From skwigg's journal:
I realized that weight doesn't enter into my food decisions anymore. It kind of blew my mind, because weight drove every food decision for decades. It was the only thing that mattered, "How will this affect my weight?" And it wasn't just the food itself. Nutrition properties determined the food I chose, which would then determine my moral character and my weight: low-fat, low-carb, high-fiber, number of calories, grams of protein, net carbs, servings per meal, refeeds, fasting windows. It was all very complex!
Yesterday, it dawned on me that I wasn't thinking about any of that when I made my choices. It was questions like: How hungry am I? What flavors and textures are appealing? What will satisfy? How do I want to feel after I eat? For example, I briefly considered Panda Express as a dinner option but didn't want the greasy fast food feeling (sometimes I very much do!). I ended up making a veggie omelet with sharp cheddar and sriracha sauce, and then having a piece of leftover chocolate cream pie. That was exactly what I wanted. Hot, melty cheese, spicy, veggie textures, then cool, sweet, chocolaty pie. I thought about including an english muffin with the omelet, but then I'd have likely been too full for pie. Nothing about calories or carbs though, no moral quandaries regarding good/bad foods, no consideration for what one choice or another would do to my weight in the morning, because I don't get on the scale.
Wow! I can see how much things have changed. It's definitely a more satisfying and less stressful way to eat.
While eating dinner tonight, I was pondering my weight situation or lack thereof. When I was dieting, every food decision was driven by, “How will this affect my weight?” The funny thing is, I had no idea! I’d just make up a story of virtue or doom and whap myself with it. I often got the story backwards. Hard, frequent exercise did not result weight loss. It resulted in an increased appetite and water retention. Eating mostly chicken and lettuce wasn’t the ticket to weight loss either. It would lead to overconsuming “allowed” foods or bingey lapses when I felt hungry and deprived. Things I feared, like cheese, salt, and chicken skin weren’t actually fattening. They were satisfying! It’s pretty important that food taste good. That’s your off switch. I had assumed mine was broken or missing, but I’d just short circuited it with rice cakes and chia seeds.
Today, I eat what I want, when I want and don’t worry about weight gain. I know from experience that in order to gain weight, I need to: eat quickly, eat mindlessly, eat with plenty of distractions, get too hungry, eat when not hungry, and eat past pleasant fullness. Not only that, but I need to consistently do most of those. Doing a few on occasion is normal and won’t affect my weight. I wish I could send this paragraph back in time to myself. I was worried about all the wrong stuff. The things that take up lots of brain space but don’t actually matter are: calorie math, glycemic index, protein grams, sodium, carb timing, good/bad foods, basically all the headlines on a women’s magazine or fitness blog.
The thing is, eating mindfully when hungry and stopping at satisfaction is a skill, one I didn’t possess when coming off of the diet roller coaster. It’s something you get good at with practice, but I wasn’t getting any practice when taking all of my food cues from external sources. Lean Habits helped tremendously with learning to listen to my body again and rebuilding self-trust. Then, Intuitive Eating and the Intuitive Eating Workbook were another big leap. But you can’t just read something, know it in your head, and now you’re “fixed.” That’s a trap. You read about a new way of being. You try it for a meal, or a day, or a week. You make a “mistake” and think, “Well, this may work for other people but it didn’t work for me.” The thing is, those other people who make it look easy have been practicing for ten weeks, or eight months, or five years. “Easy” is earned. They’ve made all he same “mistakes” but learned something valuable and kept going. It’s only in a black and white, all or nothing dieting mindset that any setback is proof it can’t work. I had that mindset. It kept me jumping from one diet scheme to another and kept the weight struggle alive.
It’s important to remember that when I started looking for things to cut out of my diet that I wouldn’t miss, it was nearly 10 years ago, I was about 20 pounds heavier, and I was mindlessly overeating really regularly. I didn’t understand yet about hunger and fullness or satisfaction. I would eat because it was time, or the plan said, or it was cheat day, or I had 287 calories left. I had plenty of food to work with and plenty of unquestioned “truths” to get curious about.
Today, I hate the thought of “How can I eat less so I’ll lose weight?” That is exactly the kind of restrictive thinking that causes backlash. It takes you out of the moment, disconnects you from what your body is telling you, and puts the focus on weight and appearance. I didn’t find food peace or achieve my current lazy leanness until I quit doing that. My weight kept fluctuating as I would subtly restrict and then rebound as a result.
I actually ended up adding a bunch of stuff that greatly increased satisfaction and flipped my off switch sooner, things like bread, butter, cake, bacon, breakfast cereal, whole milk, real soda, cheese, peanut butter, olive oil, and chicken skin.
Some of the areas I cut back were: eating every two hours, eating a big serving of protein at every meal, and eating giant piles of vegetables. I eliminated protein shakes and bars. I learned to eat half a pint of ice cream in one shot (then a quarter pint, then a few spoonfuls) instead of always eating the whole pint. I switched from loaded delivery pizzas to thin crust frozen pizzas. I switched from eating a whole can of Sour Cream & Onion Pringles while watching TV to popping my own popcorn. I realized that when I’m serving food, I don’t need to automatically serve my husband and I the same portions. It’s fine if he eats the bigger steak, or four tacos to my two. I quit cleaning my plate like a starving animal in restaurants. It’s ok to share it, leave it, or save it for later. I discovered that when I ate previous “trigger” foods every day, my portions got SO much smaller than when they were forbidden. I quit eating any food I didn’t love. Rice cakes, Lean Cuisines, protein “desserts” and low-fat salad dressing were all history. It was quite awhile before I could eat cottage cheese, oatmeal, broccoli, or chicken breasts again. I found the satisfaction zone on bread. Instead of two giant pieces of bakery bread on a sandwich, one cut in half was often plenty.
Much of this really sorted itself out with intuitive eating in the last couple of years. I was eating more mindfully with fewer distractions and actually noticing whether I was hungry when I started eating, whether I liked the food, and whether I was totally satisfied and physically comfortable when I stopped. I never used to notice those, which resulted in eating more and enjoying it less.
I only cut back on eating that I wouldn’t miss, wouldn’t even notice, or would be happier without. Restricting the food I most look forward to for the purpose of weight control always causes chaos, especially if I’m hungry. This is regardless of my weight or body comp at the time. When people think about eating less (which I find a completely counterproductive thing to think about) they seem to go right for desserts, restaurant meals, nighttime snacks, weekend breakfasts, all the fun stuff. That can’t last because it’s gutting the fun, social, relaxing, pleasurable aspects of eating, which are key to satisfaction, and satisfaction is key to everything.
So my thought pattern goes like, “How can I enjoy this even more? What would be more satisfying?” That works because satisfaction is the off switch. Hitting it sooner and more clearly means I’m not eating beyond what my body needs. If I eat around my real cravings, deny myself fun, tell myself I shouldn’t, that creates feelings of deprivation and rebellion, which then does cause me to eat more than I need or want.
I also focus on how I want to feel when I’m deciding on something like nighttime snacking or a random piece of cake, not anything to do with my weight but, “Will I feel better or worse after eating this?” That tends to keep the portions comfortable. More food doesn’t automatically mean more satisfaction. At some point more makes you feel worse and enjoy it less. Pausing and thinking about it for a few seconds can change everything. No judgment, no obligation to stop eating, just checking in to see what you really want.
I've been thinking some more about what influences my food choices now versus what used to drive my decisions.
Now: hunger, fullness, flavor preference, mood, variety, pleasure, convenience, social connection, health, energy, a desire to feel good before, during, and after I eat.
Then: I'm shocked to realize that it was ALL fear! The types of food I ate, the timing, and the portions were based on fear of weight gain, fear of disease, fear that my clothes wouldn't fit, worries about what other people would think of me, fears about what was "optimal." There was a genuine concern that people wouldn't like or respect me if I gained weight. I definitely wouldn't like or respect myself. I feared becoming or appearing weak, lazy, uncommitted, or uninformed. As a personal trainer with a fitness blog, I was scared to death that I would be seen as a fraud if I gained weight. I genuinely believed that I would ruin my health or shorten my life if I made the wrong food choices. One indulgent meal might cause cancer, heart disease, or diabetes the next day if not sooner. Getting meal timing wrong or eating too many carbs would cause immediate insulin resistance. Too little protein in a meal and I would lose muscle and gain fat RIGHT THEN. Eat an unplanned cookie and all of the "weak, lazy, uncommitted" stuff would fly up and hit me in the face. Gain 3 pounds and obsess about what others were thinking and if they could tell. Tell scary stories about what it all means. Use guilt and shame to "get back on track."
Wow! Is it any surprise which is more effective? I ate like an idiot when my choices were fear-driven. I was frequently too hungry, or super stuffed. My weight was all over the place depending which way the Pendulum of Crazy was swinging. I couldn't eat without math, and without running through all the nonsense about what my choices might mean. I spent the better part of every day debating what I would or wouldn't eat and how much. It felt like a colossal struggle with very high stakes. I didn't trust myself. My body was something to be controlled and tricked. If I let my guard down it would betray me, definitely.
It's a completely different mental state to think about what I'm hungry for, what sounds good, what's easy or available. Then I eat that until I'm satisfied. When I get hungry again, I eat again. When I'm not hungry or eating, I'm not thinking about food. My weight does nothing, I mean, nothing. It's completely stable about 15 pounds lower than when I was restricting and living in a mental tizzy.
Fitness is a really similar story. Fitness choices used to be based on appearance, weight, fear, and what others would think. Fitness was not particularly fun when that's how I chose my workouts. It hurt. It was exhausting. It was never enough. Now, I think about what sounds fun and how I want to feel. Fitness is play time. It's stress relief. It's a mood boost. And the funny thing is I look SO much more lean and fit now than when my training was all about bro science and appearances. Sheesh. Live and learn.