Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Mindset of Healthy Eating

It seems to me that I have gone through three distinct "eating" mindsets in my life... not one after the other, as I aged, or even as I gained or lost weight. The mindsets have been as variable, unexpected, and intense as the crashing waves and remarkable calms I have witnesses on the coastal beach. In fact, they are much like waves, in more ways than one.

Picture yourself standing on the beach... right at the edge of the world, it seems, gazing across the vast expanse of water. Your toes sink into the wet sand and it feels like you are teetering in between the huge continent behind you and the endless waters before you. This is your life. You ARE, in fact, on somewhat solid ground, but the shifting sands can seem unstable. Depending on your mindset, you are either content, anxious, or distraught.

Mindset #1 is the Indulgent Mindset. This is what I have lived with for most of the last 10 years. It's a feeling characterized by desire and indulgence. You spend your time thinking things like: "I want that cupcake, so I am going to eat it! It looks so good in the bakery window. I deserve that cupcake. I CAN have that cupcake and no one can stop me. And the brownie next to it, too. And what else looks good?" You drool, stare, get excited. Before you know it, you are heading to the car with that giant cupcake, that frosted brownie, an eclair, and some butter cookies. Oh, and the mocha frappuchinos across the street would go so nicely with these little snacks, so you buy yourself one. You get into your car and immediately start devouring all the sweets, because you CAN. They taste good at first... not as good as you thought they would... and after awhile you start feeling sick, but you eat them all anyway. All day long you are thinking: What can I eat? What do I want? and indulging every thought. At an all-you-can-eat buffet, your goal is to eat as much as possible. You want to get your money's worth. There is no guilt. Anything you see that you want, you eat. I have eaten 5 or 6 desserts at a buffet while in this mindset... after indulging in 3 or 4 heaping plates of food. It's like sitting on the beach having a picnic, with your back towards the ocean, with the tide coming in. Pretty soon, you're sitting in a couple of feet of rapidly rising water, and if you don't get up and move you are going to sit there eating your Cheetos while you drown.

Mindset #2 is the Dieting Mindset. This is a sporadic mindset that I have felt whenever I went on a diet. It's a feeling of panic and desperation. If you have ever been on a diet and had your friends order in your favorite pizza in front of you, you know what I mean by desperate. You have constant thoughts of, "Oh my gosh, that looks SO GOOD. That smells so good. I want it SO BAD. I have to have it!! I can't eat that, what am I going to do? Should I have one piece? Ohhh the garlic butter dip always tastes SO GOOD on the crust... I should have a salad instead, with no dressing. But I want that pizza!!" At an all-you-can-eat buffet, you feel nervous and deprived. You stare longingly at the fried okra and macaroni salad, but you sigh and put a bunch of plain lettuce on your plate instead. Maybe a slice of turkey. It's not fair. Everyone else gets to eat the good stuff and I have to eat this crap. I hate dieting. This sucks. You skip the dessert. Then you go home and binge on peanut butter cups. You are overwhelmed with guilt. You feel worthless and hopeless. It's like standing on the beach when a storm is brewing, with waves crashing on the rocks around you, over your head, sucking your feet out from under you and pulling you out to sea. You have salt water in your eyes, and you sputter and flail to try and stand back up. But the waves keep coming.

Mindset #3 is the Healthy Eating Mindset. This is my mindset lately, most of the time. There is a sense of calm and control. When you go shopping, you are not driven to the bakery. You don't indulge, and yet you don't feel deprived. This mindset asks: "What do I really WANT to eat that will help me reach my goals?" There is no self-pity, just a thoughtful reflection on available choices. At the bakery, you glance over the high fat treats and find a moist, low fat pumpkin walnut muffin. It's huge, so you savor half of it now... slowly, calmly, enjoying every bite... and you wrap the rest for breakfast tomorrow. When friends order pizza, you take a slice of veggie pizza and enjoy it with a salad. When you go to the buffet, you allow yourself a taste of anything you'd like, but also have large portions of the healthy items. Baked chicken, greens, steamed carrots, and a salad taste good to you. You might even try one small dessert, if you feel like it. You leave feeling satisfied and confident. Your beach is calm, and the slow waves are lapping at your feet. You're relaxed with your hands in your pockets, watching a beautiful sunset.

The biggest revelation I have had during this journey has been that I CAN DECIDE MY MINDSET. I always thought the frantic, out-of-control craziness I had about food was part of my nature, but it's not. In fact, it's triggered by indulgence. When I overeat junk, I want junk. When I indulge, I want to indulge more. It's a cycle, for sure, but a cycle any one of us has the power to break.

If you're new to the healthy eating mindset, it can take time and practice to make it your default way of thinking. I still *want* to binge sometimes, but I remember how I felt when I did. I remember what it did to my body. I do not want to drown on the beach. I want peace. You can have a peaceful beach, too. It's YOUR beach. It's your life.


new*me said...

I think I have come around to the healthy eating mindset too. Most of the time, I don't feel deprived, but rather STRONG and IN CONTROL because I know I am putting good foods into my body that will help me, not hurt me. I used to feel the other ways you mentioned all the time and I am SO not going back there. Hope you are having a super vacation.

spunkysuzi said...

Most of the time now i'm in the healthy eating mindset. I do occasionally revert to the indulgent mindset. But after i do yes i always feel sick and tired and ashamed of myself. But then i pick up the pieces and get back to doing what i know i can do.
At least they are coming less often so i count this as definitely moving forward!!
Thanks for the great post it stopped and made me think.

MizFit said...

SOOO TRUE. that it's a choice and a mindset.

I think it took me a while (ok, I know :)) to finally get my AH HA! moment and have it click----but once it did I havent looked back for the most part.

I still slip up but can more easily get back to the H.E. mindset than before my AH HA!


Trula said...

Very good post! You described all 3 mindsets perfectly. I was mostly in the Healthy Mindset, now that I've gone low-salt as well as low-fat I'm back to #2. It's very hard for me now.

Heather said...

you definitely nailed it! For years I was in the dieting mindset and that is why I failed. It feels so wonderful to be in the healthy mindset. Im glad you realize that you control your mindset.

Stephanie said...

Wow - thank you for this post.
After moving to a new country (and becoming lonely, depressed), I went through these three stages over 6 months. I'm currently halfway between the healthy and dieting mindsets.

Surprisingly, though, I never considered that I may be able to choose my mindset...I guess I just figured that I would hold onto the healthy one as long as I could, then ride out the dieting (& bingeing) until healthy came around again.

You've given me something to think about, and perhaps taken away an excuse ... thank you. :)

Deborah said...

What a great post. So glad someone gave my your blog address.

Your description was perfect. I'm in stage 3 now myself (with built in indulgences once a week) and rather enjoying it.

ryry the adventurous said...

I have recently just entered the healthy eating mindset. It's been really nice and it makes me happy. There was yet MORE CAKE yesterday at work, and I looked at my calorie count for the day, decided I could have a piece, and had one. Then I came back to the cafe later on and saw there was still more cake, and thought to myself "Yeah, I'm glad I'm not eating that." And I think I made a little squeak with delight.

nmburleson said...

I'm floundering between 2 and 3 right now. More in 2 though. You are so right it is a choice and sometimes it's hard to remember that!

BikiniMe said...

Do a lot of thinking at the beach, did ya? *grin*

This is an AWESOME, AWESOME, INCREDIBLY AWESOME post. I love your beach imagery -- you do a fabulous job of illustrating the ideas. I "felt" this post on a very deep level -- I've been in all of these mindsets during my life and am happy to say that for the most part, lately, I'm standing on the beach with my toes in the sand and my hands in my pockets, calm and content.

AightStop said...

you inspire me!

im new to actually having a blog, and have just been reading blogs, but finally decided to take the plunge today. i love reading yours, so i added you to my link list. hope that is ok!