Month: October 2013

Part Two: The Evolution of My Relationship with Food

In case you missed part one, you can find it here.

Once I got to my goal weight with Weight Watchers, I had a little more flexibility with the system and how much of the “bad” foods I could eat. I was able to play the game a bit, but still cycled between that all or nothing mentality and was either being really, really good, or really, really bad when it came to eating. I learned to identify my trigger foods and make sure I never had them in my house – like peanut butter. I literally could not keep a jar in my kitchen because inevitably I would eat it by the spoonful until it was gone. And though peanut butter isn’t bad for you (like pizza would probably be considered by most), it was definitely one of those foods I did not allow myself to have when I was being “good” because it was too calorically dense, and I didn’t trust myself around it.

When you’re used to behaving one way or eating one way for most of your life, it’s a very, very hard cycle to break. I remember reading stories of people who had completely changed their lives and their bodies and preached the “everything in moderation” thing, and secretly hating them. How could there possibly be a way for someone who once struggled so much with their weight like I have all my life, come to a place where they trusted themselves around food? I didn’t buy it.

But after maintaining my weight loss give or take for about a year and a half, I realized that though I had gotten myself to a healthy weight, I still had an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. It still held a power over me and caused extreme preoccupation and anxiety, and it just came to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore.

One of the big first steps in breaking out of this cycle was changing my goal weight. I think I was putting so much pressure on myself to maintain a certain number on the scale, that it was getting in the way of me living my life and really giving food more control over me than was necessary, or healthy. When I upped my goal weight from 164 to 177, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure lifted. It gave me much more wiggle room to figure out where my body would land naturally and took away some of the power the scale held over me.

The other big thing that led to breaking out of this cycle was actually not something that I did directly – it was getting into a relationship with someone who had a lot less healthy eating habits than I did (which has since ended, but that’s a different conversation for a different day). I didn’t realize quite realize it while it was happening, but spending a lot of time around a lot of the food that used to cause me tremendous anxiety exposed me to these foods more than I’d ever been before. You know how they say if you are scared of heights, you need to gradually expose yourself to heights and let yourself feel the anxiety, and then once you realize nothing bad will happen to you, it helps relieve the anxiety and get you over your fear? (For a better explanation that actually makes sense, you can go here.)

I think for me, being around foods that used to have power over me and cause extreme anxiety over and over (and over) conditioned me to feel less anxious and preoccupied around them. It was a slow evolution and the first few weeks/months definitely still caused a physical reaction and made me ask myself a lot of questions. And, it was scary and uncomfortable being OK with being in that situation repeatedly. But, it also really helped me realize a few things.

First, I was not going to gain back all the weight by being near a pizza.

Second, I could have pizza every day if I wanted to, so there was no need to eat an entire pizza and make myself sick, because I could just have a few pieces and then if I wanted it again the next day, I could have it again (because it was probably going to be around).

Third, by letting myself have what I was actually craving and not eating what I thought I should be eating, I was able to eat less to feel satisfied.

Fourth, my preoccupation and anxiety around “bad foods” slowly lifted over time, and they stopped pulling my attention in every time I was exposed to them.

And finally, by letting myself have what I felt like eating, I actually started craving healthy foods and eating them because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to.

As I said, this was a sloooow process and took a lot of courage to learn to trust myself around the foods that I hadn’t trusted myself around… ever. And it’s been a pretty eye opening process that has taught me a lot about myself. I don’t think I’m ever going to be “cured” of my issues with food and will always keep Weight Watchers as my backup for when the scale does start moving in the wrong direction. I know it works, but I don’t want to have to count everything I eat everyday for the rest of my life. And I’m not willing to.

Part One: The Evolution of My Relationship with Food

All my life, I was heavy. And I hated it. I went through this perpetual cycle of hating my body, hating myself, and hating that I let food have this power over me. I’d start off every day with the best of intentions for being healthy and losing weight, and while I knew what foods were healthy, I really had no concept of how much I should be eating of what. I would go for things with good gimmicks on the labels like “low fat” and “fat free” and “good for your heart”, thinking I was making the right choices. And I would eat just a little bit of it. And then, I would be hungry. And I would try to convince myself that I wasn’t, and do everything in my power not to eat more so I could lose weight.

And then I would binge.

I’d eat everything and anything I could get my hands on that was off limits for me during the times I was being “good”. I’d use being sad, happy, drunk, busy, anxious or bored as an excuse, and I would eat myself sick. Never to the point where I threw up, but to the point where I would feel sick to my stomach, uncomfortably full and would likely have to lay down. This would usually get it out of my system temporarily, and then I’d wake up the next day and hate myself even more. And then I’d start the cycle again.

There were periods of my life where I cared less about weight than other times, like during the first few years of college where I had my first serious boyfriend. At those times, I was just eating a lot of what I knew were bad-for-me foods pretty much all the time. And it’s no surprise that I gained a lot of weight. And then at the end of college, I decided to give Atkins a go because I knew it was something I could try that would allow me to eat excessive amounts of food and still lose weight. I was used to the “allowed” and “not allowed” labels on things, so it really worked for me. I lost 40 pounds, felt pretty good, and kept it off for a year.

But you know what? I like bread. And pizza. And fruit. And milk. There was no way I was going to be able to stick with that forever, and when I went off Atkins and back into my unhealthy restrict/overdo cycle of eating, it’s no surprise that I gained back all the weight and then some.

And then I (re)discovered Weight Watchers in 2009. I loved having the system that I could track my food (I’m a numbers person) and that nothing was off limits technically. I also loved that I was losing weight and learning to eat right, and being in a room of people where I could tell them that I ate an entire batch of cookies and they would get it and not judge me. It was very liberating. I think Weight Watchers was a very essential part of my journey because it really was what helped me develop a lot of healthy habits and lose a large amount of weight. At the time, I really needed a way out of the cycle I was in and the accountability and easy-to-follow program were right for me at the time.

But in many ways, Weight Watchers encouraged that restrict and then overdo it cycle that I was accustomed to, though a little bit less severe than it was before. I would always eat my minimum points per day, but for anyone who has ever done WW, you know that it’s really not that much. It’s enough, but there’s no way I could eat just 26 pointsplus per day every day for the rest of my life. My approach was that I would eat the daily target Monday to Friday, and then use all the extra points on the weekends or for a special event, which is when I’d way overdo it. A lot of times I wouldn’t count the points on those days where I was going above and beyond, and that freedom helped me feel less trapped by the counting of the program. But I would still have those same guilty feelings after eating excessively, and then return to the minimum points per day until I felt ok about myself again. It worked in helping me get down to a healthy weight, but it didn’t help break that cycle of being good or bad, and seeing everything as black or white.

And though with WW nothing is technically off limits, for me, it was. I didn’t trust myself to have one piece of pizza – so I would either eat no pizza on those days where I was sticking to my daily target, or eat most of a large pizza on a day when I was not. I still kept that off limits mentality with “bad” foods when I was trying to stay on track, and though this wasn’t Weight Watchers fault per se, the program allowed me to embrace these old unhealthy habits as I found my way to a healthy weight. They said everything in moderation, but for someone with as messed up a relationship as I had with food, I didn’t trust myself with the whole moderation thing.

The other side of it, besides seeing foods as good or bad, was that the bad foods caused me extreme anxiety. If I would attend a social event or be at a work party where there was pizza, my heart would literally race as I fought with myself against whether I was going to have some or not. Sometimes my willpower and resolve would be high, and I’d place myself away from the food knowing that I was not going to touch it. Other times, though, I couldn’t even pay attention to what was going on around me because I was too focused on the food and was being consumed by it. (Ironic, eh?) This was particularly sad when I was spending time with friends and could barely pay attention to the conversation because I was so distracted by the food in front of me, until it was either taken away or completely eaten. I don’t think anyone around me could grasp how preoccupied by the food I was because I put on a good act, but it’s pretty disturbing how much control I let it have over me.

To be continued…