Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weight – Food – Behavior – Spirit

Years ago, people like my grandfather would say “Cousin Thelma has a weight problem.” Often it would be said in the same tone as “Cousin Thelma has the chicken pox.”  Well meaning relatives told Cousin Thelma to do a few calisthenics like Jack LaLane so she’d “lose the weight” and find herself a man.

A few decades later, conventional wisdom said that the real problem was the food itself. A dizzying array of conflicting reports confused us to the point of not knowing what was safe anymore.  Do you remember when bagels were the darling of the no-fat movement?  There’s not a drop of fat in them, what could be wrong!  Fast forward fifteen years and now bagels are nothing but 700 calorie behemoths that will send you into a gluten-induced death spiral. Every few years there is another food put on a pedestal, only to be sent to the chopping block later.  Don’t eat fat! Don’t eat carbs! Eat only raw food! Juice everything! If you would just follow this 28-day Fat Loss Diet, you’ll be healthier and happier! Food choice obviously matters, but even when a food plan is sane there is a giant chasm between seeing a diet printed in a book and actually following through on putting only the approved food into our mouths.

More recently experts began focusing on behaviors. Weight loss advice concentrated on when and how you ate:  Don’t eat anything after 7:00 p.m. or it will instantly turn to fat on your hips.  Fill up on soup and carrot sticks before going to a party with a tempting dessert table. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. You can’t eat junk if it's not in your house.  While this is all sound advice, there is still a disconnect between knowing what we should be doing and actually adhering to the plan.

I am not saying that food choices and behaviors are irrelevant, but I believe that for many of us the underlying problem is a crisis of spirit.  You can interpret the word spirit in a bunch of ways, but I’ll start with a basic example. We know that certain foods are better for us then others, so why can some people consistently make good choices when others can’t?  Think back to a day when you realized that you were making healthy decisions easily and almost effortlessly. I’ll bet that it was probably a good day. For me, those days are extremely rare. But when I have those magical days where everything seems to be going right, it’s far easier to also make good food choices.
The rest of the time, when I didn’t get enough sleep, the kids are fighting, the car has a flat tire and customers are running amok at work, it’s really difficult to pay attention to how much better I’ll feel if I skip the drive-thru and eat a sensible salad for lunch. I guess that’s kind of the definition of emotional eating! But when I do things that feed my spirit, like connecting with friends, doing something nice for other people, giving my family some undivided attention and getting enough sleep and exercise, it starts a wheel in motion that naturally brings about more frequent “good days.”

Some people are comfortable taking that term spirit even further.  There is a growing trend that connects a belief in a higher power to the ability to make successful lifestyle changes. Overeater’s Anonymous (OA)  uses the same 12 step program as Alcoholics Anonymous. The foundation of both programs is believing in a higher power of your own understanding and leaning on that higher power in times of weakness.  Don’t let the term higher power scare you. For many people it’s a traditional God, but for many other people it could be the higher power of the group itself, or any other way that they envision a higher power. This is a foundation of many traditional rehab programs. I’ve included a link to OA in the resource section of this blog. If you feel like an alcoholic who eats instead of drinking, check them out.

However you wish to define spirit, it makes sense to include some spirit enhancing activities in your wellness plans. If you want to change your diet,  your spiritual state can either help or hinder your best laid plans. So if you haven’t done it already, start your emotions and eating journal. It’s the research that you need in order to take the next step in gaining control.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lessons from the Fat Shrink - Step 1

There was a very specific reason why I named this blog Brownie Rehab. For most of my life, I've truly felt like an alcoholic who ate sugary confections instead of drinking. I frequently searched for an actual rehab, not for alcohol or drugs, but for food. I found treatment centers for anorexia or bulimia, but I never found a place just for compulsive eating. All of that changed when a good friend of mine underwent gastric bypass surgery recently. As part of her surgey, she had mandatory counseling with an eating disorder specialist. And luckily for me, she was more than willing to talk about what she learned.

The first step was to create an "Emotions and Eating journal". Now this is not your typical "track your food" advice that many dieters receive. The idea is NOT to log the day's descent from pious breakfast to afternoon binge. Instead, you are to track what you were feeling and what events were happening at the time you are eating. My friend and I were both shocked at how obvious our emotional eating was, once we started logging the correlation between events, feeling and food. Here is an example:

6:00 AM - tea, toast, peanut butter, fruit salad - house is quiet, kids are still asleep

7:00 AM - piece of cheese - making kid's lunch for school, starting to run a little late, mindlessly put it in my mouth

9:30 AM - yogurt and banana - running errands, getting alot accomplished

11:30 AM - grilled chicken sandwich - potato chips - at a restaurant and they came with the meal, so I ate them

2:30 pm - 3 cookies - boys home from school, cranky transition

2:45 pm - 3 more cookies - youngest son is having a temper tantrum and I'm trying hard to ignore it

3:30 pm - scoop of peanut butter straight out of jar - just got off phone with my Mom. She insisted on telling me all of the family gossip even though I'd rather just stay out of it.

You get the idea. I made it nice and obvious in the example above, but after a few days I really could see a blatant correlation between stress and snacking. My friend had a similar experience. A few years ago I would have told you "I'm not an emotional eater. I only eat because I'm bored, it tastes good, packaged food is easier and has a consistent taste, etc." But now I know better.  I've finally realized and admitted that I am a classic emotional eater.

Try it yourself for a few days. It might be an incredible eye opener for you. For years I felt like I had a good understanding of what I should be eating, I just didn't have the willpower to stop myself from sabotaging an otherwise healthy day. In fifteen minutes I could completely destroy ten hours of good food decisions. I was completely frustrated and angry with myself. But the emotional eating journal was truly my first step to finally finding my way to sanity.

After learning from my friend that counselors specializing in compulsive eating actually existed, I finally sought one out myself. And once I found one resource, many more resources appeared soon after. In the next few weeks I'll tell you everything that I've learned so far. If you've been spinning around the weight loss Merry-Go-Round, please follow my journey to get off the same Merry-Go-Round and reclaim my health, my body, my sanity and my life.