here are the high, and low-lights:

What went right

  • On the way to Utah, I drank only water and ate only healthy things from the cooler that Karen packed: grapes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and granola.
  • I never ate between meals.
  • I usually ate with people who knew I was trying to be good, and they helped me by serving healthy choices or by looking at me funny if I made bad choices. Both were invaluable.
  • I ate a lot more vegetables and a lot less sugar than I have on any vacation in my adult life.
What Went Wrong

  • On my first day in Utah, the seal broke on my temporary bridge (front teeth), so I had to drink a lot of my means, and this was usually fruit smoothie type things that I could buy in convenience stores that were too high in sugar and calories. I also drank a lot of milk, some of it chocolate.
  • I broke both of my major rules at least once. I became tired while driving through Nebraska and drank a Diet Dr. Pepper to stay awake. I also ate at a Pizza Hut that was technically a buffet, though I only had one serving, half of which was salad. In neither case did the transgression set a precedent.
  • When it was really hot, I chose to drink sports drinks instead of water--a really dumb choice, since they are too sweet and too caloric. 
So, it's a mixed bag, with a small weight gain. But, on the other hand, my relationship to food remains more or less renegotiated. And now I am back and ready to face the great eating challenge of boredom.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Travel Trap: Playing Chess with My Future Self

Michael, June 18, 2015: 285 pounds

Well, the scale is going the wrong way again, but I am not terribly concerned about it, since I have still been doing what I said I would do, which is drinking a lot of water (and no soda), eating modest meals, not snacking except on fruitsandvegetablesandothergoodthings, and, generally, not acting on my compulsions.

But I am about to face the first big test of my resolve. Next week, I am going to be travelling, first to Utah to do some archival research and then to Illinois to participate in a symposium. I will be alone, in the car, with nothing to do but listen to audiobooks (I love listening to audiobooks when I travel) and snack on bad carbohydrates (I REALLY love snacking when I drive).

So, even though I don't leave for a few more days, I have already begun to strategize for the trip. For me, travelling is the absolutely worst time to try to eat right. My anxiety always spikes when I travel, and both the opportunities for food, and the ability to do anything else, plummets to almost zero.

What I have to do is pretend that Current-Me is a general trying to outwit Future-Me. This is hard enough, since Future-Me is clever and armed with credit cards. But also, Future-Me will know all of my plans and will have strategies in place to frustrate them. So the only possible response is to split Future-Me into Good-Future-Me (who will be trying to maintain control), and Bad-Future-Me (who will be looking for any excuse to step into a quick shop and grab a dozen donuts, six candy bars, and a few slices of pizza in each town I pass).

Good-Future-Me is my ally, and I have to do everything I can to help him vanquish Bad-Future-Me. It's like a chess game with two other versions of myself. The intent is to gang up on the bad guy.

So here is the plan.

  1. Keep an ice chest of water, carrots, protein drinks, fruit, trail mix, and other things that are edible, moderately healthy, and don't start with "donut."
  2. Get plenty of sleep so that Future-Me can't pull the "you-have-to-get-some-Dr.-Pepper to stay awake" routine, which, I must admit, is one of my best bits.
  3. Eat only in sit-down restaurants on the road. No fast food. No eating in the car unless it comes from the cooler. AND NO BUFFETS.
  4. Stay out of convenience stores. Buy bottled water and healthy snacks at a grocery store and pay at the pump.
  5. Whenever possible, eat with other people who know I am trying to be good. Create social pressures in strong moments to keep myself honest in weak moments.
  6. Before eating anything, count to 1,000. Include Mississippis. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Hardest Thing

Michael: June 15, 2015: 283 pounds

I am trying to make eating right and being healthy something other than a "diet." Diet's don't work. I know that. I have probably lost a cumulative total of a thousand pounds on various diets, so I know that they work in the short term. But they don't seem to work in the long run because they don't change anything about me. Many forms of behavior modification work for a while. Torture works as long as it is being applied. But stomachs expand and contract all the time. Hearts and minds are harder to change.

Consequently, I am trying not to "give things up." I am losing weight much more slowly than I have in the past, when I skipped meals, used fat blockers, and deprived myself of things for a few months. Three weeks into the effort, I have lost twelve pounds. And I keep thinking to myself, "it could have been twenty." On the other hand, I haven't given anything up.

Except for one thing. And it was a hard thing. Maybe the hardest. And it is something that I have never given up before. I'm talking about diet soda.

From the time I was a teenager until about a month ago, I was a massive consumer of diet soda. Diet Dr. Pepper was my favorite. But I also liked Diet Pepsi (especially with wild cherry flavoring) and, in a pinch, even Diet Coke (any port in a storm). It soothed me, gave me explosions of flavor in my mouth, and generally kept me sane. I usually drank the equivalent of about two two-liter bottles a day. Yeah, I was that guy.

But it was OK, because it was DIET soda. No calories, just happiness. That has been my argument for 30 years. (I don't even like the sugary stuff anymore--me and aspartame are BFFs).

For the last three weeks, I have mainly been drinking water. Twice, in restaurants, I drank lemonade. But mainly water. Pretty much everyone I know convinced me that this was the right thing to do--do decrease my cravings for sweetness, to spare my poor teeth, and, generally, to work as hard as I possibly can on not dying.

So, after three weeks, what I can mainly report is that I still don't like water very much and wish I had about ten cans of Diet Dr. Pepper lined up for the afternoon.

I'm not going to do it.

But it's still the hardest thing.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Eating while Bored

Michael: June 12, 2015: 284 pounds

I think that I just realized something that I never really understood before. Often, what drives me to the refrigerator is neither hunger nor the need to process emotionally through food. It's boredom. Plain and simple, sometimes food is the only exciting thing in my life.

Part of this, I think, is that I have an exceptionally boring life. Really. I hardly do anything at all. I go to work and sit around signing stuff and trying to make everybody happy (yeah, I know. . . .). Then I come home and, most evenings, spend three or four hours writing stuff--blog posts, book reviews, articles, and the book I have been working on for the last year. And often I read. And sometimes I spend way too much time on social media. That's pretty much it.

And as a practicing Mormon, I don't actually have access to most of the other vices that one can use to forestall boredom. Mainly this means alcohol, but also cigars and even designer coffee. So if I am going to have a party in my mouth, it pretty much has to come in the form of ice cream, big wads of chocolate, deep fried fat with extra salt--that kind of thing.

Since I am really trying to do better, we don't keep any of that stuff around the house. But I did, tonight, after a perfectly adequate meal, manage to polish off two 100 calorie single-serving containers of Greek yogurt--from the supply that was supposed to last me a week. And analyzing my motives, I can think of only one: I was on a writing break and needed something to do.

So the trick now is to process this and develop an internal monologue that goes something like this:
"Dude, you ate eating because you are bored. How can you possibly be bored? You are behind in, like, six things that you should be doing, all of which don't involve eating. And then there is exercise. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. Use that treadmill in the basement that you bought six years ago because you were sure it would help you exercise. Remember that. You haven't even gone inside the room that it's in since you used it to wrap Christmas Presents. And remember that, after you eat that ___________, it will be gone and you will still be bored.
And this, it seems to me, is the essence of the problem. This is not an eating issue or a thinking-about-food issue. It's a lifestyle issue: I need to find a hobby that is even more interesting than food.

I'm open to suggestions. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Want to Eat Everything in the World

Michael: June 11, 2015: 284 pounds

This scene from Hayao Miyazaki's amazing film Spirited Away pretty much describes how I felt last night. I wanted to eat everything in the world: hamburgers, pizza, cheesecake, pets and small children. Internally, I was on a rampage.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Just Don't Have Time for Exercise

Michael: June 9, 2015: 285 pounds

It has been almost two weeks since I decided to be "just friends" with food, and, I am happy to report, it seems to be working. Yes, I know that "working" is not something that one can determine after two weeks, or even two months. This is a lifetime commitment. But still, I have probably eaten more sensibly over the past two weeks than I ever have. I have neither eaten nor dieted compulsively, and I generally feel good. (And did I mention the ten pounds I have already lost?)